Hiring ex-official who pleaded guilty to assault, Missouri House speaker digs deeper | Opinion

One of the first rules of politics is simple: When you’re already in a hole, stop digging.

Missouri House Speaker Dean Plocher is digging, anyway. The Republican from suburban St. Louis is already facing an ethics inquiry after revelations he received government reimbursements for expenses that had already been paid by his campaign. It’s hard to defend that kind of alleged double-dipping: Even some of Plocher’s fellow Republicans are calling on him to resign.

Plocher has chosen instead to amplify the stink of scandal by choosing this moment to hire one of his most notoriously discredited predecessors as chief of staff.

Rod Jetton, Plocher’s new hire, served as speaker of the Missouri House from 2005 to 2009. He certainly knows the lay of the land in Jefferson City. But his career as an elected official ended ignominously: Shortly after leaving office, Jetton was charged with felony sexual assault, accused of hitting and choking a woman to unconsciousness during a sexual encounter. Around the same time, federal officials investigated a $35,000 donation he received from the “adult entertainment industry” during his time in office.

Jetton pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor in the assault case, and served probation. No charges were ever filed in the federal inquiry. The scandals clearly continue to define his career, however.

Why did Plocher hire Jetton? He hasn’t offered a public explanation. Instead, The Star’s Kacen Bayless reported last week, the speaker — one of the most powerful figures in Missouri politics — “ran away from reporters asking for comment, hopped in a car and drove away.”

That probably won’t inspire confidence from Missouri voters.

Indeed, some of Plocher’s colleagues are understandably alarmed that the speaker has decided to return Jetton to the center of power in Missouri politics.

‘Gross affront to domestic violence survivors’

“The speaker’s hiring of a man who pleaded guilty to assault for hitting and choking a woman during a sexual encounter is a gross affront to domestic violence survivors,” said House Minority Leader Crystal Quade, a Democrat who is running for governor in next year’s election.

We agree. Jetton does have his defenders, however.

Jetton “made a series of very bad mistakes and he took action to correct them,” said House Majority Leader Jonathan Patterson, a Lee’s Summit Republican who is expected to become speaker in 2025. “He’s paid his debt to society and he is really a story of resilience and kind of making amends in life.”

That may be true. Jetton has certainly expressed a greater sense of responsibility than many other politicians caught in wrongdoing. “It wasn’t hard to figure out,” he said in a 2014 interview, reflecting on his downfall. “I did these certain actions and it led to these problems that led to my destruction.

We believe in redemption and second chances — to a point. Acts of violence, particularly sexual violence and abuse, should be disqualifying when it comes to the highest ranks of public service.

Missouri voters have certainly made their feelings clear in a similar instance. Former Gov. Eric Greitens resigned office in 2018 after allegations he photographed a woman without her consent while she was nude, bound and blindfolded, in an attempt to ensure her silence about their affair. A later report included more allegations of sexual and physical abuse by the former governor.

Greitens attempted a comeback last year, running for the U.S. Senate. Despite bizarre pseudo-support from Donald Trump, (the disgraced ex-president showed his contempt for Republican voters’ intelligence by declaring “ERIC has my Complete and Total Endorsement!” — in a race that also included Eric Schmitt) Greitens came in third in the Republican primary election.

Nobody votes for the Missouri speaker’s chief of staff. Still, it is a position of responsibility and power.

Plocher’s decision to hire Jetton — and to avoid any explanation for the decision — is at the very least bewildering: If you’re already facing questions about your ethics, why associate yourself so closely with a figure known to the public mostly for his indiscretions? The speaker has surely given both the public and his House colleagues even more reason to doubt his good judgment. The hole just keeps getting deeper.