Saturday, February 28, 2015

Majority floor leader: Tom Schweich was a man with immense talent, fierce convictions

(From House Majority Floor Leader Todd Richardson, R-Poplar Bluff)

This Thursday was a tragic and surreal day in Missouri Politics. Shortly before 12:00 P.M. Thursday, news began to circulate in Jefferson City that State Auditor Tom Schweich was in the hospital. A short time later we learned that Auditor Schweich had died from an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound. A little before 2:00 we came together with our Senate counterparts, as well as the Governor and other concerned citizens in the Capitol, to hold a prayer service in the House Chamber. The Chamber was dark, and eerily quiet. It was a scene that stood as a powerful contrast to the spirted and busy atmosphere of that same room a couple hours earlier.

Over the past four years, I had the opportunity to serve with Auditor Schweich and to get to know him. I will remember him as a man with immense talent, deep passion, and fierce convictions. His unblemished career of public service demanded those qualities. Before being elected as State Auditor in 2010, Tom had already accomplished more than most can hope for in a lifetime. He served as chief of staff to three U.S. Ambassadors to the United Nations. He, along with former Sen. Jack Danforth, led investigations into Branch Davidian disaster in Waco, Texas. And, he was an ambassador to Afghanistan where he fought opium production and helped set up a judicial system that respected the rule of law.

He was also an outstanding Auditor. He approached the job with a tenacity that turned what is often viewed as mundane job of looking at books and crunching numbers – into something we should all be excited about. Tom relished his role rooting out fraud, waste and abuse in government. He was proud of the fact that more than 30 local government officials had been prosecuted for embezzlement as a result of his audits. In 2014, I had the opportunity to work with him to improve our state’s budget process. He was incredibly helpful to that effort, and as he was with others, incredibly generous with his time.

But, I will also remember his sense of humor, and wit. Two years ago I joined Tom in a Missouri Lincoln Day tradition of elected officials scooping ice cream for attendees at the annual convention. As we started he looked at me and said “You know Todd some people may not support right to work – but everyone can support the right to scoop.” I laughed and for the next hour we took turns telling the same joke to everyone who came through the line. Just last week he was once again scooping ice cream for people at the State Lincoln Day event in Kansas City.

Politics and government can, at times, be a rough endeavor. All too often we lose perspective on the relative importance of arguments and petty disagreements. We make more of our fights, our victories, and our failures than we should. Tragedies like the one this week have a way of restoring perspective. They have a way of reminding us that behind the public perception of elected officials – are human beings. People who knew Tom professionally and politically will mourn the passing of a dedicated public servant and state auditor. But it is more important for us to remember that his wife and children will mourn the loss of a loving husband and dedicated father. My thoughts and prayers are with Auditor Schweich’s family and I hope you will extend yours to them as well.

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