Thursday was surreal. Just before noon, rumors swirled that Auditor Tom Schweich had been shot and was in the hospital. Not long after, the Senate and House adjourned. At 1:30, we re-convened for a prayer service.
Schweich was a detail-oriented lawyer with a flair for the dramatic. From 1999 to 2008, he served government in a series of low-profile but highly important jobs. He helped former Sen. Jack Danforth lead investigations into Waco. He was chief of staff to three U.S. Ambassadors to the United Nations. He was a Deputy Assistant to the real Secretary of State. And, he was an ambassador to Afghanistan charged with fighting opium production and helping set up a judicial system that respected the rule of law. In his spare time, he wrote three books.
State Auditor was not Tom Schweich’s goal. Look at that resume again. He worked to clean up the Star Wars bar that doubles as the United Nations – and fought opium-producing war-lords in Afghanistan. Most people with that resume would turn to international “consulting” and make millions of dollars. Not Schweich. I’d dare say Tom Schweich was the most qualified state auditor in the history not just of Missouri, but our country. Schweich loved to cite the fact that he’d caught over 30 public officials in Missouri embezzling money. They were easy compared to Afghanistan or the UN.
Schweich did not set out to be State Auditor. He first wanted to be a United States Senator. It was only after that plan was thwarted that he settled for Auditor. A lesser person may have run on auto-pilot until the election for the job they were really seeking. Not Tom Schweich. From his actions, it was obvious that he believed, whatever you do, do it well, and put everything you’ve got into it.
It was obvious to anyone who ever saw Schweich operate in the capitol or speak on the stump that he longed and loved to be Roosevelt’s “Man in the Arena.” And was he ever. Schweich’s willingness to fight did not always make him popular in the capitol. To put it mildly, he could be a little prickly. In retrospect, it’s also what made him great at every professional endeavor he tried.
Generally, people like their politicians to be gregarious. And good politicians and policy-makers like their staff members to be bulldogs. Often, the most successful politicians are those who persuade with sugar. They can convince others to do things they don’t really want to do, but find a way to rationalize it. Tom Schweich never made that transition.
I will keep two memories of Schweich. The first is a perfect example of his bulldog-style that served him well and poorly. In the spring of 2012, Tom hitched a short ride with me returning to the Capitol from an event in Jefferson City. We had a disagreement over a relatively minor policy issue, and he wanted to talk about it. We started talking and it was clear that neither of us was going to budge. The closed-car meeting did not end well for either of us. He was now viscerally angry and I was as dug-in as ever.
The second memory is personal. Last spring, Auditor Schweich invited me and two other representatives to lunch in his office at the capitol. I had never spent time with him that did not involve either a formal meeting about public policy or was at a political event with dozens or hundreds of other people. I was looking forward to it, but, based on previous interactions, did not expect to have a great time.
I could not have been more wrong. With no policy and no politicking, we saw a side of Tom Schweich that the public never saw. He was warm, affable, and hilarious. I left the room with a completely different view of him. Behind the public persona was a real person who was interesting and genuinely interested in others. That was the Tom Schweich I’m sure his family knew and loved.
Today, it appears it was all too much. Missouri has lost a true public servant in tragic circumstances. It still has not quite sunk in. The facts surrounding his death are incomprehensible to me. I cannot imagine the loss felt by his family. My prayers are with them and his soul. Rest in peace, Tom Schweich.