There are vast differences between military service and other government service.
Perhaps this is because in the military, rank is everything. One who has a higher rank than another can order the subordinate around without hesitation, and the subordinate is duty bound to follow any direct order from a superior, or face potentially significant punitive consequences.
A military officer can order an enlisted man to drop and do pushups, dig a ten foot hole in the dirt then fill it up again, or charge up a hill in battle to certain death. There’s no debate, vote, argument, or appeal. That’s how the military works. It’s a dictatorship.
On the other hand, our government functions with a system of checks and balances, with the executive, legislative, and judicial branches each having their role in government policy and decision-making, where the majority often rules, where no branch of government or individual public servant has absolute power, and the rule of law, not the will or the whim of any individual, is pre-eminent.
And it seems that sometimes politicians with military backgrounds who become elected officials struggle with certain aspects of that transition.
Take Eric Greitens, for instance.
Wholly setting aside for a moment the breaking story of his admitted marital infidelity and denial of alleged blackmail of his former paramour, the former military officer and Navy seal, now Governor of our fair state, has distinguished himself in that role by taking an approach more akin to a military general than an elected official in many respects.
For instance, he apparently disliked the state’s longtime top education official, who is selected by and answerable not to the governor, but to the state Board of Education. And thus, although he didn’t have the legal authority to select her, direct her, or give her the boot, Governor Greitens did manage to pack the board with members hand selected by him specifically to do so.
This has led to a showdown with the Senate over confirmation of Greitens’ hand selected nominees to the Board, in an attempt to control the appointment. Senate Democrats (Greitens’ political party up until 2015) and Republicans (Greitens’ party since 2015) alike have criticized this usurpation of power by the Governor.
Another display of power by Greitens which has given rise to claims of contravention of basic political ethical norms includes a lack of fundamental transparency when it comes to secret, “dark money” donations to his campaign fund and his rather extravagant inauguration ceremony, the sources of which he has steadfastly refused to disclose.
Greitens has also pushed for a fundamental change in the long-standing Missouri Plan, which governs the manner of selecting of appellate judges statewide and circuit judges in the metropolitan areas. The Missouri Plan is designed to select judges based on merit, and not political affiliation. Greitens has expressed a dislike for this long-standing, national model for merit-based judicial selection, in favor of a system that features direct appointment of all affected judicial positions by the Governor. Gee, go figure.
Add to that the Greitens administration’s granting of a lucrative no-bid contract to a significant campaign donor, although the full extent of financial contributions to the governor’s cause is not known due to the dark money issue above.
Another issue: the use of an app by the governor’s office that deletes text messages after they have been read. This has led to an outcry, a lawsuit, and an attorney general investigation over circumvention of the Sunshine Law, which requires most government communications to be maintained as public records.
All of these and other circumstances present a developing picture of a governor who seeks to function more as the highest ranking member of a military organization, unburdened by basic tenets of transparency and accountability, than an elected member of one of the three branches of a democratic government.
-- Ken Garten is a Blue Springs attorney. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org