Ashcroft Stressing Experience Ex-Governor Making His Pitch around State to Win Senate Seat
Terry Ganey Post-Dispatch Jefferson City Bureau Chief, St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)
Former Gov. John Ashcroft stood beneath a shade tree on the town square of Marshfield on Friday, surrounded by about 50 people. They were there to listen to his pitch for the U.S. Senate.
"We need a government that respects the fact that the safety, future and security of the American public is not insured by the bureaucracy but by the creativity and productivity of the people," said Ashcroft, who was on the verge of losing his voice.
Like a traveling salesman, he had visited five towns in southwest Missouri that day. He found the crowds friendly. This is Republican country, and Ashcroft is especially strong in Marshfield. Three years ago, he brought then-President George Bush here for a July 4th celebration.
"I believe the best social program is a job," Ashcroft said. "And the best social service agency is a family."
In the Republican primary for the U.S. Senate, Ashcroft has no serious opposition, while Democratic contenders scramble for that party's nomination. And although Democrats swept five of six statewide races less than two years ago, Republicans are optimistic about Ashcroft's chances in November.
In the past, he has won offices as attorney general and governor by record-setting margins. At 52, his still boyish face is familiar to voters. His supporters say there are no significant negatives associated with Ashcroft, and his campaign will try to paint any Democratic opponent as being too liberal for Missouri.
***** Gospel Songs and Politics
John Ashcroft is a long-sleeved, starched white shirt kind of man. Friends say the "straight arrow" image he projects is genuine. They also say he is a "fiercely competitive individual," be it sports, parlor games or politics.
"People who don't understand that about him do so at their peril," said a friend. "Kenny Rothman learned that in 1984" - referring to Ashcroft's winning the governor's office against then Lt. Gov. Kenneth Rothman.
Friends also say Ashcroft likes to have a good time by pulling out a guitar and singing folk songs. He's a man who loves the outdoors as a fisherman, not as a hunter. And he's been known to water ski on his bare feet or on canoe paddles.
Some who have worked for him say Ashcroft can get angry at times and be difficult to work for.
Ashcroft is also a religious man who sings gospel music and rejects strong drink, profanity and smoking. His father is an Assembly of God minister and educator.
But some who have worked for Ashcroft say he is more complicated than the media notion of "a Bible-thumping, gospel-singing conservative."
"He's got a pretty well thought out explanation for his theological belief in limited government and why government interferes with God-given freedoms," said a former staff member who spoke on the condition that he would not be identified.
***** Private Law Practice
Ashcroft left the governor's office in January 1993 and made an unsuccessful bid to be the chairman of the Republican National Committee. A month later, he joined the Clayton-based law firm of Suelthaus & Kaplan and bought a house in Ballwin. Friends say he went to St. Louis with the idea of practicing law and not to re-enter politics.
"He didn't see any door opening," said a friend and former administration official. That changed unexpectedly when U.S. Sen. John C. Danforth, a Republican, announced that he would not seek re-election.
"I fully expected John Danforth to run again," Ashcroft said in an interview.
Between February 1993 and April of this year, Ashcroft's legal work dealt with securities, banking and business law.
"I think he learned that it's a lot of hard work and effort to run and manage a law firm or any other business," said Gary Cunningham, a partner in the firm. "I think he also enjoyed being out of politics, since it meant he had a lot more time for himself and for his family."
But soon enough, Ashcroft was campaigning again. Long before Ashcroft launched his Senate campaign, he conducted a series of living room discussions all over Missouri to see what was on people's minds. He said he learned that many are concerned about crime, taxes and spending on welfare. He said business owners were worried about government regulations.
Taking a page from the campaign strategy of the late state Sen. Norman Merrell, D-Monticello, Ashcroft has been working four-hour shifts in jobs all over the state. He has been a traffic scheduler at a Joplin trucking company. He's milked cows on a farm in St. Joseph. And he's worked beside a physical therapist at a hospital in Bolivar.
"I am learning about the kind of jobs people have and what they want and expect out of their U.S. senator," Ashcroft said.
***** The Webster Question
When Ashcroft was attorney general, one of his top aides admitted he had performed some political activities on state time. Later, when Ashcroft was governor, his Social Services Department director was forced to resign because he had used state resources to support his private business.
Other than those incidents, Ashcroft's 18 years in state offices (auditor, two years; attorney general, eight years; and governor, eight years) have been free of scandal.
And if Democrats try to tie Ashcroft to fellow Republican William L. Webster, Ashcroft will say he never was aware of the extent of Webster's illegal activities.
Webster was attorney general during the eight years Ashcroft was governor, 1985 to 1993. Webster is now serving a two-year prison sentence after pleading guilty to federal charges that he used state resources for his political campaigns.
Ashcroft had his suspicions about Webster. Early in his first term as governor, Ashcroft warned one of his top aides about Webster.
"You watch that guy," the aide said Ashcroft had told him. "I don't trust him."
While he was governor, Ashcroft made sure he was never alone in a room with Webster without an Ashcroft staff member present as a witness.
That was the case in the fall of 1992, as federal investigators were breathing down Webster's neck while he was running for governor. Ashcroft met with Webster in the governor's office. Ashcroft asked Webster point-blank if he was a target of a federal investigation.
"Bill Webster told me that he was not a target of a grand jury," Ashcroft said. Federal prosecutors have said Webster was a target and had been informed of that fact.
***** Royalties and Frugality
Ashcroft is a Yale graduate with a law degree from the University of Chicago. He failed in his early attempts at politics. He lost a Republican congressional primary in 1972, and then he lost the state auditor's office in 1974, a job to which then-Gov. Christopher Bond had appointed him.
During the two-year period between 1974 and 1976 when he won election as attorney general, Ashcroft and his wife, Janet, worked in state government, which was then dominated by Republicans. Ashcroft was an assistant attorney general under Danforth. Janet Ashcroft was a general counsel for the Revenue Department in the Bond administration.
Twenty years of state government salaries and a careful investment policy have worked well for the Ashcrofts. Financial disclosure reports show that in addition to his income of $141,722 from Suelthaus & Kaplan last year, the family had more than a dozen investments in mutual funds, limited partnerships and commercial property. They own farm property near Willard, Mo., and a house at Lake of the Ozarks.
The Ashcrofts have earned royalties on textbooks they wrote for college business law courses. While John Ashcroft served as governor, Janet Ashcroft abstained from practicing law and worked on the textbooks.
Those who know him well say Ashcroft will do everything possible to avoid spending money. They believe it's the result of his growing up poor.
Ashcroft is the kind of guy who will try to fix broken objects rather than buy new ones. He's a big one for using duct tape.
Ashcroft accidentally left his belt at home when he went campaigning last Thursday night, so as he campaigned the following day, he frequently hitched up his trousers.
"I ought to go buy another, but I'm too tight," he said.
The Ashcrofts have three children. If he wins the election, only the parents will go to Washington. Their daughter, Martha, a graduate of the University of Virginia law school, is taking a job with a law firm in St. Louis. One son, Jay, has been attending the University of Missouri-Rolla. Another son, Andy, will finish his senior year at Parkway West High School before attending college.
"As of next summer, our family is probably going to have some dislocating inconveniences," Ashcroft said.…
Questia, a part of Gale, Cengage Learning. www.questia.com
Publication information: Article title: Ashcroft Stressing Experience Ex-Governor Making His Pitch around State to Win Senate Seat. Contributors: Terry Ganey Post-Dispatch Jefferson City Bureau Chief - Author. Newspaper title: St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO). Publication date: July 11, 1994. Page number: 1C. © 2008 St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Provided by ProQuest LLC. All Rights Reserved.
This material is protected by copyright and, with the exception of fair use, may not be further copied, distributed or transmitted in any form or by any means.