Missouri Auditor Tom Schweich came across as a relatively mild-mannered politician, but when he formally declared his candidacy for governor last month, he came out swinging.
Schweich, who died Thursday from a self-inflicted gunshot wound suffered at his home in Clayton, came out of a career in public service to first run for statewide office in 2010, when he ousted incumbent Democrat Susan Montee. His aspirations for public office had been nurtured by former U.S. Sen. John C. Danforth, his former boss, and GOP contributor Sam Fox.
After a relatively calm first term, Schweich won a second four-year term last November, when Democrats didn’t even field a candidate. But it quickly became clear that Schweich had his eyes on a bigger prize – the governor’s office, which Democrat Jay Nixon will leave after serving two terms.
When he made his formal announcement for the office in late January, Schweich took aim at his main opponent, former U.S. Attorney and Missouri House Speaker Catherine Hanaway, and her main backer, financier Rex Sinquefield, who has donated at least $1 million to her campaign.
“No one wants this machine to take over the state,” Schweich said, alleging that Sinquefield was trying to “buy a governor.”
“If they run our state,” he said of Hanaway and Sinquefield, “we won’t have a debate over whether it’s Missouri-AH or Missouri-EE. It will be Missour-REX.”
Schweich also took the opportunity to criticize Attorney General Chris Koster, the only announced Democratic candidate for governor. Citing a New York Times story last fall that said Koster gave preferential treatment to companies and lobbyists that were campaign donors, Schweich said:
“The issues of ethics and accountability … may be the key issue in the campaign. You have my word as governor, I will clean up Jefferson City with a level of intensity, tenacity, transparency and rigor that this state has never seen before.”
Years of public service
Though Schweich did not seek elective office until his campaign for auditor, he served in several government positions before that point.
He served as chief of staff when Danforth headed an investigation into the 1993 siege of the Branch Davidian compound at Waco, Texas. He then was chief of staff to three U.S. ambassadors to the United Nations. In that post, he concentrated on finding wrongdoing.
In a later position, Schweich worked in the State Department’s Bureau for International Narcotics and Law Enforcement. There, he helped develop programs designed to curb narcotics trade and terrorism, leading diplomatic missions to more than two dozen countries.
In 2007-2008, he coordinated the U.S. work in counternarcotics and justice reform in Afghanistan, helping to curtail opium production in that country and rebuild its legal systems.
During a Politically Speaking podcast in 2013, he talked about why he decided to run for office.
“I came back and taught at Wash U. for a couple years," Schweich said of his life after service for the federal government. "And that’s when a group of St. Louis area Republicans and said ‘well you’ve been fighting corruption for corporations, at the U.N., around the world and in Afghanistan. Maybe you should run for auditor and try to root out corruption in your own state.”
On his ability to defeat an incumbent auditor, he added:
“I think with all the disgust people had in 2010, the fact that I had a law enforcement background and was going to crack down on fraud, that’s why I resonated with voters. And that’s why I won.”
Schweich was a fifth-generation Missourian and a graduate of Yale University and Harvard Law School. He told an interviewer on St. Louis on the Air in 2003 that his interest in legal matters began early.
“I always was interested in law,” he said. “I was going to trials when I was a kid, going to St. Louis County courthouse. I also was very interested in writing. I wrote short stories and songs and I had a guitar and I always knew at some point I wanted to do some kind of writing but I kept myself very flexible on what kind of writing it would be because you can’t be too focused.”
Reactions to Schweich’s death
As word spread Thursday, first of Schweich’s hospitalization due to what a statement from his office initially called a “medical situation at his home this morning,” then his death, public officials issued statements of reaction and condolence, via email, Twitter and other avenues. A prayer service was held in the Missouri House after his death was announced.
“I join all Missourians in mourning the passing of State Auditor Tom Schweich, a brilliant, devoted and accomplished public servant who dedicated his career to making Missouri and the world a better place,” Nixon said. He ordered flags at all Missouri state facilities to be immediately lowered to half-staff to honor his passing.
“From his courageous work to combat the illegal drug trade abroad in Afghanistan to his tireless efforts to protect the interests of taxpayers here in Missouri, Tom Schweich’s exceptional intellect and unwavering dedication to public service left a legacy that will endure for many years to come. The first lady and I send our most heartfelt condolences to Tom’s wife Kathy and two children, Emilie and Thomas, Jr.”
Hanaway, his opponent for the GOP nomination for governor: “I am deeply saddened by today’s news regarding Auditor Tom Schweich. Auditor Schweich was an extraordinary man with an extraordinary record of service to our state and nation. Our state and nation are better places because of his tireless dedication to duty and service. His wife, Kathy, and two children, Emilie and Thomas, will be in my prayers. I ask everyone to respect their privacy."
U.S. Rep. Blaine Luetkemeyer, R-St. Elizabeth -- “Today, Missouri lost a man who was a true public servant through and through. Tom Schweich, a fifth-generation Missourian, is someone who would fight day and night to better our great state. Tom will always be remembered as a true conservative and a loving and devoted father and husband. He will be deeply missed by his colleagues, and friends, and my thoughts and prayers go out to his family during this difficult time.”
U.S. Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo. – “Tom Schweich was very smart, very capable, outstanding at his job, and a good friend.”
U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo. -- “I am very sad and hurt so much for Tom Schweich's family. Good man. Dedicated public servant. Hug those you love.”
Attorney General Koster -- “Tom Schweich was a lifelong public servant for our state and country. I am deeply saddened by his sudden loss, and extend my heartfelt sympathy to his family.”
U.S. Rep. Ann Wagner, R-Ballwin – “I am shocked and saddened to hear the tragic news about state Auditor Tom Schweich. My thoughts and prayers go out to him and his family.”
U.S. Rep. William Lacy Clay, D-University City -- ""Shocked by tragic death ... Dedicated and talented public servant. Thoughts and prayers for his family."
U.S. Rep. Vicky Hartlzer, R-Harrisonville -- “Heartbroken to hear of @TomSchweichMO passing. My heart, thoughts, and prayers go out to his family and friends.:
St. Louis County Executive Steve Stenger, a Democrat – “Our thoughts and prayers are with the Schweich family today.”
Missouri House Republican Campaign Committee – “At this heartbreaking time, our thoughts and prayers are with the family of @AuditorSchweich. This is truly a sad day for Missouri.”
Secretary of State Jason Kander, a Democrat -- "Tom Schweich was a devoted public servant that I feel fortunate to have gotten to know as a friend and colleague over the past few years. Whether he was serving as our State Auditor, the U.S. Coordinator for Counternarcotics and Justice Reform in Afghanistan, or working at the State Department, Tom always fought tirelessly for the people he was serving. Anyone who had a conversation with Tom knew how dedicated he was to his service."
State Treasurer Clint Zweifel, a Democrat -- "Tom served his state and country admirably, and fought strongly for his values. With his passing, Missouri has lost a devoted public servant."
Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder, a Republican -- “It is with great sadness that I heard today of the tragic passing of Missouri Auditor Tom Schweich. Tom had a long and unblemished record as a great public servant. As the state’s auditor for the past four years he has served Missouri taxpayers with quiet competence and unswerving dedication. My thoughts and prayers are with his family in this extremely difficult time.”
Missouri House Speaker John Diehl -- "It was with immense sadness that I learned of the tragic passing of my good friend and fellow public servant, Tom Schweich. This is a devastating loss for our state as we have now lost a leader and a man of the highest integrity, character and dedication. I ask now that all Missourians pray for the Schweich family as they cope with this tragic loss.”
A joint statement from leadership of the Missouri Senate -- "“We would like to offer our prayers and sympathy to the family of Auditor Tom Schweich. Tom’s experience as a talented federal prosecutor, diplomat and Ambassador made him become a brilliant auditor. In his service to the state of Missouri, he led hundreds of audits, making it his mission to fight corruption and bring transparency to many offices across the state. Our heartfelt prayers go out to his family at this difficult time.”
State Sen. Eric Schmitt, R-Glendale: “I’m deeply saddened by the tragic news of the passing of our State Auditor, Tom Schweich. Tom was a great public servant not only to our state, but to our country as a whole."
State Republican Party Chairman John Hancock -- "Tom will be remembered as a tenacious, energetic, effective elected official who worked tirelessly on behalf of the citizens of this state and this nation."
Former Gov. Bob Holden -- "A real tragedy. Thoughts and prayers are with the Schweich family."
State Democratic Party chair Roy Temple -- “The death of Auditor Tom Schweich is devastating news for his family and all Missourians. Our thoughts and prayers are with the Schweich family during this tragic time.”
Former U.S. Sen. Jim Talent and his wife, Brenda -- "We are brokenhearted at the passing of Tom Schweich. He was a fine leader, caring and passionate about his service to the State of Missouri, a brilliant man of great integrity and patriotism, many interests and much accomplishment in law, diplomacy and public affairs. He was our friend. We will miss him, and our prayers go out to Kathy, their children and all of those who knew Tom and loved him."
Lewis Reed, St. Louis Board of Aldermen President: "My sincere condolences go out to the family, friends, and colleagues of state Auditor Tom Schweich."
Jason Rosenbaum contributed information for this story.