For Missouri, 2018 was a year of political exits that rocked the state and drew national attention. The year began with a sex-and-violence scandal that would ultimately take down Republican Gov. Eric Greitens. It ended with the defeat of two-term Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill, giving national Republicans one of their few bright spots in the midterms.
In between, Missourians changed state labor and drug laws in some decidedly unconservative ways. President Donald Trump's trade wars hit some of his strongest Missouri supporters. Data-wiping technology was revealed to be in wide governmental use. And 17 people lost their lives when a tourist "duck boat" overturned in the Ozarks.
Greitens, a charismatic ex-Navy SEAL and best-selling author, exploded onto the scene in 2016 to win the governor's office. His brash populism echoed Trump's, as did his chaotic governing style.
Long-swirling rumors of a lurid extramarital affair broke open in January. Greitens' former hairdresser alleged that, during an encounter in his St. Louis home in 2015 in which she was bound and blindfolded, he snapped a picture of her and threatened to publicize it if she revealed their affair.
Greitens issued an extraordinary statement Jan. 10 — hours after his second annual State of the State speech — acknowledging the affair but denying the rest. Later, the woman further accused Greitens of physical and sexual violence.
The Legislature began talking impeachment. St. Louis Circuit Attorney Kim Gardner filed criminal charges over the alleged photo threat and, later, over unrelated allegations of illegal campaign fundraising. Greitens defiantly vowed to fight the allegations.
But on May 29, he abruptly announced — with a breaking voice — that he would resign, effective June 1. Gardner dropped the criminal charges. Lt. Gov. Mike Parson, Greitens' level-headed polar opposite in every way but party affiliation, became governor.
Greitens has since disappeared from public view, save one bizarre postscript: The man, who was known for his infinite ambition, and whose books were all about never giving up, is rumored to be quietly raising money for a future run at office.
McCaskill, on the other hand, says her name won't appear on a ballot again, after losing her bid for a third Senate term on Nov. 6 to Republican state Attorney General Josh Hawley. It leaves Missouri, a former battleground state, with just one statewide Democrat: Auditor Nicole Galloway, who won her first full term in the same election.
The combination of Greitens' resignation and Hawley's departure for the Senate set in motion a bizarre succession chain reaction. As of January, half of Missouri's statewide elective offices will be filled by people who were never elected to those offices.
Hawley faced controversy over his decision, as attorney general, to join Missouri in a multistate lawsuit by Republicans seeking to dismantle the Affordable Care Act, threatening the health care coverage of a million or more Missourians. In response, Hawley put out a campaign ad vaguely claiming to be the true champion of universal coverage — an ad so obviously misleading that it drew national condemnation.
Hawley nonetheless easily toppled McCaskill, furthering Missouri's inexorable march in recent years toward solid red-state status.
But even as Missourians elected conservative candidates this year, they approved policies at odds with the conservative agenda. In a ballot measure in August, they overwhelmingly defeated a Republican-passed law that had made Missouri an anti-union "right-to-work" state. Then, ballot measures in November hiked the minimum wage and legalized medical marijuana.
It was the first statewide general election to employ Missouri's controversial voter ID law, created by legislative Republicans to solve the nonexistent problem of individual voter fraud. As expected, the requirements created confusion at polling places.
Amid the busy year of Missouri politics came a tragedy that stunned America. On the night of July 19, a duck boat set out on Table Rock Lake in the Ozarks near Branson, with 31 people aboard. The boat capsized and sank in high winds, killing 17 people ranging in age from 1 to 70. The dead included nine members of the Coleman family of Indianapolis. Multiple lawsuits, proposed safety legislation and manslaughter charges against the captain are pending.
Trump's trade wars this year tested the resolve of Americans who have provided his strongest political support, including the people of the southeastern Missouri.
Mid Continent Nail Corp. of Poplar Bluff, Missouri, America's biggest producer of nails, gets its steel from the Mexican company that owns the factory. That steel now costs 25 percent more than it used to, thanks to Trump's tariffs on Mexican imports. The factory this year shed more than a third of its workforce as it was priced out of the market. The company warns it could yet close completely.
Missouri's political class ended 2018 talking about a technology issue that has been humming all year: the cellphone app Confide, which automatically erases text messages after they're exchanged. Then-Gov. Greitens and his staff were first caught last December using it for government business. Hawley, as attorney general, conducted a weak investigation of whether destroying records of official conversations in real time violated sunshine laws — a no-brainer, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch has argued.
It was later revealed that at least one person on Hawley's staff was using Confide as well. More recently, it was revealed that the chief of staff of state Treasurer Eric Schmitt, Hawley's soon-to-be-seated replacement as attorney general, also was using the disappearing app.
Which makes it fair to ask, as 2018 draws to a close, whether there will be any government records left to report on by this time next year.
REPRINTED FROM THE ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH