JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) – The chairman of the Missouri Republican Party mounted a public defense of his reputation Thursday as several state lawmakers called for his resignation over his alleged involvement in an anti-Semitic whispering campaign against a state auditor who killed himself.
GOP Chairman John Hancock said he is not resigning and has been the target of “malicious rumors” from people who believe he was telling Republican donors that former Auditor Tom Schweich, also a Republican, was Jewish.
Schweich fatally shot himself Feb. 26, a month after declaring his candidacy for governor and minutes after telling reporters he was ready to go public with allegations that Hancock had made anti-Semitic comments about him. Schweich was a Christian.
Schweich’s death has roiled Missouri politics, highlighting the intense divisions among Republicans as they head into an important 2016 election in which they will be defending a U.S. Senate seat and seeking to recapture the governor’s office from Democrats.
Former Republican U.S. Sen. John Danforth, an elder statesman and political mentor to Schweich, used his friend’s funeral eulogy earlier this month to suggest Schweich had been driven to suicide by political bullying and angst over the perceived anti-Semitic comments.
On Thursday, five Republican lawmakers called for Hancock to resign.
“If we don’t try to make a change in direction, this will haunt us in the August 2016 (primary) elections and the November 2016 elections,” said state Sen. David Pearce, of Warrensburg. “Our party is at a crossroads. We need a change at the top, and that’s why we’re asking John Hancock to resign as our chairman.”
Pearce was joined by state Sens. Mike Parson, of Bolivar, and Gary Romine, of Farmington, and state Reps. Bill White, of Joplin, and Jim Neely, of Cameron.
Hancock, meanwhile, released a list of nearly two dozen people – headed by former U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft and U.S. Rep. Ann Wagner- vouching for his character and integrity.
“There was no whisper campaign; there is no anti-Semitism in me; I did not do any of the things that had been alleged of me,” Hancock told The Associated Press. “My reputation has been damaged greatly in this process, and I want my reputation back.”