Goon Squad

Bob Fairchild, a retired assistant high school principal and head football coach, stood with his mouth open on the day an aide to U.S. Rep. Sam Graves came to his house and tried to intimidate him.

Fairchild lives in Chillicothe, Missouri, where he’s a beloved figure. Before retiring in 1998, he coached the local high school’s football team to 307 wins and 5 state championships.

One day two years ago, a Chillicothe newspaper publisher and a St. Louis mortician, Democrats both, visited Fairchild’s home in an effort to persuade him to run for an open seat in the Missouri House of Representatives. They were discussing the idea — Fairchild is convinced he would have won — when Jewell Patek knocked.

Patek graduated from Chillicothe High School in 1989. Though a much younger man than Fairchild, he had once held the very seat the decorated coach was thinking of running for. Patek was elected to the Missouri House in 1996, when he was just 25 and fresh out of law school. He resigned from the Legislature in 2001 to work for Graves in Washington, D.C. For a time, Patek and Graves shared an apartment in Alexandria, Virginia.

“He came to the door but would not come in,” Fairchild tells the Pitch, describing Patek’s visit. “In a threatening way — now, I can’t tell you his exact words — but it was kind of put to me that, ‘You don’t have a chance, and you’ll be sorry if you decide to do this.'”

Fairchild was stunned.

“He caught me so unawares, I didn’t know what to say. It was the first instance of somebody coming and doing something like that, and I just … “

Fairchild laughs.

“I wish I had it to do over again.”

Fairchild says he has no idea if Graves had anything to do with Patek’s visit in 2002. Patek’s intention seemed clear, however: He wanted a Republican to hold his former seat. “There was no question in my mind in what he was trying to do: dissuade me from trying to run, in a threatening way,” Fairchild says.

Fairchild ultimately decided not to be a candidate. He says health concerns, not the warnings of a “little pipsqueak,” kept him out of the race.

Now 72 years old and in better health, Fairchild says he may run for state representative in 2006, though his experience as a school principal and coach might not have prepared him for what happens in a campaign. “I’ve been always in a profession that I thought was pretty tough,” Fairchild says. “But it wasn’t dirty.”

That day, Fairchild joined a not very exclusive club of Missouri politicians who have felt bullied, harassed, jostled, taunted and defamed by someone connected to Graves, a conservative serving his second two-year term in the U.S. House. Politicians from both major parties claim disgust with his political operation, a squad led by Jeff Roe, his longtime campaign manager and (until recently) chief of staff.

“Their tactics are the worst I’ve ever seen, and I’ve been in politics fifty years,” says former Kansas City Councilwoman Teresa Loar, who opposed Graves in a Republican primary in 2000. “It’s truly incredible what they get away with.”

One of the squad’s favorite tactics is to jam cameras in the faces of opponents, paparazzi-style. Graves’ minions seek photographs in such an aggressive manner that two of his rivals have complained to police.

“They’re evil,” says Clay County Assessor Cathy Rinehart, who challenged Graves in 2002. “Their tactics are evil.”

Roe apparently had it in for Rinehart. Larry Dougan, a former candidate for state representative, says he overheard Roe tell another man at a festival in Rock Port: “We’re going to do a C-section on Cathy Rinehart and throw her guts out on the floor.”

The temperature fell below 10 degrees on the January night Charlie Broomfield held a campaign fund-raiser at the Old Pike Country Club in Gladstone.

Broomfield, a former Clay County commissioner and state representative, hopes to represent Missouri’s 6th District in the U.S. Congress. Broomfield has run for the seat twice before and lost. In trying to displace Graves, a well-financed incumbent, he faces another rough road.

As the fund-raiser wound down, at about 8:20 p.m., Broomfield told his wife, Marsha, that he was going to start the car. Broomfield pulled on his coat and stepped out into the cold, dark night.

At the moment Broomfield reached his wife’s Chrysler, a car approached. A man got out of the vehicle, leaving the engine running and the door ajar. He moved toward Broomfield, his face concealed behind a camera.

Broomfield thought at first that maybe a supporter wanted a picture before leaving the fund-raiser. “You know,” Broomfield says, “politicians are glad to have their picture taken.”

But the man with the camera did not put Broomfield at ease by yelling. “Are you Charlie Broomfield?” he called. “Are you Charlie Broomfield?”

“Yes, I am,” Broomfield says he answered. “Who are you?”

The man, not answering, kept coming until he was within a few feet of Broomfield’s face. Now Broomfield was worried. He says he keeps himself in pretty good shape, but the 66-year-old was not thrilled with the prospect of having to fend off an attacker.

The man snapped one last picture, turned around, and walked back to his car.

Broomfield felt his composure return. “If you don’t tell me who you are,” he said to the photographer, “I’m going to get your license number.”

But the photographer sped away without revealing his name.

What happened in the parking lot felt to Broomfield like a crime. Half an hour later, he filed a report with the Gladstone police. “I think it was fairly close to assault, if not actually assault,” he tells the Pitch.

The plate number Broomfield jotted down corresponded to a Mazda sedan owned by Jason Klindt, Graves’ deputy press secretary.

Cathy Rinehart, Graves’ previous Democratic challenger, filed a similar report in 2002. She was walking in a Gladstone parade, throwing candy and waving, when two men with cameras circled her for several minutes along the route. “They were screaming and saying to each other, ‘I got her!'” Rinehart tells the Pitch.

Rinehart says the photographers melted into the crowd whenever her section of the parade approached a police officer. She says she later saw them wearing Graves T-shirts.

There’s no crime in taking a picture of a politician, of course. It’s quite common, in fact, for rival campaigns to obtain images of the opposition and use them in campaign literature — the more unflattering the image, the better.

But Broomfield and Rinehart both believed that a line had been crossed. They felt that the cameras had become tools of intimidation. Rinehart says she was stalked by photographers at several different events. “We live in a civilized country,” she says. “You should be able to walk in a parade and not be afraid.”

At one parade, Rinehart, fed up with feeling harassed, volunteered to stop and pose for her interloper. The Graves campaign ended up using an image from that session, Rinehart says; she thought the picture made her look pretty good.

Rinehart’s complaint resulted in no criminal charges. A spokesman for Clay County Prosecutor Don Norris says Broomfield’s complaint is under investigation.

Broomfield says he wrote Graves a letter and expected an apology in return but has heard nothing. “Apparently, Mr. Graves is aware of and condones that kind of activity,” he says.

The Pitch received a similar brushoff. Klindt referred questions to Graves’ spokesman in Washington, D.C. A message left for Roe was returned by the same spokesman, Brian McKenna, who indicated that Graves’ office did not care to comment for this article. Speaking this past February to a reporter for the Northland newspaper Dispatch Tribune, Roe called Broomfield’s complaint “campaign silliness” and “political baloney.”

Who is Congressman Sam Graves?

Graves’ official bio says he is a sixth-generation farmer. Born in 1963. Husband. Father of three. Pilot of small aircraft.

When Graves isn’t in Washington, D.C., he lives in Tarkio, a town with a population just less than 2,000 tucked in the very northwestern corner of Missouri. A drive from Tarkio into Iowa or Nebraska barely moves the gas needle.

Graves inherited an interest in public affairs from his father, Sam Graves Sr., who was president of the local school board. Graves Jr. first ran for office in 1992, winning a place in the Missouri House of Representatives. Blake Hurst, a family friend who owns a greenhouse in nearby Westboro, says Graves knocked on every door, some of them twice. “Everyone knows Sam,” Hurst says. “He’s very friendly, very upbeat. He’s just a nice, nice, nice guy.”

Two years later, Graves moved to the Missouri Senate. It was during the 1994 Senate race that Graves and Jeff Roe first worked together. Roe served as a deputy on the campaign and has managed Graves’ successive election bids, including his 2000 election to Congress.

The 6th District covers the rural northwest, St. Joseph, and northern and eastern swaths of metropolitan Kansas City. The previous U.S. representative, Pat Danner, a conservative Democrat, won elections by comfortable margins.

Though Danner had already disclosed that she was undergoing treatment for breast cancer, her announcement in the late spring of 2000 that she would not seek a fifth term surprised many. Sensing the chance to gain a seat, Republican leaders turned to Graves, though the party had already declared a candidate, Teresa Loar.

Loar was furious when the party establishment embraced Graves after Danner’s announcement. Republican leaders, she complained, wanted one of their own — a conservative white male — to fill the seat once they saw it could be had. “To get kicked around by my own party is so disheartening,” she told The Kansas City Star in 2000.

The kicking continued. Before the primary, U.S. House Speaker Dennis Hastert and former Majority Leader Dick Armey visited the district on Graves’ behalf. Money poured in. Attack ads filled the airwaves and the newspaper pages. Loar didn’t stand a chance. “It was killing a gnat with a sledgehammer,” she tells the Pitch.

As if the full weight of the Republican party weren’t enough, Loar had to contend with Graves’ street operation. Candidate forums, parades, neighborhood meetings — nearly everywhere she went, it seemed, a young man with a camera followed. “They’ll get right in your face,” she says.

Loar says she knew the picture takers worked for Graves because she saw them at his rallies. “A fiefdom of white guys,” she calls the squad. Loar understands the nature of opposition research, but she says the incessant presence of a photographer served a greater purpose. “This is for harassment,” she says.

Loar was also on guard for college students who presented themselves as researchers and journalists but had ulterior motives. She says she saw the same scholars cheering Graves at public events. Rinehart makes a similar charge. She says Matt Barry, now a field rep in Graves’ Liberty office, tried to volunteer for her campaign on repeated occasions. (Contacted by the Pitch, Barry deferred to Graves’ press office.)

Loar crossed party lines to endorse Graves’ Democratic opponent in the general election, lawyer Steve Danner, Pat Danner’s son. The Graves campaign demonized Danner as a tax-and-spend liberal and a deadbeat, making an accusation that wasn’t true. Graves claimed not long before the election that Steve Danner was sued over an unpaid hospital bill. But it was a different Steve Danner who had failed to pay. Graves acknowledged the error but never apologized.

Graves preferred to hit Steve Danner from a distance, refusing to participate in a televised debate. But in Graves’ case, that might have been a smart strategy. When Sam Graves goes off-script, he can leave people scratching their heads. During the 2000 race, he equated the size of a candidate’s war chest to his ability to connect with the people. Graves, who raised $1.1 million for that campaign, said Steve Danner’s piddly purse ($800,000) showed that his opponent’s appeal was limited. “If he truly represented the values of Missourians, voters would have given him more financial support,” Graves told the Star two days before the November 2000 election.

Graves received more than half of his contributions from political action committees.

He won the election by 4 percentage points.

Graves is Baptist, pro-business and partisan — a somewhat typical Republican member of the U.S. House of Representatives. He’s voted with his party at least 95 percent of the time in each of the past three years, according to Project Vote Smart, a nonpartisan campaign-information resource. Interest groups like the Christian Coalition, the National Rifle Association and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce give him high marks. He supported going to war in Iraq. “The threat is there,” he told the Associated Press in August 2002, arguing for a preemptive strike against Saddam Hussein. “There is no doubt.”

When Graves has disagreed with the Bush administration, he’s done so from the right, calling for more barriers to immigration, fewer dollars for fighting AIDS in Africa, deeper tax cuts.

Graves is not entirely predictable. Many conservative Republicans favor vouchers for private schools; he does not. (His wife, Lesley, teaches kindergarten in a public school.) Graves’ admirers say he comes by his convictions honestly. “This guy is just a truly wholesome person who really believes in what he’s doing,” says state Rep. Brad Lager, a Maryville Republican.

Conviction can be blinding. Graves brays for lower taxes, but in 2001 he voted for $74 billion in new farm subsidies. Graves has benefited himself from such assistance. He received $146,000 in agriculture subsidies from 1995 to 2002, according to the Environmental Working Group, a nonprofit advocacy group. His father collected $243,000.

Graves has reached into the pork barrel on behalf of his district. During his freshman year, he secured a $273,000 grant to defeat the menace of goth culture in Blue Springs. “About 35 students have been identified with goth culture,” a Graves aide said at the time. “They’re doing self-mutilation, animal sacrifices, the sort of violent behavior and drug use that possibly could lead to what happened at Columbine in 1999 with Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris.”

With no shortage of programs to choose from, Citizens Against Government Waste, a watchdog group, held up the goth grant and the Reefer Madness-like logic behind it for ridicule. Arizona Republican Sen. John McCain, appearing with the group, equated the worthiness of the anti-goth crusade to the study of squirrel mating. Graves is not a rhetorical flamethrower. He seems almost shy, or at least not as attention-needy as most politicians.

Last month, he brought a U.S. Department of Education official to Liberty to discuss the Leave No Child Behind initiative. After introducing the official, Ron Tomalis, to educators, parents and reporters, Graves sat silent, taking notes on a manila folder until it was time to conclude the discussion. Even when his pen was still, Graves tended to keep his head bowed.

Graves is no show horse. While a state legislator, he hurried home on weekends to be with his family and to tend his farm. Even today, as a congressman, he’ll climb on the roof of his house when it needs new shingles. “There is absolutely no arrogance,” Hurst says. Lager adds: “Sam does not feel the need to have the spotlight on him.”

But humility belies ambition. Graves is said to covet the U.S. Senate seat held by Kit Bond, who is running for re-election this fall. Bond will turn 71 in 2010, the year his third term would expire.

In the meantime, Graves is consolidating power, helping like-minded conservatives fill offices throughout the region. “The Graves family is probably the most partisan, political, Republican family in western Missouri,” says Steve Glorioso, a political adviser to Kansas City, Missouri, Mayor Kay Barnes. He’s referring also to Sam’s brother Todd Graves, a former Platte County prosecutor who was appointed the U.S. attorney for western Missouri in 2001.

No race appears too small for the operation to get involved.

In 2002, Larry Dougan, a longtime Nodaway County commissioner, ran for the Missouri House of Representatives and lost. Dougan is a Democrat, but he’s no one’s idea of a candy-ass. He drives a Dodge pickup that kicks gravel when he drives to work. He wears a flannel shirt, blue jeans, and an embossed leather belt. His voice is loud, his manner friendly.

Dougan lost the race to Lager, 29, a former member of the Maryville City Council and self-proclaimed man of “strong Christian values.” Dougan says he tried to run a clean race. His radio advertisements reminded voters of his place in the community; at various times, Dougan has been an Elk, a school board member, a volunteer firefighter and the owner of a meat-cutting shop. In one radio spot, he talked about driving his elderly mother to her hairdresser.

Dougan, however, was unprepared for the attack ads that flooded the small media market in the waning days of the race. One radio spot called him “Liberal Larry” and suggested that he would be inclined to raise taxes because he lived in a sleazy-sounding “renovated motel” and, therefore, didn’t pay taxes himself. (Dougan managed an apartment complex that once had been a motel.)

A group called the Republican 6th District Congressional Committee placed the “Liberal Larry” ad. The committee is closely tied to Graves. His campaign gave the committee $20,000 a week before the 2002 election. The committee also reimbursed Jeff Roe for expenses, according to documents on file with the Missouri Ethics Commission.

After Dougan lost the race by 700 votes, he retired from politics and was appointed to the job supervising the county’s roads and bridges.

Dougan is still bothered that state committees — Democratic ones, too — sullied the campaign with so much negative advertising. “If the big boys want to do it, fine, but it shouldn’t come down home,” Dougan tells the Pitch. “‘Liberal Larry,’ where did they get that?”

Closer to the ground, Dougan was also stalked by photographers. On the first occasion, he was walking in Maryville’s fall parade. Dougan says he became annoyed when a young man got within a few feet of his face as he tried to shake hands. “Did you get a good one?” Dougan says he asked the photographer.

“Yeah, I got a bunch of them,” the photographer replied.

Dougan says that at the end of the parade, he saw Roe and others wearing Graves gear. The Graves team, he says, taunted Dougan and his supporters with a You’re gonna lose! refrain.

A few months later, former Missouri Lieutenant Governor Roger Wilson appeared with Dougan at a Nodaway County seniors’ center. A college-age man took pictures throughout the event. Dougan says he asked Wilson at one point, “Is he one of yours?”

“No, I thought he was one of yours,” Wilson replied.

Wilson later introduced himself to the young man and asked if he worked for the newspaper at the local state college.

“No, I work for Brad Lager,” he answered, according to Dougan.

The reply displeased Wilson. He rebuked the young man, telling him that by participating in such campaign tactics, he might harm his future in politics. Kay Wilson, publisher of the Nodaway News Leader and no relation to the former lieutenant governor, attended the event. She describes Wilson’s lecture as “a real talking-to.”

Like Dougan, Kay Wilson says she was disturbed by the way Lager’s campaign seemed to be directed by Graves for Congress and the Missouri Republican Party. “We here in rural America see those tactics at the Washington, D.C., level, but we don’t need to see it come down to a three-county state representative’s race,” she tells the Pitch.

“I’m a Republican by birth and by choice, but I see this as a true machine.”

Other northwest Missouri Democrats make complaints similar to Dougan’s.

G. Spencer Miller, who ran for prosecutor in Nodaway County in 2002, named Graves in a defamation lawsuit. Miller objected to a full-page ad that the Republican 6th District Congressional Committee placed in a Maryville newspaper.

The ad called Miller a carpetbagger and said he wasted tax dollars. He later withdrew the lawsuit, but his disgust remains. “It’s a real pit,” he says of Graves’ political operation. “My impression is, they hurt you and hurt you real bad.”

State Rep. Jim Whorton, a Trenton Democrat, says he’s seen the Graves squad get physical, literally butting in when his campaign workers have tried to pass out literature along parade lines. “They’re just generally a bunch of bullies,” he says.

In other circumstances, jostling along a parade line might be dismissed as the work of overly enthusiastic youths. But when Roe is involved, obnoxious behavior is a recurring tactic.

Whorton says he went to the car lot he owns one Sunday during the last campaign to do some paperwork and saw Roe and Patek pressed against the glass window of his campaign office, which was nearby. Whorton says they were probably trying to catch a glimpse of whatever paperwork and poster board might have been visible.

Whorton says he called police, but no report of the incident was made. “They never did anything I could prove was illegal,” Whorton says. “They’re just … assholes.”

Patek has since gone to work for Missouri Secretary of State Matt Blunt, who wants to be governor. The Columbia Daily Tribune reported last year that Patek was drawing a salary from the state and from Blunt’s campaign at the same time, an unusual arrangement that’s legal under state law. A Blunt spokesman told the newspaper that Patek worked on campaign matters only in his spare time.

The Pitch reached Patek on his cell phone and asked if he recalled the incident that Fairchild had described.

“I really don’t recall,” Patek said.

“You don’t recall going to his house?” the Pitch asked.

“I really don’t.”

“Is it possible you did?”

“It certainly is. I know Mr. Fairchild to be honest in the past. I have no reason to believe he’s not now. I don’t recall now but … “

“So you don’t recall going to his house?”

“No. When was this?”

Patek was told it would have been two years ago. He laughed for a moment. “I do a lot of campaign activities that I don’t recall,” he said.

The conversation ended with Patek saying he would try to jog his memory and call the Pitch back. He never did.

Like countless others warriors of business and politics, Roe names Sun Tzu’s The Art of War as a favorite book.

Roe supplied that cliched detail to the Kansas City business magazine Ingram’s, which last year included him in its list of “40 leaders under 40.”

What else is known about Roe? He is in his early thirties and from Brookfield. In 2000 he told the University of Missouri-Columbia’s Missouri Digital News Web site that he grew up in a family of Goldwater Republicans. He started volunteering for political campaigns while in high school, and his first paid work was for Graves in 1994. In his spare time, he said, he umpired baseball games.

At the time he gave the interview, Roe was working for both Graves brothers: Sam Graves was running for U.S. Congress, and Todd Graves was running for state treasurer. (Todd lost.) Roe described himself as a relentless money raiser. “I once called a contributor 27 times in St. Louis to take a meeting with Todd,” he said.

Sam Graves’ office announced on April 28 that Roe was no longer the congressman’s chief of staff. Roe, it appears, wanted to break the legal shackles that prevent federal employees from engaging in political activity while working in a government office. The press release said that Roe was returning to Missouri to consult on political campaigns, including Graves’.

“I hate not to have him in the Washington office,” Graves said in the press release. “However, I’m glad that he’ll be able to devote his full attention to the election process.”

Missouri office seekers, beware.

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