As Missouri's General Assembly opened its 100th session Wednesday, Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft called on members of the House of Representatives to act with integrity, humility and grace.
"These are comments on what I think every individual who is elected to office should strive for. My biggest concern about my speech, when I first wrote it, was I felt like it was 'preaching' to others," Ashcroft said. "I thought, 'Wait a minute. I need to be worried about these very same things myself.'"
Nobody's perfect, he said in an interview Friday while discussing details of his session-opening speech to representatives.
Ashcroft referenced a President Abraham Lincoln address Wednesday when he said a government of, by and for the people could not long survive if voters could not trust their elected leaders.
"It is my hope that we can be candid, transparent and honest," he said Wednesday.
The comments came at the end of a chaotic year for Missourians.
Early in 2017, then-Gov. Eric Greitens was indicted on a felony invasion of privacy charge for allegedly taking a photo of his mistress while she was in a state of partial nudity without her permission. He was later charged with using a donors list from his nonprofit organization for campaigning purposes. Both charges were dismissed. The allegations led to a nearly year-long investigations of the governor, who resigned June 1. He was replaced by then-Lt. Gov. Mike Parson.
Criticism has always been a political reality, Ashcroft said.
"I think that there's one side of our political party that doesn't believe a word President Trump says. I think there's another side that has a hard time believing anything that President Obama said," Ashcroft said Friday. "If we look back in history, we have had a problem believing politicians and having faith in them. I'm concerned that that's getting worse."
The Wednesday address was about reminding legislators of the gravity of their work and the need to work together. All the representatives are there because they want to try to make a difference for the good of the state, he said.
The speech recalled advice from President Ronald Reagan, who asked government workers not to worry about who gets credit for what gets done.
Taking pride out of discussions about issues helps lawmakers find better ways to complete tasks, Ashcroft said Friday.
"We need to understand that we're all working toward that same goal. We all should be acting with these values that should transcend politics," he said.
Honesty — or a lack of honesty — comes from upbringing.
"You don't have to teach kids to lie. You don't have to teach them to want to take credit for things that maybe they shouldn't have," Ashcroft said. "You have to teach them to be honest. You have to teach them to say, 'Wait a minute, that was really (somebody else's) idea.' I just wanted to reinforce that."
Ashcroft admitted he was a little nervous leading the House for the first time. It wasn't long. The secretary of state leads the House briefly between the time the lawmakers are sworn in and the time they select an interim speaker.
He reiterated his goal was to remind lawmakers to work with integrity, humility and grace — something everybody should strive to do.
"I need to work on those three things myself," he added.