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It was improper of Mike Harris to post the entire text of the new Vanity Fair profile of John Ashcroft on his weblog. Perhaps he will have to take it down. But until then, it makes fascinating reading:
And Ashcroft’s obsessions: these too were a puzzle. When, in 1985, a young man named Paul Offner applied for the job of head of Missouri’s social services, Offner tells me, Ashcroft said, without preamble, “Mr. Offner, let me start by asking you if you have the same sexual preference as most men.” Offner considered replying, “I haven’t done a survey,” before settling on a restrained affirmative. Still, he didn’t get the job. (Through a spokeswoman Ashcroft claimed he couldn’t remember the meeting.) Some years later Missouri state troopers were deployed to prevent Pete Busalacchi from ending the life of his comatose daughter, who had no hope for recovery. “It was a matter of one person in a high position inflicting his religious beliefs onto a family,” Busalacchi said. “Is John Ashcroft’s religion better than mine?”
Janet Ashcroft somehow acquired the same high-handed reputation. “It was Mother’s Day, a Sunday, 1990, when I was called by my staff; who told me Mrs. Ashcroft wanted the Missouri State Library opened,” recalls Monteria Hightower, who was then state librarian. Assuming the governor’s wife wanted to show visitors around (“and that I could make a pitch for new computers,” she adds, chuckling), Hightower left her family at home and hurried to unlock the darkened library. She found Janet, outside in a car with a driver, accompanied only by a boy of 12. With astonishment, she heard Janet’s reason for her Sunday appearance at the library: “I want to find something on the Elizabethan era for my son’s homework assignment.”
Visitors to the governor’s mansion often found themselves expected to join in prayer, and on one such occasion ó it was a dinner gathering of lawyers, waited on (as is customary in the Missouri governor’s mansion) by local prisoners who had earned the privilege ó Ashcroft gave a family values speech. “In the course of this he said, ‘Women in the workforce have become so prevalent that a man’s role has been reduced to a sperm donor,’” reports one of the guests.
No one could believe it, says this lawyer. Everyone knew Janet Ashcroft had written a textbook on business law with her husband indeed, she would later teach law at Washington, D.C.’s traditionally black Howard University. Even their daughter, Martha, was attending law school. And yet, says the dinner guest, “he was serious. He didn’t mean to be amusing.”
Only the governor’s wife appeared unfazed. Perhaps she was used to such opinions. (Last year, she declared in Missouri, “I have to behave myself, and I have to spoil him rotten, and that makes my life unbelievably stressful.”) The night of the dinner, she was dressed girlishly, in a floral summer dress, with matching flowery sandals. Her earrings were roses modeled out of pink clay. The young lawyer complimented her on a particularly decorative artifact. “It’s bolted down,” Janet Ashcroft said meaningfully.
“Bolted down ó I’m sure you know who the waiters are,” echoed the governor, giving a swift glance at the prisoners, all within earshot, who served them. “You know how they are.”
And the waiters? I wonder. What was their reaction?“Stone-blank,” replies the lawyer. “Stone, stone, stone. The waiters, who were all African-American, had to have heard. I love to pray, but what business did we have praying in the governor’s mansion? That night I thought, We started this out with a prayer to God, and this is the way you end the evening? It makes me sick to think I prayed with him.”