Rod Jetton used to be one of the most powerful politicians in the state of Missouri.
In 2000, the Marble Hill Republican was elected to the Missouri House of Representatives. In his second term he was chosen Speaker Pro Tempore, and on Jan. 5, 2005, he was sworn in as the 70th speaker of the House — the second youngest representative to do so.
Then, in 2009, everything began falling to pieces.
That year his nearly 20-year marriage ended in divorce and then, on Dec. 7, Jetton was charged with felony assault related to an incident that occurred on Nov. 15 of that year in which Jetton was alleged to have "recklessly caused serious physical injury" to an unnamed woman.
Following the arrest he closed Rod Jetton & Associate, a political consulting firm which catered to many high-profile clients, including Mitt Romney.
It was a stunning end to a political career that left Jetton’s life shattered. He was out of a job, divorced, separated from his three children and had few friends.
Jetton has shared the humiliation and pain he experienced during his “dark night of the soul,” as well as the story of his redemption and rebuilding of his life in a recently published anthology titled “The Recovering Politician’s Twelve Step Program To Survive Crisis.”
The book, edited by former Kentucky State Treasurer Jonathan Miller, offers a forum to 12 politicians who suffered defeat, disgrace and degradation, yet went on to create a new and more contented life for themselves.
Jetton has written the eighth step in surviving a crisis: “Own Your Mistakes, Take Responsibility and Sincerely Say ‘I’m Sorry.’”
“My predicament was largely my own doing,” says Jetton. “But it was taking responsibility for my mistakes that set me free.”
Jetton admits it was his strong work ethic that helped him to build a successful real estate agency, win a seat in the state House and ultimately become Speaker. It was putting everything into his work to the exclusion of everything else that he believes ultimately led to his downfall.
“The biggest mistake I made was not having balance in my life,” admits Jetton. “I worked too hard at politics and forgot about my family, friends, community ... and sometimes, the whole reason I went to Jefferson City in the first place. I remember telling my ex-wife that when the first campaign was over I would be home more. Then the legislative session started and I said that after session I would be home more. Then I was gone working on redistricting, and when that was done, the next session started ... and after that I was working night and day to win the majority. I told her once we won the majority I would be home more.”
Jetton says that nobody was happier than him when term limits ended his official position in 2008. He was tired of feeling responsible for fixing all the problems in the state and tired of getting beaten up in the press and fearing his political enemies. Jetton believed that as a private citizen he would be able to be work behind the scenes on his friends’ campaigns without being in the crosshairs himself.
“Unfortunately, my marriage was in bad shape by that time; and even though I was out of office, things continued to get worse,” he recalls. “In early 2009 we separated, and by October we were divorced.”
Jetton was a 42-year-old successful divorced man whose personal life wasn’t turning out as he’d planned.
“My dad was a Baptist preacher, and the best parents in the world had given me a perfect childhood,” he says. “I was a family values conservative Republican who was not supposed to have these types of problems. I won’t go into details, but my life was not reflecting the teaching my parents had taught me, nor was I being the example I wanted my kids to see.”
Then things went from bad to worse for Jetton.
“After spending the night with a lady I had reconnected with on Facebook, I was charged with felony assault,” he says. “The press, along with my enemies, had a heyday. I immediately shut down my consulting business. Soon after that I was notified that I was a target of a federal grand jury investigation surrounding my handling of a bill in the 2005 legislative session.”
And what was the most difficult moment he had to face?
“It was having to tell my dad what happened,” says Jetton. “He has always been a tough man who lived what he believed, but he loved me and stuck with me through all this.”
At the lowest point of his life, Jetton says things began to turn around. He was never convicted in the assault case and the grand jury suspended their investigation into the ethics allegation and never charged him with a crime. He slowly began to gain back the respect he lost from his bad choices.
“I’m thankful for all the successes I was a part of,” says Jetton. “I’m also grateful for all the kind people I met along the way who helped and encouraged me. But I wish I would have worked less and stayed home more; been more forgiving and not gotten bitter at my opponents; been less prideful, less judgmental and more understanding. Plus, I wish I had lived the personal life I believed, instead of being such a hypocrite. Of course, I can’t change the past. I can only look to the future and focus on learning from my mistakes.”
This time Jetton says his life has a new foundation and purpose ... and it’s not politics. He credits his personal faith in Jesus Christ for turning his life around.
“Each morning I wake up and thank God for the day,” he says. “I spend more time with my family and stay connected with my friends. I have a lovely new wife, a great job and a contentment I never knew in my first 42 years of life.”
He says that sooner or later everyone is going to make a mistake and do something stupid that they’ll regret.
“It happens to celebrities, business leaders and athletes, but it also happens to parents, kids and everyday people,” says Jetton. “Anyone who has made a mistake that becomes public has a problem. How you deal with it will either make it a bigger problem or put it in the rearview mirror.”
He says a cautionary tale can be found in the scandal that enveloped New York Congressman Anthony Weiner when illicit pictures of him appeared on the Internet after he had been sending them to his followers on Twitter.
“Weiner’s immediate response was to deny culpability,” says Jetton. “Once he was caught in the lie, he was soon forced out of office.”
Now looking to return to public service, Weiner has admitted he sent additional tweets to other women even after he admitted his transgressions, apologized to his wife and resigned from Congress.
“He obviously didn’t learn his lesson the first time,” says Jetton. “I’m glad I did.”