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Goon Squad

U.S. Rep. Sam Graves and his lackeys never miss an opportunity to rough up a local political race.

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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."

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