Parson Touts His Record In Bid For A Full Term As Governor
Missouri Gov. Mike Parson ascended to the office of chief executive after the resignation of Eric Greitens in 2018, and his tenure has remained unconventional, dominated by a global pandemic.
In the early months of campaigning, the race against Democratic State Auditor Nicole Galloway seemed to break in the Republican’s favor.
But as the coronavirus rages on, some polls indicate Parson’s lead has narrowed. Parson said he still feels confident he’ll be elected for a full four-year term.
“We’ve always been 6 to 8 points ahead,” Parson said. “Most polls are showing us extending our lead in the last two weeks, which is always a good sign in this arena.”
Parson has the resources to try to keep the governorship in GOP hands. He’s benefiting from this being one of the only competitive gubernatorial races in the entire country, getting sizable donations from the Republican Governors Association. Galloway has also received significant contributions from the Democratic association.
The Bolivar native is 65 and has been in Missouri politics since he was elected to the House in 2005. He moved to the Senate in 2011, where he was the majority caucus whip. In 2016, he made a brief run for governor but instead was elected lieutenant governor.
“I don’t need any more titles,” Parson said. “I really want to make this state better for the people that live here. I want my kids, your kids, our grandkids to be able to stay in Missouri and have great opportunity.”
Prior to his time in the Legislature, Parson spent more than 22 years in law enforcement, including 12 years as Polk County sheriff. He owns a small business and is a third-generation descendant on his family farm. It’s his “humble beginnings” that he says make him a good leader.
“I would say in most people’s eyes if they knew how I grew up, they would say, ‘Oh, you was poor.’ But we didn’t know that,” Parson said. “That’s just the way everybody else lived. But the one thing I did know is I value everyone. I’ve spent a career making sure everybody, I’ve treated the same.”
When Parson announced his bid for a full term in September 2019, the political climate was vastly different. He focused then on boosting the manufacturing sector, creating policies to attract more jobs and ensuring that all Missourians have equal opportunity in education and training.
“We believe that everyone should have the opportunity to pursue the American dream,” he said. “If they are willing to work, that dream should never be out of reach for anyone, regardless of what their background is or where they come from. That’s why I feel the call to serve again.”
Parson had been able to hang his hat on low unemployment rates and a strong state economy. In his second State of the State address in January, Parson took partial credit for several companies adding jobs.
“The state of our state is strong, and by working together, we will be even better prepared for the future,” Parson said.
But this all changed when the coronavirus pandemic hit.
Parson was one of the last governors to issue a statewide stay-at-home order, coming weeks after most local governments in Missouri had already issued their own. His order allowed most businesses to remain open but gave local governments the power to make stricter regulations.
“I’ve been pretty open about that the entire time, how diverse our state was and it’s going to be affected at different times, and that’s why I think it’s important to leave it up to locals,” he said.
Parson’s response was heavily criticized, especially when he chose not to issue a statewide mask mandate even though the White House Coronavirus Task Force urged him to do so. And, despite his repeated emphasis on personal responsibility, the governor rarely wore a mask in public.
Another decision Parson received criticism for was pumping $15 million in federal funding into marketing for tourism in July. It’s a decision his lieutenant governor and other Republicans said was necessary.
More than 300,000 Missourians are employed by the tourism industry, Lt. Gov. Mike Kehoe said. “This is a big industry for Missouri families, so it’s important we keep those industries going.”
Other Parson supporters, like state Rep. Mary Elizabeth Coleman, R-Arnold, said the governor has had to make tough decisions during unprecedented times.
“I think he’s making a lot of good decisions that Nicole has, for better or for worse, has not had to weigh in on,” Coleman said.
Overall, Parson said he wouldn’t change anything about his response, pointing to signs of economic recovery. He cited the state being 12th in the nation for job recovery and consumer spending reaching pre-virus levels in August.
“Of the historic 346,000 jobs lost due to COVID-19, we have now recovered over 200,000,” Parson said at a press briefing earlier this month. “Missouri recently scored highest in the nation in the business conditions index, which measures employers' confidence in the economy over the next three to six months.”
Parson and his wife, Teresa, contracted the coronavirus in September. He was asymptomatic, and the first lady had mild symptoms. While he recognized thousands of Missourians have died, he said getting the virus helped him better understand that the majority of people infected will recover.
“Everybody needs to understand that everybody doesn’t need to live in fear; you have to live in concern, but you don’t have to live in fear of it,” Parson said.
Parson said Missouri has a comprehensive plan to administer a vaccine when it’s available and was one of the first states to have one ready. He said he will not mandate everyone receive a vaccine.
“I’m not going to make that decision for a parent whether they put a needle in their child and inject them with a vaccine,” he said. “That’s up to them to decide that and how they decide that on the local levels.”
Missouri is closing in on 200,000 cases since the beginning of the pandemic. Just under 3,000 people have died. Missouri is 22nd in the nation for per capita infection rates overall. In the past week, the state sits at eighth for the number of new deaths and 11th for new cases.
Racial injustice and gun violence
In addition to the virus, Parson has had to face a spike in violent crime, particularly in St. Louis and Kansas City. The former sheriff has tried to implement more tough-on-crime policies, while the entire country is reeling from protests after the killing of George Floyd reignited the fight for social justice and police reform.
“People need to understand the sacrifices that law enforcement officers make every day,” Parson said at a press briefing in July where he announced he would sign an omnibus crime bill. “For the period we’re going through right now, if there ever was a time for all of us to stand up and make sure we support them, now’s the time. 'Cause I tell ya, they feel like they’ve been beaten down.”
The crime bill created the offense of vehicle hijacking, mandates prison time for certain offenses, stiffened penalties for armed criminal action and allowed someone to be charged in a conspiracy to commit a crime. While critics said the legislation would do little to address crime and called it a wish list for police, Parson said it was a major step in making communities safer.
Parson also called a special legislative session in July to address violent crime, something his critics said he was only doing to excite his base before the November election. They pointed to the Legislative Black Caucus’ calls in 2019 to address violence, when Parson signaled the matter was too controversial to tackle during a special session.
Parson's agenda for the 2020 special session was not well received by many public officials, especially when he expanded his call to allow the attorney general to prosecute murder cases in St. Louis. Some saw this as an attack on Democratic Circuit Attorney Kim Gardner.
Parson criticized Gardner when she charged the couple who brandished guns at protesters in St. Louis. He said he would pardon them. Parson accused Gardner of taking away “constitutional rights” and insinuated he may try to remove her from her post with the help of President Donald Trump.
“This has nothing to do with the prosecutor, taking her out of the role of being prosecutor,” Parson said about wanting to allow the attorney general to prosecute murder cases. “This is about violent criminals on the streets of St. Louis that cases haven’t been filed on.”
But that idea was rejected by the Republican-led Legislature. Legislators did approve a witness protection program, though there are no funds allocated for it yet, and eliminated residency requirements for St. Louis police officers.
“A lot of work is still to be done, but I definitely think we’re moving in the right direction,” he said.
Something he opposed discussing during the session was police reform, which some Democrats and Republicans said was necessary to curb violent crime and restore relationships between residents and police. Instead, he wants it discussed in a general session. Though Parson typically offers unwavering support for law enforcement, he recently recognized systemic racism as a problem and backed police reform.
“When you put that badge on and you take that oath, you should be held to a higher standard. Period,” Parson said. “If you kill somebody because of what action you took or you didn’t do everything you could to protect somebody, then you ought to be held accountable. I think you’re going to see those policies change, and the one thing I do have is that experience to know what makes a difference.”
If Parson defeats Galloway on Nov. 3, he will be able to serve as governor through early 2025. But because of the way constitutional term limits for the governorship are structured, he would be ineligible to run for another four years in office.
You can read a profile of Galloway here.