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SEDALIA — Gov. Mike Parson said Thursday “it’s game on” when asked about his reaction to Auditor Nicole Galloway’s announcement this week that she would challenge him for the state’s top job.

Galloway, a Democrat, launched her 2020 campaign Monday with a two-minute video accusing Parson of doing the “bidding” of corporate interests.

“It was a little bit disappointing to start a negative campaign right off the bat,” Parson, a Republican, told the Post-Dispatch at the State Fair, outside of the annual Governor’s Ham Breakfast.

“For me, it’s game on,” he said. “It’s a political year. That’s just the way it’s gonna run. We’re gonna put our best foot forward and we’re gonna talk about the accomplishments we’ve done as governor.”

Galloway responded during a question-and-answer session with reporters outside the breakfast. Her comments were some of her first since announcing her bid.

“I have not been in politics all that long, but I can see someone try to deflect accountability,” she said. “It’s pretty plain.

“He cannot defend why 95,000 kids have been kicked off of health care,” Galloway said, “or why he is part of a lawsuit that is trying to get rid of pre-existing condition coverage for 1.2 million Missourians, or what he’s gonna do to make our communities safer in the wake of all the gun violence that we have seen.”

She was referring to enrollment problems with Missouri’s Medicaid system, part of the reason why more than 100,000 people have fallen off the rolls since last year.

State Attorney General Eric Schmitt, like Parson a Republican, has continued a lawsuit challenging the Affordable Care Act, which requires coverage for pre-existing conditions. Though Schmitt was appointed by Parson, their offices operate separately.

Parson, when asked later about gun violence, said he supported the right to bear arms.

“Background checks are fine,” Parson said. “I spent 22 years in law enforcement. The more you know about people and what it is they do, is important.”

He said he supported more law enforcement officers, more mental health resources, and “when people are on social media today, some of the things they’re putting out — yeah I think that should be flagged sometimes. If you’re threatening to kill somebody, somebody ought to know you’re doing it.”

Galloway said “You can’t even have your kids play in the back yard in some parts our state because of fear of them getting shot. This is a crisis. It’s a human tragedy, it’s a public health crisis, but also there’s not going to be economic development in those marginalized communities if there is not safety in those communities.”

Galloway said she supported universal gun background checks, closing gun-purchasing loopholes, “things that are supported by both parties in a bipartisan way.”

Galloway said she supported abortion rights. Parson signed House Bill 126 in May. The law, which takes effect Aug. 28, bans abortions at eight weeks of pregnancy, except in medical emergencies. He said in signing the legislation that all life has value and should be protected.

“Women have a constitutional right to health care, and they should be able to access that,” Galloway said.

When asked whether she would regulate abortion, she said, “I do think later in pregnancy there should be restrictions, but HB 126 is cruel and extreme. There are no exceptions for rape or incest.”

She did not elaborate on when during a pregnancy women should face “restrictions” on abortion.

“I trust women to make their own health care decisions, plain and simple,” Galloway said.

When asked how she would win a conservative state, Galloway said: “It’s about the message and we’re going to take it to every corner of this state, from Hannibal to Hayti, from Kansas City to St. Louis. Everywhere in between. People are sick of a system rigged against them.”

U.S. Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., when asked about recent mass shootings, said at the breakfast that he wanted to increase funding for mental health services.

One piece of legislation mentioned would allow police or others to seek a court order to remove weapons from dangerous people, a so-called “red flag” law. Blunt said he had not taken a position on such a measure.

“What I want to be sure of, among other things, is that everybody that has a behavioral health issue isn’t suddenly defending themselves in a ‘red flag’ world,” Blunt said.

Asked what he thought of Sen. Josh Hawley’s first year in office, Blunt said the junior Missouri senator had “taken on some big issues and he’s a really smart capable guy.”

Daniel Hartman, who works in Hawley’s office as his state director, said at the event Hawley, a Republican, would not be at the ham breakfast, an event steeped in tradition, where officeholders avail themselves to the public.

Former state Rep. Marsha Haefner, R-Oakville, did attend the event.

She said she would not run for a south St. Louis County state Senate seat. She currently works as a St. Louis liaison in Parson’s office.

Sen. Doug Libla, R-Poplar Bluff, said a race to replace him in the Senate is still taking shape, and that more candidates could join the contest. Two Republicans are currently running for the far-southeast Missouri seat.

One candidate is Eddy Justice, who supports expansion of charter schools; Libla does not. Libla said Rep. Jeff Shawan, R-Poplar Bluff, is also running. Libla said more candidates could enter the state Senate race, and he would not make an endorsement.

He said he didn’t know of any primary challengers to Parson.

“Anybody that runs against Gov. Parson on the Republican side would definitely be spinning their wheels,” he said.

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