JEFFERSON CITY — Gov. Mike Parson is no stranger to unusual circumstances.
While it wasn’t the first time he has read the oath for the position, the incumbent governor’s first inaugural ceremony Monday reinforced a familiar, steady course of the last several years of Republican dominance over Missouri state government.
Parson, a former county sheriff and business owner, kicked off the bicentennial inaugural celebration Monday on the South Lawn of the Capitol with prepared remarks echoing the small-town values he’s leaned on during his ascension to governorship.
He acknowledged the challenges the state faces eight months into the pandemic, declaring his vision for the state as he confidently forecasted “sunny days are ahead.” He steered clear of discussing the tensions in the nation’s capital, saying that Missouri is prepared should any threats materialize.
“There were sad times, tough times and exciting times. And through it all, Missourians prevailed,” he said of his first two years in office.
He said it is his job to make life better for every Missouri resident.
“The state is more than my house,” he said, “it is my home. I will care for the unborn to the elderly, the rich to the poor, regardless of the color of your skin.”
Absent a parade and inaugural ball because of coronavirus precautions, the ceremony consisted of the usual formal pleasantries against the backdrop of a renovated Capitol. St. Peters’ Church bells rang beside the boom of artillery guns, and a B2 bomber flew over the lawn after his oath. The governor’s office had predicted that about 2,000 people would attend the scaled-down festivities.
Parson was reelected in November with a substantial victory against Democratic opponent and State Auditor Nicole Galloway — 57% to 41%. He campaigned on law-and-order issues and fought off criticism from Galloway over his approach to the coronavirus pandemic.
He was previously Missouri’s lieutenant governor and assumed the remainder of former Gov. Eric Greitens’ term in 2018. Greitens resigned after facing possible impeachment over allegations of campaign finance violations and sexual misconduct.
During a press briefing, Parson touched on the relationships he has built in the General Assembly that have supported him as he recounted the ups and downs of his journey to the governor’s office.
“Maybe the gray hair’s paying off a little bit — the wisdom side of it,” he joked. “Seemed like it was one thing after another.”
Lt. Gov. Mike Kehoe, Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft, Treasurer Scott Fitzpatrick and Attorney General Eric Schmitt — all Republicans — were sworn in as well.
Later on, Parson outlined his priorities for the next four years, saying in the coming months a major focus will, unsurprisingly, be the vaccine rollout.
“I’m thankful the vaccine process is going well,” he said at the news conference. “I think we’re over the 150,000 mark at this point. ... We’ll start probably next week to define phase 1B.”
Past that, the governor said, throughout this term he’ll be focusing on workforce development, infrastructure, health care — including the expansion of telemedicine and telehealth — further discussing a Wayfair tax on online sales, continuing on the current trajectory of building up transportation and the expansion of education and other programs to foster early childhood development.
He said the stark division in the state will be a hurdle throughout the next term — though “not a new challenge for (him)” — but his core issues are not necessarily politically contentious.
The governor went on to say that fulfilling the promise of Medicaid expansion, as approved by voters in August, is a current fixture on his drawing board. The program now covers about a million Missouri residents, and the expansion, according to Parson, should insure about 200,000 more. The biggest concern now, he said, is about the cost of the expansion.
Parson said he feels there is a need for further discussion about police reform, though skirted any mention of specific proposals.
The governor was even more reticent to speak on the unprecedented and violent turn of events of the last week at the U.S. Capitol.
This Monday’s calm and conventional inauguration reflected none of the extreme turmoil that has led up to the presidential inauguration, including the ransacking of the U.S. Capitol building last Wednesday by pro-Trump extremists.
Parson’s choice to not directly address the events in his inaugural speech was not looked on well by the Missouri House minority leader, Crystal Quade.
Quade condemned the governor’s failure to “forcefully denounce the members of his political party who helped encourage and incite the insurrectionist mob that assaulted the U.S. Capitol last week.”
The governor, keeping with his previous stance, said that while he believes in civil protest as all citizens’ right, he does not believe in a mob’s right to commit crimes.
He added that “people took action they never should have taken. … If you’re violating the law, you’re responsible for your own actions. Trying to blame someone for your actions is not who we are.”
Though he refused to take a side on calls for controversial Trump loyalist Sen. Josh Hawley’s resignation, he did echo that same sentiment in regard to the senator: “Everybody has to be held responsible for their actions.”
The governor was also asked about social media threats by far-right groups of an “armed march on Capitol Hill and all state capitols” in the days leading up to Biden’s inauguration.
“We have taken precautions to that,” Parson said, continuing to say that they’re tracking the threat, but noting that he thinks the situation in Missouri is different from other states that have experienced more effects of the issue.
In the midst of tearing polarization, the governor focused on the idea of unity and collaboration.