Missouri gets new governor, capping off months of scandal

Missouri gets new governor, capping off months of scandal
© YouTube

Missouri's new governor was sworn into office on Friday, following months of scandal surrounding former Gov. Eric Greitens (R) that forced his resignation.

Michael Parson, who previously served as the state's lieutenant governor, becomes Missouri's 57th chief executive following the exit of Greitens, who resigned in the face of mounting pressure from the legislature and prosecutors looking into several areas of alleged misconduct.

Political observers in the state say Parson, who previously ran a gas station and worked as a county sheriff for years before entering politics, is likely to represent a clean break with Greitens, who left office after just 17 months.

ADVERTISEMENT

Greitens was a bombastic former Navy SEAL who refashioned himself as a conservative and had his eyes on an eventual White House bid. Parson is an Army veteran and a third-generation farmer from the southwest corner of the state who spent a dozen years in the legislature after serving as sheriff.

“He’s the antithesis of Eric Greitens. Mike is low key, he is a collaborative worker, and a consensus-builder, and he’s got really outstanding relationships with the general assembly, in both parties,” said John Hancock, a GOP strategist and former chairman of the state Republican Party.

Acknowledging the unusual circumstances under which he will assume the governorship, Parson held a private prayer service before being sworn in Friday. He formally took the oath of office, administered by state Supreme Court Judge Mary Russell, in a small ceremony in the Capitol in Jefferson City.

Parson spoke with all 16 of Missouri’s Cabinet officials earlier this week, and it is unlikely he plans wholesale changes throughout the administration he inherits. Staffers who served Greitens were invited to submit résumés if they wanted to keep their jobs, though it was not immediately clear how many staffers Parson would keep onboard.

In the legislature, Parson amassed a conservative voting record, though he collaborated across party lines — most notably, Hancock said, on a measure to reform a ballot initiative banning puppy mills. Parson’s work allowed legitimate dog-breeding businesses to continue uninterrupted, after voters passed the ban on puppy mills by a wide margin.

“He’s a conservative, but if you had to pick his two top priorities right now for the state, one is infrastructure and the other is workforce development. He’s got a good grasp of policy from having done it for so long,” Hancock said.

In another contrast with Greitens, who fought tooth and nail with the Republican-led legislature over legislative priorities, Parson is expected to leverage his relationships with legislative leaders. He plans to speak to a joint session of the legislature on June 11 in what is expected to be a measured, sober address.

Parson’s ascension marks the end of months of scandal in Missouri politics, during which Greitens was accused of taking a nude photograph of a paramour and threatening to make it public if she revealed details of their affair. Those charges were eventually dropped by a St. Louis prosecutor, though both the state legislature and another prosecutor were looking into the matter.

Greitens also faced charges of improperly obtaining a list of donors from a veteran’s charity he ran in order to fundraise for his 2016 gubernatorial campaign. Those charges were dropped in exchange for his resignation.

Parson will be the fifth lieutenant governor to assume the governor’s office because of a predecessor’s resignation since 2016. Three of those new governors — South Carolina’s Henry McMaster (R), Iowa’s Kim Reynolds (R) and Kansas’s Jeff Colyer (R) — took office after their predecessors quit to take ambassadorial jobs in the Trump administration.

The fourth, Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey (R), took office when, like Greitens, her predecessor stepped down amid scandal.