Vowing a new direction in Missouri politics, Eric Greitens was sworn in Monday as the state’s 56th governor.
“The people have spoken,” Greitens, a Republican, said in his inaugural address delivered on the steps of the Missouri Capitol. “For decades, Missourians have talked about change. Now it’s time to fight for that change.”
Greitens’ successful campaign for governor was based on the premise that state government is teeming with “corrupt career politicians,” “well-paid lobbyists” and “special interest insiders” — an indictment he says applies to both Republicans and Democrats.
In his inaugural address, Greitens avoided the inflammatory rhetoric of his campaign stump speech. But he didn’t back down on the spirit of his ethics reform message, saying he will “always remember why you sent me here and what you expect from me. I will be loyal to your needs and priorities — not to those who posture or pay for influence.
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“This is the people’s house,” he said. “And to those who would trouble this house for their own selfish and sinful gain, hear me now: I answer to the people. I come as an outsider, to do the people’s work.”
Greitens, a former Navy SEAL who has never held elected office, acknowledged that change won’t happen overnight. Yet just moments after taking the oath of office, he signed an executive order banning state employees in his administration from accepting gifts from lobbyists and prohibiting members of his staff from working as a lobbyist until after Greitens leaves office.
The new governor also seems to have a receptive audience in legislative leaders when it comes to ethics reform.
House Speaker Todd Richardson, a Poplar Bluff Republican, has promised a lobbyist gift ban will be the first bill the House passes this year. True to that pledge, a gift ban bill won approval of a House committee early Monday morning, meaning the full House could pass the bill and send it to the Senate early next week.
In the Senate, where the lobbyist gift ban died last year, leaders seem optimistic they can overcome opposition that has stalled many ethics bills over the years.
But Senate President Pro Tem Ron Richard has already put the kibosh on another plank in Greitens’ ethics reform agenda: A law prohibiting lawmakers from working as lobbyists until they’ve been out of office as long as they served. Richard said such a bill could never pass the Senate.
Besides ethics reform, Greitens’ inaugural address focused less on policy proposals — which he’ll lay out next week during his state of the state address to a joint session of the legislature — and more on his overall philosophy of government.
One of the worst lies in politics, Greitens said, is the “false promise that government can fix any problem and find every answer.”
Government can empower business leaders “to do good and to dare greatly — but the doing and daring is up to you.”
Government can provide assistance to the poor, “but no amount of money given by a government can ever provide the meaning, strength and dignity that comes from a good-paying job.”
Government bureaucracy is “the wrong place to look if you’re seeking compassion,” Greitens said. “Caring comes from individual people.”
And while government can invest in police and law enforcement, the most “important anti-crime program ever known is a dad playing ball with his son — and setting for his boy an example of how a strong man cherishes women, protects the young, and honors the old.”
In addition to Greitens, Missouri Supreme Court Chief Justice Patricia Breckenridge administered the oath of office to four other brand-new statewide elected officials: Lt. Gov. Mike Parson, Attorney General Josh Hawley, Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft and Treasurer Eric Schmitt.
The new slate of statewide elected officials marks the ascension of a new generation of Missouri politicians. Parson is 61, but Ashcroft is the next oldest at 43, with Greitens at 42, Schmitt at 41 and Hawley at 37. The only Democrat holding holding a statewide office, Missouri Auditor Nicole Galloway, is 34.
After signing the executive orders, Greitens and his wife, Sheena, greeted guests at the Governor’s Mansion. Later in the evening, the new first family were to dance the Missouri Waltz at the Inaugural Ball, a tradition in the Show-Me State for new governors.
The evening was to be capped with a performance by Sara Evans, an award winning country music singer and songwriter from Boonville.
Greitens, the state’s first Republican governor in eight years, takes office with his party holding super majorities in both the Missouri House and Senate. Many of the ideas he campaigned on have been GOP priorities for years, but they never got across the finish line because of Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon’s veto pen.
The new GOP administration has raised the expectation that there will be a deluge of GOP legislation making its way to Greitens’ desk in the coming months. Greitens tempered expectations Monday, saying that the state’s history “reminds us that Missourians have always understood that big achievements demand hard work.”
“ ‘Show me’ doesn’t mean ‘Give me,’ ” Greitens said, alluding to the state nickname. “It means ‘prove it can be done, and we will do it.’ ”