Government & Politics

Who is Missouri’s next governor? Mike Parson, in many ways Greitens’ polar opposite

Lt. Gov. Mike Parson was herding cattle on his Bolivar farm when he found out that he'll become the 57th governor of Missouri in three days.

“With Governor Greitens’ decision to resign from office, he has put the best interests of our state and all Missourians at the forefront where they belong," Parson said in a written statement.

"This is a decision that will allow our state to heal and move forward from what has been a difficult time. This is an enormous responsibility serving as our state’s next governor, and I am ready to fulfill the duties of the office with honor and integrity, and with a steadfast commitment to making our great state even greater for the people we are entrusted to serve.”

Parson, who will finish out Gov. Eric Greitens' term after Greitens announced his resignation on Tuesday, couldn’t be much more different than the man he'll replace.

Greitens is 44, born and reared near St. Louis and never had sought public office before his successful 2016 gubernatorial campaign.

Parson is 63, grew up on a farm in rural southwest Missouri and has held elected office since 1993, including 12 years as Polk County sheriff and 11 years in the Missouri General Assembly before being elected lieutenant governor in 2016.

Greitens campaigned as an outsider, vowing to take on “corrupt career politicians” to clean up state government. His brash, no-compromises campaign style carried over into his first year in office, where he often clashed with lawmakers from his own party.

Parson is the consummate insider, with long relationships with legislative leaders and a reputation as a deal maker.

"I think he'll be the right person ... to heal the state," said James Harris, a veteran GOP consultant who worked on Parson's campaign for lieutenant governor. "There's a lot of raw emotions, and I think he can bring the state together."

Missouri GOP Chairman Todd Graves, who even as scandals piled up remained one of Greitens' staunchest allies, along with Republican donor Stan Herzog and GOP operative Jeff Roe, welcomed Parson's forthcoming governorship.

"Mike has always worked hard for Missourians, and I am certain he will continue to hold a strong commitment to our state as Governor," Graves said in a statement. "There is no doubt our Party has faced a difficult couple of months — but make no mistake — Missouri Republicans know there is much at stake this November and we will be united in our efforts to champion common sense conservative values across the board."

'Breath of fresh air'

Lawmakers of both parties predicted that Parson will have a significantly more amiable relationship with the legislature than his predecessor did.

"I think you will see a much smoother process, and I think he will be willing to listen to both sides," said House Minority Leader Gail McCann Beatty, D-Kansas City. "I think he will at least have an open door policy where you feel comfortable speaking with him. That’s huge, because we haven’t had that since Eric Greitens stepped in."

Sen. Rob Schaaf, a St. Joseph Republican who had a combative relationship with Greitens, said Parson would be a "breath of fresh air."

Parson's rise to the state's top job puts to a close nearly a year and a half of Greitens' scandals, all culminating in recent months with a push for impeachment and two felony charges.

But while Greitens' fall from grace ends one chapter, many questions remain unanswered.

Parson and Greitens vehemently disagreed on the issue of low-income housing tax credits.

Greitens has suggested that Missouri’s tax credit industry has conspired to exacerbate his legal problems. The Missouri Housing Development Commission, of which Greitens is a member, zeroed out the state’s allocation of low-income housing tax credits after the governor stacked its membership with appointees critical of the program.

At a May 17 event in Jefferson City, Greitens called those involved in Missouri’s tax credit industry “ripoff artists” and “tax credit millionaires.” His attorneys suggested during a court hearing earlier this year that those in the low-income housing tax credit community may have been behind $100,000 or more in payments to an attorney representing the ex-husband of a woman with whom Greitens had an affair in 2015.

The ex-husband had secretly recorded his wife confessing the affair and making accusations of blackmail against the governor, which kicked off the series of scandals that ultimately forced Greitens from office.

Parson, who is also on the MHDC, was one of only two members to vote against zeroing out the low-income housing tax credit program, arguing that doing so will make it harder to provide housing to low-income Missourians and military veterans.

Parson is also close with Steve Tilley, a former House speaker who is registered as a lobbyist for several businesses involved in low-income housing tax credits. Most notably, Tilley and his lobbying firm represent Sterling Bank, which is owned by businessmen with interests in low-income housing developments.

Parson's association with Tilley was purportedly the reason Parson lost his bid to become majority floor leader in the Missouri Senate in 2012.

The policy differences between Parson and Greitens don't stop at tax credits.

Greitens demonized lobbyist gifts while accepting copious amounts of anonymous contributions routed through nonprofits to obscure the sources.

Parson has a long record of criticizing the corrosive effect of campaign contributions and the type of negative campaigning that became Greitens’ specialty, most notably in the aftermath of former state Auditor Tom Schweich’s suicide. Yet he was the only statewide elected official to accept freebies from lobbyists in 2017 — nearly $4,000 in gifts.

Largely, however, both Parson and Greitens share a philosophy that supports tax cuts, fewer regulations on businesses, tougher regulations on labor unions and strict limits on abortions.

What Parson means for Kansas City

Among Kansas City leaders, there's a sense that Parson would be friendlier to Kansas City's interests than Greitens was.

Kansas City political and business leaders contacted Tuesday by The Star agreed that there had been little to no dialogue with Greitens since he became governor.

"We couldn't do enough pushups," quipped Scott Wagner, Kansas City mayor pro tem.

Greitens had thwarted some of Kansas City's priorities during his short time in office, including a University of Missouri-Kansas City downtown arts campus that local business boosters coveted.

Rep. Noel Shull, R-Kansas City, last year and again this year carried a bill that would allow for state funding to pay for half of a UMKC arts campus in downtown Kansas City. The measure passed both the House and the Senate last year, but Greitens vetoed the bill.

Kansas City leaders saw an arts campus as a major project for downtown's prospects, adding hundreds of students to the urban core and giving them proximity to the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts. But Greitens had other ideas, saying at the time that Missouri lawmakers were addicted to spending money.

"It was the very highest priority project that Kansas City had last year," Schull said.

Parson, it's believed, would be more receptive to helping fund the arts campus project.

"What I wonder is if some of these priorities that we had in Kansas City, including that project (the UMKC Conservatory), does that come back on the table as a result?" Wagner said. "My expectation is that there's more of a partnership, more of an opportunity to work with the governor's office as opposed to trying to get things done in spite of it. So I am hopeful."

Ed Ford, an attorney and former Kansas City councilman who is chairman of the Northland Chamber of Commerce's government affairs committee, said "very few people in the Northland" had any contact with Greitens.

He added: "I think Parson has to be better."

Quinton Lucas, a 3rd District at-large Kansas City councilman, said Greitens was "a St. Louis guy" who did little to reach out to Kansas City.

"I would just hope we could have a warmer relationship (with Parson) than we have had thus far," Lucas said.

Local figures who served with Parson in the Missouri General Assembly shared optimism for a Parson administration.

"We've had zero contact with (Greitens) as a council," said 6th District Kansas City Councilman Kevin McManus, a former member of the Missouri House. "I know Mike Parson fairly well from being in the legislature. I think he cares about Kansas City."

Mike Talboy, director of government affairs for Burns & McDonnell and former Democratic House member, has known Parson for almost 12 years.

"He is a good man, and having served with him, I have seen his thoughtfulness and willingness to work with all sides respectfully to get to a conclusion," Talboy said. "While some will disagree on the policy decisions, I know they will always be treated with respect by someone who will listen."

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