Government & Politics

Parson kicks off 2020 bid for Missouri governor, warns against ‘rise of socialism’

Missouri Gov. Mike Parson is here to stop socialism.

The 63-year-old Republican kicked off his bid to be the GOP candidate for governor Sunday in his hometown of Bolivar, calling the 2020 election a “critical moment” that presented the contrast between achieving the “American Dream” through hard work, or ceding power to the national Democrats and “the rise of socialism on the left.”

“We see now across our country that the extreme left wants to fundamentally change who we are,” Parson said, standing on the Bolivar High School auditorium stage. “They want to change our country and our state forever.”

Parson is seeking a full four-year term after rising from lieutenant governor last year following the resignation of scandal-plagued then-Gov. Eric Greitens.

The cattle rancher took swings at national Democrats for their “radical” ideas, calling out their proposals for free college and “a socialized health care system.” He also taunted New York congresswoman and rising Democratic star Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez for her plan called the “Green New Deal,” which aims to aggressively combat climate change.

“I run cattle all the time, and they make new ‘green deals’ every day out there in the field, but most people are just smart enough not to step in it,” Parson said, to chuckles.

John Ashcroft, who early in his career served as the United States Attorney General during the Cold War, endorsed Parson’s run on stage, warning of country’s “slide toward socialism.”

“Despite of having some well-meaning folks in Missouri, never do they seem to push back effectively against the national leadership of that party,” Ashcroft, Missouri’s last two-term Republican governor, said, speaking of Missouri Democrats.

Parson did not mention the name of his likely opponent, Missouri Democrat and state auditor Nicole Galloway, who officially announced her bid for governor Aug. 12 through a video.

Parson’s message came in front of a crowd of several hundred supporters, who held up signs that said “Mike Parson Works!” and periodically chanted “I Like Mike.”

The chant was reminiscent of a 1952 slogan “I Like Ike” to draft then-General Dwight Eisenhower to run for president, at a time when the Cold War was heating up. It played on the public’s trust of his personality, rather than his policies.

Parson, however, played up his workforce development and infrastructure agenda. He successfully lobbied the legislature to issue hundreds of millions in bonds to fix the state’s bridges and pushed new state programs that would pay tuition for adults to learn the skills they need to work at high-demand jobs.

He predicted a full term would mean “cutting down on regulations” to pave the way for manufacturing jobs, changing Missouri legal standards to benefit businesses, and a focus on “a quality education and training.”

The loudest applause from his supporters came when Parson declared “everyone should have a right to life.” In May, Parson signed one of the most restrictive anti-abortion laws, criminalizing the procedure after 8 weeks of pregnancy.

Parson’s remarks were interrupted twice, both times by protesters who sat in the front row of the auditorium. A handful of young women jumped up, holding banners that noting the abortion ban, children being “killed in their own neighborhoods,” and the drop in the state-run Medicaid program of 100,000 children.

“Shame on Parson,” they chanted, as they were led out of the side door.

Following Parson’s Bolivar rally, Galloway echoed a similar sentiment.

“Missouri families can’t afford four more years of Governor Parson,” Galloway said in a statement. “Nearly 100,000 kids have lost their health coverage, rural hospitals continue to close, school districts are going to four-day weeks, and gun violence is ripping our communities apart. This Governor is out of answers, except to deliver for the well-connected insiders who get what they want while Missouri families continue to struggle.”

Parson’s only competition for the GOP bid so far is northwest Missouri state Rep. Jim Neely. Neely has not criticized Parson directly, but has pointed to a general dissatisfaction by the public for politicians in Jefferson City.

The message is reminiscent of Greitens’ run for governor, when he successfully parlayed his limited political experience to market himself as a Jefferson City “outsider.”

Parson has long worked in the political arena. Prior to becoming lieutenant governor, he was a two-term state senator, a four-term state representative and the Polk County sheriff.

As of Sunday, a quarter of every dollar raised to elect Parson in 2020 could be tied to his longtime friend and lobbyist, Steve Tilley.

Parson didn’t speak extensively of his past work in the legislature. Rather, he highlighted his humble roots.

He grew up on a farm in the small town of Wheatland, Missouri. He served in the U.S. Army and then opened up “Mike’s,” a service station where he “pumped gas, repaired cars, fixed tires.” He continues to own a cow-calf operation near Bolivar.

In the coming weeks, Parson is expected to tour the state highlighting his workforce development policies. He will make his first stop in Kansas City 9 a.m. Monday at Clarkson Construction Company.

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Crystal Thomas covers Missouri politics for The Kansas City Star. An Illinois native and a graduate of the Missouri School of Journalism, she has experience covering state and local government.