Missouri Lt. Gov. Mike Parson would take the reins in Jefferson City if embattled Gov. Eric Greitens were to resign or be impeached amid his multiplying legal and ethical woes. But who is Mike Parson? And would he be an upgrade?
As second-in-command, Parson has witnessed firsthand the short but scandal-plagued tenure of Greitens, the state’s first governor to be criminally indicted.
Greitens is scheduled to go on trial this week in St. Louis for felony invasion of privacy. Jury selection began Thursday.
Greitens, a Republican, has antagonized politicians in and outside of his party, spending most of 2017 fighting the state’s political institutions. He has few friends in Jefferson City.
Parson, though, has a good rapport with members of the General Assembly, lawmakers say. Some Democrats say Parson is part of the old guard of Missouri conservatives. Others believe he has the best interests of the state at heart.
“I pride myself on being able to work with the entire legislature,” Parson said.
The from-the-heart conservative Republican from Bolivar is an experienced politician and a third-generation farmer. He was elected lieutenant governor in 2016. His resume includes almost 25 years of public service.
While dark money has been part and parcel of the Greitens administration, Parson campaign aides say he frowns on tactics used to circumvent campaign disclosure requirements.
Still, Parson’s record is not spotless. He has been chided for accepting lobbyists’ gifts and was scrutinized after former House Speaker-turned-lobbyist Steve Tilley contributed $50,000 to his campaign. He undercut his stance against wasteful spending with a $54,000 makeover to the lieutenant governor’s office. A budget request for an additional $50,000 to cover legal fees and out-of-state-travel expenses was widely panned.
A check of Parson’s financial reports leading up to the 2016 election shows contributions from a wide variety of individuals, businesses and groups. A large portion came from small-dollar donors across the state. But there was no evidence of the secret funding sources that helped Greitens raise millions during his 2016 campaign for governor.
“Mike Parson is one of the most ethical and honest people that I know,” Republican state Rep. Mike Stephens said.
While Greitens has vowed to fight on, his odds of surviving are shaky at best. And his ouster would offer an opportunity for Missouri turn the page from what has been a dark-money-driven, secretive administration.
Parson could provide a fresh start for the state. And transparency should be the veteran statesman’s top priority if he gets that chance.