Missouri’s new governor, Mike Parson, is setting exactly the right tone as he launches an administration that will span the next two legislative sessions.
Parson, a Republican, is reaching out to Democrats and Republicans, big-city mayors, including Kansas City’s Sly James, and the state’s congressional delegation. On Tuesday, the freshman governor embarked on an extensive two-day tour that will take him from Kansas City to Sikeston, from St. Joseph and St. Louis to Gordonville, a village of 391 near Cape Girardeau.
In Kansas City Tuesday evening, Parson pledged new cooperation with city leaders. Then he backed that up by pledging to sign a bill funding a new UMKC music conservatory. “I do think it’s important for Kansas City,” Parson said. “ And I do think it’s a good investment for the state of Missouri.”
It was an unexpected gesture of goodwill and a startling departure from the mean-spirited rhetoric of his predecessor, Eric Greitens, who in July vetoed a conservatory funding bill.
Tone is critical following the scandal-plagued administration of the last governor, who was angling for the White House even before he took the oath of office in Jefferson City. It’s important, too, because Parson is an unelected governor who faces the difficult task of building political momentum — not fueled by votes at the ballot box, but via the goodwill he can generate.
Missouri faces too many major decisions on highway funding, schools and the treatment of the poorest among us not to have an effective leader who has earned the respect of Democrats and Republicans alike.
On Monday, Parson delivered a well-considered 15-minute address aimed at signaling a major reset of state government and separating Missouri from the ugliness of the Greitens era.
“Most of all, we must always remember that we serve the people and the state of Missouri — not the other way around,” Parson said. “Sadly, much of the political turmoil that has engulfed our state is a result of these truths being forgotten.”
Few citizens of Missouri would dispute that.
Parson emphasized that as a former lawmaker himself, he regards the work that legislators do as honorable. That’s a far cry from Greitens’ campaign mantra that elected officials were nothing more than “corrupt, career politicians,” a refrain that grated on almost every one of the General Assembly’s 197 members.
Parson recognizes that the state must heal, and to do that, Missourians must come together again. To that end, he met with the state’s congressional delegation Monday, a group that includes Democrats Claire McCaskill, the two-term U.S. senator, and Congressman Emanuel Cleaver of Kansas City. This was an all-too-rare get-together, and the discussion reportedly covered a host of issues. But the symbolism was what mattered most: Republicans and Democrats gathered around a table talking.
McCaskill, Missouri’s top Democrat, spoke with Greitens about state business precisely one time. Parson has already matched it.
Last week, he met with James and other city leaders in the governor’s office in another move that suggests a focus on rebuilding key relationships. Already, officials are anticipating more openness to Kansas City priorities. On Tuesday, Parson promised to spend a day in Kansas City studying city priorities as long as James spends time in rural Missouri doing the same. “We are all Missourians,” Parson said.
That seems like a fair trade.
In his address Monday, Parson was wise to avoid controversial issues. That time will come. So will decisions about whether a House investigation into Greitens should continue. Make no mistake: Parson, a former sheriff, is a staunch conservative with priorities that will rarely mesh with the state’s Democrats. But disagreements are easier to swallow when you have a working relationship with your adversary who might give a little on some occasions.
Parson begins with a distinct advantage. Unlike brand-new governors who must craft a budget and deliver a State of the State address within weeks of their election, Parson has six months before he tackles those tasks. He has the luxury of time to build that goodwill.
Missouri is eager to embrace its new leader, and Parson is seizing the opportunity. It’s a desperately needed fresh start.