Parson calls for ‘fresh start’ in address to joint session of legislature

Missouri’s new Gov. Mike Parson struck a unifying tone during his first address to the Missouri General Assembly on Monday evening.

“Today is a time for a fresh start for our state and to recommit ourselves — each and every one of us, including you in the galleries — we must work together for a better Missouri,” he said from the House dais.

Parson’s ascension as the 57th governor of Missouri has been swift, marking the conclusion of embattled former Gov. Eric Greitens’ fall from political favor. Greitens resigned June 1 amid multiple investigations into his alleged sexual misconduct and violation of campaign finance laws.

“During this time we have witnessed politics at its worst and its best,” Parson said. “We have been divided, and we have been united. Missouri has risen to the occasion, as we always do.”

Sen. Rob Schaaf, R-St. Joseph, said Parson’s speech was “exactly what was needed.” Schaaf was a vocal opponent of Greitens.

“It’s as if the atmosphere in the Capitol is lighter and easier,” Schaaf said. “Everything’s easier.”

Parson’s 15-minute address called for solidarity between the legislature and the executive office and focused on the future.

Listening to Parson’s speech on the floor of the Missouri House of Representatives were 118 state representatives, 29 state senators and a bevy of honored guests, which included U.S. Sen. Roy Blunt, U.S. Rep. Ann Wagner and Missouri Attorney General Josh Hawley.

Parson reminded all the lawmakers of their duty to, first and foremost, serve the people of Missouri.

“Make no mistake: the offices we now hold are far bigger than any one of us,” he said.

Parson’s verbal commitment to a transparent state government and peaceful transition of power resonated with many legislators, including Rep. Sara Walsh, R-Ashland. Walsh also endorsed Parson’s decision to keep state agency directors appointed by Greitens.

“That keeps stability for the state agencies and continues the good work being done for the people,” she said.

Parson also lauded the accomplishments of the recently adjourned legislative session.

“Your many legislative achievements include significant tax reform for Missourians, record education funding for our students, government union reform, a responsible, balanced budget and many other reforms that made government smaller, more efficient and more effective for Missourians.”

Parson’s statement underscored the traditional conservative agenda he is expected to implement, and that wasn’t lost on some Democratic lawmakers. Rep. Doug Beck, D-St. Louis, called out Repubicans’ “anti-union” actions on Twitter.

During Greitens’ 17-month tenure, relations between the legislative and executive branches were strained. But to the satisfaction of lawmakers, Parson’s speech made clear his intention to repair rifts in Jefferson City.

“I’m a wait-and-see kind of person,” said Senate Minority Leader Gina Walsh, D-Bellefontaine Neighbors. She added, though, that she is “optimistic that it is going to be better than it has been.”

Paul Wieland, R-Imperial, publicized his reaction on Twitter.

“I’m proud to have a Governor that respects the legislature, state government & its history & is humble enough to realize the office is bigger than the person holding it,” Wieland wrote.

Sen. Caleb Rowden, R-Columbia, said Parson “has preexisting relationships with a lot of us” because of his service in the House and Senate.

“I think he saw some of the trials that not having a relationship there caused,” Rowden said.

Rep. Kip Kendrick, D-Columbia, said he has found it interesting to watch positive citizen and media reactions to Parson’s meetings with leaders around the state. Parson announced Friday he will take a statewide “listening tour” to hear from community leaders across Missouri. It was scheduled to begin Tuesday morning and conclude Wednesday afternoon, covering nine cities.

“The bar has been set that low in the state of Missouri,” Kendrick said. “These are things that a governor should be doing and have historically done, so I’m glad that the current governor is taking that approach.”

On the topic of Parson’s address, Kendrick said, “It was refreshing to hear a different tone … from the executive branch — where the legislature wasn’t being thrown under the bus.”

With the conclusion of Parson’s speech, the House also voted to adjourn the special legislative session that had been convened to consider the possible impeachment of former Gov. Greitens.

The House investigative committee that looked into Greitens’ alleged misconduct spent more than $25,000 for subpoena service, supplies and court reporters, The Associated Press reported. That’s in addition to the more than $39,000 of taxpayer money spent on mileage payments and per diems for legislators in the special session to consider impeachment.

It is still unclear if the legislature will continue its investigation into Greitens’ alleged misuse of campaign funds.

Kendrick said that regardless of Parson’s push to keep moving forward, the people of Missouri still deserve answers about why Greitens resigned.

“I want answers,” Kendrick said. “What forced the governor to resign?”

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