After eight months in office, Missouri Gov. Mike Parson says he is enjoying his unexpected role and looks forward to working with legislators in the coming months.
Although his appointment came in June 2018, it was just weeks after the legislative session had ended, giving the new governor time to get his feet under him and prepare his legislative priorities for this session.
Parson has set out an aggressive plan that focuses on workforce development, infrastructure and decreasing the size of state government.
The governor and first lady hosted a luncheon last week for members of the Missouri Press Association at the governor’s mansion.
At the luncheon, Parson answered reporters’ questions on a wide range of topics in a casual and friendly repartee.
“I got to come in with no promises to anyone,” Parson said. “I just want to do a good job and focus on that each day. I don’t worry about the next election. I’m just focused on how we conduct ourselves.”
Parson added one of the most unexpected features and perhaps the hardest part of his job is the extreme demand on his time.
“It is unreal,” Parson said. “But, it is a sacrifice you have to make. We do it because of the love of this state.”
He added since his accession to office, every living former Missouri governor has reached out to him and wished him well.
“It feels like the history of this mansion is on my shoulders,” Parson said. “When all of the governors do get together, we end up talking about old times.”
In the state of Missouri, the governor and lieutenant governor not only run separately, but can also be from differing political parties.
Most recently former Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon was a Democrat and Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder was a Republican.
It has not happened often in the history of the state, but the recent resignation of Eric Greitens and Parson’s move to the governor’s office, the subject of a combined ticket has again resurfaced, mainly to keep control in the hands of the same party.
Although he hasn’t officially announced whether or not he will run for re-election in 2020, Parson said he was not in favor of a combined ticket.
“I’m not sold on the idea,” Parson said. “I want to make sure another candidate has a chance. Maybe someone from an opposite party would be good. Plus, when you put together a slate, money gets involved. I don’t know if this is broke right now and needs to be fixed.”
After Missouri voters rejected a 10-cent tax increase on gasoline, the state and Parson are looking for other creative funding sources for the state’s roads and bridges.
Parson was asked if he or the Legislature had plans to increase the state’s gas tax gradually, which they are entitled to do without voter permission.
“It doesn’t matter if it’s a small tax or a big one, the voters said ‘no’,” Parson said. “Just because the voters don’t want to pay more fuel taxes, doesn’t mean we aren’t going to do anything. The problem is still there. How do we solve it?”
Parson is recommending an overall transportation budget of more than $2.9 billion.
Of that, more than $2 billion, or 69 percent will be for highway construction.
During his state of the state address, Parson unveiled a plan to replace 250 bridges in Missouri.
To pay for the projects, the state would use $351 million in bond funding.
Overall, the 2020-2023 bridge replacement plan encompasses 250 bridges in 209 individual projects.
The trimmed-down proposal is estimated to cost $344,800,000.
The governor is recommending a total of $351 million for the replacement or repair of the bridges.
The projects range from as low as $340,000 up to $4.4 million statewide.
“If you look at other states around us, they have done bold things,” Parson said. “I’m going to try my best to get this through the legislative process.”
During the recent 35-day partial government shutdown, several Missouri agencies stepped in to make sure residents received necessary goods and services usually provided by the federal government.
With another shutdown looming in less than two weeks, Parson said the same efforts would be made if it does happen again.
“The gridlock in Washington, D.C., is unfortunate,” Parson said. “The country has got to the point nobody wants to talk to each other. We all need to sit at the table and talk about what the people want and how can we do a better job.”
Despite rejecting a gas tax increase, Missouri voters did approve a constitutional amendment (Clean Missouri) that further restricts gifts to lawmakers, and increases accessibility to government records. Amendment 1 also will allow the state auditor to appoint a cartographer to draw new legislative districts across the state.
While in the state Senate, Parson was ranked among the top lawmakers receiving the highest number of gifts.
At the beginning of the legislative session in January, members of the House of Representatives voted to keep many of their records secret going against the mandates in the new constitutional amendment.
When asked his thoughts on the new amendment, Parson said it was the will of the people and if any changes are wanted, in his opinion they would have to be approved by the voters again.
He added his main concern with the amendment was the redistricting portion and the overall process of how initiative petitions are being placed on the statewide ballots.
“Everyone in this room knows this was about redistricting,” Parson said. “It may be time to make changes to the initiative petition process. It’s a worthwhile discussion to have, especially when you’re dealing with the Constitution.”