The man who could become Missouri’s next governor

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By Daphne Psaledakis Missouri Digital News

JEFFERSON CITY — It’s hard to say what the outcome will be of the criminal case against the governor.

But who’s the guy who could become Missouri's next governor?

That’s Lt. Gov. Mike Parson, and he’s a very different person from Gov. Eric Greitens.

Parson, 62, came to office alongside Greitens, winning 110 of Missouri’s 114 counties in the 2016 election.

“He’s not the type of guy who would be elected governor, but he’d make a good governor,” said Chris Kelly, former state representative from Columbia, who had an 18-year career in the legislature. “He’s not flashy or spectacular, but he’s smart and knows how to make good decisions.”

Parson was raised on a farm in Hickory County and is now a small business owner and third-generation farmer. He graduated from Wheatland High School and then took night courses at the University of Maryland and at the University of Hawaii while he was in the Army. Although he doesn’t have a bachelor’s degree, he is close to having an associate’s degree. He served in the Army for six years.

His political career began when he became sheriff of Polk County in 1993, where Parson and his wife, Teresa, live and operate a cow and calf operation. They have two children and five grandchildren.

He was then elected in 2004 to represent the 133rd district in the Missouri House of Representatives. He held the position for six years until he was elected senator of the 28th district, a seat he held from 2011 to 2017. He held the House and Senate seats for the full term limits of each.

“I think he’s a straight shooter, and I think people should enjoy him in the role he is in today and in the role he is in the next day, the next month,” said Dave Berry, publisher of the Bolivar Herald Free Press and several other papers. 

He has had interactions will Parson dating back to when he was first in law enforcement.

During his time as a senator, Parson chaired the Small Business, Insurance and Industry Committee, and served as the majority whip for two years. As a representative, he chaired the House Rules Committee and held seats on several other committees.

Parson has sponsored several pieces of legislation and had the fourth-highest number of bills passed in the Senate, according to previous reporting.

He is most proud of his role in the expansion of the Missouri’s castle doctrine  — a law that entitles the use of deadly force in home defense — and Missouri Farming Rights  Amendment proposals.

Parson has also demonstrated support for higher education.

“He’s experienced in both local and state governments,” Kelly said. “He understands infrastructure needs and would be good for the university (of Missouri system).”

Parson proposed legislation that allowed $400 million in bonds to be used to repair college campuses and state buildings. The proposal covered roof repairs, additions for handicap accessibility and heating and cooling system repairs.

Parson has also questioned cuts to higher education. As senator, he criticized the proposed $7.6 million cut to the UM System in 2016. 

He also said that states should be careful about punishing universities through budget cuts since it could harm students.

During his time as lieutenant governor, Parson hasn’t always fallen in line with Greitens.

“He’s the polar opposite of Greitens,” Kelly said. “He’s experienced and knows how to make decisions. I don’t agree with him on a lot of things, but he’d be a good governor.”

In a Missouri Housing Development Commission meeting, he voted against ending the low-income housing tax credit. Greitens voted to end the program because he said the money wasn’t being used efficiently.

Recently, however, Parson has been under criticism for perceived wasteful spending.

Upon taking the position of lieutenant governor, Parson spent over $54,000 on remodeling and redecorating his office at the Capitol. More than $8,000 was spent on  new furniture for the space, according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. He was also criticized for his proposal to increase his office budget by $50,000, reportedly to hire a personal driver. 

But Kelli Jones, a spokeswoman in his office, said that was inaccurately reported and that he sought $25,000 for legal fees and $25,000 for a part-time staff person who would have some driving responsibilities.

“I don’t have anybody to help drive,” Parson said in testimony. “The state of Missouri is a big state. It takes a lot to travel.”

In 2016, Parson spent about $26,000 reimbursing himself for mileage. He recently returned from a two-day trip to Hawaii to welcome the submarine USS Missouri to Pearl Harbor. The trip was paid for by private donations.

As for his successor, it is unclear who would replace him should he ascend to the governorship. The line of succession for governorship is clear but does not address who would take his post. The lieutenant governor’s office said there was likely a formal process but did not know what it was.

The Legislative Library researched the line of succession upon request and was not able to find an answer. In some cases, the seat has remained vacant until the next election. But at other times, people have been appointed, the researchers found.

(Columbia Missourian reporters Max Fillion and Kaitlin Washburn contributed to this report).