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WATCH: Missouri Governor Mike Parson takes oath of office on Capitol steps

Published: Jan. 11, 2021 at 8:58 AM CST|Updated: Jan. 11, 2021 at 7:05 PM CST
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JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) — Missouri Gov. Mike Parson began a new term in office Monday with an inaugural ceremony marking the start of Missouri’s bicentennial celebration, but without a traditional party because of coronavirus precautions.

The Republican governor took the oath of office at a midday event on the grounds of the recently refurbished Capitol, with church bells ringing and artillery guns firing a salute — just as they have for past governors.

But there will be no inaugural parade, no hand-shaking reception line with the general public and no inaugural ball, where the governor and lawmakers typically don fancy apparel to dance in the cramped quarters of the Capitol Rotunda. All of those festivities have been canceled or postponed because of concerns about the coronavirus pandemic.

On a fittingly overcast day, Parson acknowledged the challenges facing many people while optimistically forecasting that “sunny days are ahead.”

“It is our time to preserve the American dream,” Parson said in prepared remarks of his speech released before the event.

Parson said he would work to provide the tools needed for doctors and nurses, law enforcement officers, farmers and teachers. He said his job is to make life better for every Missourian.

“I will care for the unborn to the elderly, the rich to the poor, regardless of the color of your skin,” he said.

State officials hope that by this August enough people will have been vaccinated against the coronavirus to safely hold a more elaborate celebration. It would coincide with the 200th anniversary of Missouri’s official admittance to the United States on Aug. 10, 1821.

Parson, 65, won election to a full four-year term in November by easily defeating Democratic State Auditor Nicole Galloway, who was expected to join other state officials at the inaugural ceremony. Parson had been elected lieutenant governor in 2016 but ascended to the top spot on June 1, 2018, when Republican Gov. Eric Greitens resigned while facing potential impeachment over allegations of sexual and political misconduct.

More than 6,000 people had gathered at the Capitol for Greitens’ inauguration.

The crowd gathered at the Capitol for Parson’s celebration was notably thinner. As a coronavirus precaution, organizers of Parson’s inauguration were attempting to limit the crowd size, do a basic health screening of attendees and encourage them to wear masks. About 2,000 people had responded to Parson’s inaugural committee saying they plan to attend.

The event still was bigger than some inaugural ceremonies elsewhere. Democratic North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper’s inauguration Saturday was accessible to the public only by television or online, and his inaugural speech was pre-recorded.

Parson’s privately funded committee said it expects to spend about $200,000 on the inauguration, with donors to be disclosed later.

The ceremony also included the inauguration of other statewide executives who won election last fall — Lt. Gov. Mike Kehoe, Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft, Treasurer Scott Fitzpatrick and Attorney General Eric Schmitt. All are Republicans.

In a nod to the bicentennial, Parson’s inauguration featured a speech by Gary Kremer, executive director of the State Historical Society of Missouri.

Kremer lauded famous Missourians ranging from George Washington Carver, a leader in farming science and former slave, to author Samuel Clemens, better known by his pen name, Mark Twain.

Kremer said Missouri has an opportunity this year to show how its diversity of race, religion, culture and geography is a source of strength, not division.

“Our diversity should not and must not divide us,” he said.

Kremer said the state’s first gubernatorial inauguration actually occurred in September 1820, almost a full year before the lengthy statehood process concluded. Gov. Alexander McNair took the oath in a St. Louis hotel where lawmakers were meeting and delivered a speech of fewer than 500 words that was described by one historian as “a model of brevity,” Kremer said.

Parson’s speech was about twice as long, though still relatively short by modern standards. He plans to lay out a more detailed policy agenda when he delivers his State of the State address to the Republican-led Legislature on Jan. 27.

Parson was born in rural Wheatland, Missouri, where he graduated from high school in 1973. He served six years in the U.S. Army and was sheriff of Polk County from 1993-2005. He then spent a combined 12 years in the Missouri House and Senate before winning election as lieutenant governor. He and his wife, Teresa, continue to own a cattle farm near Bolivar.

At a news conference after the ceremony Parson said he will continue to emphasize the things he did after taking over in 2018 including the infrastructure, getting the workforce back on its feet during the pandemic and rolling out more vaccine information.

“We’ll start probably next week in starting to define Phase 1B,” he said of the next part of the vaccine roll-out that includes essential workers.

The former Polk Co. sheriff and U.S. Army vet says the state is taking precautions concerning social media threats to attack state capitals all across the country and was asked his thoughts about last week’s attacks at the nation’s capitol.

“If you are violating the law you are responsible for your own actions,” he replied. “Trying to blame somebody for your actions is not who we are.”

But when asked if he felt fellow-Republican Josh Hawley should be held responsible?

“Look, there’s been a lot of discussion on this. I just want to stay with the inaugural and the governor of the state,” he answered but then added, “You know, everybody has to be responsible for the decisions they make.”

He also says police reform was something the legislature should look at.

“How do we do things better,” Parson said of what lawmakers should be considering. “Now what that looks like at the end of the legislative session I don’t know.”

With Medicaid expansion now a part of the state constitution after being approved by voters, Parson was asked about what his plans are to carry the expansion out.

“Right now I think we’ve got close to a million people on there,” he said. “The expansion’s going to add another 200,000 so the reality is you’ve got to find a way to pay for that.”

And when asked what his number one priority is in terms of his legacy as governor?

“I want the kids of this state to be better off,” he said. " I want them to understand what the American dream is about. I want them to understand that people like me will fight for ‘em so they have the opportunity to make decisions on their own.”

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Ballentine reported from Columbia, Missouri.

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