JEFFERSON CITY — After being sworn in as the 57th governor of Missouri on Monday, Gov. Mike Parson outlined his priorities — workforce development, infrastructure improvements and healthcare — for the state at an outdoor press conference.
“Trying times exposes you to some things that you need to do a better job. So, I think you’ll see things like telemedicine. That’s going to be a priority,” he says.
Along with increasing telehealth services and access, legislators will have to find a way to pay for the voter-approved Medicaid expansion, now part of the Missouri Constitution. Currently, around 1 million Missourians are enrolled in Medicaid — a marked increased due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Parson estimates an additional 200,000 people on Medicaid roles once the expansion is enacted.
“The reality of it is you got to figure out a way to pay for that. How you save is either through the cost side of it or how we change the program to save the money to pay for it,” he says.
Parson, who was elected to his first full term of office, says a proposal for Medicaid expansion will be in this year’s budget.
When asked about his top priority, the governor quickly replied the wellbeing of Missouri children. Early childhood development is the means to make that happen, he says.
“If you really want to change society, it’s about making sure every kid has an opportunity to an education, regardless of where you live or circumstances you are living in. We got to figure out how to get them through that process and the process of getting them a job,” he says. “If you keep doing things the way we’ve been doing it — for decades — you’re going to get the same response. Yeah, I want the kids of this state to be better off and I want them to understand what the American Dream is all about.”
Parson says lawmakers should “take a hard look” to implement a “Wayfair” sales tax for online, out-of-state retail companies. Missouri is one of only a few states that currently doesn’t tax those companies. Brick-and-mortar businesses call it an unfair advantage.
“We know how that affected us when we had a lot of people staying home. And how much of a disadvantage it was to local Missouri businesses. We got to be able to find a solution for that.”
Nationally, an FBI bulletin warns of plans for armed protests at all 50 state capitals and in Washington, D.C. in the days leading up to President-elect Joe Biden’s inauguration. Parson told reporters he’s aware of the possible unrest and the state is taking precautions. He also addressed the actions of pro-Trump rioters who stormed the U.S. Capitol last Wednesday that left five people dead.
“I believe in civil protests, but I don’t believe anybody for any cause has the right to commit crimes — period,” Parson says. “I spent a lifetime in law enforcement, in law and order, making sure to preserve that. Whether it’s in Washington D.C. or Missouri, if you are violating the law, you are responsible for your own actions. Trying to blame someone else for your actions, is not who we are. People who violate the law should be held responsible.”
As junior Sen. Josh Hawley faces increasing pressure to resign after carrying out President Trump’s electoral college challenge, the governor diffused a question whether Hawley should resign.
“We’ll be talking about Washington, D.C. every day from here after. You know, everybody has to be responsible for the decisions they make, good or bad or indifferent, that’s what I’ll say,” Parson told reporters.
Hawley, who condemned the violence, has brushed aside calls to resign.
Police reform in Missouri will be part of discussions during this legislative session.
“As we move forward when it comes to law enforcement issues, what we learned from this summer, there’s need to be discussion about that. The one thing we all should emphasize is how we can do things better. Now, what that looks like at the end of the legislative session, I don’t know. But that discussion needs to be had.”
The political divide can be lessened if people work toward common “non-political” goals, like education, healthcare and infrastructure.
“All of these things are how you can make your state better,” Parson says, before addressing the harsh, political climate. “I think you need to respect one another. And just because you think it’s the right way, maybe it’s not what everybody thinks,” she say. “Nobody’s thoughts should be forced on other people. I believe we all have equal rights and I think it’s important for me to uphold that.”
The governor will give his State of the State address in the Missouri House chamber at 3 p.m. on Jan. 27.