JEFFERSON CITY — Gov. Mike Parson fired off a letter to GOP lawmakers on Friday suggesting House leadership had engaged in a “purposeful and disgusting scheme to embarrass” him by cutting off access to the House chamber hours before his annual State of the State speech.
Following closed-door discussions with GOP House leaders on Wednesday, Parson broke with tradition and gave his speech in the Senate that afternoon.
Lawmakers have played down the level of discontent between House Speaker Rob Vescovo and Parson, both Republicans, but Friday’s letter was the most concrete evidence yet of a feud between the two leaders.
“When I served in the legislature, each chamber respected the traditions, processes, and integrity of their institutions,” Parson said. “The same respect was absent from the 2021 State of the State Address.”
Members of House leadership did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The governor said in his letter that his team had worked for weeks with the House to “ensure our plan was in line with their plan to meet all safety precautions.”
Parson said the final meeting was Monday, and said his staff only learned of the change in plans hours before the speech was to start. He said that subsequently, “we were informed” that members of House leadership “were instructed” not to contact the governor’s office the night before the speech and to wait until mid-morning Wednesday.
“There is no legitimate reason to delay informing the Governor’s Office regarding a change to the plan to deliver the State of the State Address,” Parson said.
Parson said the “House Leader” informed him on Wednesday the speech could only proceed in an “empty chamber,” and that “I was also told that this decision was made because having no Democrats present in the Chamber would be perceived badly.”
He said Missourians entrusted Republicans with the governorship and two-thirds majorities in the Legislature, not Democrats. He said his guests, who trekked to Jefferson City “despite potentially dangerous road conditions” would be barred from the House.
“In addition, none of my staff members … no state senators … no statewide elected officials, and no Supreme Court judges would be allowed in the House chamber … only me.
“It is hard to see this as anything other than a purposeful and disgusting scheme to embarrass me and the Office of the Governor,” Parson said.
Parson said the speech was an opportunity to recount the GOP’s accomplishments and how it was prepared to move Missouri forward.
“Instead, Wednesday became an insider stunt and petty show of arrogance and political power,” Parson wrote.
He said that in a further illustration of “malicious intent,” House staff “actively went to work putting a political spin on the situation and insinuating that this was about my ego.”
Parson said that the night before the speech, pictures were posted of a packed House hearing room with many of the occupants not wearing masks.
“I could not understand why House leadership would condone such an unsafe hearing while preventing the State of the State from moving forward,” Parson said, “as we had taken every precautionary measure to limit unnecessary attendance, ensure social distancing, and provide overflow viewing areas.”
Parson ended the letter by telling the GOP lawmakers that “we are all on the same team,” and that “before this week, I would have never thought it was necessary to remind Republican members of that,” he said. “Please let our office know if you are interested and willing to collaborate.”