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Pandemic alters swearing-in ceremonies for top Missouri officials

Pandemic alters swearing-in ceremonies for top Missouri officials

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Missouri Capitol, during renovation in 2020. (Post-Dispatch file)

JEFFERSON CITY — Just as President-elect Joe Biden is planning a pared-down swearing-in celebration, Missouri Gov. Mike Parson will forgo a traditional inaugural ball and parade next month because of the pandemic.

For now, however, the Republican chief executive is merely postponing the events in hopes the spread of the coronavirus will have dissipated in time to resurrect a party atmosphere later next year.

Worried that the crowds of family and well-wishers will transform the Capitol into a superspreader event, the governor and Legislature will work to limit large groups of people from congregating in the building.

The 163 members of the House are expected to be sworn into office in bunches on Jan. 6, rather than herding all of them and their families into the chamber at the same time.

It wasn’t clear if lawmakers are planning to jettison the traditional parties within their Capitol offices, which typically flood the hallways with swarms of friends and family.

Teresa Parson, who is co-chairing the inaugural committee, said the ceremonies will be linked to the state’s 200th birthday observance in August.

“To kick off Missouri’s bicentennial, we will celebrate our state’s rich heritage with a historic Bicentennial Inauguration,” the first lady said. “The strong bonds that tie Missourians together have endured for over 200 years and will provide the strength needed to continue moving Missouri forward.”

Parson, 65, won a four-year term on Nov. 3 with a decisive win over Democratic Auditor Nicole Galloway.

On Jan. 9, a Saturday, the festivities will kick off with a prayer service at Southwest Baptist University in the governor’s hometown of Bolivar.

On Jan. 11, the governor, lieutenant governor, attorney general, secretary of state and treasurer will be sworn in outside on the steps of the Capitol.

Both events are open to the public, but organizers are requesting attendees RSVP in order to assist in planning for social distancing. Details on how to RSVP will be announced at a later date.

The traditional ball is expected to be rescheduled to coincide with the Aug. 10 date of Missouri’s entry as the 24th state.

The events will be financed by contributions to a newly formed not-for-profit called Moving Missouri Forward.

The organization will disclose benefactors and their contributions at a later date. That’s a departure from former Gov. Eric Greitens’ inaugural committee, which didn’t reveal how much money each of the donors contributed.

James Harris, a Jefferson City political consultant, and his wife, Jillian, are serving as co-chairs of the steering committee.

Other members of the committee include a who’s who of Republican Party donors and activists, including former Missouri Govs. Kit Bond, John Ashcroft and Matt Blunt, former Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder and former Republican Party Chairman Todd Graves.

“It’s a joint list of longtime close friends, close supporters and strong advocates for the governor and the first lady,” said Parson campaign manager Steele Shippy.

Other members include GOP megadonors Rex Sinquefield and David Steward. Former House Speaker Steve Tilley, a lobbyist and fundraiser for Parson, also is on the committee.

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