JEFFERSON CITY — Gov. Mike Parson took another step Thursday in his bid to win a full, four-year term as Missouri’s chief executive in 2020.
Although the Republican has yet to formally announce he’s running, the Post-Dispatch has learned that Parson’s communications director is stepping down to run the campaign for the former lawmaker from Bolivar.
Steele Shippy, who has been in the governor’s office for the 14 months Parson has served, is leaving the state payroll Thursday to become campaign manager in a race that could pit the governor against Auditor Nicole Galloway, a Democrat.
Neither candidate has publicly announced campaign plans, but aides have been saying for weeks that both are gearing up for a showdown.
The two have already begun sparring.
Galloway, for example, released an audit two weeks ago criticizing Parson’s spending practices as Missouri’s lieutenant governor. His office suggested Galloway was overstepping her authority in the report.
The two also are raising money in anticipation of a bid.
Parson and an affiliated political action committee named Uniting Missouri have amassed more than $3 million. Galloway, who won a four-year term last year, has about $200,000 spread across two accounts.
Parson, who will be on a trade mission in Australia next week, is expected to announce in early September that he’s running.
He likely will highlight his efforts to improve the state’s workforce and transportation infrastructure, which were the focus of his first legislative session.
In May, he was able to convince a Republican-dominated Legislature to support a new scholarship program for adults seeking to get training in high-demand jobs. And he shepherded a $301 million borrowing plan for bridge repairs through the House and Senate after voters in 2018 rejected his proposal to raise gas taxes by 10 cents per gallon.
Parson also signed off on controversial legislation that will severely restrict access to abortion in Missouri.
“Since Day One, Steele has been an important member of our team and has done great work not only for our office but for the entire state of Missouri,” Parson said.
Shippy had been Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft’s deputy chief of staff after he managed Ashcroft’s successful 2016 bid for the post.
He moved to the governor’s office after Parson ascended last year when Eric Greitens resigned under the cloud of scandal.
Shippy previously worked for Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee and U.S. Sen. James Lankford of Oklahoma. He also worked for Victory Enterprises, a Missouri-based Republican political consulting firm.
“The Governor’s Office is a special place, and I will miss working alongside such a tremendous team of dedicated and committed public servants. I will, however, continue to be a strong advocate for Governor Parson’s bold agenda to reform state government, rebuild our infrastructure, and develop Missouri’s workforce,” Shippy said in a statement.
Press Secretary Kelli Jones, who was Parson’s spokeswoman when he was lieutenant governor, will take on the role of communication director.
Jones previously worked at State Technical College of Missouri in Linn.
“Kelli brings many years of valuable communication and leadership experience to our office,” Parson said.
“Missouri is my home, and there is no greater honor than working alongside such a great team to serve the people of this state,” Jones said.