Gov. Mike Parson, who last year shrugged off the importance of those “dang” masks and failed in other ways to lead Missouri through the pandemic, has finally become passionate about something: He’s irked at having to deliver last week’s State of the State address in the Senate chamber instead of the House, because House leaders imposed pandemic restrictions. In an extraordinary letter to the fellow Republicans who run the House, Parson accuses them of a “purposeful and disgusting scheme to embarrass” him. Not to be insensitive to the governor’s hurt feelings, but Parson should worry less about the optics of his speech and more about the virus ravaging his state.
The governor’s annual State of State address has traditionally been delivered in the House chamber in Jefferson City. But following several coronavirus cases among House members, the GOP House leadership told Parson he couldn’t speak in the chamber unless it was empty, a condition Parson rejected. Parson ended up delivering the speech in the smaller Senate chamber.
As the Post-Dispatch’s Kurt Erickson and Jack Suntrup reported online Sunday, Parson on Friday penned the three-page letter complaining bitterly that the House Republicans’ snub came just hours before Wednesday’s speech was scheduled to start. He alleged intentional political sabotage, noting that House leadership isn’t concerned about safety during maskless committee hearings and floor debates.
On that point, Parson is right — GOP lawmakers have been dangerously petulant about flouting pandemic precautions. But then Parson’s letter complained that “my excited special guests who traveled to Jefferson City … would be prohibited from entering the House Chamber,” as would state senators, statewide elected officials, Supreme Court judges, cabinet members and staff. Parson wanted a packed House, in other words — coronavirus be damned.
“To further illustrate the malicious intent of these decisions,” Parson wrote, “House staff members actively went to work putting a political spin on the situation and insinuating that this was about my ego.” Given the letter’s tone, that doesn’t appear to have been an entirely inaccurate spin.
Contrary to the self-promoting puffery in Parson’s letter, his pandemic leadership has been disastrous. His refusal to impose mask orders or even set a consistent example, his lack of early guidance on school closings and his late implementation and early lifting of stay-at-home orders have contributed to the state’s more than 7,000 coronavirus deaths. Missouri has undercounted thousands of positive test results and recently ranked last among the 50 states in getting a first dose of vaccines into arms.
Parson’s insistence on conducting the speech in person was just further evidence that he still doesn’t grasp the enormity of this threat. Missourians have no reason to care about which podium Parson had to use — let alone the machinations of this petty in-party spat — when people are still dying and vaccine isn’t getting where it’s needed.