In a governor’s office packed tight with media, family, a few close friends that included a few current and former sheriffs in the state, and his Sunday school classmates from Bolivar First Baptist Church, Michael L. Parson took the oath of office to become Missouri’s 57th governor late Friday afternoon, June 1.
That was at 5:30 p.m. in the state Capitol, shortly after the resignation of Gov. Eric Greitens took effect. Parson, 62, previously served as state senator of the 28th District, which included Dallas County. He is a U.S. Army veteran and the first Polk Countian to ascend to the state’s highest office.
At 4 p.m., in a small chapel within First Baptist Church of Jefferson City, his Bolivar pastor, the Rev. Dr. Billy Russell, and his older brother, the Rev. Kent Parson, previewed the kind of man who would be taking that oath within minutes.
Russell described him as a bridge builder, a healer, one who will treat people the way he wants to be treated.
His brother said he no doubt would seek the advice of many, but some of it might not seem right.
“Listen to your heart,” he advised for such situations. “And never be afraid to ask God for help.”
He encouraged him to maintain a humble spirit and be of a forgiving spirit, while also being man enough to say he is sorry.
His brother also talked of being present for four of the biggest events in the new governor’s life:
1. In the country church where he accepted Christ.
2. When he took Teresa as his wife.
3. In the moments to follow when he would be sworn in as governor.
4. When that time comes, to welcome him to heaven.
To further accentuate the need for humility, he joked about how when the end comes for his brother, the titles he will have held in life will not matter. The number of people present for his funeral still will be determined by the weather.
“Back when I ran a gas station, nobody asked to take a picture with me,” the still Lt. Gov. Mike Parson told this reporter, laughing, as he posed for photo after photo in what soon was to be his former office.
He spoke afterward, during a small reception in the governor’s mansion, about being in awe of how far he had come from humble but proud rural beginnings in Hickory County, to a deputy sheriff’s job in Polk County, followed by a stint as a gas station owner and operator, then sheriff of Polk County, state representative, state senator and a short time as lieutenant governor before this, the job as governor.
His oath of office, using his father’s Bible as he did for his oath for lieutenant governor, was administered by yet another person with Bolivar connections.
Supreme Court Judge Mary R. Russell is the niece of the late Dr. Wallace Russell of Bolivar. She also was a law school friend and classmate of Polk County Associate Circuit Judge Elizabeth Rohrs. Russell was chief justice of the Missouri Supreme Court for two years.
She also represents Parson’s willingness to reach across the political aisle. Gov. Bob Holden, a Democrat, appointed her to the Supreme Court.
Local people have talked about how Parson, a man with country roots, has improved his public speaking skills as he has gained experience through navigating campaigns and holding public offices. But his nerves were evident, as one easily could expect, while taking the oath to his highest office yet. He slipped on a couple of words.
But he was back to being far more at ease in the Governor’s Mansion, among family and friends from Hickory and Polk counties. He talked with confidence about being able to make a difference in bringing government back together, while also acknowledging full awareness that there would be what always comes after a honeymoon in public office.
But he said he was ready for that, too.
Polk County’s first governor
Parson, a third-generation farmer who, along with wife Teresa, owns a cow and calf operation, will be the first Missouri governor to call Polk County home — although former Gov. Matt Blunt has Polk County ties through his father, U.S. Sen. Roy Blunt, who went to high school there and then Southwest Baptist University. The elder Blunt later returned to Bolivar as SBU’s president.
Parson’s first stint in public office was as Polk County’s sheriff, a role he filled from 1993 to 2005. He subsequently served as state representative for the 128th district from 2005 to 2011 and as state senator for the 28th district from 2011 to 2017.
In April 2015 at Bolivar High School, he announced a bid for the Missouri governorship. Three months later, Parson shifted his campaign to the lieutenant governor race.
Parson won 110 out of the state’s 114 counties during his 2016 successful bid for the lieutenant governorship, becoming the first statewide official to be elected out of Polk County since 1928, when Charles U. Becker won his third term as secretary of state.
Area leaders react
Several local politicians reacted this past Wednesday and Thursday to the news Parson was to be governor.
State Sen. Sandy Crawford, R-Buffalo, said Parson “is a great friend.”
“I think there is no better person to lead the state at this time,” she said. “His background as a farmer, small-business owner, former sheriff, U.S. Army veteran, state representative and lieutenant governor gives him a perfect background to move Missouri forward.”
Joseph Poor, the Democrat who will oppose Crawford in the November election, said via social media Parson is “by all accounts a levelheaded guy.”
Referencing “right-to-work” legislation, Poor said his levelheadedness might make Parson “much more effective in implementing” the GOP’s “anti-worker agenda.”
“It’s well and good that Missourians are nearly rid of Eric Greitens,” Poor said, “but make no mistake, unless we do some personnel shifting in the Capitol in November, it’ll be more of the same, but less headline grabbing.”
In a statement Tuesday night, former Bolivar resident and previous Southwest Baptist University president Republican U.S. Sen. Roy Blunt also offered up support for Parson.
“I look forward to Gov. Parson’s leadership and will do everything I can to be helpful,” Blunt said.