Gov. Mike Parson pushed this week back against a charge from his main Democratic rival that he lied about how she handles text messages.

In an interview and through email messages, chief spokeswoman Kelli Jones said the governor was correct when he said State Auditor Nicole Galloway was deleting text messages.

"Governor Parson is not a liar," Jones wrote in an email. "Calling our governor a liar is immature and blatantly inaccurate. Governor Parson is an honest man who always strives to do the right thing for Missouri and its people."

Galloway is seeking the Democratic nomination for governor and Parson is a Republican who will be running for his first full term as governor. Neither has major opposition for their party's nomination.

Galloway accused Parson of lying after he made remarks to editors and publishers assembled at the Governor’s Mansion for Missouri Press Association and The Associated Press Day at the Capitol.

When asked about his office's practice of hiding the names and other identifying information when releasing emails and other communication via Sunshine Law requests, Parson accused Galloway of trying to make political points by criticizing his office’s practices.

“We’ve never been to court on, whether it’s the apps that everybody was using in there; and I would make the point that Galloway was, one of the decisions she made was, using the app the other governor got caught with, and there were court cases over that,” Parson said.

The "app the other governor got caught with" is Confide, used by former Gov. Eric Greitens and several aides. That program for smart phones deletes messages immediately after they are read.

A lawsuit filed in 2017 by the conservative group Missouri Alliance for Freedom accused Galloway of violating the Sunshine Law by not retaining all the communications she had with staff and others through her state-issued phone. While Galloway won the lawsuit on every point in a ruling handed down last Wednesday by Cole County Circuit Judge Jon Beeetem, the lawsuit did reveal that Galloway's state-issued phone was set to delete messages after 30 days when she received it. In November 2017, Galloway reset the phone to hold messages forever.

"That is what the governor was referring to," Jones said. "The whole point is her phone was set up to delete text messages."

The lawsuit did not show Galloway used Confide and a report issued by then-Attorney General Josh Hawley in February 2018 concluded Galloway had done all her business on a state-paid phone and had not installed the Confide application.

Eric Slusher, Galloway's campaign manager, said Jones was not addressing the charge Galloway made in an interview with the Tribune — that Parson was wrong when he said Galloway had used Confide.

"Words matter and facts matter," Slusher said. "The governor said plainly that Auditor Galloway used the same app the last governor got caught using and that is categorically untrue. Their walk back is comical."

In an email Tuesday, Jones wrote that Parson received a state-issued iPhone when he became governor in 2018 following Greitens' resignation.

"Since he has had it, it has been set on the default feature which is to save text messages forever," Jones wrote. "It has never been changed from the default setting, forever. My point being is that Auditor Galloway’s phone was not set to the default forever, and was in fact, set to save texts for only 30 days. It wasn’t until she got sued that she changed the default to forever."

The Missouri Alliance for Freedom targeted Galloway, the only Democratic statewide officeholder, after lawsuits were filed accusing Greitens of violating the Sunshine Law. The complaint that resulted in Hawley's finding was filed by the group in addition to the lawsuit.

The Sunshine Law case against Greitens is still in process and defending it has cost taxpayers nearly $366,000.

Slusher did not dispute that the lawsuit showed Galloway's phone was set to delete messages but criticized the group that filed it.

"The case the governor is referring to was brought by a dark money group allied with Eric Greitens and was entirely political," he said.

Parson has never deleted messages and is committed to openness, Jones wrote.

"Governor Parson is a firm believer in transparency," she wrote. "From the moment he has taken office, he and his administration have practiced full transparency."

Slusher diputed that, noting that Attorney General Eric Schmitt's office sent a letter to Parson in August stating the Sunshine Law did not allow him to withhold the names and contact information of constituents who communicate with his office.

"That is not justifiable under the law," Slusher said.

rkeller@columbiatribune.com

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