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Parson marks Missouri bicentennial with party-less inaugural

DAVID A. LIEB
Associated Press
FILE - In this Oct. 25, 2020 file photo, Missouri Gov. Mike Parson speaks during a campaign rally at a gun store in Lees Summit, Mo. Parson is to begin a new term in office with a subdued inaugural ceremony marking the start of Missouri's bicentennial celebration. The Republican governor is to take the oath of office at noon Monday, Jan. 11, 2021, on the grounds of the newly refurbished Capitol.

JEFFERSON CITY — Missouri Gov. Mike Parson was to begin a new term in office Monday with an inaugural ceremony marking the start of Missouri's bicentennial celebration, but without a traditional party because of coronavirus precautions.

The Republican governor was to take the oath of office at a midday event on the grounds of the recently refurbished Capitol, with church bells ringing and artillery guns firing a salute — just as they have for past governors. 

But there will be no inaugural parade, no hand-shaking reception line with the general public and no inaugural ball, where the governor and lawmakers typically don fancy apparel to dance in the cramped quarters of the Capitol Rotunda. All of those festivities have been canceled or postponed because of concerns about the coronavirus pandemic. 

On a fittingly overcast day, Parson acknowledged the challenges facing many people while optimistically forecasting that "sunny days are ahead."

"It is our time to preserve the American dream," Parson said in prepared remarks of his speech released before the event. 

Parson said he would work to provide the tools needed for doctors and nurses, law enforcement officers, farmers and teachers. He said his job is to make life better for every Missourian. 

"I will care for the unborn to the elderly, the rich to the poor, regardless of the color of your skin," he said.

State officials hope that by this August enough people will have been vaccinated against the coronavirus to safely hold a more elaborate celebration. It would coincide with the 200th anniversary of Missouri's official admittance to the United States on Aug. 10, 1821.

Parson, 65, won election to a full four-year term in November by easily defeating Democratic State Auditor Nicole Galloway, who was expected to join other state officials at the inaugural ceremony. Parson had been elected lieutenant governor in 2016 but ascended to the top spot on June 1, 2018, when Republican Gov. Eric Greitens resigned while facing potential impeachment over allegations of sexual and political misconduct. 

More than 6,000 people had gathered at the Capitol for Greitens' inauguration. As a coronavirus precaution, organizers of Parson's inauguration were attempting to limit the crowd size, do a basic health screening of attendees and encourage them to wear masks. About 2,000 people had responded to Parson's inaugural committee saying they plan to attend. 

The event still was bigger than some inaugural ceremonies elsewhere. Democratic North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper's inauguration Saturday was accessible to the public only by television or online, and his inaugural speech was pre-recorded.

Parson's privately funded committee said it expects to spend about $200,000 on the inauguration, with donors to be disclosed later.

The ceremony also included the inauguration of other statewide executives who won election last fall — Lt. Gov. Mike Kehoe, Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft, Treasurer Scott Fitzpatrick and Attorney General Eric Schmitt. All are Republicans.

In a nod to the bicentennial, Parson' inauguration was to feature a speech by Gary Kremer, executive director of the State Historical Society of Missouri. Kremer said the state's first gubernatorial inauguration actually occurred in September 1820, almost a full year before the lengthy statehood process concluded. Gov. Alexander McNair took the oath in a St. Louis hotel where lawmakers were meeting and delivered a speech of fewer than 500 words that was described by one historian as "a model of brevity," Kremer said. 

Parson's speech was about twice as long, though still relatively short by modern standards. He plans to lay out a more detailed policy agenda when he delivers his State of the State address to the Republican-led Legislature on Jan. 27.

Parson was born in rural Wheatland, Missouri, where he graduated from high school in 1973. He served six years in the U.S. Army and was sheriff of Polk County from 1993-2005. He then spent a combined 12 years in the Missouri House and Senate before winning election as lieutenant governor. He and his wife, Teresa, continue to own a cattle farm near Bolivar.

A worker climbs scaffolding for lighting equipment as final preparations are made on Monday, Jan. 11, 2021, for the inauguration of Missouri Gov. Mike Parson at the state Capitol in Jefferson City, Mo.