JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. >> Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens’ resignation announcement today will elevate another military veteran and conservative Republican to the state’s top job, and his experience working with legislators could smooth his transition to power.
Mike Parson will automatically ascend from lieutenant governor to governor on Friday when Greitens steps down. The current governor announced his plans to depart as the Legislature met in a special session to determine whether he should be impeached following investigations of his political and personal life.
Parson, 62, spent more than a decade as a legislator representing southwest Missouri, experience that will likely give him a better working relationship with lawmakers than Greitens, 44, who was a political novice when elected governor in 2016.
“He’s tried and tested,” Republican Rep. Bryan Spencer said of Parson today. “He has a lot of friends in (Jefferson City), and I think that will be beneficial for him to get things done.”
Greitens, a former Navy SEAL and Rhodes scholar, came into office criticizing “corrupt career politicians.” He repeatedly clashed with fellow Republicans on issues such as lawmaker pay and his moves to create a majority on the State Board of Education that would fire the education commissioner — a priority Greitens never fully explained.
A nonprofit formed to promote Greitens’ political agenda, using funds from non-disclosed donors, ran attack ads against Republican Sen. Rob Schaaf, a frequent critic of opposed Greitens’ proposals and tactics.
“Every time Greitens attacks the senators or calls us all career politicians, that makes Parson look better,” Sen. Paul Wieland, a St. Louis-area Republican who butted heads with Greitens, said shortly after Greitens was indicted.
“When I look at the two of them, here’s one of the biggest differences: Parson respects the office, he respects the institution of the Senate, he respects state government, he respects this building,” Wieland said.
Parson served two tours in the Military Police, in Germany and Hawaii, for the U.S. Army. He later spent 12 years as Polk County sheriff. He spent another dozen years serving in the Missouri Legislature, where he strongly opposed abortion and supported the National Rifle Association. He was elected lieutenant governor in 2016.
Parson also is a third-generation farmer who successfully sought an amendment to the Missouri Constitution designed to protect farmers from having to modify their practices to satisfy the concerns of animal-rights groups. Voters narrowly approved the amendment in 2014, amid strong opposition from the Humane Society of the United States and questions about whether it protected out-of-state farm owners.
“He’s a simple guy,” Wieland said. “That’s not a negative. He is what he is. There’s no pretention. He doesn’t try to put on airs or pretend like he’s something he’s not.”
Parson’s annual financial disclosure forms show that he and his wife, Teresa, have acquired more agricultural land over the past decade, growing their property to 90 acres in 2016 from 22 acres in 2007. The couple also operated rental properties and had an interest in two golf courses over the past decade. His wife is a bank loan officer.
After taking office, Parson investigated complaints about the treatment of patients at the state veterans’ home in St. Louis and, in December, called for the ouster of its administrator. Greitens followed up by appointing five new members to the Missouri Veterans Commission and directing them to fire the administrator.
Parson also garnered headlines for seeking an increase in his office’s budget to hire a personal driver. The state also added $54,000 to its budget to remodel the lieutenant governor’s Capitol office for the first time in 12 years after Parson was elected.
Parson has been a strong abortion opponent and enjoyed the National Rifle Association’s endorsement in his 2016 campaign. In 2007, as a Missouri House member, Parson backed legislation to strengthen a law allowing home, business and vehicle owners to use deadly force in warding off attackers.
He initially planned to run for the Republican nomination for governor in 2016, but he opted out of the crowded field and entered the race for lieutenant governor instead. He raised $2.9 million in contributions, including $200,000 from the Republican State Leadership Committee. He won by more than 10 percentage points over Democrat Russ Carnahan, the son of the late Democratic Gov. Mel Carnahan.
He underwent heart surgery on Christmas Eve in 2016 to remove blockage but recovered in time for the inaugural ceremony less than three weeks later.
Parson was born in Wheatland, Missouri, and graduated from Wheatland High School in 1973. He and his wife have two children and five grandchildren.