Gov. Mike Parson, who was under daily pressure to issue a statewide stay-at-home order, did so on Friday.
The calls for him to act were from every major medical and public health association. They started soon after first St. Louis, then Kansas City, followed by Boone and Greene counties, issued local orders allowing only essential businesses to remain open and telling everyone who could to work from home.
He daily tried to explain his decision to hold off. Different parts of the state had different needs, he said. And he asked for people to withhold judgment.
“There is going to be plenty of time for people to blame people for certain things down the road,” Parson said at his daily briefing on March 24.
But when his likely Democratic opponent in the fall, State Auditor Nicole Galloway, used a press release from her campaign to add her voice to the chorus, Parson turned to the attack.
“Here’s what I would suggest right now,” Parson said. “I would say the state auditor needs to worry about being the state auditor right now. All of us elected officials right now need to have one thing in mind — and that is what do we do to help with the COVID-19 situation. This is not the time to play politics out of this issue and try to figure out who gets one up.”
The COVID-19 pandemic has, as it has everything else, upset politics, especially that of the top race on this year's state ballot, governor. Parson, who was elected lieutenant governor in 2016, is seeking a term in his own right after succeeding scandal-tarred Eric Greitens.
Galloway, appointed auditor in 2015, is making a race that will continue her introduction to the state even if unsuccessful. Gov. Jay Nixon, who appointed Galloway, was elected attorney general four times and lost two U.S. Senate races before winning the governor's office.
A press release on a policy issue is nothing new in politics and shouldn't draw a dismissive response, said Eric Slusher, Galloway's campaign spokesman.
He pointed to Parson's statement about there being "plenty of time" to assess blame.
"The issue we have raised is we don't have the luxury of time," Slusher said. "We have a rapidly closing window to flatten the curve."
The biggest change to the campaign is how it is being conducted. No personal appearances, no club meetings, no fundraisers at the homes of prominent backers.
What may have bothered Parson more than the contents of the release was the fact of it. On March 20, his campaign issued a release that it would halt regular communication to devote itself to republishing Parson's public messages about the pandemic.
"During this unprecedented time, in the interest of public awareness Governor Parson’s re-election campaign has shifted into an information-sharing mode because it’s important Missourians know the actions the governor has taken to combat COVID-19," the release stated.
Since that date, Parson's campaign has not issued any email fundraising appeals to its mailing list. Galloway's campaign sent at least six in the final three days before the March 31 quarterly deadline, a push for money that is typical campaigning.
Her most recent fundraising appeal, sent out Friday, noted that the Cook Political Report had moved Missouri from solid Republican to likely Republican based on Parson's lack of a stay-at-home order.
The public should contrast the actions of the campaigns, Parson campaign manager Steele Shippy said. The governor isn't shirking accountability for his actions, he said.
"Gov. Parson and his administration are leading the way in this time of public health crisis," Shippy said. "Our liberal opponent is actively fundraising and playing politics with people's lives."
Parson's campaign does issue a daily release that republishes his official releases. It includes a link to a site called Parson Updates that includes links to his daily briefings via Facebook, and other information about the state response that highlights the governor's role.
Galloway’s website includes a link to a statement issued March 13 on the pandemic.
Calling out the governor for what Galloway believes are shortcomings in that response is not politics as usual, Slusher said.
"The stakes here are much higher than the outcome of an election," he said. "Saying the governor is not heeding science is not paying politics, either."
Uniting Missouri is a political action committee led by longtime Republican political operative John Hancock that is working independently for Parson's election. His organization has refrained from issuing statements except to defend Parson against the Democratic Governor's Association, Hancock said.
"I don't think these days are appropriate for a lot of partisan political bickering," Hancock said. "The governor has certainly not been engaged in that activity. I don’t think it is appropriate for the auditor to be engaged in that activity."
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