JEFFERSON CITY – Michael L. Parson, 63, took office as Missouri’s 57th governor on June 1, 2018. Born in Wheatland, a small town in Hickory County, he is a longtime Missouri Baptist. He and his wife, Teresa, are members of First Baptist Church, Bolivar. I interviewed him, July 17, in his office at the State Capitol.
What was your first year like as governor?
“With all the trials that we’ve been through, I’m humbled every day to be the governor. I’m honored to be the governor. I get to represent close to 6 million people that I dearly love: the Missourians that are here in this state. And I get to go up there every day and do what I think is right for the people of this state. And when you look at everything that happened in that first year: Within the first 45 days, you had officer shootings. That wasn’t the norm. You had the drownings that occurred in Branson. We were in the middle of a drought. You were trying to appoint positions to the attorney general, to the treasurer, to the lieutenant governor.
“All of these things were happening. Trying to put a team together. That, in some places, you thought some days could be overwhelming, but we just started putting the right people together. We start handling every situation that came about trying to really think through it. And the decision process for the most part for me every day is you’d go back to those basic principles. I’ve always said if you have your faith in order, your moral values in order and your love of this state, your love of this country – you keep those priorities, and you’re going to be fine. …
“I understand that the governor is a very important position. I get it, but I’m not in control at the end of the day. Thank goodness I’m not. … Thank goodness God’s in control.”
Obviously your faith is important to you. I had the privilege of being at your inauguration, and of course Pastor Billy Russell of FBC Bolivar preached your inauguration. Also, you had your Sunday school class there. And that was special for you, wasn’t it?
“Yeah, I have a fantastic Sunday School class. It’s such a faithful group of people … good people, hearts in the right place. But you’re getting ready to take on one of the largest callings you’re going to be asked to do – to be the governor of state of Missouri – and you’ve got 60 hours to get everything ready. You get sworn in on Friday; you’ve got to take office on Monday. But the reality of it is you’re really taking office on Saturday and Sunday because you’ve got to be prepared if something happens. You’re the governor. So I thought the best thing I could do is call my Sunday School class, call the people of faith.”
You and the first lady have been members of First, Bolivar for how long? And what’s your relationship with your pastor?
“Well, my original pastor is my Sunday School teacher now, Ray Leininger. He was there. Well, a little history to that inside story. I come from a little church. I come from a little town, 356 people. We had small church. If you had 50 people in the Baptist church there, you had a big Sunday. But [they were] a very tight knit group. Because we always had dinner after Sunday church … preachers would go to somebody’s house and you’d sit down, family and friends. So when I first came out of the Army and was at Bolivar, Theresa and I got married, [and] we were searching for a church. I kept leaning towards a small church, cause I was used to that. First Baptist Church of Bolivar was a big church. … (I thought), I don’t want to go to a big church. I’ll never fit in.
“I was in the gas station business at the time. And Ray Leininger bought gas from me. And I knew he was a preacher, but he had this old clunker truck that I thought, ‘That is the biggest piece of junk I’ve ever seen. Why would the First Baptist preacher be driving that truck, rusted out and everything like that?’ And he wore bib overalls, see, like he was working in a shop. So anyhow we got to talking a bit. He said, ‘Why don’t you come up here and go to church sometime?’ And I went home and told Teresa. I said, ‘All right, let’s go to that First Baptist Church up there. Let’s see what that big church is like.’ I said, ‘I liked the preacher. I kind of liked him.’ And I really wanted to see how he fits in there?
“And that’s how I started going to First Baptist Church. That’s where my kids were raised. So, oh my gosh, that was probably 30 plus years ago. 30, 35 years.
As you mentioned, Pastor Leininger approached you and established a relationship with you. Doesn’t the importance of relationships carry over into politics, as well?
“Especially when you get a little gray hair like I’ve got, you understand how important it is to treat people right in your career and in your everyday life. And how do you make sure and spread the gospel to a certain degree every day from our positions. You know, you don’t have to go out here and do a sermon. You don’t have to go out here and quote Bible verses every day when you walk down the hall. But there are simple things you can do to make sure people know you’re a man of faith. One of the things, you meet somebody in the hallways or something and say, ‘Hey, how you doing today?’ You can simply say, ‘Hey, I’m a blessed guy.’ But as soon as you say that, you’re sending the message of what your values are, and I try to mention that a lot of times because I want people to know where my faith is.”
The first lady is obviously a big part this. Talk about her just a minute.
“Oh gosh! It is a tremendous obligation to be the First Lady of the State of Missouri. And she didn’t really ask for it, you know, to a certain degree. She just said, ‘OK, you know, this is where you’re at. My job is to support you. And she does that every day.’
“She’s accepted the role, but she also understands the importance of it. … And you know how we all are with our wives. You know, your wives are sometimes some of your best critics too.”
And they’ll bring a different perspective to things, perhaps?
“It’s good when you’re the Governor of the State of Missouri and your wife is active in this, because you do get that view from her side of it, as a woman’s view of how they see things. … And I think we have that relationship. Again, I’m so blessed to have her by my side and to be on this adventure. Being the first lady of the State of Missouri, she’s a class act. She sets the right example. She’s a good Christian woman, and she leaves no doubt there. So she kind of dresses my game up a little bit. I can tell you that right now. For all the rough edges I got, she doesn’t have one.”
It’s been a real privilege for me to help organize your monthly clergy luncheons, which is something that’s new and probably a little bit unusual for Missouri politics. What have you learned from the clergy as you’ve hosted these monthly luncheons?
“Well, one, it helps me a great deal. It helps me to be around them and to be around other men and women of faith. But also again, it’s a different view that they have of things than I have sometimes and they have different obstacles. You know, when you get somebody that comes in here from downtown St. Louis or downtown Kansas City, maybe their views on different issues like poverty could be different. … Their views might come in and they might say, ‘Hey, you know, we really think this is a real problem. How do you think you may be going to help to address that issue?’ So I think, one, just getting their different views on problems that are in the State of Missouri.
“But one of the most important things that I think sometimes I get out of meeting with them is also how closely tied we are together as people of faith.
We’ve had the tornado hit Jefferson City. We’ve had terrible flooding. Our farmers have been hurt. We had people hurt here in Jefferson City and Eldon and really all across the state. Missouri Baptist Disaster Relief has been there. Would you like to say something about Missouri’s Disaster Relief?
“You can watch it on TV. You can see it in the newspaper. But when you walk down the streets and you’re seeing these people, and you’re looking over there and the home’s not there anymore, or somebody’s in the hospital. These are everyday people trying to figure out how to pay the bills sometimes. And all of a sudden you’re looking over there and their car’s been totally destroyed. They’ve not even got a roof on your house, and they don’t have the money to do those things.
“That’s why those organizations come in to help and why they are so critical in those disasters. And unfortunately this flooding has been going on since March 11th. It’s never went on that long before in our state. You had, like you said, the tornadoes. But again, you see those great Missouri values of people (who) come together to help one other out. And that is what we’ve been taught all along as Christian believers. We’re the ones supposed to be doing that. It’s not always about the government doing that for us. You know, we’re supposed to help one another. And when you can just see that out there, the real thing happening, it just makes you so proud to be a Missourian.
“That’s why there’s people like the Disaster Relief out there. Thank goodness they’re prepared.”
Southern Baptists in Missouri have passed numerous resolutions about defending the life of the unborn. And the law that you signed this year – I think I can say with great confidence that Southern Baptists all throughout Missouri, were cheering and were praising God for what you did. What are your thoughts about that bill, and where do you think the battle with the Planned Parenthood Clinic in St. Louis will end up?
“Well, first of all, signing the bill, for as much credit as I got, was not a hard decision at all for me because I want to help anybody that can’t help themselves. And when you look at the unborn, that’s exactly who we’re supposed to be helping. That’s what we are supposed to do. All life is important, period. From the day it starts, it is so important that we do our part to protect the unborn.
“The Planned Parenthood deal was, in my opinion, a total political game that they were playing. It was quite obvious what they wanted the whole time. I don’t know that they really ever tried to get the license. I think they wanted the attention. I think they wanted the national attention, and I think they used it for a fundraising tool. The bottom line to Planned Parenthood: They are going to follow the regulations of the law, like the 4,000 clinics in the state, if they’re going to do business, period. You know, regardless of what my views are on abortion, they’re still going to be obligated to run a facility under the law just like everybody else.
“It’s disappointing when you go through that process and you’ve got judges that can’t make a decision. You know, you got a judge up there, and he delays and delays and delays and keeps the doors open. You know, that’s not right.
“And if I ever get the opportunity, and I will in time as Governor of the State of Missouri, I’m going to put people on the bench that can make decisions. … Sometimes the national level (judicial appointments) get a lot of attention, but I’m telling you the state is just as important in how we set the judicial system up.
Well, I want to thank you for your time. If Missouri Southern Baptists could ask one final question, I suspect it would be this: Are you going to run for reelection?
“Well, I’ll tell you what, when I openly say that – the Baptists around the state, I’ll be calling on them. I’ll be calling on them for a little support, I can tell you that. Do you know what? Everybody’s asking that question right now.
“I feel extremely good right now. I feel good. I got a check-up here a while back and I got a green light that says, ‘Hey, do whatever you want to do.’ So I feel good, and do you know what? I do believe there’s a purpose for everything we do in life, and I think I’m here for a reason, and I’m going to fulfill that reason, is what I want to do.”
Okay. So we’re not far from a decision?
“Yeah. September is a good month.”