Parson, Republicans sweep statewide offices, hold the line on supermajorities
Missouri Republicans won big Tuesday night, dominating in rural areas and suburbs alike to sweep every statewide election and keep supermajorities in both chambers of the legislature for a fifth straight term.
Republican Gov. Mike Parson defied expectations of a competitive race and beat Democratic State Auditor Nicole Galloway for a full, four-year term by 16 percentage points — and that was just the beginning.
The rest of the statewide ticket did even better, holding down the offices of lieutenant governor, attorney general, secretary of state and treasurer by an average of 21 points.
Republicans also returned all of their congressional representatives, including U.S. Rep. Ann Wagner, whose suburban St. Louis district was seen as a toss-up, and U.S. Rep. Billy Long, whose district covers Springfield.
Gov. Parson says GOP values are Missouri's values
In a speech at the White River Conference Center in Springfield, Parson told supporters Tuesday's election was about "preserving freedom, capitalism and the rule of law” and touted his victory as yet more evidence that the GOP’s values are Missouri values.
“I do believe we are built on Christian principles in the state of Missouri,” he said. “And I believe people believe in common sense and they want leaders who believe in common sense. They don't want government to tell them what to do every day, and as long as I'm governor, we're going to do those things.”
Parson, 65, was favored in polling throughout the race, but it wasn’t always clear he would see a landslide.
Galloway, 38, hoped to make up ground as COVID-19 spread across the state and Parson took heat for leaving decisions on restrictions to local officials and ignoring pleas for a statewide mask mandate from health care providers.
But after protests against police brutality descended into violence in June, Parson and his allies refocused the race on public safety and framed Galloway as a liberal looking to “defund” police.
As homicides took off in the state’s major cities, the former Polk County sheriff made a point of signing bills promising new tools for law enforcement and tougher sentences on violent criminals.
Allies of both candidates unleashed bruising ad campaigns portraying the other side as impossibly corrupt, with messaging that often bent facts to suit their ends.
In a conciliatory speech at the Tiger Hotel in Columbia, Galloway urged supporters to stay involved.
"While this campaign is over, our work continues," she said. “We have to continue to organize, advocate and fight to ensure that our leaders put the needs of working families first and act with urgency to address the profound challenges this state faces."
Democrats will have to do that from the same lowly position they’ve been in for a while, though.
Galloway will remain the auditor for two more years, but she’ll be a top target for Republicans in 2022.
Story continues below the gallery.
Democratic inroads not enough
And despite plans to flip as many as eight House legislative districts that U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill carried in 2018, Democrats appeared to be winning just one — the 135th in east Springfield. Even there, Democrat Betsy Fogle leads Rep. Steve Helms by fewer than 40 votes.
Districts outside Columbia and in suburban Kansas City that were seen as potential pickups quickly reasserted themselves as safe seats.
Republicans even managed to hang onto a district around Lee's Summit where they ran a candidate whose adult children said he sexually abused them as kids.
Democrats made encouraging inroads in St. Charles County, which helped pass Medicaid expansion over Republican objections in August, but it wasn’t enough.
Rep. Peter Merideth of St. Louis, who chairs the House Democrats' campaign arm, said his party’s chances at pickups relied on Parson and President Trump winning by single digits as polls suggested.
“When that wasn’t the case, that took away every path we had,” he said.
Missouri election results: Full results on Greene County, Springfield area races
Things went about the same way in the state Senate, where Republicans turned back challenges to swing seats in mid-Missouri and the St. Louis suburbs.
Andrew Koenig, R-Manchester, who drew attention supporting controversial abortion restrictions, beat Rep. Deb Lavender 54 percent to 46 percent despite some insiders casting his district as the most likely to flip.
Former health care executive Judy Baker gave Senate Majority Leader Caleb Rowden, R-Columbia, a run for his money, but he managed to hold things mostly even in Biden-supporting Boone County and outpaced Donald Trump in Cooper County to win 51.6 percent to 48.4 percent.
Rowden naturally chalked up the win to the wisdom of the voters.
"Everybody knows constituents in mid-Missouri are smarter voters — engaged voters," he said. " ... I think mid-Missourian made the right decision ... the one that's in the best interest of the community."
Republicans also scored a significant win at the bottom of the ballot, with voters approving the GOP plan to reverse changes to the state’s redistricting process that were part of the “Clean Missouri” amendment voters adopted two years ago.
Amendment 3 effectively nullifies plans to draw new legislative districts with an eye toward a more competitive statehouse, which the Republicans knew could cost them seats when maps are redrawn after this year’s census.
The decision may even make their position even stronger than it was before Clean Missouri: an additional change in Amendment 3 could allow mapmakers to calculate the population of each district without counting immigrants, children and nonvoters.
Researchers who supported Clean Missouri said if the commissions take that approach, it would strengthen the influence of old, white and rural Missourians — who generally vote Republican — at the expense of minority communities and young people that lean Democratic.
What comes next
All in all, Tuesday night means Missouri politics will remain much the same as it was Tuesday morning.
The governor will remain a reliable partner for Republican supermajorities passing conservative legislation and will almost certainly continue the hands-off approach the state has taken with the pandemic.
Even with cases on the rise and hospital beds filling up, Parson has continued to resist calls for a mask mandate or any other restrictions and made clear he will not require people to get a vaccine when one is available.
With the legislature reconvening for a special session on budgeting matters this month, business leaders are hoping Parson will also add a plan to shield businesses from coronavirus-related lawsuits to the agenda.
Many businesses have sought such exemptions here and in other states in an effort to stave off claims they’re responsible for people getting sick or dying.
“We cannot afford to wait until January to address this problem,” Missouri Chamber of Commerce and Industry CEO Dan Mehan said in a statement Wednesday. “COVID-19 lawsuits are being filed right now and Missouri employers remain needlessly exposed.”
The legislature may also consider bills reining in local officials’ power to place restrictions on public life for public health.
If Parson’s first 2 1/2 years in office since taking over for former Gov. Eric Greitens are any indication, he'll also continue to focus on “workforce development” and infrastructure.
In 2019, Parson and the legislature pushed plans through the legislature to create a new scholarship program to help adults go back to school and use a federal grant and a $300 million loan to fix hundreds of bridges across the state.
Perhaps the biggest question looming over the next session is how officials will manage voter-approved Medicaid expansion in a tough budget year.
The policy will offer public health insurance to hundreds of thousands more low-income adults and offer a boost to the state’s health care industry, but the cost to the state has not been fully determined.
Galloway had promised to implement it with no new taxes or spending cuts, citing research from Washington University in St. Louis saying expansion will actually save money by shifting certain costs to the federal government.
But in a debate Oct. 9, Parson said government programs don't work like that and suggested it will likely cost the state $200 million in the first year alone, but vowed to get it done nevertheless.
"We’re going to put it in place," Parson said at the time, "and we’re just going to have to do that and balance the budget at the same time."
Whether a majority of Republican lawmakers will go along with the idea remains to be seen.
Sen. Bob Onder, R-Lake St. Louis, told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch the day after the August expansion vote that Republicans could use a July court decision to effectively ignore the vote.
And Sen. Eric Burlison, R-Battlefield, told the News-Leader that’s not out of the realm of possibility.
“There are going to be a lot of attorneys looking at this to see what flexibility we have,” he said. “And from my understanding, you can’t take away the legislature’s authority to appropriate, so if the budget chairs in the House and Senate decide not to fund that line item, then at the end of the day it doesn’t happen.”
Austin Huguelet is the News-Leader's politics reporter. Got something he should know? Have a question? Call him at 417-403-8096 or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.