Mike Parson, a former sheriff and farmer, enters Republican primary for governor

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. –  Missouri State Sen. Mike Parson announced his candidacy for the Republican nomination for governor Thursday, promising to clean up dirty politics and “bridge the gap” he believes exist between the state’s urban and rural populations.

Speaking in the high school gymnasium in Bolivar – where he served as sheriff in Polk County and his family has farmed cattle for three generations – Parson highlighted a “humble beginning,” military service, and his “campaign with honor and integrity using positive politics.”

“Missourians deserve better,” he told supporters, according to prepared remarks. “While I can’t promise that I will fix everything at the state level, you will see a government that operates on the same common sense principles we see in communities all across this state.”

During an interview in his capitol office ahead of his announcement, Parson said running for governor was not in his original plans. While he had been mulling a run for statewide office, he had opted to stay out of the Republican race that was shaping up between former State Auditor Tom Schweich and Catherine Hanaway, a St. Louis lawyer who had served as Missouri’s Speaker of the House and a federal prosecutor.

Parson’s interest in the race emerged alongside the story of alleged dirty politics and negative campaigning that surrounded Schweich’s suicide in February. On the eve of Schweich’s funeral, Parson took to the Senate floor to slam the current system.

“We ought to be talking more about the positive side of the candidate – why you think you’re the most qualified,” Parson said in an interview. “We’ve got to the point of saying and doing anything to win an election at whatever cost. I don’t think that’s the true values of Missouri.”

Parson joins what appears to be shaping up to be a crowded Republican field to challenge the likely Democratic candidate, Attorney General Chris Koster. Catherine Hanaway, a St. Louis lawyer who previously served as Missouri’s Speaker of the House and as a federal prosecutor, announced her own campaign last year, and at least four others – St. Louis businessman John Brunner, State Sen. Bob Dixon, R-Springfield, former U.S. Navy Seal Eric Greitens, and Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder – are considering their own campaigns.

In a statement, Hanaway’s campaign said she was looking forward to a spirited primary campaign.

“We welcome Senator Parson to the race. Senator Parson’s entrance will provide more ideas to the public debate and strengthen the Republican Party’s eventual nominee to defeat Chris Koster in 2016,” said spokesman Nick Maddux.

For the most part, the Republican field that is shaping up comes mostly from St. Louis, a city which has not elected a governor since Henry S. Caulfield in 1929. Parson said that distinction makes him unique. While he hails from the rural part of the state, he said he can “bridge the gap” he sees between it and the state’s economic engine, the urban core.

“I think that is more of an educational role than it is people are against farmers, or farmers are against people in urban areas,” he said, adding that the two regions of the state working well together is what is will take “for Missouri to be successful, without a doubt,” noting places where scientists in St. Louis have developed technologies for farmers in the field as one example where the interests of urban and rural Missouri meet.

Support from agribusiness groups like the Missouri Biotechnology Association, who works with companies like Monsanto who produce those seeds, does come with its costs, however.

Parson received support from and has given his own support to some of MOBIO’s interests – a potential problem for social conservatives who think some of the medical science work, particularly the use of stem cells, amounts to human cloning. When asked whether he thought potential opposition from groups like Missouri Right to Life, which often opposes MOBIO, could hurt him in a primary, Parson said that is not an issue for him.

“At the end of the day, for me as a Christian, I know what I believe to be the difference right or wrong, I don’t know that I need anybody telling me what that is,” he said. “If you get into the social issues when we talk about cloning and that stuff, I’m not a fan of that. But, do I think there’s legitimate research to be done out there? Yes I do, and I’ve always been a supporter.”

Parson, who chairs the committee that passed “right to work” earlier this year, said he supports the bill – joining other Republican hopefuls like Hanaway and Kinder who have said they will support enacting the policy, unlike Nixon.

On Medicaid expansion, however, he stands out. Instead of declaring it dead on arrival like Hanaway has, Parson said, “I think there is opportunity down the road, if the reform package is right.”

“Medicaid expansion is fine if you have reform with it. I foresee in the future that some state conservative think-tank group will come up with a way to deal with that through the reform end of it,” he said.

As he kicks off his campaign, for now Parson is mostly running his own show. Parson wrote the three page speech he planned to deliver, and said he feels comfortable with how his campaign is shaping up.

“I have a very comfort-zone feeling,” he said. “It really doesn’t matter who runs, who doesn’t, who backs them, who doesn’t or where they come from. I want to run a good campaign and connect with everyday people in Missouri.”

Read Mike Parson’s announcement speech: 

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