Missouri Gov. Mike Parson and Auditor Nicole Galloway laid out contrasting visions for how the state should respond to the coronavirus pandemic and crime rates during a gubernatorial debate on Friday.
While both candidates promised not to raise taxes or defund the police, Galloway and Parson differed on a statewide mask mandate and police reforms. The Missouri Press Association and KOMU 8 hosted the debate, which was rescheduled after Parson tested positive for the coronavirus in late September.
Galloway advocated for a “complete reset” of the state’s strategy for responding to the virus, saying Missouri should have a statewide mask mandate.
Previous White House Coronavirus Task Force reports have recommended this, although the latest recommendations don’t explicitly call for a mask mandate. Instead, the Oct. 4 report says “masks must be worn indoors in all public settings,” according to a copy obtained by KCUR through a records request.
Parson defended his administration’s response to the pandemic, describing it as a “balanced approach” that takes into consideration the different needs of large cities like St. Louis and Kansas City and rural areas.
“We want the local officials to have input,” Parson said. “No one person should try to be making mandates for the entire state of Missouri.”
Galloway sharply criticized Parson for not consistently wearing a mask at campaign events. During a July Cattlemen's Association steak fry, Parson told the crowd, “You don’t need government to tell you to wear a dang mask. If you want to wear a dang mask, wear a mask,” according to the Springfield News-Leader.
“Gov. Parson has a ‘do as I say, not as I do’ approach,” Galloway said. “When he’s in the governor’s office during the week, he encourages folks to wear masks. When he goes to campaign rallies on the weekends he tells folks don’t wear a dang mask if you don’t want to.”
Parson responded that the debate was “starting to look like the bickering at the national level.”
“It is a virus. It is dangerous. We’ve said that from day one to take the necessary steps to do that,” Parson said.
Both Galloway and Parson said they don’t support efforts to defund the police or shift funding from law enforcement to community services.
Parson, a former county sheriff, touted changes in policing his administration has made. Starting in 2022, police officers statewide will be required to take one-hour courses in de-escalation and implicit bias under rules approved by the state Peace Officer Standards and Training commission on Monday.
“Black lives matter. All lives matter in this state,” Parson said. “No matter who you are, where you're from, whether you're rich, poor, wherever you come from.”
Galloway wants to ban chokeholds and require police officers to wear body cameras. She also supports local control for the Kansas City Police Department.
She criticized Uniting Missouri PAC, a group backing Parson, for creating a website that labels Galloway “pro-crime” and features her photo near pictures of Black activists who participated in protests about police brutality.
“When his campaign and his apparatus wants to try to divide us on racial lines, they think that we're pointing the finger at each other, and then we'll be too busy to point the finger at him and hold him accountable for his failures to address violent crime,” Galloway said.
Galloway and Parson both promised not to raise taxes. Parson said when it comes to increasing economic development, he’s focused on infrastructure and workforce development.
“We're doing the right things,” Parson said. “Because we're keeping our businesses open. We're getting people back to work.”
In August the state’s unemployment rate was 7%, down from a high of 10% in April, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Galloway tied economic recovery to slowing the coronavirus’ spread.
“Our state and local budgets are hurting because of the economic impacts of COVID,” Galloway said. “And so the first thing to do is to take action to contain the spread of the virus so we can get our economy going again.”
Libertarian candidate Rik Combs and Green party candidate Jerome Bauer also participated in the debate and made the case for voting third party.
“We will raise issues that other candidates and parties will not raise,” Bauer said. “And that is the historical function of an American third party — to talk about things that other people don't want to talk about, to raise some interesting ideas and talking points and just get the discussion going.”
Bauer supports universal health care and universal basic income while Combs wants to see a “herd immunity” approach to the virus and doesn’t support any stay-at-home orders.