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Parson, Kehoe, Schmitt discuss their new state roles

Parson, Kehoe, Schmitt discuss their new state roles

February 3rd, 2019 by Bob Watson in Local News

Gov. Mike Parson laughs with reporters Thursday during the annual Missouri Press Association/Associated Press Day lunch at the Governor's Mansion.

Photo by Sally Ince /News Tribune.

Gov. Mike Parson, Lt. Gov. Mike Kehoe and Attorney General Eric Schmitt all hold statewide jobs they didn't have a year ago — and all three told reporters and editors last week they're focused on doing the best job they can in their new roles.

"I don't worry about anything but just day-to-day, trying to do a good job," Parson said last Thursday, during a question-and-answer session with Missouri reporters and editors.

Kehoe told the same group last week: "We're working on a variety of things," including veterans' issues and the state Veterans Commission, tourism, senior citizens' issues and the "Buy Missouri" program.

And Schmitt, who took his oath of office a month ago, said he's working "to make this office — the attorney general's office in the state of Missouri — the envy of AG offices across the country. This office has an incredible tradition, going back to the first attorney general, Edward Bates, who (later) became Abraham Lincoln's attorney general during the Civil War."

Parson was elected lieutenant governor in 2016, and became governor when Eric Greitens resigned at 5 p.m. June 1.

"When we took this transition on back in June, we basically walked into a governor's office with no legal team, no communications team — as a matter of fact, almost every desk in the governor's office was empty," the governor said Thursday, during the Missouri Press Association/Associated Press Day at the Capitol.

"Even with the way we came in, with the (very short) transition period, I got to go in there with no promises other than to just do a good job. I try to focus on what I think is the right thing to do for all parts of the state, which is a tremendous balancing act."

Kehoe was in his last year of a term-limited, eight-year term in the state Senate, representing the seven-county 6th District that includes Jefferson City.

Just 2 weeks after becoming governor, Parson named Kehoe to succeed him in the then-vacant lieutenant governor's office — a move that was challenged in the courts and, currently, is being considered by the seven-judge state Supreme Court, which heard arguments in November but has not said when it might rule.

"Whatever happens, happens," he said. "If they hand down something that says, 'I'm not the guy,' (then) that's the way it goes.

"But I'm working like I need to work to fulfill the role."

Schmitt was elected state treasurer in the 2016 elections. Parson named him attorney general after voters last November elected Josh Hawley to the U.S. Senate to replace Democrat Claire McCaskill.

"I have really focused on making sure, culturally, that our office is focused on professionalism and the rule of law," Schmitt said, noting the attorney general's office serves as one of the largest law firms in the state — and he wants to make sure it continues to attract high quality lawyers.

"We want this to be a destination," Schmitt said. "We want this to be the best law firm in the state of Missouri."

All three men hold offices that will be up for election in 2020. But so far, none have committed to running for their office next year.

"I don't worry too much about the next elections," Parson said.

Kehoe said a 2020 bid will be a family decision, which has yet to be made.

"We're certainly looking at it running statewide is a significant strain on a family, and we want to make sure the kids and my wife, Claudia, will be ready for that," he said.

Schmitt on Thursday said: "I am very focused on the job at hand. There will be plenty of time for all the stuff of political campaigns."

Parson said one goal of his administration is to "be as transparent as we can with everything we're doing in the governor's office," and he's spending much of his time trying to improve the state's infrastructure and workforce.

"Those two pieces, I do believe, are really the future of Missouri," the governor said.

Schmitt has spent much of his first month meeting with attorneys and other employees in the office so they know he supports them and their work.

"There are a lot of folks working in the attorney general's office," he said last week. "I think part of the challenge and the opportunity — and something I will continue to look forward to — is being personally available to work with those lawyers and staff members."

Schmitt reminded the reporters and editors that the attorney general handles a variety of cases, in both civil and criminal law.

"What we can offer, that a lot of law firms can't offer, is the trial experience," he said. "It's really hard in private practice to get the kind of trial experience you get in the attorney general's office."

While all three men said they're enjoying their jobs, they had similar reactions when asked what the "worst" part of their jobs are.

"I think it's the demands of the job," Parson said. "The demands and everything that come across your desk are unreal."

But, he added, being governor also can be hard on the family.

"(For instance), you've got a grandkid's Homecoming, and you'd like to be at that Homecoming.

"But, you have to do something else."

Kehoe added: "I think many public servants would say the same thing — it's the sacrifice on family things. I don't know if that's the worst part, but it's the toughest.

"You've committed to go and see somebody or speak to somebody or be in some corner of the state and all of a sudden — in my case, my daughter surprises us and flies home from Charlotte, and I'm gone for the two days that she's home.

"As a dad, that's probably the toughest part."

As a state senator, Kehoe was able to go home each night because home and the Capitol are in the same town.

But for most lawmakers, spending time in Jefferson City means being away from the family — and Schmitt did that for the eight years he served in the state Senate, and for another two years as treasurer.

State law says the attorney general must live in Jefferson City, so Schmitt has established a residence here.

But it's the middle of the school year — and his oldest child, Stephen, has special needs and has established strong relationships with teachers and caregivers in St. Louis County, in addition to his family.

So, at least for the time being, Schmitt is living in Jefferson City during the week and in Glendale on weekends.

"It's a busy job — and I'm a dad and a husband, and I have a son with special needs," Schmitt said. "But that's a balancing act my wife and I and our family have done for 10 years now. I want to do that right."