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story.lead_photo.caption Rep. Rudy Veit, R-Wardsville, shakes hands with state legislators Wednesday, Jan. 15, 2020, during the entrance of Gov. Mike Parson at the annual State of the State address at the Missouri state Capitol. Photo by Liv Paggiarino, News Tribune

Missouri Gov. Mike Parson wants to keep the gas down on economic development and infrastructure improvement, he said during his 2020 State of the State Address.

Parson praised lawmakers and communities for courting and landing agri-businesses, investing in steel and pharmaceutical companies, and creating an environment that encouraged Boeing to build the T-X trainer (an advanced jet fighter trainer) in St. Louis.

"About one month ago, General Motors announced one of the largest single project investments in our state's history in Wentzville, with a $1.5 billion investment to build midsize trucks for North America," Parson said.

All of the "shared successes" show investments in workforce development are succeeding, he said.

Rep. David Griffith, R-Jefferson City, said Mid-Missourians should not be surprised by the governor's focus on development in the state's most populous areas. However, the governor is from a rural community and is just as passionate about successes there.

For example, Briggs and Stratton is creating 130 new jobs in Poplar Bluff. And Dollar Tree is investing $110 million in a new distribution center in Warrensburg. Also, there's the $250 million Nucor Steel mill in Sedalia that's close to production.

The governor continues to push for broader and better internet service in rural Missouri, Griffith said.

And, Parson remains focused on getting unsafe bridges repaired or replaced in rural communities. Griffith participated with the governor during a bridge tour in Eugene, in which the men surveyed a one-lane bridge. It was representative of other unsafe bridges in rural communities, Griffith said. He added the governor's list of bridge replacement and repair projects continues to be worked on.

"One thing I liked was the governor leaving $100 million on the bottom line," he said. "My parents told me to save when I was young. This is responsible for him. This is responsible for the state."

The money would go into a cash operating expense fund, which is a sort of rainy day fund.

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Gallery: PHOTO GALLERY: 2020 State of the State

Griffith said he was moved when Parson introduced two women in the audience who were graduates of the Missouri Department of Corrections ASPIRE MO program. The program helps women work on their entrepreneurial dreams while they are still in prison, according to the DOC website. The women had done great things with their lives.

And, possibly more moving was Parson's tribute to his wife, Teresa Parson. Parson broke from the script to discuss how he met a single mother of two children more than 35 years ago.

"She had a fierce loyalty to her children that exemplified what true love really means," Parson said. "She had a kindness and a way of creating that only mothers are known for. She had a true strength and independence that a lot of us men try to fake."

Through grit and determination, she rose to the highest levels of the banking industry, despite oftentimes being passed over while men received promotions.

Teresa Parson helped start their small business and kept books in the evenings.

She trusted Mike Parson to come into hers and her children's lives. They raised a family.

"Through it all, she's as beautiful and graceful as the days she was 35 years ago," he said.

She allowed him to be the best father, grandfather and person he could be. He said he could not have reached any of his achievements without her.

"What he said, I could say about my wife, Leigh. Without her, I wouldn't be who I am," Griffith said.

Parson's speech was incredibly inspiring," Rep. Sara Walsh, R-Ashland, said.

"It was one of the most beautiful tributes to a first lady that I've ever heard," said Walsh, who is chairwoman of the House Subcommittee on Appropriations — Public Safety, Corrections, Transportation and Revenue.

Walsh said she was pleased the governor wishes to set aside money for the cash operating expense fund.

The Budget Committee won't get to see the details of what the governor is planning for a few more days, Walsh said. However, it can take some hints from the address.

"We share common goals. We can ensure we're being good fiscal stewards," she said. "We're going to do all these things and fully fund the Foundation Formula. It's great to have the governor's support."

The formula, passed in 2005, establishes a minimum that should be spent to educate the average student in an academic year. The formula is weighted to reflect that some students need additional help.

"We must have real tort reform," Parson said during the address.

Rep. Rudy Veit, R-Jefferson City, smiled when the governor said those six words. An attorney, Veit has opposed tort reform.

The address was "impressive. (Parson) showed his enthusiastic, honest approach," Veit said after the address. "The central theme is, 'We have to get everybody working.' It has to be a central theme of the whole government."

That's how issues, like high crime rates, will be solved, Veit said. There will be fewer crimes if jobs are available.

On tort reform, Veit said, "As with any system, it constantly needs to be evaluated. But, we cannot sacrifice basic constitutional rights to reach a goal."

Not everybody's going to agree with Veit's concerns, he said. However, everybody agrees people should have personal responsibility, and companies should have responsibility.

Parson said the Medicaid system has been broken for years. He added that in his first year, Todd Richardson, director of MO HealthNet, Missouri's Medicaid system, has saved the state $84 million. Richardson has done it through a "new level of accountability and enforcement," Parson said. "Both, common sense things expected by the average Missourian."

During the Democratic Caucus' response to the address, House Minority Leader Rep. Crystal Quade, D-Springfield, referred to estimates of 100,000 children having been removed from the state's Medicaid program.

"I am simply not going to accept that children can be kicked off their health care," Quade said.

She said Parson's stance that expansion of Medicaid would cost other services, such as education, workforce development and improvements to infrastructure was wrong.

She said economists don't agree with the assessment.

"Everyone is actually saying that (Medicaid expansion) is going to save the state money," she said. "I would say to Missouri citizens — don't listen to (Republicans), because it's simply not true."

Parson only became governor after his predecessor resigned in disgrace, Quade said. In his address, he tried to create the impression he is the unifying leader "we hoped he would be," she said. "But after 18 months, Missourians know exactly what to expect from our 'accidental governor.' And it is that he will not put their interests first."

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