Fresh off its dubious designation by the CDC as the worst state in getting out COVID-19 vaccines, Missouri just suffered another indignation:
Governor Mike Parson had to give his annual state-of-the-speech highlighting his COVID-19 response to a virtually empty legislative chamber because--get this--COVID-fearing members of his own Republican Party weren't willing to host it. He was forced to move his speech, unhappily, from its customary House venue to the smaller Senate chamber. Attendance was sparse.
Parson, one of the nation's governors most slavish to Donald Trump, can boast that Missouri is one of just 12 states that has never had a mask mandate (or other statewide health rules, for that matter) during the pandemic.
On July 14, Parson declared, "If you want to wear a dang mask, wear a mask. You don't need government to tell you to wear a dang mask."
On September 24, a little more than two months later, Parson announced that he and his wife Teresa had both contracted COVID-19 after not wearing dang masks at numerous public events. He won election overwhelming to a full term as governor six weeks later.
Trump-loving Missouri is dominated by Republican super-majorities of 70 percent in both houses of the legislature. There are no mask requirements in the State Capitol or legislative chambers and throughout the year few Republican lawmakers have worn masks--in sharp contrast to their Democratic counterparts. More than 20 legislators--and more staffers--have gotten COVID-19.
Recently, Republican State Senator Andrew Koenig contracted the virus, not long after proclaiming, "it's my choice if I want to risk getting COVID. No one is forcing anybody to stay home." Not only did Koenig get it, but other legislators are quarantining from having been in his mask-less presence
"With multiple lawmakers testing positive or isolating after coming in contact with a person who has the deadly virus, House leaders forced Parson to move the speech out of the traditional venue of the House and into the Senate, where members could practice social distancing more easily," the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported. "Parson vowed the last-minute change, which caused a stir under the Capitol dome, would not detract from his message:
"Missouri has seen some difficult days in the past 200 years, from the Civil War and the Great Depression … women's suffrage and civil rights … to the COVID-19 crisis and countless other hardships. But through it all, Missouri has prevailed," Parson was quoted as saying.
But Parson did not prevail on leaders of his own party to host his speech, and spokeswoman Kelli Jones wasn't pleased.
"I don't think COVID is any worse than it was yesterday," Jones told the Post-Dispatch. "Is my blood pressure high? Yes."
Senate Minority Leader John Rizzo, D-Independence, who is isolating after being exposed to a GOP staffer who tested positive, told the newspaper that Parson should have delivered his speech online without putting anyone else's health at risk.
"The governor's desire to give a big speech in-person is about vanity and optics," Rizzo said.
Many House members and more than one-third of the state's 34 senators did not attend the speech. Some listened in their offices, the Post-Dispatch reported. It was not clear whether the issue was a lack of a quorum or simply a refusal of the House Republicans to host the speech.
The only thing certain was confusion, as was the case with the state's pathetic vaccine non-rollout. As the Missouri Independent reported, the state's embarrassing CDC distinction as worst in the nation in vaccine availability has left Parson in a foul mood:
"The governor has vehemently defended his administration's record on COVID-19, and most recently he's publicly bristled at recent reports citing Centers for Disease Control data showing Missouri ranks last in the nation in terms of the percentage of its residents who have received the initial shot of a COVID vaccine."
Wednesday, it was still unclear even to state legislators as to what had happened.
"All we know is that it wasn't an official state-of-the-state speech. There was no roll call," state Senator Steven Roberts told RawStory.com. "We don't know for sure if the issue was not having a quorum or just that the House wouldn't let Parson use their chamber. The Senate passed a resolution to let him use ours."