The election for Missouri governor is down to four candidates — including two that were unchallenged in political party primaries in August — and while candidates' priorities include the continuing response to COVID-19, other issues including criminal justice, health care and equitable transportation access are on candidates' minds.
Incumbent Republican Gov. Mike Parson and Democratic State Auditor Nicole Galloway each defeated several other candidates in the August primaries to be their party's candidate for Nov. 3.
Parson — an Army veteran, former sheriff and cattle rancher from Bolivar — was the state's lieutenant governor when he took the oath of office as governor June 1, 2018, following the resignation of Eric Greitens, and he is seeking a full term as governor.
Galloway was appointed to be state auditor in April 2015, following the death of elected auditor Tom Schweich that February. Galloway was elected into the office in 2018. She is a certified public accountant and worked in the private sector before her career in public service. She is a native of Fenton but now lives in Columbia.
The November ballot will also feature Libertarian gubernatorial candidate Rik Combs and Green Party candidate Jerome Bauer, who were unchallenged in August.
Combs grew up in Florida, retired from the U.S. Air Force in 2006 as a colonel and has been a resident of Cole County since 2009.
Bauer was born and raised in Montana, has studied around the country and in India, and has taught at colleges and universities around the St. Louis area since coming to St. Louis more than two decades ago to teach.
Bauer said the biggest issues in the governor's race are health care, disability rights and transportation equity and access.
He would like there to be a tax on stock market transactions that funds universal health care through a single-payer system. He said the Medicaid expansion voters approved in August is a good first step but only a first step.
While Bauer agreed a governor does not have much direct power over the design of products such as cellphones and audiobooks to encourage accessibility for people with disabilities (Bauer said he is officially disabled and receives public benefits for the blind) he said a governor does have a bully pulpit: "A great deal of it would just be speaking up for disabled people, just advocating it."
He also said he would like more access to public transportation in urban areas, with express buses as an alternative to trolleys. In rural areas, he would seek options including buses and a much more expansive bicycle path system.
Combs said the economy is first and foremost, but safety and security are other important issues in the governor's race.
He said businesses should be allowed to fully open again, but a lot of businesses continue to have hours and capacities limited by health restrictions during the pandemic.
Combs said it's not the government's place to mandate, even on health issues, and he said if businesses are left to their own devices, they would be as safe and clean as they can be because the public would demand it to be so, showing their approval with where they go and spend money.
"They'll do the right thing by the people of Missouri, if given the chance," he said of businesses.
While he supported encouraging people to take precautions in the pandemic such as wearing masks and avoiding crowds, Combs was also against those kinds of mandates — including mandatory vaccinations.
On safety and security, Combs said there's too much crime but also too much incarceration.
He said there are "too many victimless crimes being prosecuted," and he was open to reform on drug and some white-collar crimes "that really don't involve an actual victim."
In terms of law enforcement and the criminal justice system, "accountability is a big issue and cost effectiveness." Combs added violent criminals should be incarcerated, but he supports alternative courts for drugs and veterans and finding other ways for restitution and community service.
Galloway said the pandemic and health care are the biggest issues in the governor's race.
"COVID is impacting all of us, and we need a reset on our coronavirus strategy — and we need it fast," she said.
She has a containment and mitigation strategy to avoid further economic shutdowns — a strategy including a statewide mask rule to mitigate spread of the disease, access to more rapid testing and a better contact tracing system.
Galloway said if she as governor could not get the rapid testing needed, she would form a regional partnership with other states to develop the capacity needed.
She also said there needs to be urgency in deploying the remaining federal emergency funds — before they expire — to aid contact tracing efforts: "It's not enough just to write a check and then walk away."
On health care, Galloway said implementing the Medicaid expansion voters approved is part of addressing issues, but there's more to it than that.
Rising insurance premiums and prescription costs and coverage gaps are problems, she said, and she would establish an office of health care policy that would be "laser focused on finding ways to cut costs and make health care more affordable."
She said she's seen other states that have combined their purchasing powers and negotiated costs of prescription drugs, and that's something Missouri should do.
She said her administration would also not pursue litigation against the Affordable Care Act and would work to pass a law to enshrine pre-existing conditions as covered by insurance.
Parson said the economy and crime are the biggest issues in the race.
On the economy, Parson said the state must continue "what we were doing before" the pandemic — development of the workforce and infrastructure.
Some funding for the workforce development programs Parson's administration had prioritized before COVID-19 was withheld as part of state budget restrictions in response to the pandemic, but Parson said "all of those things have to keep moving."
Even if workforce development programs have to continue at reduced funding for a time, Parson said those efforts are necessary for there to be full economic recovery.
He said infrastructure development includes things such as broadband internet service and telemedicine. He said funding sources will be found. For bridges, specifically, that funding is already secure through bonds, he said.
The special legislative session Parson called over the summer was about measures to fight violent crime, and while lawmakers did not deliver on every item on his agenda, Parson said the session did deliver the most important items: a pre-trial witness protection fund and a loosening of residency requirements for first responders in St. Louis.
He said crime has been a serious issue for a long time. However, he said it's spreading into suburban areas, and it's important to get more law enforcement on the ground.
"We've got to recruit people to help us with that," the governor said.
Parson said he will work with universities to establish new law enforcement academies and find more ways to partner with the federal government for reinforcements.