by Benjamin Nelson

On December 6, 2017, Governor Eric Greitens and Press Secretary Parker Briden, invited Rural Press Outlets from all across Missouri, to attend a closed door “Press Conference” and get the chance to have a one on one interaction, without bigger press outlets being present (Kansas City Star, St. Louis Dispatch, KOMU, Columbia Tribune, etc.). This was also an opportunity for the Governor to connect with rural voters, through their local newspaper. Greitens defeated Chris Koster in the 2016 Gubernatorial Election and took office shortly after; this event was marking and capping his first year in office, what his administration has done, and what they are looking to do in the years to come.
The first topic that the Governor brought up was jobs. “The good news is that Missouri’s unemployment rate is the lowest it has been in seventeen years. When we came into office, Missouri was 48th in economic growth in the nation. Now, we are outpacing the nation in job growth. In the months we have been in office, Missouri has moved up nine places in the rankings of the States ready to do business. Companies are investing and businesses are growing. People in this country and around the world are looking to Missouri as a state open for business” stated Greitens. He went on to state that when he first walking into office, for the past sixteen years, Missouri has added 40,000 pages of new regulations. Greitens claimed that if we were to put each page next to another page, they would span out for more than five miles long. “We signed an executive order, putting a freeze on all new non-emergency regulations and we ordered a complete review of all the regulations. I am proud to tell you that the review is going incredibly well and that we will be in a position to cut tens of thousands of restrictions” state Greitens. With these cuts, the Governor claimed that they will help free up farmers, ranchers, and business owners all over the state. He went on to state that his administration passed more tort reform than any other place in the country. The Governor proudly talked about Smith and Wesson investing into Missouri and creating hundreds of new jobs; he credited “good ole fashion sitting down and talking” in convincing Smith and Wesson to invest into this state. Greitens took a jab at the Missouri Senate for not passing the Steel Mill piece of legislation and letting personal reasons get in the way; he would later call a special session while state legislatures were on break. Greitens stated “People were very upset with us when we canceled the politician’s vacations and called them back to work, but you know what, they got that bill passed, and just a couple weeks ago, we are in Sedalia, Missouri, where Nucor Steel, is investing a quarter billion dollars, bringing in 250 quality jobs plus 450 jobs in construction.” One of his proudest accomplishments is this “broad base prosperity around the state.” The Governor mentioned meeting up with Scott Pruitt, EPA Secretary, and telling him that “we needed to do away with Obama’s Waters of the US Regulations.” The Governor touched base on his accomplishment of connecting Rural Missouri by investing six million dollars and then some from the federal government, to connect rural Missouri schools, through broadband internet access. Greitens has asked Chris Chinn, Director of Missouri Ag., to sit down with Universities, the private sector, rural co-ops, to figure out how we can expand broadband not only schools, but to rural Missourians.
Besides regulations and jobs, the governor talked about the foster care system in Missouri. Greitens talked about how his wife and him, decorated the Governor’s Mansion with 13,000 stars this holiday season in honor of the 13,000 foster kids in Missouri. “We figured out that our child abuse hotline, couldn’t take an out of state call, we fixed that. We found out that the state of Missouri was charging kids in foster care for their own birth certificate, these are our kids both in law and in spirit, so we changed the policy. We are going to keep fighting for kids.” Greitens went on to talk about his support for law enforcement. He briefly touched base with Arnold Police Officer O’Connor, who was shot in the head. “I sat down with his wife and seventeen year old son. We have to remember every day here in the state of Missouri that we have men and women who put their lives on the line, to protect all of us. I am proud of the fact that we got Blue Alert passed. Let me be clear, law enforcement officers will protect people’s rights to protest and peacefully assemble. Everyone has the right to free speech. At the same time, if you engage in violence or vandalism, you will be arrested. If you assault a law enforcement officer, you will be arrested” stated Eric.
“I want Missouri to be the best state for veterans” stated Governor Greitens. He went on to talk about anytime the National Guard is called upon (floods, tornadoes, etc.) they always come and get the job done. He claimed that he has created 800 new jobs for the Missouri National Guard. On his recent trip to Israel, Governor Greitens sat down with Israeli Defense Forces; “Very soon, we will be able to announce a partnership between Missouri National Guard and the Israeli Defense Forces. Lot of great things that we can learn from each other. Counter-terrorism, cyber-security, search and rescue, there is a lot of things that we can learn together” stated the Governor. Greitens went on to say that he believes it is extremely important to support our veterans as they come home. The Governor talked about legislation that will eliminate all start up fees for veterans that come home to start up a new business. “We want to make it as easy as possible for them to come home and start up a business here in the state of Missouri. We are also looking at getting the Veteran Hiring Preference passed this upcoming session. Many other states have it, but Missouri just has never gotten it done.” -Governor Greitens
The Governor went on to talk about how the road thus far, hasn’t been easy. His administration has been attacked by “big city newspapers.” Recently he mentioned that the Kansas City Star came out with an article claiming that the riots and vandalism in St. Louis was “understandable.” The Governor made clear that if anyone conducts themselves in a violent way and vandalizes, the only safe space that they will be dealt with, is a jail cell.
After his brief speech, he opened the floor up to questions. One of the first questions was regarding “Transportation/Roads/Infrastructure Funds.” Moving forward, Governor Greitens believes that the issue with infrastructure shouldn’t be a partisan issue, and that not enough money is being invested into our roads and bridges. He offered a hand to Democrats and even Republicans that progress needs to happen, and that more money needs to be spent in areas that are a priority in Missouri. The next question was about reimbursements to state prisoners. It was asked from a news outlet from the Fulton area. The reporter claimed that the state is 19 million dollars behind and that there will be no more payments made this year (State Government paying the counties to help care for their prisoners); furthermore, she went on to claim that it causes financial problems for small rural counties. The Governor responded very honestly and stated that he hasn’t heard of the payments halting for the rest of the year, however, Mr. Greitens went on to say that he inherited a fiscal problem where the legislature was planning on spending 600 million dollars that we didn’t have in the budget. Moving on, a gentleman from the Lake of the Ozarks area, asked the Governor about progress and his personal stance with the Rock Island Trail. (Side Note: at the end of 2016, Governor Nixon announced that the former Rock Island Rail Line (144 miles) would be put into the hands of the State of Missouri by the end of 2017, with goals of it developing into the Rock Island Trail. With a new administration, a lot of people are curious as to what will happen and if the plans will continue. The Department of Natural Resources have even reached out to Missourians asking, “What do you think?”) The Governor reiterated his support for the outdoors and the activities that come with it (hiking, cycling etc.). Greitens really didn’t have a full update on the progress of the transition claiming, “he hasn’t been informed in the last several months.” Greitens also stated that it would be a very good project, even comparing it to the Katy Trail. Roughly a day before this press meeting, the Missouri Democratic Party put forth a policy initiative in hopes to make agriculture markets fair and open, local control of land and to give more rural Missouri Farmers, opportunities. This policy is called “Missouri Farmer’s Bill of Rights.” With that, I decided to ask the Governor what he thought of this new proposal. The Governor responded with, “I did not see what they did yesterday. I will tell you though, we need to be supporting our farmers and ranchers. One of the things we have done, is to lift restrictions that have made it difficult for people to farm and to ranch. Here in the state of Missouri, Agriculture is still our number one industry, we have 108,000 family farms, we are right here in the center of America, we are a world leading center for Agriculture Technology, and we’ll need to double our food production in the next generation. We also have a lot of leadership in Animal Health and Animal Science. I think it’s important to take advantage of those, and let our farmers farm and ranchers ranch. So, I’ll be continuing to support our farmers and ranchers. Like I said, the specific thing that they came out with on social media, I haven’t seen, but we will follow up on that.”
With the recent actions that took place in and around the State Board of Education, it was almost a given that someone would ask a question, especially with the recent ousting of Commissioner Dr. Margie Vandeven. An older gentleman, posed the question “With the decision with the Board of Education, it will probably become an issue in the Senate. What is it specifically that Margie Vandeven had done or didn’t do, that warranted your efforts to get her removed?” The Governor responded with, “So look, this is about kids in Missouri and it’s about making sure we are getting results for kids. At the end of the day, we look at everyone and ask ourselves, are they getting results? The fact is, if you look at Missouri schools, they are headed in the wrong direction. We dropped ten places in fourth grade reading. We dropped nine places in eighth grade math. We are headed in the wrong direction and what we needed was a change of course. When you look at the leadership in DESE and in the state, we need to make sure that tax dollars are getting into the classroom. I want leaders who are assisting on getting results and those dollars in the classroom. The fact is, here in Missouri, administrator pay has been rising twice as fast as teacher pay. We have more administrators per capita in Missouri, than other places around the country, but yet Missouri teacher pay, is 48th in America. We have some administrators making quarter million dollars a year. We need to raise teacher pay and better our schools.” Mr. Greitens went on to claim that his administration has put more money into education than any other administration in Missouri History and that for the first time in years, they fully funded Missouri Education. “The issue isn’t whether the money is there, the issue is how it’s being used. When you see them cut money for the ACT, that’s a bad decision. Missouri is paying at the national average for education, but why are teachers 48th in teacher pay? The money is there, the question is, we need to reorient the bureaucracy, so that the money is actually getting into the classroom” stated Eric Greitens. The same reporter went on to ask, “So am I hearing you say that your problem with Mrs. Vandeven, was the failure to lead?” To which the Governor responded with, “Failed to get results. I care about kids. The decisions I make, it all comes down to, whether or not it works for kids. I think we should judge leaders on whether or not they are getting results. Missouri schools are headed in the wrong direction.”

This discussion opened up to several other journalists jumping in and asking questions off of this topic. One journalist stated, “After talking to my Superintendent, what deficiencies were in the commissioner? Especially after the Superintendents Association, Elementary Association, Principals Association, Secondary Education of Principles, The Missouri State Teachers Association, all of them sent letters in support for the commissioner?” The Governor went on to say, “We were at the Farm Bureau the other day and we were talking to folks all over the state and we had people coming up to us patting us on the back saying thank you. I recognize that we may have a situation that worked really well for some Superintendents, Administrators and Bureaucrats, but the fact is that many of them are getting paid a quarter of a million dollars every year. Missouri tax payers pay at the national average. If our teachers were paid at the national average, they would make an extra 10,000 dollars than what they are making now. That should give you some sense for how skewed the system is. We got tremendous blow back, I understand, but from walking around at the Fam Bureau, teachers and parents are talking to us, saying they finally see the money that is going to the administrators.” One of the last questions asked was about school transportation. The reporter stated, “It’s nice that you want to raise teacher pay, but I was told that some transportation money to schools had been withheld. The fact is, in rural communities, if we don’t have school transportation, kids aren’t coming to school. Do you think you will release some of that money?” Governor Greitens responded with, “I don’t know the exact numbers, but we increased money for school transportation, compared to the year prior. Absolutely. Look we need to protect our rural schools. Public Education is one of our top priorities. It’s why we put this money into our schools and transportation is part of that. This ties into the other question. This is why we need to invest more money into roads and bridges. It’s so that kids can get to school, people can get to work, and many other reasons. We have to do this for everybody.”

The last topic was healthcare. The question was,” Governor have you heard anything about increasing Medicaid or more pay to rural hospitals?” The Governor briefly went on to say, “Unfortunately Congress did not repeal Obamacare. Here in Missouri, we are spending more money on Healthcare, than anything else in our budget. The current system is making us spend lots of money and we need to fix that. Missouri one of the leading states in Telemedicine. Using Telemedicine, it is driving down costs, people’s stay in the ER, and much more. With Obamacare, the spending keeps increasing, but the quality of healthcare is decreasing and not getting any better.

In closing, the Governor offered a hand about maybe opening an opinion editorial in rural newspapers about progress they are making and plans that they make with future policy issues. He talked about how he wants to reach rural Missourians and has been able to do this through Social Media, but is looking for other ways! This is similar to what many other politicians have done; Kit Bond and Franklin D. Roosevelt are examples of establishing direct communication with voters.

Writer’s Note: This is the longest article I have written. I do apologize for the length, however, I wanted to be very transparent with this meeting as many of you will be impacted by the Governor’s Decisions! I hope everyone has a safe and healthy holiday season!