A series of controversial remarks by Missouri Gov. Mike Parson on a St. Louis radio show are getting widespread attention — and some pushback.
In an interview on Friday with talk-radio host Marc Cox, Parson indicated both certainty and acceptance that the coronavirus will spread among children when they return to school this fall. The virus has killed 1,130 people in the state despite a weeks-long stay-at-home order in the spring that helped slow the virus’ spread, and the state set a record on Saturday with 958 new cases.
In the same 10-minute interview, Parson said that if it came to it, he would probably pardon the Central West End couple who pointed guns at protesters marching past their home on a private street on June 28.
Parson’s comment on the coronavirus signaled that the decision to send all children back to school would be justified even in a scenario in which all of them became infected with the coronavirus.
St. Louis area schools are expected to release their reopening plans on Monday.
“These kids have got to get back to school,” Parson told Cox. “They’re at the lowest risk possible. And if they do get COVID-19, which they will — and they will when they go to school — they’re not going to the hospitals. They’re not going to have to sit in doctor’s offices. They’re going to go home and they’re going to get over it.”
He emphasized that people who are at high risk of becoming seriously ill should be protected but said most people in the state were smart enough to figure out how to stay safe without government interventions such as mask mandates.
“We gotta move on,” he said. “We can’t just let this thing stop us in our tracks.”
In an email on Sunday, Dr. Alex Garza, incident commander of the St. Louis Metropolitan Pandemic Task Force, called the question about returning to school a “Gordian knot.”
While it is important for children to be in school, he said, and it is true that they do not typically get seriously ill from COVID-19, “we worry about those in school who are not children — teachers, support staff and volunteers. Many of those people will have a much more serious response to the virus and that is what we want to avoid. These children could also come home and spread the virus to others in their household who could also be at a greater risk of a serious outcome.”
In a tweet on Friday, state Auditor Nicole Galloway, the Democratic nominee for governor, said Parson’s comments displayed “stunning ignorance … on how COVID-19 affects children. He admitted that he’s okay with your kids (and your families) getting the deadly disease when he sends them back to school. Does he not realize multiple American kids have died after being infected?”
Parson also raised eyebrows by saying he would probably pardon Mark and Patricia McCloskey, the couple who pointed guns at protesters who marched by their mansion on One Portland Place, if they were to be convicted of crimes.
St. Louis police officers executing a search warrant seized their guns on July 10, possibly in advance of criminal charges against the couple. Mark McCloskey told a Fox News host in a separate interview last week that he expects them to be indicted. But he did not say on what charge.
The McCloskeys have enjoyed support from Fox News and other conservative media and President Donald Trump’s campaign, which have framed the confrontation as two people reasonably exercising their Second Amendment rights to defend themselves and their property against an unruly mob.
Parson said last week that he was thankful that Trump had promised to “do everything he could within his powers to help with the situation, and that he would be taking action to do that.”
According to Missouri law, one of the ways to unlawfully use a weapon is to exhibit “in the presence of one or more persons, any weapon readily capable of lethal use in an angry or threatening manner.”
Parson told reporters last week the statute didn’t apply because of the Castle Doctrine, which which gives homeowners more leeway to shoot people on their property.
But a live feed of the protest shows the first few protesters to enter their private street swerved away from the McCloskey property and into the street. No protesters were on their property when Mark McCloskey, holding a rifle, began shouting at them.
Parson said at the press conference that he didn’t know “all the details of it.”
Parson, not Trump, wields the power to pardon a crime charged in a state court. The Missouri constitution gives the governor the authority to grant reprieves, commutations and pardons to people who have been convicted of crimes, for all offenses except treason and cases of impeachment.
Unlike some states, where the governor may be able to step in to abort a criminal prosecution, the Missouri governor may only pardon someone who has been convicted of a crime, said Peter Joy, a law professor at Washington University and expert in criminal justice.
While a Missouri pardon does not remove a conviction from an individual’s criminal record, it would restore the right to own firearms under federal law, Joy said.
Whether a conviction could subject the McCloskeys to professional discipline against their Missouri law licenses would be up to the the Office of the Chief Disciplinary Counsel and the Missouri Supreme Court, Joy said.
In the interview, Cox asked if Parson would pardon the McCloskeys if they were convicted. Parson responded: “By all means, I would, and I think that’s exactly what would happen.” He said he wouldn’t know until he heard “all the facts” but “if this is all about going after them because they … did a lawful act, then, yeah, if that scenario in fact happened, I don’t think they’re going to spend any time in jail.”
While the McCloskey’s attorney Albert Watkins had initially talked about their support for the Black Lives Matter movement, Mark McCloskey in his appearance on Tucker Carlson’s show adopted a Fox News term for protesters: the mob.
“The traditional media is right behind the mob,” he said, “and are supporting these entities which are, from my understanding, Marxist and oppose everything that I stand for and that I hold dear and near.”