JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) — Missouri prepared to swap out its top elected leader Friday, replacing a scandal-plagued governor who had faced potential impeachment with a lieutenant governor whose first objective will be to bring an end to months of political drama.
Republican Gov. Eric Greitens planned to resign at 5 p.m. Republican Lt. Gov. Mike Parson was to be sworn in shortly thereafter during a low-key ceremony in the governor’s office.
Parson said he wants to assure people "that everything’s fine and government is going to go forward."
His job now, he told St. Louis radio station KMOX, is to "work hard and make sure I’m prepared and do the best I can to make this transfer of power as smooth as possible."
Greitens’ resignation is part of a deal with a St. Louis prosecutor to drop a felony charge alleging misuse of a charity donor list to raise money for his 2016 gubernatorial campaign. His voluntary departure also avoids the potentially dubious distinction of becoming the first Missouri governor to be impeached by the House.
But Greitens isn’t entirely clear of problems.
He still faces the potential of a special prosecutor refiling sexual misconduct charges related to an extramarital affair in 2015. The Missouri Ethics Commission continues to investigate a complaint that Greitens’ campaign filed false documents about the charity donor list. The FBI also has received information about Greitens from the chairman of a House investigatory panel and a private attorney representing the ex-husband of the woman with whom he had an affair.
On Friday, an attorney for Greitens’ campaign and a pro-Greitens nonprofit called A New Missouri asked a judge to delay and reverse his previous order to turn over records to a House committee.
Lawyer Catherine Hanaway argued that the panel created to investigate allegations against the governor no longer has authority because Greitens is leaving office. But the House has said it still wants to enforce subpoenas for records related to potential coordination between Greitens, his campaign committee and the nonprofit organization.
In a separate case, the judge ordered Greitens to supply by Friday the names of all governor’s office employees who downloaded a smartphone app called Confide that automatically deletes messages. The order also directs Greitens to provide phone numbers and other details about the devices, which would allow the plaintiffs in a lawsuit alleging violations of the state records-retention law to request information from Confide.
As Greitens prepared to leave office, his personal belongings were being loaded into a moving truck at the governor’s mansion. His wife, Sheena Greitens, posted photos of the mansion and Capitol on Twitter alongside a message saying "it has been an honor & privilege to serve as First Lady."
The 44-year-old Greitens is a former Navy SEAL officer who won election in 2016 as a political outsider pledging to take on "career politicians" and crack down on perceived corruption in Jefferson City.
Parson, 62, who was elected separately from Greitens, is an Army veteran who built a career as a law officer and lawmaker. He spent 12 years as the rural Polk County sheriff before serving another dozen years in the Missouri House and Senate. He is also a cattle farmer and was moving his animals when he got the call Tuesday that Grietens was resigning.
"In my career, I’ve had the opportunities to handle tough situations," Parson said. "At least I have the experience to draw on and frankly the wisdom to draw on."
Parson kept a low profile as scandals grew around the governor following the January revelation that Greitens had engaged in an affair in which a woman alleged he was physically aggressive. As the governor denied any violence, Parson shied away from joining some other top Republicans who called on Greitens to resign. Instead, Parson emphasized the need for unity.
Parson will serve the remainder of Greitens’ term, which runs until January 2021.