Gov. Mike Parson returned to a familiar “home” Saturday night as he attended the 17th annual Missouri Cattlemen’s Association Steak Fry on the Missouri State Fairgrounds.
The event hosted in the Agriculture Building saw Parson, the majority of Missouri’s top elected officials and candidates for office in the August and November elections come together to discuss the state of the cattle industry amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Those in attendance included Lt. Gov. Mike Kehoe, State Treasurer Scott Fitzpatrick, Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft, U.S. Rep. Vicky Hartzler, R-Harrisonville, a number of state representatives and senators, local officials and Missouri Director of Agriculture Chris Chinn.
Parson spoke to the Democrat prior to his remarks, saying the state and its citizens need to focus on what was happening in Missouri prior to the pandemic as they move forward.
“We saw some of the lowest unemployment in our state’s history, we were able to cut people’s taxes, companies coming to the state, businesses’ expansion, we just need to focus back on that,” Parson said. “Sedalia has been one of the recipients of that with Nucor and some other things, like the wire company, there are a lot of things happening here. We have to get back to the focus on that.”
Parson explained Missourians have to “realize the virus is here and it’s going to be here,” but it is important to get students back in the classroom and to prepare them for the workforce. He said it’s also important to make sure “we are taking care of health care in rural Missouri and across the state and just keep moving forward with workforce development and infrastructure, those are the keys to the future.”
The governor told the Democrat there are no doubt some challenges the state will face in the future, including trying to piece the budget back together and getting people back to work.
“You know we had a peak on our unemployment rate but we now have more than 100,000 people going back to work so that is good news, revenues are up a little more than we thought they would be so I think the cycle is people are getting ready to get back out, they are getting motivated to get back to work,” Parson told the Democrat. “Again I just want to emphasize that we have to have somewhat of a ‘normal life’ when you have a virus you are fighting at the same time but Missouri is more than capable of doing that — we’ve been through some tough times before and we’ll get through these times.”
During his remarks, Parson explained in the first months of 2020 it was a better time for residents of the state and those in agriculture.
“We were on cloud nine until something like COVID-19 come around and let me tell you that it has been the toughest three or four months I have ever had as a political servant,” he said.
“For over 60 days I went to the governor’s office seven days a week, 12 to 14 hours a day, my staff came to work and because the only way I knew how to deal with this was through hard work, the only way you can do it is to try to find the information you can, the data you can and you make common-sense decisions and you keep the people of Missouri at the forefront of what is right by them,” Parson said to applause.
“It’s what drove me to work every day during that time and when you use that common sense, once we found out a few things about Missouri we could start making decisions that we could for us. And let me tell you a little something about us — to heck with all these experts on the east and west coast because they don’t know squat.”
Parson stressed the importance of figuring out better ways for citizens to help one another by buying crops and cattle produced in Missouri. He added one difficulty is processing meat in the state due to a lack of processing plants. In many cases, there is an eight-month wait before meat sent for processing can be sold to consumers.
Missouri Cattlemen’s Association President Mike Deering said it has been a challenging year.
“With the pandemic, we saw financial and economic destruction of our industry,” Deering said following the event via email. “We are focused on long-term structural changes to the markets that focus on transparency and price discovery to mitigate this moving forward.
“The pandemic resulted in processing plants reducing capacity and created a bottleneck in supply,” he added. “Consumers were paying unprecedented prices for meat. Our members and consumers were both on the losing end as packers made record profits.”
President-elect Patty Wood agrees. She noted some processing plants were shut down following confirmed cases of COVID-19 among employees, resulting in a ripple effect of products not being available to consumers.
“However, the cattle ranchers were still in operation with adequate supply and being good stewards of the land,” Wood said via email.
Parson challenged those present to “go back to some sort of normal life, (you) have to go back out there.” More than 350 people attended Saturday’s annual dinner, which made social distancing difficult and very few wore masks. Posts on social media after the event sparked backlash, as Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services Director Dr. Randall Williams had encouraged wearing a mask and social distancing during a press conference just a few days prior as COVID-19 cases continue to rise.
“The only way you are going to fight the virus is how you deal with it,” Parson remarked. “You don’t need government to tell you to wear a dang mask. If you want to wear a mask, wear one. I’m telling you, the media will have a heyday with that one.
“Let me tell you, I am an expert with the term ‘darned if you do and darned if you don’t.’ I’ve got it down, believe me, I’ve got it down,” he said with a laugh. “And I’ll tell you something else we’ve got to do and again, danged if you do, danged if you don’t, but we’ve got to get these school kids back in school.”
Parson said it is important to have Missouri students back in classrooms this fall, a decision he said is based on what he believes is best for the state.
“I will tell you when all is said and done, Missouri will be better off than most states I can guarantee that,” Parson said. “I know we will be because I know the people in this state are here to help one another out by making good common-sense decisions.
“You know right from wrong and you know what the situation is out there — you don’t need the government telling you what to do.”