The worst governor during this pandemic? Missouri’s Mike Parson comes close, but no

For most of the 18 months since Americans began dying of COVID-19, some of my friends in Missouri, Texas and Florida have been arguing about which of us has the worst wartime governor in the country.

Missouri’s Mike Parson got off to a fast start, doing nothing at first, and as little as possible ever since: By April 1, 2020, according to a state compilation of every action taken by every state in the country, released by the University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation, only Parson and three other governors — in Iowa, Nebraska and Tennessee — had failed to issue either a statewide stay-at-home order, a statewide order to close nonessential services, or a statewide school closure order.

On April 6 of last year, Parson finally did issue a modified order, closing nonessential businesses, imposing an occupancy limit on some businesses and ordering social distancing. But even then, he continued to insist that it should be “up to the individual what they want to do” on masks. And less than a month later, on May 4, Missouri was, as Parson said, wide open for business again.

In June, he blamed the media for politicizing “the mask deal,” and in contradiction of all public health guidance, defended the all-American right “not to wear one if they don’t feel like they want to wear one.” Last July, a bunch of cattle ranchers cheered his fatally flip remark that “if you want to wear a dang mask, wear a mask.”

Later that month, he did have to walk back what sounded like nonchalance about whether kids would get sick. “These kids have got to get back to school,” he said. “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.”

But now that kids are going to hospitals, and even dying? Now that some children who doctors initially thought had mild cases are dealing with the physical, mental and neurological aftereffects of long COVID? Now that we know that the vaccinated can spread the super-contagious delta variant to the unvaccinated, kids included? For Parson, nothing’s changed.

He called the new guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on masks “disappointing and concerning.” And he continues to fight mask mandates instead of even trying to unite us in the battle we should be in together, against a deadly and constantly changing virus.

In June, he signed a law banning “vaccine passports” and curtailing the power of county health officials to protect us. Last month, he told Missourians that they can’t trust the “propaganda” about COVID that they read in mainstream news outlets, including The Kansas City Star.


He criticized Missouri hospital officials for “trying to force people to take a vaccine or trying to literally just scare them into taking a vaccine.” Yes, even as he himself was trying to ‘literally just scare them’ about the “federal agents” he falsely suggested would be showing up and shoving a needle into their arms.

Today, with hospitals full and health professionals frantic, he still refuses to be anything but a negative role model, posting Twit pix of himself indoors and without a mask, addressing mostly unmasked constituents. All and all, an impressive showing of indifference to human life. If this disease hurt mostly the unborn instead of the unvaccinated, maybe then he would care?

Abbott, Noem, Reynolds, DeSantis downplay COVID danger

I have to admit, though, that Texas’ Gov. Greg Abbott may be an even stronger contender, shamelessly scapegoating migrants amid his state’s increase in COVID cases. South Dakota’s Kristi Noem is right in there, too; she stopped encouraging vaccination months ago, and has bragged that she’s the grittiest Republican governor of all, ignoring the pandemic as she has. Or as she put it, being “willing to make the tough decisions,” like never ordering “a single business” to close.

Iowa’s Kim Reynolds signed a law banning school mask mandates — at an event where she appeared alongside cheering anti-mask activists waving signs that said “Unmask our children” and “Stop the abuse.”

For a minute, it seemed that Florida’s Ron DeSantis had outdone all other contenders with his superior trolling and popular pro-COVID merch. “How the hell am I going to drink a beer with a mask on?” asks the official DeSantis drink koozie, which his reelection campaign is selling along with its “Don’t Fauci My Florida” T-shirts.

But then, last week, as if out of nowhere, here came New York’s Andrew Cuomo, snatching the “worst-of-the-worst” title away from all other comers.


Gov. Grabby, of course, not only failed New Yorkers by hiding the true number of COVID nursing home deaths, but by verbally accosting and sexually harassing aides and other women, both before and during the pandemic. The lockdown was making him lonely, he told one of his targets.

The details of his entitled, pathetic and probably criminal behavior remind me of both Presidents Donald Trump and Bill Clinton, and that he hasn’t learned anything from their wrongdoing is truly depressing. In fact, he’s following their ancient playbook, denying accusations and smearing accusers.

One of the many casual, “because-I-can” violations documented in the 165-page attorney general’s report described the time Cuomo ran a finger across the company name on the shirt of a stunned stranger he met in a rope line. He pressed down on each letter as he read it out, then he leaned in, told the woman he was going to pretend to brush a spider off her shirt, and did. (Been using that one since seventh grade, have we?)

After Cuomo is thrown out of office, though, then who will claim the non-honor of worst in the nation? Will the COVID body count ever get high enough to convince any of the top contenders to stop pandering to their seriously mistaken base?

And will they at some point decide to at least try to lead their constituents out of our pandemic of misinformation? If not, history won’t say that you had grit, or got a big laugh from the cattle ranchers, or sold a lot of T-shirts, but that you let your own people die. At which point, even abusive Andrew Cuomo will look better by comparison.