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Kauerauf maintains pro-public health, anti-mandate stance amid anti-vaccine protest

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — Donald Kauerauf, the governor’s pick to lead Missouri’s health department, sat through nearly two hours of questioning from senators Monday, keeping calm amid a cacophony of chants and heckling from the dozens of protesters in and outside the hearing room. 

Kauerauf never wavered from his message: He is passionate about public health. He opposes vaccine and mask mandates. He is pro-life. 

More than 100 people descended on the Capitol Monday ahead of the Gubernatorial Appointments hearing, holding a rally in the rotunda to decry COVID-19 vaccines, mask mandates, and Kauerauf as Missouri’s health director. They held signs accusing Gov. Mike Parson, a Republican, of being a communist and falsely saying Kauerauf supported mandates. 

When asked why he wants to lead the Department of Health and Senior Services (DHSS), particularly as a few dozen people sat behind him wearing stickers with an X through his name, Kauerauf simply said: “I love public health.” 

“I don’t take it personally,” Kauerauf said. “That’s their opinion.” 

Kauerauf is the former assistant director of the Illinois Department of Public Health and most recently chaired the Illinois Terrorism Task Force under the state’s Emergency Management Agency. Parson named him as his pick to take over DHSS in July following Dr. Randall Williams’ resignation. 

The Gubernatorial Appointments Committee did not take a vote on Kauerauf or any of the other appointees Monday. Public testimony was also not allowed, as is standard practice. 

Capitol police were on hand to escort Kauerauf to and from the hearing. 

Parson released a lengthy statement ahead of the hearing, castigating the misinformation spread about his nominee. 

“[Kauerauf] is an experienced public health professional with a disciplined moral compass that is guided by our Missouri principles: Christian values, family values, and love for this nation,” Parson said. “It’s concerning to see certain Missouri officials grandstanding for purely political reasons and fueling fears without any regard for the truth. I implore Missouri Senators to assess the qualities of the person, not let themselves fall victim to misinformation repeated on social media.”

Parson encouraged lawmakers who had questions to contact his office. Several conservative legislators were on hand at the rally in the rotunda ahead of the confirmation hearing. 

During the hearing, Kauerauf repeatedly assured senators he would not support vaccine or mask mandates or other regulations for how businesses handle COVID-19. He said he would want to educate individuals about the effects of COVID-19 and vaccines as a way to bolster Missouri’s vaccination rate as opposed to mandates. 

At least 100 people gathered in the Capitol rotunda before the confirmation hearing to decry vaccines, COVID-19 mandates, and Donald Kauerauf as Missouri’s health director. (THE MISSOURI TIMES/KAITLYN SCHALLHORN)

During an inquiry with Sen. Mike Moon, who took up the bulk of the questioning, Kauerauf was asked about his thoughts on ivermectin, an anti-parasite treatment some people have taken after coming in contact with COVID-19. Kauerauf said he is not a medical doctor and those decisions should be left up to individuals and their doctors. 

Additionally, Kauerauf maintained that he is anti-abortion and believed life begins at conception. He also said being pro-life, to him, meant caring for children in the public health sphere even after birth. 

Questioned about a Test to Stay program for school districts in Illinois, Kauerauf said he would oppose a sweeping mandate to implement the program and noted it was just one option offered at the time. The Test to Stay program, created by the Illinois Department of Public Health, would allow unvaccinated people exposed to COVID-19 while wearing a mask to remain in school as long as they continue to wear a face-covering, undergo testing, and don’t experience symptoms. 

Kauerauf said he would like to see Missouri’s COVID-19 vaccination rate get to at least 75 percent. As of Monday, less than 59 percent of the state’s eligible population is fully vaccinated. 

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After the hearing, Moon said he didn’t believe Kauerauf “was being truthful on all fronts.” In a text message, he said he was still apprehensive about his stance on whether state funds should be used for abortion services and the enforcement of children to get vaccinated against COVID-19.

When Kauerauf left the hearing, a few dozen protesters who were still in the hallway yelled at him. They had chanted during the hearing from the hallway whenever the doors were opened to let people in or out of the Senate Lounge.

Multiple conservative senators expressed support for the demonstrators and spoke at the rally. Sen. Bob Onder, who is not on the committee but attended the hearing, was greeted with applause and cheers by the demonstrators gathered outside the room. 

On social media, Sen. Rick Brattin posted photos of the protest. 

“I will always err on the side of liberty and freedom. It is essential that directors of any department understand they are not dictators and they work for the people,” Brattin said. 

The committee has scheduled an executive session for Tuesday afternoon, but senators noted inclement weather is expected in Missouri which could delay the vote. The hearing was already delayed due to a redistricting fight in the upper chamber last week. 

In all, 16 appointees were presented before the committee Monday afternoon.