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‘Embarrassment to this state’: Parson lambasts Senate as health director resigns

Richard Moore to lead DHSS as acting director

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — Gov. Mike Parson did not mince words Tuesday evening after the Senate failed to confirm his pick to lead Missouri’s health department

Donald Kauerauf resigned as the Department of Health and Senior Services (DHSS) director just hours after a conservative senator launched a filibuster in opposition of his nomination. The filibuster, coupled with a looming snowstorm, forced the Senate to approve Parson’s other appointees and adjourn without confirming Kauerauf ahead of a Friday deadline. 

“The events that have transpired over the past few days surrounding Don’s Senate confirmation hearing are nothing short of disgraceful, unquestionably wrong, and an embarrassment to this state and the people we serve,” Parson said in a statement announcing Kauerauf’s resignation. 

“Throughout this process, more care was given to political gain than the harm caused to a man and his family,” Parson continued. “Don is a devoted public servant who did not deserve this, and Missourians deserve better. I pray that honor, integrity, and order can be returned to the Missouri Senate and that it comes sooner rather than later.” 

Donald Kauerauf took over as the Department of Health and Senior Services (DHSS) on Sept. 1. (PROVIDED/GOVERNOR’S OFFICE)

Kauerauf, who has a lengthy career in public health and safety in neighboring Illinois, was picked by Parson, a Republican, to lead DHSS last year. While he’s been serving as the head of the health department since September, Kauerauf needed to be confirmed by the Senate by Friday to remain in his position, according to state law. 

Parson said Richard Moore, who has served as general counsel for DHSS, will now take over as acting director of the department. In a news release, the Governor’s Office said Parson “will further evaluate the state’s options in the coming days.” 

Senate President Pro Tem Dave Schatz said senators “ran into a time crunch” with the Friday deadline, impending winter storm, and cancelation of last week’s scheduled hearing due to lengthy floor debate. And as the afternoon wore on, leadership had to decide whether to let a conservative-led filibuster continue or get the other 15 appointees through the process. 

Schatz also suggested opposition to Kauerauf could be “some retaliation” stemming from former Director Randall Williams’ resignation last year, noting claims Kaureauf supported statewide COVID-19 vaccine and mask mandates were unfounded. 

“His motivations were pure in wanting to serve in this capacity. For that fact, I don’t care who it is, it’s unfortunate when someone obviously doesn’t get the opportunity to do that. There was a lot of, I believe, unfair press brought into this,” Schatz said in an interview.

Kauerauf came under fire from conservatives in the upper chamber who questioned his views on abortion and mandates for vaccines and masks amid the COVID-19 pandemic. 

More than 100 people rallied in the Capitol rotunda ahead of his Gubernatorial Appointments hearing Monday, at times making false statements about vaccinations, Kauerauf, and more. 

And on Tuesday, Sen. Mike Moon, who led most of Kauerauf’s questioning the previous day, filibustered the opening of session Tuesday for nearly three hours. 

Throughout the hearing, Kauerauf calmly maintained that while he would encourage people to get the COVID-19 vaccine, he is not supportive of government mandates. He also said he is pro-life. 

Moon, however, said he wasn’t convinced and questioned Kauerauf’s wife’s involvement in certain Illinois pandemic-response programs, like an option test-to-stay school program. 

“It’s unfortunate that we now have to disrupt state operations and the leadership at an entire department because the Missouri Senate chose to indulge a few men’s egos,” Parson said. “I’ve been a conservative Republican my entire life and contrary to what some senators believe, tarnishing a man’s character by feeding misinformation, repeating lies, and disgracing 35 years of public health experience is not what it means to be conservative.” 

Moon said he was never contacted by the governor to get him on board with Kauerauf’s appointment. 

“The people spoke, and we acknowledged their voices,” Moon said in a text message after session ended Tuesday. 

Democrats decried the Senate’s inability to approve Kaureauf. 

“Missouri is in the middle of a health crisis and now the state is without a health director because a small but loud group of extremist Republicans are against fighting a disease that has killed 17,000 of our fellow Missourians,” Minority Leader John Rizzo said. “Misinformation and lies have defeated professionalism and integrity.” 

“It appears [Missouri] will be without a director of [DHSS] during a pandemic because the Senate refused to confirm the nominee on the grounds that he *checks notes* encouraged vaccination,” Sen. Lauren Arthur said on social media