Kansas City Star. April 23, 2021.

Editorial: Missouri health director Randall Williams is gone, and he won’t be missed

We don’t know why Missouri’s Health and Senior Services Director Randall Williams stepped down this week, because neither he nor the governor will say. But we dare to hope that his replacement will do a better job for Missourians than Williams did.

On Thursday, Missouri Gov. Mike Parson said this about the decision: “I thought it was the best thing for the cabinet, the best thing for the governor’s office that we go in different directions.”

We’ve been thinking that since former Gov. Eric Greitens appointed Williams to the job in 2017. But Parson makes it sound as though he’s just decided to take a different artistic tack for now. And of course, without saying so, he makes it clear that you bet, there was a problem.

Here’s one: Like Parson himself, Williams bungled Missouri’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic with a weak response to the virus over the last year.

But then, Williams’ tenure was controversial from the beginning. Even before it began, actually, because in his previous post in North Carolina he was accused by state health and environmental officials of trying to play down the risk of coal ash contamination of drinking wells. He said he rescinded a do-not-drink order in 2016 because it was stirring up unwarranted fears.

That’s how he treated COVID-19 warnings, too, by underplaying the dangers.

Williams “unethically tracked the menstrual cycles of Missouri women without their knowledge or consent, bungled the implementation of legalized medical marijuana, led the state’s failed response to COVID-19 and routinely refused to answer basic questions from lawmakers,” said House Minority Leader Crystal Quade, a Springfield Democrat. “With his sudden and unexplained resignation, one can’t help but wonder what finally convinced the governor to show him the door.”

We’re wondering the same thing and we shouldn’t have to. The state’s top health leader mysteriously walks out on Missouri residents in the midst of a pandemic that has killed more than 9,000 here, and state officials don’t think people deserve to know why? That’s unacceptable.

Parson’s office declined to share Williams’s resignation letter. “Dr. Randall Williams’ resignation letter is a closed personnel document. Thanks,” said Kelli Jones, a state spokesman.

In a statement, Parson said “Dr. Williams has been a huge asset to Missouri, especially this past year in dealing with COVID-19.”

From the onset of the pandemic, Parson and Williams, who was the state’s main spokesman on all things COVID, have said they were leaving most public health and closure decisions up to officials at the local level.

So where was the leadership in that?

During the first few months of the vaccine distribution, rural parts of the state were getting more vaccine doses per person than cities. A lot of the vaccine went unused in those rural communities, in part because of an unclear state distribution process.

And last year, lawmakers investigated Williams’ department over hundreds of license denials for the state’s medical marijuana program, accusations of conflicts of interest, and questions about the vendor hired to score applications. Lawmakers called the process “frustrating” and “a disaster.”

So with only about a third of people in the state vaccinated and COVID-19 still spreading — Wednesday the state reported seeing an average of 323 new cases a day — Williams makes a quiet backdoor exit.

All we know is that Deputy Chief of Staff Robert Knodell, who has played a part in the state’s COVID-19 response and vaccine rollout, is named as acting director of the department “effective immediately.” And no one is saying how soon it will be before a permanent replacement is named.

Whatever the reason you asked Williams to go, governor, you owe the public an explanation.


St. Louis Post-Dispatch. April 24, 2021.

Editorial: On anti-Asian hate, Hawley again stands alone on the wrong side of history

Once again, the state of Missouri is being humiliated on the national stage by the cynical political antics of its junior U.S. senator. Who in this fraught political climate votes against a bill to confront anti-Asian hate crimes? Josh Hawley — and only Josh Hawley — that’s who. Hawley on Thursday cast the sole vote in the Senate against The COVID-19 Hate Crimes Act, designed to combat what experts say has been a clear spike in hate crimes against Asian Americans during the pandemic.

The bill creates a framework to gather data on pandemic-related hate crimes, expedite review of those crimes and give guidance to states in how to address the issue. None of this is radical, as evidenced by the bill’s support from 94 of the 95 senators present for the vote. Sens. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, Tom Cotton, R-Ariz., Ron Johnson, R-Wis., and dozens of other conservative stalwarts all logged yes votes.

Hawley alone raised his voice against a measure that “condemns and denounces any and all anti-Asian and Pacific Islander sentiment in any form.”

Like so many pandemic-related problems still plaguing America, this one can be traced in large part back to former President Donald Trump. While in office, he missed no opportunity to couch the crisis in xenophobic terms with such provocative phrases as “China virus” and “kung flu.” The virus’ China origin is undisputed, but that obviously has nothing to do with people of Asian descent in America — except to racists, who make up a significant portion of the Trump base that Hawley is trying to cultivate.

Of course, Hawley doesn’t explain his vote that way. He claims the bill “turns the federal government into the speech police” and provides “sweeping authority to decide what counts as offensive speech and then monitor it.” In fact, the bill does no such thing, but since when has Hawley let a little issue like the facts get in the way of his demagoguery?

Hawley also chafes at “all of this data collection” in the bill — as if gathering statistics about reported crimes is some kind of Orwellian scheme. Analyzing data is how society quantifies and addresses problems. Is Hawley opposed to the U.S. Census as well?

No one who has watched Hawley’s cynical, ladder-climbing career should have any doubt about what’s going on here. In a political party that has become wholly extremist, Hawley knows he needs to be even more extremist and outrageous to stand out.

It’s why he became the first senator to formally back Trump’s big lie about election fraud, forcing the unnecessary election-certification vote that helped incite the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol.

It’s why he alone raised his fist in solidarity with the attackers just before they struck. Here’s hoping Missourians figure out that Hawley’s stunts aren’t leadership, or even representation. They’re just an enduring national embarrassment.


Jefferson City News Tribune. April 25, 2021.

Editorial: Renewing commitment to crime victims

This past week was the 40th annual National Crime Victims’ Rights Week, and we’re glad to see our community and state renewing their commitments to victims of crime.

This past week was the 40th annual National Crime Victims’ Rights Week, and we’re glad to see our community and state renewing their commitments to victims of crime.

It’s a time to remember crime victims and their families as well as those who have gone the extra mile to provide services to crime victims.

But it’s also time to focus on legislation with crime victims in mind. One of the speakers at a Monday candlelight vigil honoring crime victims was Rep. Lane Roberts, R-Joplin. As we reported last week, Roberts was chief of the Joplin Police Department and then director of the Missouri Department of Public Safety before being elected to the House.

He recalled that when he started his law enforcement career in 1971, domestic violence victims were not treated with compassion.

Roberts is seeing success with legislation dealing with domestic violence and stalking. As we reported, one of the bills, HB744, came about after Roberts met with a group of women who were victims of domestic assault, one of whom had to go to court 69 times on her particular case.

“It’s my hope that your 70th visit to court will be your last because that bill will allow a judge to have a hearing and make conclusions of fact that could declare a person dangerous and issue a protection order that would last a lifetime of the abuser,” Roberts said.

Abusers could petition a judge to reverse that, but the burden would be on them.

Cole County Prosecutor Locke Thompson told the crowd his office was committed to defending the rights of victims. Currently, they have three victims’ advocates working in different areas.

Our hope is people in positions of power such as Thompson and Roberts continue to seek solutions and comfort for those who have been victimized.