JEFFERSON CITY — Former Navy SEAL officer Eric Greitens was sworn into office Monday as Missouri governor, pledging to bring an outsider's perspective to a state that for the first time will be overseen by a GOP governor paired with supermajorities of Republicans in the Legislature.
He quickly took his first action, issuing an order that bans executive branch employees from accepting lobbyist gifts and prohibits governor's office personnel from lobbying his office if they later leave their jobs.
Greitens took the oath of office around noon in front of the Capitol building and a crowd of more than 6,000 people on a chilly, overcast day. The state's first Jewish governor placed a hand on a Bible once owned by a World War I veteran and smiled as he recited an oath to become Missouri's 56th governor. His wife, Sheena, held the Bible as their two young sons were held by grandparents.
"The people have spoken, and a new direction has been decided," Greitens said to applause in his inaugural remarks. "For decades, Missourians have talked about change. Now it's time to fight for that change."
Greitens replaces term-limited Democrat Gov. Jay Nixon, who served eight years as governor during a 30-year political career that also included time as attorney general and a state senator. Four other newly elected Republican statewide officials — Lt. Gov. Mike Parson, Treasurer Eric Schmitt, Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft and Attorney General Josh Hawley — also took the oath of office.
Huge U.S. and Missouri flags were draped in front of the Capitol columns and a production company erected a stage with large television screens on either side for those whose may otherwise not have a good view of the ceremony. A B2 bomber flew overhead as Greitens spoke his oath, which was immediately followed by a 19-gun artillery salute.
Security at the Capitol was near its tightest ever, a new emphasis from Greitens, who has brought metal detectors back to the building for the first time since 2003.
Greitens didn't outline specific policy proposals in his remarks, choosing to save those for a later day. But he pledged action to clean up a Capitol atmosphere that he had repeatedly derided while campaigning.
"This is the people's house. And to those who would trouble this house for their own selfish and sinful gain, here me now: I answer to the people, and I come as an outsider to do the people's work," Greitens said. "And I know that the people do not expect miracles, but they do expect results — and we will deliver."
While issuing his executive order, Greitens told reporters that it "sets a powerful example" of how he will "clean up the culture of corruption in Jefferson City."
The Republican-led Legislature also is acting quickly on ethics issues. A House committee held a rare early morning meeting Monday to endorse a bill that would expand Greitens' executive order by banning lawmakers from accepting most lobbyist gifts besides flowers and honorary plaques.
Lawmakers also are expected to team with Greitens to enact a variety of GOP priorities that had been vetoed by Nixon, including a right-to-work bill barring mandatory union fees. A few people held signs near the back of the crowd at Greitens' inauguration, protesting against right-to-work.
Greitens also is expected to support efforts to cut down on government regulations, limit liability lawsuits in order to help businesses, enact stricter penalties for people who assault police and expand options for K-12 students' education.
Greitens began the day by attending an interfaith prayer service at St. Peter Catholic Church near the Capitol, where he hugged Nixon and his wife, Georganne.
In a break with tradition, Greitens skipped a parade to instead host a pre-inaugural ceremony honoring about 150 "heroes" from all walks of life, including law enforcement officers, teachers, farmers and veterans. Each one received a special coin and had the opportunity to pose for a picture with the new governor. Greitens said the event was intended to take the focus off "celebrities" and place it on "the best representatives of the Missouri people."
The inaugural celebrations are to end with an evening ball inside the Capitol, where the governor and first lady are to dance to the "Missouri Waltz." The event also is to feature country music singer Sara Evans. Greitens has not revealed how much the privately-funded inaugural festivities cost, but released a list 87 "benefactors" that include businesses such as Anheuser-Busch, Boeing and Wal-Mart.
Greitens, 42, grew up in the St. Louis area and joined the Navy after earning a doctoral degree in politics from Oxford University in England. He was wounded in a suicide truck bombing on his barracks while deployed in Iraq. He later founded The Mission Continues, a nonprofit that helps veterans transition to the private-sector through volunteer work, and became a professional public speaker and author.
Greitens is hardly the first governor to start a term promising change. Such claims actually are practically a given.
The theme of Nixon's first inauguration in 2008 was "A New Day for Missouri." Four years before that, former Republican Gov. Matt Blunt promised "to lead Missouri in a new direction," and four years earlier Democratic Gov. Bob Holden proclaimed "the beginning of a new vision: one bright future, one Missouri."
Greitens defeated Democratic Attorney General Chris Koster in the November election as part of a Republican sweep in which Missouri voters also picked President-elect Donald Trump and re-elected U.S. Sen. Roy Blunt. The only remaining statewide Democratic officeholder is Auditor Nicole Galloway, who was not on the 2016 ballot and had been appointed to the post in 2014 following the death of Republican Auditor Tom Schweich.