BOLIVAR — Gov. Mike Parson announced his official bid for the 2020 gubernatorial race Sunday in what was, for the most part, an expected hometown campaign rally at Bolivar High School.

The event focused on Parson’s patriotism, conservatism and hometown pride — punctuated with shouts of “I like Mike!” and a crowd-rousing rendition of Lee Greenwood’s “Proud to be an American.”

However, the crowd’s rally cries and Parson’s speech were interrupted by shouts of another sort — “Shame on Mike!” — as protesters stood in the front row, blocking the crowd’s view, waving homemade banners and stopping the governor’s speech mid-sentence.

The banners read, “100,000 kids off Medicaid, why?” and “Shame on Parson!”

The Missouri Health Care for All group, according to a flyer handed to the BH-FP by one protester as she was escorted out of the BHS lobby, attended today’s event with one message — “Before you ask for Missourians’ votes, you must stop the Medicaid purge that continues to kick eligible children off Medicaid.”

The flyer said since Jan. 1, 2018, around 130,000 Missourians — including more than 100,000 children — have been dropped from their Medicaid health insurance.

“We need Gov. Parson to show us that he is a leader, by leading a focused, rapid, bipartisan effort to make sure our children are not losing the health care they need and deserve,” Jen Bersdale, executive director of Missouri Health Care for All, said on the flyer.

The group said it hopes Sunday’s protest “will give Gov. Parson the motivation to address this issue and protect our state’s most precious resource — our children.”

Requests for comment from Steele Shippy, Parson's campaign manager, were not answered as of Monday night.

As the group tried to stay inside the auditorium and continue protesting, the crowd of Parson supporters volleyed back with boos and chants of “U-S-A.”

“That’s pretty sad they didn’t find the exit,” Parson said, drawing laughter from the audience, once all the protesters — one of whom tried to run up the aisle but was stopped by a man in the crowd — were out of the auditorium.

Without missing a beat, Parson continued his speech as law enforcement moved the group to the school's lobby.

The protesters turned over their event badges and were walked out the school’s front doors by officers.

“We don’t want a disturbance continuing and disrupting the gathering, so they were escorted off the property,” Bolivar Police Chief Mark Webb said.

Webb said the protesters were released and could continue protesting in an assigned area.

“There were no citations, no enforcement action taken,” Webb said. “It’s just a difference of opinion. That’s America, isn’t it?”

‘American dream’

American pride was a theme shared by participants throughout Sunday’s event.

During his speech, Parson called his hometown, Bolivar, “the perfect place to tell you a story about the American dream.”

He touched on his local roots, military and law enforcement background, and his past as a small business owner. He talked about how he learned the values of hard work and common sense in the community he calls home.

"There's only one place in the world where someone from a small rural town with modest means could have the opportunities I have had," Parson said.

He said he’s running for office "to make sure everyone has the chance to pursue the American dream, to move Missouri forward with common sense, with honor and integrity."

Hitting on highlights from his current term as governor, Parson said "the Missouri economy is booming."

He also talked about a $1 billion investment in Missouri’s infrastructure, an end to a "pointless border war with Kansas," and a reorganization of Missouri’s government.

Rallying the crowd before Parson's entrance, former U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft — joined on stage at one point by Lt. Gov. Mike Kehoe, Missouri Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft, Missouri State Treasurer Scott Fitzpatrick and Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmidt — said he doesn’t "know if there was an election as crucial to the future of America as the next."

John Ashcroft said "there's something different, there’s something unique about our circumstance today” than in past elections during his lifetime.

“But make no mistake about it, freedom is in the balance. Liberty is on trial in America right now. And the American people are a jury, delivering a verdict. Do we want to continue to live in freedom?” John Ashcroft said. “... We are in the process of making America great again.”

Parson transitioned from the lieutenant governor’s office to the state’s top executive seat in June 2018 following the resignation of former Gov. Eric Greitens.

The Republican — who previously served as Polk County sheriff, 28th district state senator and 133rd district state representative — will face Missouri State Auditor Nicole Galloway, Democrat, in 2020. She formally announced her bid last month.

He is also challenged by Republican state lawmaker Rep. Jim Neely of Cameron. Neely announced his bid Wednesday, Aug. 28.

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