JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — The state health director was under fire by senators Monday over his leadership of the department after the governor appointed him over the summer.
Gov. Mike Parson chose Don Kauerauf to lead the Department of Health and Senior Services (DHSS) starting Sept. 1, but now it’s up to a Senate committee to approve his appointment. Some members of the upper chamber don’t agree with Parson’s choice.
Just hours before the rally, more than 150 people gathered in the rotunda to voice their concerns about Kauerauf, who previously served as the assistant director for the Illinois Department of Public Health until 2018 and retired Dec. 31, 2018, until his new role in Missouri.
He had previously said he does not like the word “mandate,” but Senators questioned his stance again Monday.
“Tell the committee about your position on mask mandates,” said Sen. Tony Luetkemeyer, R-Parkville.
“It’s been clear from the very beginning, against mandates,” Kauerauf responded. “They don’t work, and you shouldn’t recommend them.”
Members of the Senate Gubernatorial Appointments Committee spent nearly two hours questioning Kauerauf about COVID and abortion.
“What is your stance on life?” Sen. Mike Moon, R-Ash Grove, said.
“I’m pro-life,” Kauerauf said. “It’s responsible as public health people that once the child is born, the issue isn’t done. It’s a job to make sure that those kids grow up in an environment that they have the screenings, that they have access to health care. The answer is yes, I’m pro-life, but I’m also pro-public health.”
Kauerauf took over of DHSS after Dr. Randall Williams was asked to resign in April. Since being appointed, Kauerauf has reiterated multiple times, he’s against mandates but for masking and the vaccine.
“My position has been that as public health, our job has been to provide you with accurate information, it is between the individual and their physician to be able to make that determination should they get vaccinated or not,” Kauerauf said.
Outside the committee room, demonstrators help their signs saying, “If Kauerauf stays, then Parson goes,” and falsely accusing Kauerauf of supporting mandates.
Sen. Brian Williams complimented Kauerauf in front of the committee on his first five months in the role as DHSS director.
“I’m pleased with the efforts that you have shown since you’ve been in this role,” Williams said.
Parson released a statement Monday afternoon in response to those against his decision of appointing Kauerauf to lead the state health department, saying:
Back in July, after months of careful vetting and interviews, we selected Don to lead DHSS because he was the best-qualified candidate for the job. He 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.
During Don’s six months leading DHSS, he has shown nothing but dignified public service to the people of Missouri, and during this same period, Missouri has always resisted COVID-19 mandates, prevented federal government overreach, and fought COVID-19 vaccine requirements.
Don has helped lead our state through this final chapter of the COVID-19 pandemic and has respected Missourians’ constitutional rights every step of the way. During these past 22 months, my administration has never wavered in our opposition to COVID-19 mandates and will always stand for Missourians’ rights and freedoms, and Don is no exception.
To set the record straight, Don is strongly pro-life and anti-abortion and against government mandating mask-wearing and COVID-19 vaccinations. Those were his views and beliefs when I appointed him, and they remain today.
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.
If Senators or Missourians alike have any questions regarding why Don is the right choice to continue leading DHSS, my office is ready and available to address any concerns.
As of Monday, 58% of the state’s population 5 years and older is fully vaccinated, but Kauerauf says he would like to see that number at 75%.
“You’re quoted on the record saying that the level of vaccination rate in the state of Missouri is lower than you think it should be, by saying those things, were you implying or meaning to communicate that we need to be forcing individuals in the state of Missouri to get vaccinated in order to get those rates up?” Luetkemeyer asked.
“If people that are eligible and able to get a vaccine, I would love to see us at 75% because we know that would get us closer to immunity as a society,” Kauerauf said.
Kauerauf was one of 16 appointees in front of the committee Monday. Members did not vote Monday but meets again Tuesday, where the committee could approve the appointment, sending the nomination to the full Senate.