Mike Parson names veteran legislator, administrator to cabinet positions

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A veteran Republican legislator and a longtime state administrator were named to cabinet positions by Republican Gov. Mike Parson on Wednesday.

Gov. Parson announced Wayne Wallingford, a Republican member of the House of Representatives serving the 147th district in Cape Girardeau, was selected to be the director of Revenue. Wallingford also served eight years in the Missouri Senate. He replaces Joseph Plaggenberg, who was named acting director when Ken Zeller was selected as the Commissioner of the Office of Administration.

Valerie Huhn, who began working for the state in 2000 as an analyst in the Office of Budget and Planning, was named the Director of the Department of Mental Health. Huhn was named interim director in October and previously served in the Department of Health and Senior Services, the Office of Administration and the Department of Social Services.

Huhn replaces Mark Stringer, who is retiring next month after serving 24 years in the department, including the last seven as director.

Parson announced five changes his cabinet in October, less than a year after being re-elected governor.

“A little over two months ago, we made the decision to make some changes in the cabinet and it was the first big transition since our administration began,” said Parson, who became governor after the resignation of Eric Greitens in June 2018. “When most governors first become governor, they immediately choose a whole new cabinet. When I became governor, we chose a different path. We decided to keep people in place for the time being. But we made it clear that when changes needed to be made, they would be made. We are proud of the work our cabinet has done and the successes they achieved since day one of our administration.”

Wallingford served in the U.S. Air Force for 25 years. He was chief of the Intelligence Division in the United Kingdom and chief of the Electronic Intelligence Analysis Division in Hawaii. He was awarded the Silver Star, a Distinguished Flying Cross, the Air Force Commendation Medal for Heroism and 20 other medals, according to his biography on his House of Representatives site. After his service, he was Chief People Officer for McDonald’s of Southeast Missouri and also was an executive at Taco Bell.

Wallingford didn’t promise any immediate changes at the Department of Revenue. He said he will rely on his past management experience to make improvements.

“I usually take the first 90 days to study an organization to get to know the people,” Wallingford said. “You know the people in the front lines are the ones that really have the best ideas. So I want to meet with the people, listen to their ideas, look at the organization and then step back and see what I've learned. Then, I’ll start making improvements.”

When the 2022 legislative session begins, three districts won't have representatives. In addition to Wallingford's seat in Cape Girardeau, Rep. Becky Ruth, R-Festus, resigned her seat earlier this year to work in Parson's administration. The seat of Rep. Tom Hannegan, a Republican representing the 65th District, is vacant after he died of a stroke at age 51 in October.

Huhn expressed gratitude to Parson for proposing a 5.5% pay increase and a $15 per hour minimum base pay for state employees.

“These individuals have given so much of themselves every day and this is a great opportunity to show our appreciation,” Huhn said.

Huhn said her department's biggest challenge continues to be workforce shortages.

“Our biggest concern is the workforce delivery of support and treatment,” Huhn said. “It has been much harder over the last two years. The men and women who do this work have continued to deliver high-quality care during the pandemic with ongoing workforce shortages across the system that started well before the pandemic. The work they do is not easy and I'm so grateful for their sacrifices.”

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