Former GOP chair, Farm Bureau leader vie for seat on University of Missouri curators
Former Republican Party chairman Todd Graves is one of three people seeking Gov. Mike Parson’s nomination for a seat on the University of Missouri Board of Curators.
Graves, former Missouri Farm Bureau President Blake Hurst and St. Joseph accountant David Liechti have each called lawmakers seeking support for the northern Missouri seat currently held by former state Sen. Phil Snowden.
State Sen. Dan Hegeman, R-Cosby said he’s spoken to all three.
“I like them all,” Hegeman said.
As a land-grant university, the Columbia campus operates extension programs throughout the state and is home to the College of Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources. A curator who understands rural issues is important, Hegeman said.
“I am partial to agriculture,” Hegeman said. “I think there should be a strong ag voice on the Board of Curators.”
None of the hopefuls returned messages from The Independent seeking comment on their pursuit of the seat.
The seat held by Snowden is one of four on the nine-member board available for Parson to fill with a new appointment. Snowden’s term expired Jan. 1, but like most state boards, he will continue in his post until a successor is named and confirmed.
The next meeting is scheduled for Feb. 6.
Parson’s office could not immediately provide details on who has applied for the available seats or when he may act on the appointments.
Curators serve six-year terms and govern the system that has campuses in Columbia, Rolla, St. Louis and Kansas City. It is an unpaid position.
Under state law, no more than two curators can be appointed from any of the state’s eight congressional districts.
Snowden lives in the 6th Congressional District, which covers the northern part of the state between the Missouri and Mississippi Rivers and reaches into Jackson County in the Kansas City area.
The other three seats where curators are serving expired terms are the 1st District, held by Juila Brncic, the 2nd District, held by Maurice Graham, and the 8th District, held by David Steelman.
The terms for Brncic and Graham expired Jan. 1. Steelman’s term expired Jan. 1, 2020, but Parson has refrained from naming a replacement.
State law also requires that no more than five curators can be members of the same political party. Graham and Snowden are Democrats, Brncic was appointed as an independent and Steelman is a Republican.
The current board has four Democrats, three Republicans and two independents. If Parson allows Steelman to remain on the board or re-appoints him to a new term, he could name Republicans to two of the other open seats.
The Independent has been unable to determine who, if anyone, has applied for the other open seats.
Former GOP Executive Director Jean Evans, in an interview Thursday, noted that eight of the current curators have degrees from the Columbia campus and the ninth, Brncic, did not attend the university.
“As someone who went to school at UMSL, I would like to see more representation from other campuses,” she said.
All three potential candidates for the Sixth District seat hold degrees from the Columbia campus. Graves received a law degree, Hurst received a degree in agriculture and Liechti received an accounting degree.
Graves is the lead partner in Graves Garrett LLC, a Kansas City law firm that also includes among its attorneys former acting U.S. Attorney General Matt Whitaker and Lucinda Luetkemeyer, who served as general counsel for former Gov. Eric Greitens and is married to state Sen. Tony Luetkemeyer, R-Parkville.
Graves is a former U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Missouri, and his brother is 6th District U.S. Rep. Sam Graves.
He would not be the first current or past party chairman to be appointed. Gov. John Ashcroft named Woody Cozad of Kansas City, a former GOP chairman, to the board when he was in office in the late 1980s, and Gov. Matt Blunt named then-GOP Chairman David Russell of Lebanon while he was in office from 2005 to 2009.
Graves was GOP chairman from 2017 to early 2019 and riled some in the party when it directed $200,000 to a committee seeking to overturn the 2018 anti-gerrymandering initiative known as Clean Missouri.
The spending left the party short of funds at the beginning of the 2019-2020 election cycle, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported.
Evans, who became executive director of the party in February 2019, declined to discuss the spending in an interview. But she told the Post-Dispatch at the time that the party would not put any more money into initiative campaigns.
“Financially that’s just not something we have the resources for,” she said. “It’s outside our mission. Our mission is to elect Republicans.”
Those decisions could play a role in whether Graves could be confirmed by the Republican-controlled Senate.
“I don’t think his confirmation would be rubber-stamped – potential issues from both sides,” Senate Majority Leader Caleb Rowden, R-Columbia, wrote in a text when asked about Graves.
Hurst is a farmer from the Tarkio area and was president of the Farm Bureau for 10 years before stepping down in December. As leader of the Farm Bureau, Hurst worked closely with Republican lawmakers on numerous issues, including the 2014 Right to Farm constitutional amendment, which Parson handled in the state Senate.
Liechti, who operates an accounting firm in St. Joseph, is a former chairman of the Missouri Western State University Board of Governors. He was appointed to that post by Gov. Jay Nixon and capped his term with the selection of a new president in 2019.
The Missouri Independent is a nonpartisan, nonprofit news organization covering state government, politics and policy.