Parson taps GOP insider for seat on University of Missouri board of curators

The governor chose Todd Graves over another candidate recommended by the UM system president and Kansas City leaders

The University of Missouri-Columbia's iconic columns, remains of the school's first building, stand in front of Jesse Hall, which houses administrative offices. (University of Missouri photo)

Former Missouri Republican Party Chairman Todd Graves came out the winner Thursday in a tug-of-war over a seat on the University of Missouri Board of Curators that pitted partisan power against university politics.

Gov. Mike Parson appointed Graves, former U.S. Attorney and brother of U.S. Rep. Sam Graves, to replace Democrat Phil Snowden in the 6th Congressional District seat on the nine-member board. If confirmed by the state Senate, Graves would serve until Jan. 1, 2027.

The Independent reported Monday that Graves appeared likely to get the appointment, after emails provided as part of a request under Missouri’s Sunshine Law revealed he was the only candidate who had been asked to provide fingerprints for a background check.

Parson named Keith Holloway of Cape Girardeau, owner of a shipping pallet brokerage, to the 8th District seat to replace David Steelman of Rolla. If confirmed, Holloway would be on the board until Jan. 1, 2025.

Parson did not announce appointments to the other two available seats. The terms of Julia Brncic, of the 1st District, and Maurice Graham, of the 2nd District, expired on Jan. 1.

In the months before the Graves appointment, Parson was urged to consider other candidates, with attorney Lisa Weixelman promoted by UM System President Mun Choi and Kansas City businessman Warren Erdman. Other candidates included former Missouri Farm Bureau President Blake Hurst, former state Board of Education member David Liechi of St. Joseph and Jeff Vogel, chief financial officer of Walsworth Publishing.

Weixelman was pushed as an appointee with a law degree and other ties to the University of Missouri-Kansas City campus. There are no graduates of any of the system’s four campuses other than the Columbia campus on the board currently, and the appointments Thursday did not change that.

Graves received his undergraduate agricultural economics and Holloway received an undergraduate business degree from the Columbia campus.

Republicans and Democrats have warned Parson that he faces a difficult confirmation fight by appointing Graves. In January, Senate Majority Leader Caleb Rowden, R-Columbia, said there were “potential issues from both sides” over Graves.

On Thursday, state Sen. Greg Razer, D-Kansas City, said he doesn’t think Graves’ path to confirmation has gotten any easier since January.

“It is my  understanding that he is still going to have somewhat of an uphill climb to get confirmed,” Razer said. “I think there are folks within the Missouri Republican Party who have issues with him. He is a partisan figure.”

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. And Graves had connections to the committee that received the $200,000.  

Graves is also likely to field questions about how his firm landed a contract with the Missouri Gaming Commission to investigate licensing practices, Razer said. The contract, signed by Graves’ law partner, Nathan Garrett, has brought almost $400,000 in revenue to the firm.

“I want to make sure we are not directing the university’s money here or there,” Razer said. “Those things are concerning.”