Board picks help Missouri governors push policy change

December 16, 2017

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) — History is repeating itself in the Missouri governor’s office as Gov. Eric Greitens employs a tactic also adopted by predecessors: using his power of appointment to stack boards and commissions to push policy changes.

Greitens has drawn sharp criticism for replacing State Board of Education members with his own appointees as he tries to replace the state’s top education official, who was well-liked by both education leaders and some lawmakers.

Greitens didn’t have the authority to fire former Commissioner Margie Vandeven, so instead he named sympathetic appointees to the board who did. When some of his appointees voiced opposition or voted against his plans, Greitens replaced them.

The move raised eyebrows in education circles and among some lawmakers, but it’s not the first time a governor has used the power of appointments to enact broad changes.

A little more than a decade ago, former Gov. Matt Blunt — like Greitens a Republican, veteran and exercise lover who woke early to get in workouts — shook up the membership of the state’s student loan management board, the Missouri Higher Education Loan Authority.

Blunt wanted to sell off the board’s assets to pay for his higher education initiatives, but he met pushback from the agency’s executive director. The board in 2006 voted to fire the executive director, with the deciding vote coming from a member appointed by Blunt just a few months earlier.

Jason Crowell, a former Republican state lawmaker whom Greitens appointed to another state board, cited Blunt’s work with the student loan agency as one example of past governors’ influence on policy through appointments.

It’s Greitens’ “constitutional responsibility and duty” to fill boards and commissions, Crowell said. Greitens also has had more opportunities to put his people in power because former Gov. Jay Nixon left so many appointments unfilled or expired.

“Gov. Greitens is not using these boards and commissions any more than my notable remembrance of how it went down under Gov. Nixon, Gov. (Bob) Holden (and) Gov. Blunt,” Crowell said. “They all do this, and by statute, that’s the way that it is.”

Expired terms allowed Greitens to replace all five of the gubernatorial appointees on the Missouri Veterans Commission, who this month fired the agency’s executive director at Greitens’ request following months of complaints about care at the St. Louis Veterans Home.

Greitens earlier this year appointed Crowell to the Housing Development Commission. Along with the governor, Crowell voted last month for a sweeping change to stop state tax credits for low-income housing projects.

Blunt eventually got the money he wanted for college building improvements and other higher education projects. But it came with a price. When lawmakers took Blunt’s appointments up for consideration, a senator blocked the pivotal loan authority appointee’s confirmation.

Crowell said Greitens likely will face similar pushback when the next legislative session begins in January, and Crowell said he doesn’t expect to be confirmed.

Republican Sen. Gary Romine in a statement said Greitens’ numerous appointments show he’s “manipulating and playing politics” with the education board, and the senator has said he’s ready to block Greitens’ education board appointees.

“Citizen appointees are not puppets of the governor,” Romine said.

In a Thursday interview with The Associated Press, Greitens appeared unfazed about the possibility that his appointees might not get confirmed and said his administration has “often done things that have made some lawmakers mad.”

“My concern always is to do what’s right for kids, do what’s right for veterans (and) do what’s right for the people of Missouri,” Greitens said. “We’re going to continue to do that, and if it upsets some of the insiders, then so be it.”

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