JEFFERSON CITY - Republican senators on Wednesday rejected Gov. Bob Holden's appointment to head the Labor and Industrial Relations Commission.
The Senate Gubernatorial Appointments Committee, in a vote along party lines, effectively put an end to Renee Slusher's stint as commission head, a position she has occupied since John Madigan's resignation in September.
"I am disappointed that a quality nominee, who would have represented all Missourians so well, has fallen prey to petty, partisan politics," Holden said in a statement released Wednesday.
Slusher was appointed between legislative sessions but had to be confirmed during the current legislature. She is the first person not confirmed by the Senate from more than 200 appointments brought to a vote during this session.
Senate President Pro Tem Peter Kinder, R-Cape Girardeau, who is co-chairman of the appointments committee, said Slusher's prior position as a board member of the Missouri Association of Trial Attorneys could cause her to be biased.
"There is a reason why businesses across this state rose up in an outcry, that we get somebody who is truly representative of the public and not representative of a narrow special interest group that is the plaintiff's bar, who make their living suing and appealing cases to this commission," Kinder said.
The commission, composed of three members, is responsible for overseeing the Department of Labor and Industrial Relations, and for hearing appeals involving workers compensation, labor standards and employment security claims. Typically, one member represents labor and another management, while the commission head casts the decisive vote.
"Mrs. Slusher's background disqualifies her to be...the swing representative on the commission," said Kinder.
In a statement published Wednesday, however, Holden said Slusher's record showed her to have voted an equal number of times with the industry representative as with the labor representative.
"[Republicans] took action that was obviously directed at MATA, the Missouri Association of Trial Attorneys, that had nothing to do with the candidate in front of them," said Michael Hartmann, the governor's chief of staff.
"Most of the questioning was related to her prior history, not to her record as the chairman of the Labor and Industrial Relations Committee," Hartmann said."I don't believe that that's the proper basis for making a decision."
"The candidate's record is one of fairness," Hartmann said.
However, Kinder said the economic climate and job market in Missouri were affected by the rulings of the commission.
"There is a relation between the rulings of this commission and costs of doing business in Missouri," he said.
Kinder gave the example of the Ford plant in Hazelwood, in the St. Louis area, which is threatened with closure and the loss of 2,600 jobs. He said the site was targeted because of higher production costs than in Louisville, KY, where a similar plant will remain operational.
"Part of those costs are workers comp costs that are threatening to get out of control in Missouri," Kinder said. "That's what this vote is all about."