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UM alumni form caucus

February 20, 2003
By: Valerie C. Green
State Capital Bureau

JEFFERSON CITY - In what amounts to a political alumni association, several state House members have formed the University of Missouri Caucus.

The petition seeking recognition as an official caucus was filed Tuesday with the House Ethics Committee.

Rep. Russ Carnahan, D-St. Louis, who attended the Rolla campus for his undergraduate studies and the Columbia campus for his law degree, said he created the caucus as a forum for information to pass between the university and legislators.

"We don't have a formal agenda, just a general concept to organize a group with a common area of interest and connection to the university," Carnahan said.

Forty one representatives who attended or graduated from any of the four University of Missouri campuses have signed onto the caucus. Another eight members whose districts include or adjoin university campuses have joined the group -- members Carnahan called "friends of the university."

Jim Snider, the university's chief lobbyist, said he had no part in forming the caucus. Carnahan said he did not consult with the university before starting the group.

"It will be a good way for the university to communicate with legislators," Snider said. "We are always looking for ways to share information."

Carnahan and other supporters said the caucus would focus on all issues of concern to the university system. Specifically, he expects to focus on funding issues and the proposal to change the name of Southwest Missouri State University to Missouri State University.

Rep Chuck Graham, D-Columbia, joined the group because his district borders the MU campus.

"The caucus provides a core group who have a key interest in supporting and defending the interest of the university," Graham said. "We want to focus on promoting the good thing the university does, not just budget issues."

The caucus is split along party lines with 22 Democrat and 19 Republican alumni members.

"We are geographically divided and evenly divided by party," Carnahan said. "It is good to have bipartisan support for issues that could have an impact on the university system."

Loyalty to his alums prompted Rep. Jim Guest, R-King City, to sign onto the caucus.

"I want to keep close ties to my school and to keep a focus on things that are important to it," said Guest, who graduated from the Rolla campus in 1962.

Rep. Otto Bean said the university is "near and dear to his heart" because he, his wife, his son and his niece have all graduated from the Columbia campus.

"I want to be part of the team to support the university," Bean said.

The governmental relations director for the Columbia campus, Marty Oetting, said he welcomed the caucus to the list of groups he works with.

"It is wonderful to have a group of legislators that want to support the university," Oetting said.