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UM curator nominees fail to gain Senate approval

February 06, 2003
By: Heather J. Carlson
State Capital Bureau

JEFFERSON CITY- Two seats on the University of Missouri Board of Curators will be vacant due to Senate Republicans' refusal to approve Gov. Bob Holden's nominees.

The Senate did not act on the January nominations of Democrat Don Walsworth and Republican Cheryl Walker, which had an approval deadline of Feb. 8.

In response, Holden withdrew and then promptly resubmitted his nominations Thursday to extend the deadline for Senate approval.

The dispute over the curator appointments centers on Walker, as Republicans have questioned her party loyalty.

Senate President Pro Tem Peter Kinder, R-Cape Girardeau, said Walker supported Democrat Mel Carnahan in the 2000 race for the U.S. Senate.

"There's no evidence that she's ever supported a Republican," Kinder said.

But Jack Cardetti, a spokesman for Holden, said Walker is a legitimate Republican who would make an excellent addition to the Board of Curators. He added that the governor's office is frustrated that the Senate's Republican leadership is dragging out the nomination process.

"We would hope this time the Senate leadership would give [the nominees] a free and fair hearing," Cardetti said. "The university system is too important to play politics with."

Walker could not be reached for comment.

The Board of Curators oversees the University of Missouri system. Nine curators serve on the board -- one from each of the state's nine congressional districts. Curators must be nominated to the six-year term by the governor and approved by the Senate.

The Board of Curators is supposed to reflect the political makeup of the State Legislature, said David Russell, a spokesperson for the University of Missouri system. With the loss of Holden's nominees, four Democrats and three Republicans serve on the board.

Walsworth and Walker have been serving on the board since their nominations last month. Walsworth is president and CEO of Walsworth Publishing Company, Inc., of Marceline. Walker is an attorney with the St. Louis law firm Bryan Cave, LLP.

Because Republicans did not approve the nominations by the Feb. 8 deadline, the two appointees will no longer be allowed to serve on the board until Senate approval is granted, Cardetti said.

What does this mean for the University of Missouri system?

Not much in the short term, according to Russell.

"We still have seven members on the board, and they have experience," he said.

But if the nomination process takes months, Russell said it could pose a problem.

The governor's office has received several letters in support of Walker including one from former Supreme Court Justice Ann Covington and one from Rep. Kathlyn Fares, R-St. Louis County.

In her letter Fares wrote, "Cheryl has excellent credentials for nomination to the post and as an African American Republican will be an asset for party representation."

When asked what she thought of Senate Republicans' concerns about Walker, Fares said she was unaware of any opposition to her nomination.

Although the governor has resubmitted his nominations, Kinder said he doesn't know whether the Senate will approve them.