JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. – Although John “Woody” Cozad has never served as an elected official in the state capacity, the lawyer and lobbyist from Kansas City may be the quintessential Missouri conservative based on his beliefs, his actions and his enthusiasm for the Republican party, which he still has even though he’s only 70.
“When I was fairly new to politics, Republicans were running statewide offices, and Democrats were running things in legislature,” he reflected “Now, it’s the opposite.”
Cozad was one of the people who made that possible when he was named the chairman of the Republican Party in 1995. He served in that capacity until 1999, just before Republicans took the over the Missouri Senate in 2000, and then the House by 2001. He was one of the leaders that made such a shift possible, but, to him, the revolution of sorts was a long time coming.
“What was going on was an evolution,” Cozad says. He cites the Democratic presidential nomination of George McGovern, a liberal Democrat, in 1972. “When the Democratic party lurched hard left, that was the beginning of a long, long road to a Republicans taking the state. The Democratic Party started losing touch with the kind of conservative Democrats that made up the majority of the party in Missouri.”
Cozad himself has undergone an evolution of sorts in that same period of time – not politically, but in the accumulation of his power on the right in Missouri. He first got active in politics going door-to-door for Christopher “Kit” Bond in his gubernatorial campaign in 1972.
That same year, Bond was elected governor of Missouri, and John Danforth, another prominent, young Republican, was re-elected as attorney general. Over the course of the next almost thirty years, Cozad says a gradual shift to the right occurred across the state.
However, Cozad and the Republicans helped themselves along the way. Cozad says the Republicans had a favorable district map in 1991 and another a decade later. The introduction of term limits to the Missouri legislature also helped out the Republicans because so many of the Democrats in the House and Senate were incumbents.
“The problem with the old system was a problem of arrogance,” Cozad says. “They didn’t care what you wanted. They knew come election time they were going to get elected. You couldn’t get them out of office with a stick of dynamite.
“Term limits came in and another round of redistricting took place. All that shifting that had gone on actually showed up at the polls because a lot of incumbents couldn’t run anymore. Then, this Republican running for that seat had a chance of winning it.”
However, despite his conservative background, Cozad’s two greatest moments of pride through his work in public office include initiating a tax and working for one of the largest recipients of the state’s taxpayer funds.
In 1991, he was appointed to the University of Missouri Board of Curators, where they made George Russell the president of the system.
“The smartest thing we did was hire George,” he said. “The second smartest thing is that we backed him up.”
In his six-year tenure, Cozad, Russell and the other curators raised faculty salaries from the lowest among all Association of American Universities schools to an average rate, they computerized the UM system and took on $150 million in unfunded maintenance and turned that number into a zero by the time they left.
Before that, Cozad was appointed to the Missouri Highways and Transportation Commission and was a large proponent of the state’s first fuel tax increase since 1951. He championed a statewide initiative that raised the fuel tax by four cents on the gallon, and at the same time, the state legislature raised the fuel tax six cents on the gallon. Cozad says that increase helped the state build a lot of highways and maintain a lot of roads.
Now, he says MoDOT needs an influx of revenue once again.
“Anybody who thinks they’re living high on the hog over there isn’t paying much attention; they laid off 20 percent of their staff, nobody likes to lay off their staff,” he said, noting that in private businesses, laying people off is normal, but that in government, it signals a problem. “In government, they don’t [lay people off], they come to ask you for more money. They’re squeezing pennies over there and something needs to be done.”
Cozad advocates a multipronged attack on the lack of funding, including turning Interstate 70 and Interstate 44 into toll roads and another fuel tax incentive.
While he does not hold the same positions he used to, Cozad is still a fierce advocate of Missouri conservatives. He will continue his work as a lobbyist at his own firm, Cozad Company Government Relations, representing organizations and businesses like the Missouri Bar, the CNS Corporation, the Cass County Fire Protection District, and Grow Missouri. But he will always have his same conservative principles, and he sees the best of a state he has called home his entire life.
“The state of Missouri has turned upside down in my lifetime and so has the country,” he reflects. “Institutionalized corruption started in this country in the early 70s and is a function of the growth of government. Bribery and extortion become institutionalized. Despite what they tell you in Missouri, I don’t believe it has happened here.”
FEATURED PHOTO: WOODY COZAD, PHOTO/RUCKUS, KCPT