JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — In 1992, David Steelman ran against Gov. Jay Nixon for the office of Attorney General. A few months ago, Nixon formally nominated Steelman to the University of Missouri Board of Curators. This week, the Missouri Senate confirmed him.
As bloody as those who watched it remember Steelman’s race against Nixon, Steelman says Nixon “put aside” the race long ago, and that Nixon served as an “example” of how politicians can get along long after their rivalries end.
“A heated race shouldn’t keep you on the wrong side of each other,” Steelman said. “I’m grateful he’s let me work on state issues and I’m extremely humbled to have been nominated.”
“David is an accomplished professional, a respected public servant and proud University of Missouri alum,” Nixon said at the time he named Steelman. “I am confident his depth of experience and commitment to higher education will serve the students, faculty and staff of the University of Missouri well in his new role as a member of the Board of Curators.”
Because Steelman’s appointment was made during the interim between legislative sessions, the senate is required to confirm him in the first 30 working days they convene in Jefferson City. Steelman’s long history in Missouri politics along with his wife, Sarah, meant that he knew many of the senators. But those he’d never met articulated shockingly similar desires for the University, he said. Before his confirmation, Steelman had lengthy discussions with freshman Senator Dave Schatz, R-Franklin County and second-term Senator Maria Chappelle-Nadal, D-University City.
“What interested me is how they used different language, but the outcome of the conversations and the importance of university to their communities and constituencies were the same,” Steelman said. “It makes me think of the challenge for the University. It’s important to two very different communities in very different circumstances.”
Steelman has few enemies in state politics on either side of the aisle, which made his speedy confirmation — a process sometimes mired by political fights — a testament to his easy relationships with lawmakers.
“It is a benefit to the UM System to have a curator who understand the legislative process,” Sen. Jason Holsman, D-Kansas City, said. “David will be an asset to MU.”
“I’ve known David Steelman for over a decade both personally and politically,” said Rep. Caleb Jones, R-California. “I couldn’t think of anybody better to serve our land-grant university. He will bring a mastery of knowledge and commitment to Mizzou.”
Mizzou graduate and current U.S. Congressman, Jason Smith, said Steelman’s new post was a “tremendous” choice.
“I’m so proud and happy for my good friend David Steelman,” Smith said. “He will be a tremendous asset to the [University] system, and as a proud alum, I’m pleased he will be there to help guide my alma mater and represent the 8th district on the Board of Curators.”
Former senator and current consultant Franc Flotron served with Steelman in the General Assembly.
“David is one the shrewdest politicians that I’ve known in my 33 years in the state capitol,” Flotron said. “The university and the state should be pleased to have him in their service.”
Steelman says he has a few things he’d like to work on as a new member, but that he wants to “ask more questions” first. More than once, he says, he’s chased down an issue only to find it’s been addressed. Previous Boards, as well as current members, have done a “remarkable” job of furthering the school.
Steelman says there’s an occasional misconception that lawmakers furthest from the university aren’t impacted by it. But Steelman says the school’s vast reach across the state is easy to see.
“Everybody is a lot closer to the university in a way or the other than maybe they realize,” Steelman said. “The delta center in the bootheel, a research center in Crawford County, there are places everywhere around the state. [The school] is excellent at plant science and this is an agricultural state, and that work is critical. We have a fantastic college of agriculture. Just because you’re not close to campus doesn’t mean you’re not close to the University of Missouri.”
Collin Reischman was the Managing Editor for The Missouri Times, and a graduate of Webster University with a Bachelor of Arts in Journalism.