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McKnelly takes unexpected road to Jefferson City


If you told Heather McKnelly three years ago that she would work out of an office in the Missouri State Capitol, she probably would not have believed you. The legislative assistant for Reps. Elaine Gannon and Lyndall Fraker says while she did her best to stay informed on a political level, she never considered it as a career option.

“I had always kind of followed things and stayed in the know, and I have always been a pretty big Republican,” she says, citing her family’s political history. “It was definitely not anything I thought I would ever do.”

After graduating from Truman State University with a degree in exercise science and working as an athletic trainer for a few years, the Jefferson City native found herself looking for a new job. When she started looking for an employer in 2014, her next door neighbor suggested she get try getting involved in a political campaign.

Fortunately for her, McKnelly’s next door neighbor is Jon Ratliff, the former political director of the Missouri House Republican Campaign Committee. He got her on Rep. Chuck Basye’s first campaign, a race which he won. After his victory, Basye hired her to become her legislative assistant.

“When the campaign opportunity presented itself, it was a nice way to get a little money,” she says. “But once I got involved in it, it felt like that was where I belonged.”

When Casey Burns, the former LA for Gannon, began working as the political director for the HRCC, McKnelly took over Burns’ position for the two representatives. She also continues to campaign for conservative candidates, especially in Central Missouri with her support of Rep. Caleb Rowden and Basye in their races this year.

Heather McKnelly with one of her cattle
McKnelly with one of her calves

Beyond her work in the Capitol, McKnelly is a member of the CrossFit community, heading to the gym four times a week to “throw weights around” especially after tough days in the Capitol. She also has a second job as the part owner of a cattle farm in Chamois, Missouri. The farm has over 100 young cattle to raise – the farm sells their livestock to feeder companies when the cattle are one year old.

“There’s always something that needs to be done, whether there’s an issue with a cow or a fence has gone down or with all of the flooding we’ve had,” she says. “Things tend to get messy.”

A little over two years into her career in politics, and she feels right at home.

“It wasn’t that I was unhappy before, but I’m definitely happy here at the Capitol,” she said.

McKnelly enjoys witnessing the legislative process play out and cites the people she has met in the Capitol with why she feels so content.