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Roy Blunt named 2021 Statesman of the Year

‘The impact of his service will be felt for generations.’

If you ask any of his colleagues — from his time in the Missouri Legislature to the U.S. Senate and more — they’d say Senator Roy Blunt is one of the hardest-working individuals they’ve ever encountered. 

But if you ask Blunt, he feels as though he’s never worked a day in his life. 

That’s certainly not because he hasn’t put in countless hours serving Missouri in a variety of aspects, making an indelible generational impact on the state. But he loves his home and the people of Missouri and has a tenacious dedication to its future. 

With that in mind, The Missouri Times is proud to recognize Senator Roy Blunt, who has decided not to run for re-election this year, as our 2021 Statesman of the Year. 

“Naming Senator Roy Blunt as our Statesman of the Year was the shortest decision in the history of the event,” The Missouri Times publisher Scott Faughn said. “He embodies everything that we hope for in Missouri. On the Mount Rushmore of Missouri senators, there are obviously the names of Thomas Hart Benton and Kit Bond. Today, there is equally no question that Roy Blunt is on that list.” 

“Senator Blunt is an accomplished leader, dignified public servant, and most importantly, a proud Missourian,” said Gov. Mike Parson. “Senator Blunt’s ability to always out-work and out-negotiate his opponents has served this state well throughout his extraordinary career. He has positively affected the lives of Missourians by delivering results in areas they care most about, including repairing our aging infrastructure, bringing new businesses and good-paying jobs to the state, cutting taxes, and preserving our great outdoors — just to name a few.” 

Parson continued: “Whether urban, suburban, or rural, Senator Blunt works for all Missourians, and we congratulate him on earning this well-deserved recognition.” 

Blunt, 72, was born in Niangua in Webster County and grew up on a dairy farm — learning from a young age that dedication to hard work and service that has encapsulated his work ethic. He attended Southwest Baptist University, becoming the first person in his family to graduate from college. (He would later lead Southwest Baptist University as its president.)

A life-long history buff, Blunt’s foray into politics and government was almost inevitable.

Blunt was 23 years old when Kit Bond became Missouri’s chief executive. Bond had vowed to tackle vacancies in county government, and the Greene County committee selected Blunt to serve as its county clerk. It was a position where Blunt was able to grow and learn about all factions of government, from local to state to federal, and a duty he still looks fondly upon. 

At the time, Greene County was the largest in Missouri that just had one person handling all the election responsibilities. The next job where one person had that much responsibility was the secretary of state — which was easily Blunt’s next move. 

“I really never had much of a long-term plan [for politics], but it’s worked out pretty well,” Blunt said.

Blunt spent 12 years in county office, eight years as Missouri’s secretary of state, and 14 years in the U.S. House. By the end of his term, Blunt will have served as a U.S. senator for 12 years as well. 

“In all four of those opportunities, I’ve had the chance to do them long enough so I feel like I was really grounded in what needs to happen at those various levels of government and what should happen at those various levels of government,” Blunt said. 

The laundry list of Blunt’s accomplishments runs the gamut from infrastructure to mental health care to agriculture and more.

Blunt was instrumental in helping Missouri secure an $81.2 million Infrastructure for Rebuilding America (INFRA) grant in 2019, triggering an additional $300 million in state bonding funds to replace the Rocheport Bridge in central Missouri. Dubbed the “lynchpin of America,” the bridge is a critical pathway for freight and commercial vehicles. 

As a member of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Defense, Blunt has secured funding for Fort Leonard Wood, Whiteman Air Force Base, and the Missouri National Guard. 

And as politics have gotten increasingly partisan, Blunt hasn’t shied away from finding commonality with his colleagues on the other side of the aisle to better both Missouri and the country. 

He worked with West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin to pass the HIRE Vets Act within the Department of Labor to award employers based on their contributions to veteran employment. Six employers in Missouri were recognized in 2021 with a special medallion for their work to employ veterans. 

He partnered with New York Senator Kirsten Gillibrand to pass a law in 2017 to allow for more flexibility and stability for military families by allowing them to move early or remain for an extended period of time at their current station when a service member receives a new assignment. 

Blunt has also been a leader in health and mental health care access and funding. He worked with Michigan Senator Debbie Stabenow, a Democrat, on a 2014 law developing the most significant expansion of community mental health and addiction services in decades. The law established Certified Community Behavioral Health Clinics, providing services such as around-the-clock crisis care, screenings, risk assessments, and diagnoses. 

Stabenow credited Blunt’s leadership and partnership as “crucial” for securing funding for the clinics. In the most recent funding bill, $250 million for these clinics was included as well as an additional $850 million in COVID-19 emergency funding. 

“Senator Blunt and I have become very, very good friends,” Stabenow said. “He’s just been an incredible partner. He and I work together very closely and share a very strong vision in making sure that we fund behavioral health, mental health, and addiction the same way we fund physical health and really take away the stigma for folks that are needing to reach out and get help.” 

Stabenow said when she heard Blunt would not seek re-election to the Senate, she asked him to reconsider. 

“I wish him the very, very best,” Stabenow said. “I could not have asked for a better partner with more commitment, wanting to get this done. He cares, and he’s been able to really deliver for Missouri, and I think he has a lot to be proud of.” 

Another achievement for Blunt is his work to successfully restore year-round federal Pell Grants for undergraduate students enrolled in community colleges and universities after the Obama administration had changed access to the academic year only. 

Blunt is confident in the economic development potential Missouri has, particularly when it comes to transportation and agriculture. He said Missouri is poised to become a global leader when it comes to agriculture research, noting the moving of USDA jobs from Washington, D.C., to Kansas City in 2019. And St. Louis is in place to become a hub for geospatial intelligence (GEOINT). 

“I think it should be a great time for our state,” Blunt said. “In ag research and health research and location sciences, I think we’re well-positioned to see lots of things happen because those things have happened.” 

Missouri Farm Bureau President Garrett Hawkins said his organization will noticeably miss Blunt’s leadership on agriculture and rural issues in Washington, D.C. 

“I remember early in my Farm Bureau days we worked with then-Congressman Blunt to ensure continued availability of a fumigant used in grain handling and storage. It was a very technical matter, but he immediately went to work on agriculture’s behalf and resolved the issue,” Hawkins said. “He answered the call back then, and he has continually answered the call as he has represented all Missourians.” 

“From securing critical funding for waterways to bringing awareness to the need for more mental health resources, he is known for tackling challenges — large or small — and working across party lines to deliver results. Our state is stronger because of his leadership and the efforts of his team. I’m proud to call him my friend and to join others in thanking him for his service.” 

Congressman Sam Graves praised Blunt as the “father of the modern Republican Party in Missouri” and said his generosity goes hand-in-hand with his political acumen. 

“Roy’s servant heart and unwavering friendship makes him my best counsel when I face tough political challenges, negotiate consequential legislative solutions, and work to strengthen our party,” Graves said. “I am certain that Roy’s life of service to Missouri and the Republican Party does not end with his achievements in the U.S. Senate.”

When news of his decision not to seek re-election hit, former President Donald Trump said: “I very much appreciate and respect the career of Senator Roy Blunt of Missouri. … Congratulations to the entire Blunt family and to Roy on a wonderful career!” 

Still others have offered their gratitude and highlighted his multitude of accomplishments for Missouri upon his recognition of Statesman of the Year. 

Congresswoman Vicky Hartzler: “It has been a pleasure working with Senator Roy Blunt. He is known for getting things done, and I have appreciated his support as we have partnered to help Missourians. Whether it was passing legislation to help expand mental health services for rural youth or working with the Special Olympics or supporting a grant to help build a new bridge across the Missouri River at Rocheport, he has put the people of Missouri first and been a champion for them. He will be missed.” 

Congressman Billy Long: “Roy is a class act and a statesman. Abby and Roy have been great friends to Barbara and me and a real asset to us during our time in Congress. His office is always open to any Missourian in town.” 

Congressman Blaine Luetkemeyer: “Missouri has been so fortunate to have a champion like Roy fighting for our state’s values and priorities in Washington, D.C., for nearly four decades. He has truly dedicated his life to making Missouri the best it can be, first as a history teacher to later becoming one of the leading Republicans in the U.S. Senate. Roy is retiring from his official role, but I know he’ll never stop advocation for our state. I wish him the best of luck in his future ventures and look forward to many more years of friendship.”

Congresswoman Ann Wagner: “Roy always worked on behalf of all of us in Missouri with incredible honor and integrity. He showed up for our great state every day and has been ever-present, working on important issues like community health centers and supporting the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency. It has been an honor to work with and learn from him in Congress, and I am grateful to call him a dear friend.”

Congresswoman Cori Bush: “When I first got to Congress, Senator Blunt reached out almost immediately and walked over to my office to visit and discuss St. Louis’ needs. He mentioned that he remembered me from my time protesting at his office as a St. Louis activist. The fact that the senior senator from our state would reach out to me to collaborate — despite our many policy disagreements — showed me he had an interest in working together on issues where we do agree. In our conversation, I told him about my mission to save lives and advance the most urgent needs of the people of St. Louis, and I’m proud to have found opportunities to partner with Senator Blunt to put St. Louis’ interests first. Last fall, we were able to team up to deliver $33.2 million in federal investments for the Brickline Greenway in St. Louis City and West Florissant Avenue in St. Louis County — bringing in long-sought-after transportation funding directly to St. Louis. When I speak with constituents, they consistently tell me that Senator Blunt’s office is responsive to their casework and concerns, and I respect that deeply. I wish Senator Blunt the best in his retirement.”

Congressman Sam Graves: “Through dogged determination and unwavering fight, he deserves full credit for building the Missouri Republican Party from the grassroots up by cultivating candidates, mentoring officeholders, and leveraging his own political power to help others succeed. At every turn of my political life, Roy Blunt has been equally generous with me, sharing his insight, wisdom, and political capital to support my elections; advocating for the committee assignments I needed to best serve my district; and, insisting that I was the best candidate for chairman of the U.S. House Small Business Committee and Republican leader of the U.S. House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. We have been a powerful team in directing federal transportation funding to Missouri and the 6th district, in particular. Our push for federal funding of the Rocheport Bridge replacement freed up money to repair a large number of aging bridges. For years, Roy and I have worked closely to help the East Locust Creek Water Project in Milan get off the ground and those efforts are finally coming to fruition, which will provide much-needed water to many Missourians. The examples of successful projects are countless and I’m proud of the work we’ve been able to do together to help our constituents.

Lt. Gov. Mike Kehoe: “Roy Blunt has dedicated his life to serving Missourians in capacities ranging from history teacher to university president and from county clerk to U.S. senator. In each capacity, he has acted with a calm and steady demeanor, in deference and adherence to the U.S. and Missouri constitutions, and with the principled convictions of the son of a dairy farmer. In times of turmoil, he has been a calm and steady voice of reason. In times of opportunity, he has acted with vigor and decisiveness. At all times, he has comported himself as a gentleman, listening to all sides and focusing on what is best for Missouri. If ever there is an example of a statesman, it is Roy Blunt. He is a friend, he is a mentor, and he is most deserving of this recognition.” 

Senate President Pro Tem Dave Schatz: “Public officials should be measured by results, not rhetoric. A true bridge builder, Senator Blunt is one of the few true leaders who remained focused on solving Missouri problems, even as Washington, D.C., has become a circus. The impact of his service will be felt for generations, and for that, Missourians should be forever grateful.” 

Senate Minority Floor Leader John Rizzo: “The title ‘Statesman of the Year’ may not be enough to encapsulate the generational impact Senator Blunt has had on our state and nation during his 50 years of public service. It will be a long, long time before we see another Republican from Missouri who matches the caliber and character of Roy Blunt. I sincerely thank the senator for his decades of service to the state of Missouri, and I wish him all the best in his well-earned retirement.”

Senate Majority Floor Leader Caleb Rowden: “When you look up ‘statesman’ in the dictionary, you’ll see a picture of Roy Blunt. Senator Blunt’s ability to balance policy and politics is unmatched, and each and every Missourian, whether they know it or not, is better off for it. His legacy is strong and will get stronger with time. Missouri is better off because of Senator Roy Blunt.”

House Majority Floor Leader Dean Plocher: “From the classroom to the halls of Congress, Senator Blunt has made a lasting impact as a public servant for our state and our country. His ability to find and build consensus to be an effective legislator and deliver for Missourians’ greatest needs makes him a rare individual in our politics. Our state and country, and those of us who follow in Senator Blunt’s steps, are better because of his service.”

Southwest Baptist University President and Professor of Leadership Rick Melson: “Throughout his decades of public service, Sen. Blunt has demonstrated the principles of servant leadership we hold so dearly at SBU. As a graduate and former president of the university, he has been a great friend to SBU and advocate for higher education in general. The impact of Sen. Blunt’s service to SBU, the state of Missouri, and the United States will be felt for generations to come.”