By Eli Yokley
— Shane Schoeller, a former legislative official turned candidate for Missouri secretary of state, will take over as executive director of the Missouri Republican Party.
The announcement was expected late Thursday morning, when Chairman Ed Martin was expected to hold a conference call with members of the Republican state board.
Schoeller, who most recently served as speaker pro tem in the Missouri House of Representatives, hails from southwest Missouri, an important Republican stronghold and an even more important area as the party begins to rebuild from its problems in statewide races during 2012.
Martin — who ran for attorney general last year — became close with Schoeller during the 2012 campaign, where they built a trust relationship on the campaign trail, with Martin campaigning along-side Schoeller, even throughout Schoeller’s three-way primary.
Martin took office on Jan. 5, and Lloyd Smith — the last executive director — left his position a week later, opening the application process. That is when the party received nearly 50 applications from across Missouri and the nation, and the list was narrowed down to about 15 in early February.
From there, Martin sought input from all the various factions of the party, including Tea Party groups and establishment leaders — including House Speaker Tim Jones and Senate President Pro Tem Tom Dempsey.
At Lincoln Days in St. Louis, Martin himself sat down to interview five candidates. Many were there, but that was where Schoeller stood out. He had a hospitality suite for attendees and was an active participant in the weekend’s festivities, allowing him a cloak of secrecy when meeting with Martin and committee members.
Party insiders believe that Martin, sometimes a self-understood larger-than-life figure, was truly trying to make an unselfish decision in choosing Schoeller, who has a real history of working on the ground in politics from his work with Kit Bond, John Ashcroft, and Matt Blunt. The decision could likely be the biggest decision Martin has to make as chairman, and he wanted to do it right.
While Martin and the party leadership considered several other names to fill the post, the settled on Schoeller not only for his ability to reach out to the various factions of the party, but also for the fact that he’s not a campaign consultant. As the party readies for the 2014 reelection campaign of state Auditor Tom Schweich, a vocal critic of the influence of consultants, the party may begin to focus more on in-house advice than advice from the outside.
Martin hired his own political director, Steve Michael, who ran his 2010 congressional race and 2012 campaigns. The party has also brought on Michelle Wright, who leads the campaign finance operation at Veritas Public Relations, to help boost the party’s fundraising over the next few months. Additionally, Kurt Witzel, an executive at Anheuser-Busch who decided against a run for state committee last year, is expected to soon be approved to the state executive committee as finance chairman.