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Politically Speaking: David Steelman on the state of the UM System — and Missouri politics

David Steelman
Jason Rosenbaum I St. Louis Public Radio
David Steelman

David Steelman joins St. Louis Public Radio’s Jason Rosenbaum and Jo Mannies to talk about the health of the University of Missouri System, as well as the demise of former Gov. Eric Greitens.

Steelman is a veteran Republican public official who served as a state lawmaker in the 1980s. He’s currently the chairman of the University of Missouri System Board of Curators, which oversees campuses in Columbia, St. Louis, Rolla and Kansas City.

Steelman, an attorney who resides in Rolla, was first elected to the Missouri House in 1978. He was ultimately elected as minority floor leader before leaving the Legislature after the 1984 election cycle.

He’s kept a busy public profile since leaving the Missouri House. He ran unsuccessfully for attorney general in 1992 against Democrat Jay Nixon. Despite an acrimonious race, Nixon and Steelman became friends. In fact, former Gov. Nixon appointed Steelman to the Missouri State Employees’ Retirement System and to the Board of Curators.

Steelman’s family has been involved in politics for decades. His father, Dorman Steelman, served as a state representative and a judge. His wife, Sarah Steelman, served as state senator and state treasurer. She currently is the commissioner of the Office of Administration, which effectively runs Missouri state government.

Here’s what Steelman had to say during the show:

  • After following the UM System for nearly 40 years, Steelman believes that “top to bottom, this is the best leadership we’ve ever had — and leadership matters.” “I think the University of Missouri 30 years ago was great. I think we’re good, but we have a ways to go before we’re great again,” he said. “I think we owe it to the state of Missouri to be great, but I think we’re making great and tremendous progress.” (Editor’s note: The University of Missouri-St. Louis holds St. Louis Public Radio’s license.)
  • Steelman is especially bullish about UM System President Mun Choi, who just received a two-year contract extension. “And I not only think that when we’re done, he’ll be the best president the University of Missouri has ever had, I think he will be known as one of the true visionary leaders in American higher ed.”
  • He said lawmakers are less upset with the University of Missouri-Columbia than they were in 2015, when protests over race relations on campus grabbed national attention. “Let’s make it clear: What hurt [the university] was not the protests. It always surprises people, but frankly a university that doesn’t have a little protest going on is a pretty dull place to be,” he said. “What hurt [the university] was the ridiculous mishandling by some of our leaders.”
  • Both Sarah and David Steelman were prominent supporters of Greitens during the 2016 campaign. But David Steelman became dismayed with Greitens’ leadership style once he became governor. “I thought we were going to elect a great leader,” he said. “I think the biggest difference between him and Mike Parson is that I have no question Mike Parson loves the state of Missouri and its citizens more than he values his political career. Which is rare. There is no question in my mind that Eric Greitens valued his run for presidency more than the state of Missouri or its citizens.”
  • Steelman believes that Parson is off to a great start as governor. He’s especially happy that a political-action committee aimed at boosting Parson’s political prospects is disclosing its donors, which is a departure from Greitens’ nonprofit group that kept contributors secret.

Follow Jason Rosenbaum on Twitter: @jrosenbaum

Follow Jo Mannies on Twitter: @jmannies

Follow David Steelman on Twitter: @DSteelmanLaw

Music: “Walk” by Pantera

Jason is the politics correspondent for St. Louis Public Radio.
Jo Mannies has been covering Missouri politics and government for almost four decades, much of that time as a reporter and columnist at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. She was the first woman to cover St. Louis City Hall, was the newspaper’s second woman sportswriter in its history, and spent four years in the Post-Dispatch Washington Bureau. She joined the St. Louis Beacon in 2009. She has won several local, regional and national awards, and has covered every president since Jimmy Carter. She scared fellow first-graders in the late 1950s when she showed them how close Alaska was to Russia and met Richard M. Nixon when she was in high school. She graduated from Valparaiso University in northwest Indiana, and was the daughter of a high school basketball coach. She is married and has two grown children, both lawyers. She’s a history and movie buff, cultivates a massive flower garden, and bakes banana bread regularly for her colleagues.

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