Governmental Relations and a New Administration; MSU’s Approach

Dec 16, 2016

Missouri’s newly elected officials and the people they represent will learn a lot about each other as the state’s legislative session gets underway next year. For many entities, that relationship-building has been ongoing for some time.

Missouri State University President Clif Smart says his team has been in talks with those inside Governor elect Eric Greitens’ camp. According to Smart, partnerships with outgoing Gov. Jay Nixon were key in elevating the value of higher education in the state. He’s hoping to achieve the same support with a Greitens Administration.

“[We want] to show him that the public institutions in Missouri, two years and four years, are great assets for our state. And we can be assets in his agenda,” says Smart.

Missouri capitol in Jefferson City
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He says the school wants to be a part of the discussion on topics like college affordability and access and workforce development.

“So it’s a hand-in-glove fit and we’re working together, not fighting each other moving forward.”

Smart says he’s hopeful that a close relationship can be established with the governor-elect.

To help maintain that dialog and follow the legislative actions impacting the university, MSU has many resources in place at the statehouse and in Springfield. It employs two lobbyists based in Jefferson City, Jerry Burch and Scott Marrs. Back home, a roughly 10-member government relations team is headed by Smart’s chief of staff, Ryan Debeof.

Smart says the university also tries to influence policy through the various organizations that it’s a part of. MSU is among many local institutions that make up the Springfield Metro Partnership, as well as the chamber, city, Ozarks Technical Community College and others. As head of the Council on Public Higher Education, Smart helps facilitate dialog with legislators from that capacity also.

Each legislative session brings some unpredictability, which Smart says makes the process “exciting and challenging.” On any particular day, officials may have hours, not days, to react.

“Often I’m calling people on the phone; our legislators. They’re very receptive… Doesn’t mean they always do what I suggest but we have good dialog.”

He uses last year’s debate on a campus gun carry bill as an example. Smart says the university was engaged every day during that time, often tracking the issue down to the final minute as the bills worked through the legislative process.  

While the school may not always get want it wants, maintaining and establishing new government relations is a big factor.

“We’re viewed as a good partner and someone who wants to come to the table and have conversations, not just be obstructionists or not just be ideologues on a particular thing. And that really has raised our influence as we’ve grown.”

Above, hear Smart's full conversation with KSMU as part of the monthly Engaging the Community program.