Gov. Jay Nixon appointed former St. Louis police chief Daniel Isom on Wednesday to be the next director of the Missouri Department of Public Safety.
The governor made the announcement at news conferences in St. Louis and Lee’s Summit as Isom looked on.
“A tough, smart cop,” Nixon said.
Isom, 48, replaces Jerry Lee, 66. Nixon said Lee had decided to retire after more than four decades in law enforcement.
In a prepared statement, Lee thanked Nixon for the opportunity to run the department.
The Isom appointment comes two weeks after Nixon was roundly criticized for his reaction to the police shooting and subsequent disturbances in Ferguson, Mo., and the perceived lack of racial and gender diversity in his administration.
If Isom is approved by the Missouri Senate, he will be the only African-American in Nixon’s cabinet.
In Lee’s Summit, though, the governor rejected any link between Ferguson’s racial challenges and Isom’s appointment to the state’s top law enforcement job.
“I will continue to work to make sure that the people who serve the state of Missouri reflect the great, rich diversity of our state,” the governor said.
Earlier Wednesday in Kansas City, Sen. Claire McCaskill — like Nixon, a Democrat and a Missourian — said she applauded Nixon’s decision to diversify his administration.
But she also criticized his earlier record on appointments, calling it “unfortunate” and suggesting a possible diversity motive for Wednesday’s choice.
“Last Friday he was asked if he had any African-Americans in his cabinet,” she said. “Five days later, we have an African-American in his cabinet.”
Nixon tried to prevent Isom from answering reporters’ questions at the Lee’s Summit news conference, saying the appointee would have time to talk with the media and the public at a later date.
Eventually, though, Isom did make an unscripted comment.
“I spent 24 years in law enforcement,” he said. “I have a bachelor’s degree, two master’s degrees and a Ph.D. … I would say I’m pretty qualified to take this job.”
Isom will oversee the Missouri Highway Patrol, the Missouri National Guard, the State Emergency Management Agency and the Capitol police, among other duties.
The appointment takes effect Sept. 1.