Missouri Gov. Mike Parson on Wednesday picked a veteran member of the General Assembly to be the state’s next treasurer.
By most accounts, Scott Fitzpatrick of Cassville is well qualified. Fitzpatrick is the House budget chairman who started his own dock repair business while still in high school. He was elected to the House at 25.
“This individual has more experience and knowledge of the state budget than any other elected official,” Parson said in introducing Fitzpatrick.
Parson has had the rare opportunity to appoint three statewide officials during his brief tenure. When he ascended to the governor’s office, he picked state Sen. Mike Kehoe to be lieutenant governor. He tapped treasurer Eric Schmitt to become Missouri’s next attorney general after Josh Hawley won a seat in the U.S. Senate.
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With the treasurer’s slot open, Parson elevated the 31-year-old Fitzpatrick.
Kehoe and Schmitt are well respected, too. But following the Fitzpatrick announcement, there was grumbling in the Capitol. All three of Parson’s picks are white males, and in an era when diversity is more valued than ever, the appointments as a group understandably disappointed some.
Parson was braced to respond to questions about that lack of diversity at the news conference where he introduced Fitzpatrick, but the issue wasn’t raised. Some in the statehouse had speculated that after naming Schmitt and Kehoe, the governor would pick a woman.
The Missouri Legislative Black Caucus, meantime, had lobbied for Parson to pick Republican state Rep. Shamed Dogan, an African American from Ballwin and a Yale graduate, to be treasurer. “He earned the respect of his colleagues on both sides of the aisle,” Rep. Steven Roberts, the caucus chair, said in a letter to Parson.
But during a recent St. Louis Public Radio interview before naming Fitzpatrick, Parson seemed to pre-empt criticism that he wasn’t focused enough on diversity.
“At the end of the day, you’ve also got to figure out who is the most qualified person for the job,” Parson said. “And look, we want to make sure — regardless of what the race is, or regardless if it’s a female or male — are they qualified to do the job, and can they handle the position? And that’s one of the things we’ve looked at. When we picked the (state) school board members, that’s the way we looked at it: ‘Who has the best resume out there?’”
Parson interviewed two women lawmakers, Jean Evans and Holly Rehder, for treasurer. But given the opportunity to rectify a long-standing wrong, Parson passed, and that’s troubling, particularly at a time when the issue has become a persistent concern for the GOP nationally. One metric that sums up the current political landscape: Democrats will have 89 women in the U.S. House come January, compared to just 13 for the Republicans.
Of the 33 members of Parson’s office staff, 19 are men, 14 are women, and one of the women is Hispanic, the governor’s office said. Of his 16 cabinet officials, 10 are women, six are men. One of the women is African American and another is Asian American.
The three statewide appointees, though, are far more visible. Parson picked candidates who can do the job, sure. But in selecting Schmitt, he removed a possible 2020 gubernatorial rival. By picking Fitzpatrick, Parson took a representative known for occasionally standing up to Parson on budget issues out of the mix in the House. There’s no question these appointments will make the governor’s life easier.
In the future, Parson should make diversity a priority and consider the strong message of inclusion such a move would send to the rest of Missouri, where, it bears repeating, no black candidate has ever won statewide election.