Missouri Gov. Mike Parson’s recent nominees to Northwest’s Board of Regents — both of whom were appointed as independents to the Board with the maximum four Republicans already seated — have each donated to Republican causes in recent election cycles.
Stephen Coppinger, an independent from Kansas City, Missouri, and Shanda Durbin, an independent from St. Joseph, were nominated to the Board March 3 to fill the seats of former Regents Marilou Joyner, D-Kansas City, and George Speckman, I-St. Joseph, respectively. If confirmed, Coppinger would serve a full term ending in 2027, while Durbin, already confirmed by the Missouri Senate, will finish out the remaining two years left on Speckman’s term after he quietly resigned last March.
The Board’s bylaws permit up to four members from a given political party to sit on the University’s governing body. With four Republicans already in place, Parson, a Republican, instead nominated two independents with conservative donation histories.
Durbin, the director of human resources at Herzog Contracting in St. Joseph, gave $1,500 in October 2020 to a political action committee under the same name as her employer, according to The Center for Responsive Politics, a nonpartisan research group that tracks money in U.S. politics. More than 96% of the money Herzog Contracting PAC affiliates donated to candidates in the 2020 election cycle went to Republicans. Durbin, a 2010 Northwest graduate, said the PAC supports causes that benefit the various industries Herzog occupies.
“The goal of our PAC with our company is, you know, (to) support the industry,” Durbin said in a phone interview with The Missourian. “Support, you know — if we’re transportation, if we’re construction; we have a few different avenues. But if it’s something — whether it’s a party, or it’s a bill or whatever it may be — if it’s something that’s going to help assist our industry or our type of work … that’s something that we tend to get to more than looking at a party.”
Coppinger, the president and founder of Kansas City-based furniture dealership Impact Interiors, gave $500 to Josh Hawley’s U.S. Senate campaign in 2018, in which Hawley defeated incumbent Democrat Claire McCaskill. Both Hawley and Coppinger went to Rockhurst High School, a private Catholic, Jesuit school in Kansas City.
In an interview with The Missourian, Coppinger described himself as mostly nonpolitical altogether, guided more by his lived experiences than any party affiliation. A 1998 graduate of Northwest, he said he was invited to a campaign party by a friend and fellow Rockhurst alumnus and felt obligated to donate to Hawley’s campaign.
“I mean, I don’t think that changes my outlook on life,” Coppinger said in a phone interview. “I think Josh Hawley — in his recent portrayal of himself — is not who I would support anyways.”
It’s unclear if Parson’s office was aware of the nominees’ donation histories when he nominated Durbin and Coppinger to the Board earlier this month. The governor’s office did not respond to The Missourian’s media request including specific questions about Parson’s intent in nominating Durbin and Coppinger.
Reached by email, Kelli R. Jones, the governor’s communications director, said only, “I do not have any record on the official side about political donation history.” Several follow-up emails seeking clarification on whether or not Parson’s office was aware of the donor history went unreturned, though state Sen. John Rizzo, a Democrat from Missouri’s 11th district, said the governor’s office completes thorough background checks on gubernatorial appointees.
Rizzo, who represents Independence, Sugar Creek and Northeast Kansas City and who serves on the state Senate’s committee gubernatorial appointments, told The Missourian March 16 that the committee — which vets the governor’s nominees to more than 200 boards and commissions — places the greatest emphasis on a nominee’s character, rather than any perceived party affiliation.
The next step in the confirmation process of the nominees is their respective appearances in front of the gubernatorial appointments committee. Rizzo said nominees must first receive a letter of support from the state senator representing their home district, who will then appear alongside the nominee in front of the appointments committee.
Coppinger said he’s already met with and received support from Sen. Greg Razer, a Democrat representing Missouri’s 7th Senate district. Durbin, an Andrew County resident with a St. Joseph address, already appeared alongside Sen. Dan Hegeman, a Republican, in front of the gubernatorial committee in Jefferson City, where she was confirmed to the Board last week.
Rizzo, elected to the Senate in 2016 and assigned to the gubernatorial appointments committee in January, said the donation history of Coppinger and Durbin might pique the committee’s interest, but likely wouldn’t result in the sinking of their confirmations. It didn't in the case of Durbin.
“It’d probably come down to other factors,” Rizzo said in a phone interview. “I wouldn't contend (a nomination) on that solely — on that alone. We’re also talking about, you know, ‘What kind of activism have they had?’ Republican to independent, Democrat to independent is a much easier jump than Republican to Democrat, Democrat to Republican.”
Board of Regents Chair John Moore, an independent from Raymore, said he isn’t bothered by the partisan donation history of the pair of independent nominees — largely because partisan politics rarely come up in Board deliberation. Moore, appointed by Parson in 2018, said he expected the nominees to be confirmed to the Board, where they’re set to provide needed depth after the University’s governing body narrowly passed a tuition increase March 18 in a 5-1 vote.
“My experience with our kinds of boards — not all boards in the state — but our kinds of boards is that if you’ve made it to the point where you’ve been nominated, your chances of actually being approved are very good,” Moore said.
Moore himself was appointed to fill the seat of Matt Kitzi, a Democrat from Columbia who was nominated by former Gov. Jay Nixon in 2016. Kitzi was never confirmed by the Senate.