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Senate panel blocks MU curator appointment

Frustration over past state education policy led to the rejection of one of Gov. Jay Nixon’s appointments to the University of Missouri Board of Curators on Wednesday.

The motion to endorse Cape Girardeau lawyer Michael Ponder was defeated on a 5-5 vote in the Senate Gubernatorial Appointments Committee. Ponder needed Senate confirmation to remain on the board, where he has been serving since June. But it was his previous position on the State Board of Education that caused senators to deny his appointment.

“He has made decisions that have cost the people I represent millions of dollars,” said Sen. Eric Schmitt, R-Glendale. “He has not demonstrated an ability to ask the tough questions.”

Ponder was appointed to the education board in 2009. Senators cited board decisions during his tenure, including the adoption of uniform benchmarks for reading, writing and math called Common Core standards and changes to school district funding, as reasons to block his appointment.

During the hearing, Ponder told committee members that he shared their frustration, but made decisions based on the available information at the time. He declined to comment further after the committee’s vote.

Sen. Ron Richard, R-Joplin, voted to advance Ponder’s nomination and said he was qualified to serve on the board of curators. He questioned how Ponder’s previous role on the education board affected his ability to be a university curator.

Ponder was appointed to the post by Nixon in January 2013, but the Senate did not act on his nomination last year. Nixon reappointed Ponder in June to serve a term that expires at the end of 2018.

Nixon could now ask the Senate to withdraw Ponder’s nomination, which would allow the governor to reappoint him to the position later. A spokesman for Nixon did not immediately respond to a request for comment after the committee’s vote. The full Senate would need to grant a withdrawal request.

The Senate panel did advance three Nixon appointments to the State Board of Education, including two former school superintendents. They also endorsed nominees to lead the state Agriculture Department and the Department of Economic Development. Those nominations now head to the full Senate for confirmation.

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