Senate Republicans have scuttled Gov. Jay Nixon's nominee to direct the Missouri Department of Economic Development, claiming he lacks the necessary experience despite an assurance from one of the state's most prominent business groups.
The Senate Gubernatorial Appointments Committee refused to vote Wednesday on confirming Jason Hall to head the department, and Senate President Pro Tem Rob Mayer said he has no intention of bringing Hall up for a vote before the deadline to confirm him expires.
Hall's rejection could be more than just a symbolic setback for the Democratic governor heading into a November election in which jobs and the economy figure to take top billing. It also could mean that Nixon will have to find a fourth economic development director as he begins his fourth year as governor.
Hall, 36, is an attorney who had served since 2009 as executive director of the Missouri Technology Corp., a state-created nonprofit organization that aids technology- and science-based businesses. Nixon announced on Dec. 30 that he was appointing Hall to replace department director David Kerr, who resigned. The governor's office said at the time that Hall had "overseen a transformation and rejuvenation" of the Missouri Technology Corp.
"Jason Hall is exactly the type of bright, energetic leader we need to help create jobs and move Missouri's economy forward," Nixon said in announcing his appointment.
On Wednesday, Nixon spokesman Sam Murphey did not immediately address whether the governor would nominate someone new to lead the department, or seek to keep Hall in the position by withdrawing his original appointment - made before lawmakers were in session - and submitting his nomination again so that he could get a second shot before the Senate appointments committee.
"With his professional experience and proven job-creation record at MTC, Jason Hall is highly qualified to be a key leader at the department," Murphey said.
During a Senate confirmation hearing earlier this week, several senators raised concerns both about Hall's experience and a state audit that had been critical of the Missouri Technology Corp. Mayer said Wednesday that both of those factors played a role in the senators' reluctance to confirm Hall.
"He has very little experience in private industry or business," said Mayer, R-Dexter, who is chairman of the appointments committee. "Most senators believe he's a bright, articulate young man, but at this stage in his life, I don't think he's ready to take on the position of the Department of Economic Development."
The Missouri Chamber of Commerce and Industry had endorsed Hall's nomination. Chamber president Dan Mehan said Wednesday that Hall was a "very qualified candidate" and he was disappointed about the senators' opposition.
"He's intelligent, he knows economic development, and he knows how to consummate a deal," Mehan said.