From lawyer to policymaker to partner at a governmental relations firm, Kurt Schaefer has been on all sides of Missouri government over the past two decades. He is no stranger to the complex relationships and conflicts that arise in state government.
Schaefer is a partner at Lathrop GPM Consulting, a law and governmental relations firm with offices in Jefferson City and Columbia. But he’s also a former assistant attorney general, deputy director of the Department of Natural Resources, and Appropriations chair in the Senate.
Schaefer said his experience in all aspects of government — from the lawmaking process to the executive branch to the courtroom — informed his work to this day.
“The legal world is more complicated than it used to be, and it’s not as simple as a legal solution necessarily,” Schaefer told The Missouri Times. “When you’re looking at solving problems for clients, you have to look at the entire universe of things that are available and what the issue is that needs to be resolved. Having the ability to be in both governmental relations and legal like I am, you understand maybe [what] isn’t right and maybe you need to have some of that language rewritten.”
“I enjoy having the ability to solve problems across the spectrum,” he added.
Schaefer chaired a talented Appropriations Committee that also included then-Sens. Mike Parson and Mike Kehoe as well as current Appropriations Chair Dan Hegeman.
“We had a great team working on very difficult post-recession budgets,” he said. “Over one two-year period, we had to cut over $1 billion due to declining general revenue. But we were always able to face the budget difficulties as friends and colleagues.”
In addition to serving in the Senate with the current governor and lieutenant governor, Schaefer also served all eight years in the upper chamber with his then-Lathrop law partner, Attorney General Eric Schmitt. He said one of the most notable things he carried with him from the upper chamber was a friendship with the late Sen. Dan Brown, another staple of the Appropriations Committee, who passed away last month.
“I made friendships that will last me the rest of my life, no better example than Doc Brown,” he said. “He was a veterinarian from Rolla, extremely smart, just a great guy I never would have met had I not been in the Senate. He was my vice-chair in Appropriations for years, and we were a great team.”
“Those are the friendships that you make that last forever,” he continued. “That collegiality in the Senate — I miss the day-to-day of that. I’m fortunate in that I’m still at the Capitol, and I still get to talk to my friends.”
The second Republican to represent Boone County and the first to serve two terms, Schaefer learned lessons about working with others around him to accomplish legislative goals during his tenure in office; he said the relationships built in the statehouse were key to enacting policy in whatever role he found himself in, and his time as a senator gave him the momentum to continue building them.
Schaefer specifically praised Majority Floor Leader Caleb Rowden, his successor in the Senate, for his representation of a conflicted district.
“When you look at somebody like Caleb Rowden, he’s someone who works really hard to do the right thing for the people he represents,” Schaefer said. “You’re representing a group of people who are polarized. That can be an extremely difficult thing to do because your objective is to do the right thing for your constituents. Caleb Rowden always does that.”
Rowden applauded Schaefer’s work, both in the upper chamber and around the statehouse.
“Kurt has always been one of the smartest guys in state government — whether in his legislative role or otherwise,” Rowden said. “His ability to comprehend big issues quickly was valuable for him during his time in the Senate and remains valuable in his government relations work.”
After facing term limits in the Senate and making a bid for attorney general, Schaefer turned his attention back to governmental relations and law, drawing on that experience to give clients a broader perspective on the issues they bring forth.
“A lot of the time, a client will come with an issue, and they know they have a problem that needs resolving, but they don’t always know what the right route is. A lot of times, you have a statutory structure that regulates a particular industry, and it’s decades-old; it doesn’t reflect that industry or business any longer,” he said. “A client will say they have a legal problem because the best way to do this business does not fit, and a lot of the time the response is the structure isn’t updated to reflect how business works in that area. A lot of things you think are a legal issue but end up a governmental relations issue.”
Ray McCarty, President and CEO of Associated Industries of Missouri (AIM), said Schaefer made good use of his knowledge of the legislature in his lobbying work.
“I worked with Kurt on some pretty labor-intensive issues during this session, and he has worked really hard,” McCarty said. “He follows a long line of legislators who have used their experience to parlay into a career in legislative advocacy, and he’s done a really good job of making that transition.”
The firm essentially merged with former legislator Harry Gallagher and longtime lobbyist Heath Clarkston, according to Schaefer, with Doug Nelson coming aboard as well. Nelson, a former assistant attorney general who Schaefer interned for almost 30 years ago, complimented Schaefer’s expertise in multiple areas and his work ethic over the years — even when work put them on opposing sides of an issue.
“When I think of Kurt, regardless of whether I’m working with him or against him, he’s blessed with a level of intelligence that should never surprise me,” Nelson said. “He’s a hard worker, and he understands government and the law. It’s all helped him as he’s begun moving into this lobbying role.”
In terms of his current work, Schaefer said he had gone from working all hours drafting the night before a trial to taking a broader look at the tasks ahead of the firm — a change he was happy to take on.
“What I enjoy now is I get to step back and look at bigger picture issues and try to help clients on a much broader view than just the day-to-day,” he said.
From one side of Missouri’s government to the next, Schaefer has made his mark on the state’s policies and is sure to continue to do so.
Scott Faughn and Kaitlyn Schallhorn contributed to this report.
Cover photo provided by Hannah Beers Sutton.