Senate Committee rejects Nixon’s Board of Curators appointment

Ponder could be appointed again in the future.

A deadlocked 5-5 vote resulted in the rejection of one of Gov. Jay Nixon’s appointments to the UM System Board of Curators last week.

Two Democrats joined three Republicans to vote down the appointment of Cape Girardeau lawyer J. Michael Ponder, who was originally appointed in 2013 and previously served on the Missouri State Board of Education. Nixon withdrew his nomination Thursday.

Sen. Tom Dempsey, the chairman of the Senate Gubernatorial Appointments Committee and president pro tempore of the Missouri Senate, voted to confirm Ponder.

“I thought he was competent and would have been a great board member,” Dempsey said. “I don’t think he really got an opportunity to become fully engaged in the board.”

The issues raised at Ponder’s confirmation hearing dealt with his Board of Education service. The committee questioned him on the distribution of funds among school districts and on Missouri Learning Standards, also called Common Core State Standards. These objectives determine whether schools are performing in accordance with grade-level expectations based on an end-of-year test and can be used to allocate funding in the case of a shortage.

The overall objection from board members was that during Ponder’s tenure, the Missouri Department of Education had made policy decisions without adequate oversight.

Senators who voted against Ponder believed that the board should have voted on the decisions, instead of allowing the Department of Education staff to make them alone.

Dempsey said he had no issue with Ponder’s service on the Board of Education but still had “serious reservations” about the Common Core program, especially its implementation.

“This was all done without informing the legislature,” Dempsey said of the standards.

Nixon appointed Ponder to the board in January 2013. Ponder was rejected, and appointed again in June 2013. His confirmation hearing was delayed by Senate conflict until the constitutional deadline was approaching.

"Michael has been a great leader for Missouri education through his service on the State Board of Education for the past four years," Nixon said when he first appointed Ponder in January 2013. "He will bring his experience and insight to the Board of Curators to help keep tuition affordable, while preparing the next generation of graduates to compete and succeed in today's growing economy."

Ponder is a Democrat and his term would have lasted until 2019.

Several of Nixon’s other nominees have also been blocked by the committee in recent years, including Columbia attorney Craig Van Matre, who was nominated and rejected four times.

Dempsey said he agreed with Nixon’s decision to withdraw Ponder’s nomination.

Because the process didn’t continue, Ponder can now be appointed again by Nixon or another governor, although Dempsey does not think Nixon will try again immediately.

“It’s not going to happen in the near future,” Dempsey said.

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