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2023 Economic Impact Awards Lifetime Achievement in Business: Roy Blunt

A Dedicated Statesman

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Fifty years ago, Roy Blunt began his first term as an elected official. He couldn’t have known his path at the time, but the then 23-year-old Greene County clerk and chief elections official was building the foundation of governing that would guide his longtime career in public service.

Today, at 73, the former U.S. senator and representative, college president and Missouri secretary of state calls those dozen years formative.

“If you want to get a problem solved at any level in government today, probably the most likely place to get that done is a courthouse full of elected officials,” Blunt says.

Starting in Greene County and ending at the highest levels of government in Washington, D.C., one of the strongest themes of Blunt’s career was engaging and problem solving with his Republican and Democratic colleagues to improve the lives of the people who entrusted him to lead.

“To work with somebody legislatively, you don’t have to agree with them on everything; you just have to agree with them on one thing,” he says, recalling he gave the same message in his final speech on the Senate floor a month before completing his final term in January. “It allowed me to get things done, I think, beyond the average ability to get things done.”

Between two terms in the Senate and seven in the House – during which Blunt estimates he cast over 12,500 votes and whipped countless more in Republican leadership roles – he helped establish and fund federal behavioral health centers, invested in research at educational institutions, secured grants and capital to expand and improve infrastructure, developed tax and trade policies, and readied the state’s workforce through training opportunities.

“People sent me to do a job, but they also sent, in the Senate, 99 other people to do that job,” he says. “Let’s see how we can make the most out of that opportunity.”

After three terms as Greene County clerk and an unsuccessful bid for lieutenant governor in 1980, he became Missouri’s first Republican secretary of state in more than a century in 1984.

“In the eight years I was secretary of state, the legislature was overwhelmingly Democratic,” he recalls. “To get anything done legislatively or your budget or anything else, you had to figure out how you could work with people.”

After losing the governor race in 1992, Blunt returned to his roots in education. He became president of his alma mater, Southwest Baptist University, for four years. A former math teacher, Blunt was the first in his family to go to college, and he says bolstering education in the state has weaved throughout his career.

Blunt successfully ran for the 7th Congressional District seat in the U.S. House of Representatives in 1996 and was elected to the U.S. Senate in 2010. He served in leadership positions in both chambers and was one of only two legislators to do so, according to his office.

Reflecting on his career, Blunt points to his work standing up and funding mental health centers as a key legislative win. He says it wasn’t a personal experience with mental health that clued him into the importance of that care to families and communities, but instead was then newspaper editor of The Daily Dunklin Democrat, Jack Stapleton. Blunt recalls Stapleton’s words during his time as secretary of state: “Missouri’s always been more forward leaning than most states on mental health and we really don’t have the state official right now who’s paying much attention to that, and I just encourage you to make that one of the issues that you pay attention to.”

Decades later in the Senate, alongside Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Michigan, that focus came to fruition as he worked to establish Certified Community Behavioral Health Clinics that now provide 24/7 crisis services in 46 states.

“Sen. Stabenow and I had an opportunity to bring to conclusion something that had started almost half a century earlier when the big mental institutions were in the process of being closed with the idea that they’d be replaced by strong, community mental health centers,” Blunt says.

Jordan Valley Community Health Center President and CEO Brooks Miller says he remembers well a call from Blunt about expanding mental health services like he’d done with primary and specialty health care at centers like Jordan Valley.

“He had a tremendous interest of … what can we do to broaden the access to behavioral health care?” Miller recalls. “The passage of the (Excellence in Mental Health and Addiction Treatment Act) came about, and that’s directly attributed to Sen. Blunt.

“His impact on each and every state and our country and the welfare of many, many people is certainly well documented and greatly respected.”

A member of the Congressional Community Health Centers Caucus, Blunt also worked to reauthorize and increase mandatory funding of federally qualified health centers, like Jordan Valley, including a $4 billion procurement plus $65 million in discretionary funding in fiscal 2022.

Blunt served as the top-ranking Republican on the U.S. Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor & Pensions. Through that committee, he prioritized funding for Missouri State University, with renovations to Temple Hall, renamed Roy Blunt Hall in December; research at the Roy Blunt Jordan Valley Innovation Center focusing on the development of new defense technologies; and upgrades to the West Plains campus science laboratory, according to his office.

In 2006, Blunt secured $4.4 million for the construction of JVIC, which houses MSU’s Center for Applied Science and Engineering and private-sector research partnerships.

“Sen. Blunt has had a tremendous impact on education in our state (and) at Missouri State specifically in terms of funding over $100 million of capital improvements, mostly for science and health care research, that is game-changing,” says MSU President Clif Smart. “That is work that I didn’t ever think would be done under my watch, and that is directly a result of Sen. Blunt working the appropriations process for us.”

Smart says Blunt’s support of the university’s research partnerships at the IDEA Commons innovation park in downtown Springfield has brought tens of millions of dollars of investment, created jobs, attracted companies to southwest Missouri and grown the research profile of MSU.

“We have become a major driver in economic development because of the vision Roy Blunt had to help us get this started,” Smart says.

Among his career successes, Blunt also cites keeping the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency West headquarters in St. Louis and moving the Economic Research Service and National Institute of Food and Agriculture to Kansas City from D.C.

A member of the Senate Commerce and Appropriations committees, Blunt supported the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act enacted in November 2021 and provided $25 billion over five years for airport projects around the country. In 2020, he helped to secure a $7 million Airport Improvement Program grant for the Springfield-Branson National Airport, where the main terminal was renamed after Blunt in December. Blunt also helped secure the $11 million American Airlines maintenance facility that opened in 2021 at the airport.

Blunt says over his career, he called hundreds of businesses scouting locations in Missouri to tout the benefits of operating in the state.

“All the times I was in the Congress, and probably long before that and long after, about a third of all the new jobs in our state were created in the 7th District,” he says.

Blunt says establishing the continuity of government after the 9/11 terrorist attacks was one of the most challenging moments of his career, as were responding to the fallout from the 2008 economic crisis and debates over wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

In his final term in the Senate, Blunt was chair of the Joint Congressional Committee on Inaugural Ceremonies, organizing the presidential inaugurations for Donald Trump in 2017 and Joe Biden in 2021.

Though he’s no longer an elected official, Blunt has not left the political arena. Having served on the Intelligence Committee in both the House and Senate, he maintains his security clearance as an adviser to the government intelligence community. In addition, he now works with son Andy and daughter Amy as chair of bipartisan advocacy firm Husch Blackwell Strategies’ Leadership Strategies Advisory Services. He is also the president of the State Historical Society of Missouri, and this month was named to the board of Southwest Airlines Co.

Often described by colleagues as the epitome of a statesman, Blunt is keeping a watchful eye on the state and county he helped lead for nearly a half-century.

“I look forward to the people we have representing our state and people representing our country to continue to strive, as I said in the second inauguration that I had a chance to be in charge of, in this never-ending search for this more perfect union,” he says. “We are better than we have been and not all we hope to be.”

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