The students say Jetton met them with 'his gloves on ready to go.'
A Valentine's Day meeting between House Speaker Rod Jetton and student leaders from Southeast Missouri State University wasn't a love match.
It was, according to the students, more like a wrestling match.
The students, four current and past officers of the Southeast student government, traveled to Jefferson City to lobby lawmakers -- especially Jetton -- for money to pay for the River Campus project. When they sat down with Jetton, they said, his anger over the bonds used to finance construction at the campus was in plain view.
"He came to the table with his gloves on ready to go," said Dane Huxel, past president of the student government. "He described himself as a hard-nosed politician and he came to the table ready to fight. It wasn't what I was expecting."
The experience was sobering for student vice president Lara Glauber, a junior political science major. "As a student and someone who went there to get information, it was kind of disheartening to be put in a situation where I was basically yelled at because I didn't agree with him."
Glauber and Huxel were joined in their lobbying trip by current student president Adam Hanna and Kevin Bray, an assistant to the president for political awareness.
To back up the effort from last week, the student government is organizing a letter-writing campaign from campus, Hanna said. They hope to generate 500 or more letters supporting River Campus.
And they hope to return to Jefferson City with a much larger student contingent, Hanna said. No date has been set for the visit, he said.
The meeting with Jetton wasn't an angry exchange, Hanna said. "He was very emphatic," Hanna said. "I have known him for several years, and he gets very passionate."
The university wants lawmakers to appropriate $17.2 million to pay the bonds issued to finance a shortfall in the $50 million project. Campus leaders see an opportunity to gain the funding from the proposed sale of assets by the Missouri Higher Education Loan Authority, or MOHELA.
Without state help, students' fees will increase by about $6 per credit hour to cover the River Campus debt.
When first proposed by Gov. Matt Blunt, the MOHELA proceeds included $5 million for a Southeast project but nothing for River Campus. Shortly after the proposal was floated, Jetton told Southeast president Ken Dobbins that three regents who voted for the bond issue must resign before he will support state payments for the debt.
In an interview Wednesday, Jetton didn't recall that the meeting was as abrasive as the students' descriptions. "As much as I care about the 8,800 students at SEMO, I told them I couldn't support putting the money in until there was an admission that a mistake was made, and it set a bad precedent for the rest of the state."
In addition to visiting Jetton, the students spoke with Sen. Jason Crowell, R-Cape Girardeau, Sen. John Loudon, R-Ballwin, and Rep. Brad Robinson, D-Bonne Terre.
Those three were amenable to supporting funds for the campus, the students said.
Crowell is a former student president. "I love to see the individuals who currently hold the office I held come visit legislators," he said.