Failed nominee hired by labor department

Saturday, February 16, 2002

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. -- Renee Slusher, blocked last week from remaining as chairman of the Labor and Industrial Relations Commission by Senate Republicans, quickly landed a job as an attorney in the department she used to help oversee.

Senate President Pro Tem Peter Kinder of Cape Girardeau, who helped derail her nomination, was somewhat ambivalent about Slusher's hiring as general counsel for the Division of Workers' Compensation, which is part of the Department of Labor and Industrial Relations.

"I think she can do far less damage in the position she's in than with a six-year appointment to the commission," Kinder said. "Thank God for small favors, but let's just say I'm not jumping up and down with excitement."

Slusher's new job, which she started Monday, pays $70,000 a year. Her annual salary as commissioner was $93,519.

Gov. Bob Holden appointed Slusher, of Columbia, Mo., commission chairman in October. The panel hears appeals of workers' compensation and unemployment compensation cases and has final say on rules and policies proposed by the labor department.

Because the Senate wasn't in session, Slusher began serving immediately. The GOP-controlled Senate Gubernatorial Appointments Committee, chaired by Kinder, voted 5-4 against her confirmation on Feb. 6.

The three-member commission consists of one representative each for labor, employers and the public. Slusher served as the public's representative.

Trial lawyer ties

However, Kinder and other Republicans criticized her former role as a board member of the Missouri Association of Trial Attorneys, saying it raised questions about her impartiality since members of that group frequently represent injured workers.

After that vote, Holden said Slusher's voting record proved her fairness as she sided with the industry representatives as often as she did with the labor member in disputed cases.

Holden withdrew Slusher's nomination before the full Senate had a chance to vote on it. That sparked a lengthy donnybrook on the Senate floor as Republicans attempted to ignore the withdrawal letter from the governor.

Had the Senate rejected the nomination, Holden would have been barred from appointing her again. As it stands, the governor could wait until the General Assembly adjourns for the year in May and re-appoint her. If Democrats regain control of the Senate in November, Holden wouldn't have to worry about Slusher's nomination being in jeopardy again.

However, Holden spokesman Jerry Nachtigal said the governor has ruled out re-appointing Slusher. Nachtigal said the governor is pleased she will remain with the department.

"The governor thinks she was clearly qualified for the post she was rejected for and very qualified for this new position," Nachtigal said.

mpowers@semissourian.com

(573) 635-4608

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