COLUMBIA — Ask Mark Buhrmester about himself, and he’ll start with his family and his hometown of Norborne in northwest Missouri — population 800.
In the same breath, he’ll move to politics.
Buhrmester is a 22-year-old senior at MU who will graduate magna cum laude in May, but his work as the first executive director of the Boone County Democratic Party Central Committee starts now. Buhrmester said his interest in politics started early, way before he became president of MU College Democrats or programming and communications director for MU’s chapter of the Associated Students of the University of Missouri.
He said talking politics with his family around the dinner table fostered an early interest, and support from his parents encouraged him to shape his own opinions.
“The interesting thing is that they are all Republicans,” Buhrmester said, chuckling. “It was a slow progression of my ideas and beliefs. You know, I always kind of thought for myself, and my parents encouraged me to think for myself.”
He’s happy to tell what specifically made up his political mind.
“The final event that really sealed the deal to me was Hurricane Katrina. That storm revealed so much that was wrong with the Bush administration,” Buhrmester said. “This made me realize, ‘OK, I am a Democrat. I am progressive and want each and every person to have the means to make a decent life for him or herself.’”
It was in 2006 that Buhrmester’s political involvement expanded exponentially. He was studying abroad in Manchester, England, but continued to follow Boone County politics. He saw that the race for the 24th District seat in the Missouri House of Representatives was heating up and contacted Democratic candidate Jim Ritter to volunteer to help out, even while he was still in England.
“I knew I wanted to get involved in the campaign to try to make a difference, help elect a Democrat and get some experience as well,” he said.
Buhrmester returned to Missouri in June 2006 and jumped into his first campaign experience. He quit his other job and continued working for Ritter when classes started in August.
“I learned a whole lot about campaigns, and I learned even more about Boone County and Columbia,” he said. “When you’re spending so many hours a week trying to elect a person from the community, it’s just inherent that you learn more about the community itself.”
It was a close race, but Ritter eventually lost to Republican incumbent Ed Robb. Still, Ritter said Buhrmester was an integral part of his campaign.
“Mark was very much a generalist,” he said. “He did just about everything you could ask of someone. He put in a tremendous number of hours and was a tremendous adviser.”
Burhmester also represented Ritter when the candidate had conflicts of interest, including at forums where Burhmester would go up against Robb.
“I was a junior in college facing someone who’s been in the state house for two years,” Burhmester remembered. “That was really interesting, but I think I held my own and made some good points.”
The following December, he was elected president of the MU College Democrats.
“In that year I learned a lot about managing an organization, making sure that jobs get done. That experience is going to be very valuable.”
Buhrmester continued to work in local Democratic campaigns, including those of State Reps. Jeff Harris and Judy Baker, and to lead College Democrats.
Harris said that he found Buhrmester extremely bright, hardworking and reliable.
“I think he’s a good fit for Boone County, and he’s emblematic of the new generation of young Democrats — Democrats who are going to be moving into positions of responsibility and prominence,” Harris said.
He also organized events, wrote press releases and posted flyers around campus for ASUM.
All of this activity has prepared him to take on a position that the Boone County Democrats haven’t needed until now. As executive director, he will be the central committee’s only paid employee.
“This is a busy election year that we’re doing already, we need somebody to manage data,” said Phyllis Fugit, who has been chairwoman of the central committee since 2004.
She also said that Buhrmester beat out candidates from as far as California.
“We had 30 applicants. He was the one we chose,” she said. “They were from college-aged to probably late 40s or early 50s. It was a wide range of ages and educations. He has just had more campaign experience.”
Fugit says Buhrmester’s job will include overseeing day-to-day operations, formulating the committee’s strategic plans and supervising volunteers, among many other things. He will report regularly to the central committee; Fugit will continue dealing with the media.
“We have lots of stuff we want him to do,” Fugit said.
Buhrmester said he’s excited that he’ll be able to remain in Boone County after he graduates. It’s an area he has grown to know and love.
“I feel that I understand Boone County and Columbia pretty well, and I think that’s one of the reasons why they hired me,” he said. “I’m from here, I like the state, and I’m not quite ready to leave.”
With the heated races locally and nationally this year, he’s ready to start work and get out the vote.
“(The presidential election has) gotten a lot of people excited early on,” he said. “It’s gotten a lot of people engaged and thinking. It’s also true with the local campaign. So I think it’s been really positive for the county as a whole.”