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Columbia Missourian

Schaefer hopes to take legal experiences to Capitol

By Jenn Herseim
October 20, 2008 | 5:34 p.m. CDT
Kurt Schaefer

Kurt Schaefer walked into public service right out of law school. The earnest student with top marks and a degree in environmental law took a cue from his father's medical career to put his professional skills to work for the benefit of others.

With a foundation in law, Schaefer took a position in 1996 as a special prosecutor in the attorney general's office.

Kurt Schaefer

RESIDENCE: 3410 Chatham Drive

PERSONAL: 42. He is married to Stacia Schaefer. They have three children.



OCCUPATION: Attorney for Lathrop and  Gage law firm.

EDUCATION: Bachelor's degree in geography, MU; master's degree in environmental law and juris doctorate, Vermont Law School.

BACKGROUND: Schaefer worked for the Attorney General's Office as a special prosecutor, then, after a stint with Lathrop and Gage, he became deputy director of and general counsel to the Missouri Department of Natural Resources.


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"My dad had a deep conviction for helping others, and that was instrumental for me," Schaefer said. "I joke that I was making $24,000 my first year and my student loans were more than that each year, but I've never had a more satisfying job than being a prosecutor."

Schaefer's knack for persuasive speech and hard facts led him through a series of positions at the Attorney General's Office, the Missouri Department of Natural Resources and as a lawyer and partner of Lathrop and Gage law firm in Jefferson City. Now, he said, he is trying to take those skills and apply them to the state Senate.

Schaefer, a Republican, is one of two people challenging incumbent state Sen. Chuck Graham for the 19th District seat in the General Assembly's higher chamber.

Schaefer's personality and professionalism reflect many of the characteristics of a lawyer. Friends and colleagues will mention his work ethic and dedication as one of his foremost attributes. He is aware of his skills, speaks with authority on matters of energy, environment and education and possesses an air of earnestness that makes him a passionate orator.

Neither soft-spoken nor overly loud, Schaefer meets people with a full smile underneath dark-rimmed glasses and always offers a handshake. Although he always considered himself an extrovert, he said he was never overly social while growing up. He has carried that sentiment into the campaign.

"The political process is not the most exciting part for me. The exciting part for me is helping shape public policy," Schaefer said. "You know, the whole political part, that's just kind of what you have to go through to get to the point where you can be influential and use the skills you have to shape sound policy. I know there are a lot of politicians out there, and they love the political process."

Before Schaefer spent his summers interning for the attorney general, he was working on a friend's farm. He concedes he was somewhat of a "teacher's pet" in school. Schaefer befriended his third-grade teacher, and when she decided to leave his school to work on her farm, she invited Schaefer to visit. The farm life captured his spirit, and he continued coming back every summer until he was 18, growing closer to the idea of becoming a farmer.

"I wanted to be a farmer. But nowadays if you have to buy a farm outright, not inherit one from your family, it's hard," Schaefer said. "But I absolutely loved it. It gave me an appreciation for farmers and the whole lifestyle that goes along with farming. In my practice now, I represent a lot of farmers and agricultural organizations."

The Missouri Farm Bureau endorsed Schaefer. He said there are a lot of things lawmakers can do to open up agriculture in Missouri internationally. He pointed to the state agriculture department's recent steps toward opening up Missouri products to Korean markets.

David Shorr, a partner of Lathrop and Gage and former director of the state Department of Natural Resources has known Schaefer since he was an intern with the state while studying law. After working as an intern with the Department of Natural Resources, Schaefer was offered a job as a special prosecutor. In 1999, Shorr recruited Schaefer to work with him at Lathrop and Gage.

"This kind of job demands that you work all kinds of hours and time," Shorr said. "His persistence is one of his greatest attributes. He is a very conscientious young man. He brings a lot of attributes to the citizens of Boone County."

Six years later, Schaefer was offered a job in the Department of Natural Resources as general counsel and deputy director. During his time at DNR, he was responsible for litigating in the aftermath of Taum Sauk Reservoir dam failure in 2005. The litigation resulted in Ameren paying millions of dollars for the park cleanup, and Schaefer secured $18 million from Ameren for a Katy Trail extension to Kansas City.  Schaefer said the first thing he will do if elected is get legislative approval for the trail extension.

Schaefer said his love for the outdoors was one factor that brought him to environmental law. But he also recalled a fascinating lecture by an MU geopolitics professor on the interplay between geography and politics. He was so intrigued that he immediately enrolled for his classes and started working on a degree in geography.

About the same time, Schaefer began playing bass for a Columbia band called Third Uncle. About a year after entering college at MU, he took jobs at the Blue Note and Stephens College to earn money for a trip to Europe. He took a year off school to travel, living in both Germany and Manchester, England. An avid music fan, he appreciated Manchester's musical influence, even getting a job as a bartender at a nightclub right next to The Hacienda, a club owned by members of the band Joy Division.

His musical endeavors back home in Columbia lead to a lifelong friendship with Blue Note owner Richard King.

"From my experience, he's a really smart guy," King said. "He is dedicated to the University of Missouri, and I think he's sincere about being a public servant."

Some of Schaefer's longest and dearest friendships were formed when he and his wife, Stacia, were working for restaurant owners around Columbia. Schaefer met Stacia when they were both at MU. They have three children, Max, 10, Wolf, 7, and Lena, 3.

Shorr called Schaefer "a great family man."

"He's got three wonderful kids," Shorr said. "They demonstrate attributes you would want out of your own kids."

Schaefer said his aspirations for public office rose out of his disappointment in Graham as a representative of the 19th District. He cited Graham's filibuster against a bill that would have secured millions of dollars for a health sciences center in Columbia. Graham defends his actions, arguing the bill would have placed limitations on stem cell research. Schaefer said the filibuster cost the area millions of dollars and new jobs for the area.

King said he and Schaefer have discussed his plans to run for office several times.

"We've talked a lot together over the years about it, and I've told him 'You've got to be crazy,' because a lot of times it's a thankless job. But as far as his dedication to Boone County, the city of Columbia, and this university, his head is in the right place," King said.

At a recent Republican Leadership Council, Schaefer was able to meet his lifelong hero, former U.S. Sen. John Danforth, who recognized Schaefer as one of the council's endorsed candidates.

Danforth called Schaefer a "remarkably strong candidate."

Schaefer said he is something of a "poster boy" for the council, which seeks to move the Republican Party back to traditional ideas of lower taxes and less government while leaving divisive social issues for citizens to decide.

"It goes back to the true Republican idea, that everyone should be treated equally, everyone should have the same opportunities and that government should stay out of people's lives," Schaefer said.

"It should provide those services that the government needs to provide, education, public safety, everything that goes along with that. But there are a lot of other things, whether Democrat or Republican, that the government should simply not be in."