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Burch reflects on legislative career and MSU's name change

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Visit Vernon County native Jerry Burch's den and you immediately see that the St. Louis Cardinals are a big part of his life. The banner commemorates the eight years in which the Cards won World Series championships. Burch himself was a noted fastpitch softball pitcher in his younger years. Photo James R. Campbell/Daily Mail
Jerry William Burch's life has been an adventure that carried him from a Vernon County farm to a savings and loan company, college, teaching, coaching, the Missouri House of Representatives and lobbying for some of the more important entities in the state.

Growing up two miles north of Harwood and graduating from Schell City High School in 1963, he married Jenise Kennedy and was a mail runner for Farm & Home Savings in Nevada until supervisors got him to attend Southwest Missouri State University in Springfield and earn a degree in agriculture and physical education in 1970.

Burch taught science and P.E. and coached junior high and high school football, basketball and baseball for three years, then joined Marvin Davidson at Davidson Enterprises in Nevada and managed road sales for Verco Sporting Goods while playing fastpitch softball on the side.

Having played against Eddie "King" Feigner and His Court in Springfield, Burch noted, "I was approached by Hayden Morgan, a former state representative who farmed east of Nevada, about running to represent the 135th District in Vernon and Barton counties.

"I ran in 1978 against Shane Cavanaugh, a Republican who was the Nevada High School football coach, and started in the House in 1979. Shane and I were on the same softball team. He played first base, I was the pitcher and many nights we'd play and go our separate ways to campaign. He is now in Marceline."

After 12 years in the Missouri House in Jefferson City, Burch was chairman of the Critical Decisions Committee, assistant majority floor leader, Democratic Party whip and vice chairman of the Ethics Committee, hoping eventually to become speaker of the House, when he was defeated in 1990 by Lamar Republican Bubs Hohulin.

"I had spent too much time running for floor leader and not enough getting votes in my district," he said. "I had cast unpopular votes to fund the Kansas City Chiefs' and St. Louis Rams' stadiums because I felt like they brought a lot of revenue into the state.

"Jenise asked me the night I lost what I was going to do and I said, 'Well, I think I'll lobby.' One of the things I knew best was the process."

So called because they often approach elected and appointed officials in the lobbies of state and national legislatures and office buildings, lobbyists make arguments, provide information and give campaign contributions in efforts to get favorable outcomes for their clients, who include professional and business organizations, cities, counties, universities and other groups.

Burch's company, Burch & Associates, succeeded in a grand style and in recent years he has trimmed his list of clients from 15 to five, the Missouri Optometric Association, Branson Chamber of Commerce, Greene County Commission, Missouri Hospital Association and his alma mater, Missouri State University, whose 2005 name change was triumphal because the University of Missouri had powerfully opposed the Springfield school's portrayal of itself as a statewide university, Burch said.

He said having Springfield native Matt Blunt in the governor's office was the main factor in effecting the name change at the end of a seven-year struggle.

This year, the battle royale is to bolster the hospital association's campaign to expand the Medicare system. "We're kicking away $4.6 billion that will go to another state if we don't," said Burch, 67.

An amiable man who laughs often, he recalled Jan. 8 that he helped pass a good deal of important legislation as a House member, including the "MoBucks" low-interest loans program for farmers and the .10 of a percent soil conservation tax to finance cost share payments that help avoid erosion and keep state parks from closing or charging entry fees. "I fought hard to maintain the Nevada State Hospital and Habilitation Center during my time in the legislature," Burch said.

"But I don't know if we could have kept them because mental health has progressed along a different philosophy of trying to get the residents into the community more. I have a high degree of respect for those people who serve in the legislature because they have to sacrifice. It doesn't pay a lot and they spend time away from their families."

Referring to the governor and U.S. senators, Burch said, "Jay Nixon was in the Senate when I was in the House, Roy Blunt was secretary of state and Claire McCaskill was in the House. Roy's office was next to mine and we'd have a cup of coffee in the morning. I enjoy the associations."

His associates are lobbyists Lisa Christie and Scott Marrs and his office manager is Cindy Pursley, whose father, Larry Testman of Nevada, refereed basketball games at Schell City when Burch was a player with quick feet and a sure shot. "Jerry is a good all around guy who takes time out to coach his granddaughter and grandson in Little League basketball," Testman said.

"He likes to hunt and fish and go to St. Louis Cardinals' games. He and Jenise have gone to Florida to see the Cards' spring training. He's a super nice guy and a genuine person, just a farmboy who made it."

Testman said Walker "is a place where Jerry can kick back and relax.

"He is one of those guys who is an achiever. He doesn't talk much about the capitol, but I think it was a challenge for him as a legislator. He put himself through school as a student manager for the Southwest Missouri basketball team."

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