Governor Carnahan


Governor Mel Carnahan was an exceptional lawyer who used his legal mind to help others, whether it was in the courtroom, board room or state capital.

After serving two years in the Air Force, Carnahan attended the University of Missouri-Columbia law school and upon graduation, started his law career in Rolla, Missouri.

When Governor Carnahan talked about his law practice, he did not talk about cases; he talked about people. He understood that to his clients, any dispute, even a seemingly unimportant one, was especially important to the people involved. He also recognized that the encounter might be the only time a client would ever deal with the legal process. He believed that lawyers had an obligation to conduct themselves in a way that inspired confidence in the entire legal system.

His dedication to upholding the highest standards in the legal profession translated to an unwavering commitment in making the best judicial selections possible. Carnahan spent countless hours conducting judicial interviews since this responsibility of appointing judges would have a long-lasting effect on the state. Many of those judges still serve on the bench and they are a part of Carnahan’s legacy.

Public Service

Mel Carnahan brought more than 25 years of public service experience when he was elected governor in 1992. At the very young age of 26, he was elected a municipal court judge in Rolla, Missouri. He went on to serve in the Missouri House of Representatives and was elected as State Treasurer and Lt. Governor prior to serving two terms as governor. But Carnahan also took a break from public service, spending more than decade practicing law, raising his four children alongside his wife Jean, and serving as school board president back home in Rolla.

Carnahan understood the honor and value of public service from an early age. His father, A.S.J. Carnahan, served in the US House of Representatives and went on to become the first ambassador to Sierra Leone under President John F. Kennedy.

Although he was known as the Education Governor, Carnahan pursued a number of policy reforms to improve the physical and economic health of Missourians, improve the state’s agricultural prominence in the world and promote opportunities for all Missourians, regardless of race, religion or socioeconomic background. He was fierce defender of equal rights and led the effort to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment in Missouri in his final year in office.

Governor Carnahan once said, “My mission as governor is to give each family in Missouri reason to welcome the coming of the 21st century.”


Governor Mel Carnahan was often referred to as Missouri’s Education Governor. Carnahan realized the importance of education early in his life. His parents were educators in rural Ozark schools and his father started the first hot school lunch program, understanding that children cannot learn if they are hungry. These values stayed with Carnahan throughout his tenure in public service. Upon being elected Governor in 1992, he quickly began to secure approval for his Outstanding Schools Act, a comprehensive education reform effort to address not only the funding inequities across school districts, but also numerous other reform issues from pre-school education to higher education. The Outstanding Schools Act was Governor Carnahan’s greatest legislative achievements in his public service career and the positive effects of that legislation are still felt by students and families.