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Our Mission

The Carnahan Policy Center is a not-for-profit organization dedicated to promoting public service and civic engagement in Missouri. The Center carries forward the vision and service of the late Governor Mel Carnahan and late Senator Jean Carnahan who believed deeply in the ability and responsibility of citizens to support and strengthen crucial democratic institutions such as public education, the rule of law, and equal representation.

The Mel and Jean Carnahan Public Service Award is an initiative of the Carnahan Policy Center. Each year, the Center grants the Award to individuals who have made outstanding contributions in education, law, and community/public service in Missouri. Nominations are accepted from the public.

The Center also awards scholarships to students attending the Truman School of Government and Public Affairs and the University of Missouri Law School who have demonstrated a commitment to public service.

Through its awards, scholarships, and other initiatives, the Carnahan Policy Center hopes to help fulfill Mel and Jean’s vision for making Missouri a better place for our families, our children’s families, and future generations. We hope you will join us in that endeavor.

Mel Carnahan:  Missouri’s Education Governor

Mel Carnahan served as the 51st governor of Missouri from 1993 until his death in 2000.

As Governor, Mel expanded funding for education and vocational training; diversified appointments to state boards, senior governmental positions, the judiciary and the cabinet; expanded health and mental health services; increased tax credits for the elderly and disabled; defeated attacks on family planning and the right of choice; and managed the state’s recovery from one of the most catastrophic floods in the nation’s history.

He was widely viewed as one of the most successful governors in Missouri history, frequently lauded for his unceasing commitment to reducing class sizes, putting computers in classrooms and making numerous other improvements to the quality of primary and secondary education in Missouri.

Mel served as chair of both the Democratic Governors’ Association and the Southern Governors’ Association and president of the Council of State Governments. He also served as a member of the National Governors Association Executive Committee.

Mel, a Democrat, was first elected to statewide office as state treasurer in 1980. In 1988, he was elected lieutenant governor. Four years later, he was elected Governor by a landslide margin and won re-election, again in a landslide, in 1996.

Mel was born in Birch Tree and grew up in Rolla, Missouri. He received a bachelor’s degree in business administration in 1954 from the George Washington University. After graduation, he joined the U.S. Air Force, serving in the Office of Special Investigations.

Mel earned a law degree from the University of Missouri-Columbia in 1959, graduating Order of the Coif. At age 26, he entered public service when he was elected as a municipal judge. In 1962, he was elected to the Missouri House of Representatives, where he served two two-year terms. His legislative colleagues elected him majority floor leader in his second term.

Mel believed strongly in the importance of citizen engagement in community affairs. He served as president of the Rolla school Board and as an officer or board member of the Kiwanis Club, the local Red Cross, the United Fund, Boys’ Town of Missouri, and the ABLE Commission which provides services to the elderly.

Governor Carnahan died in a plane crash on October 16, 2000, along with his son Roger (“Randy”) and aide Chris Sifford. He was campaigning for the U.S. Senate at the time. He won the Senate election posthumously, and the acting governor appointed his widow,

Jean, to the vacant Senate seat where she served two years as the first woman to represent Missouri in the U.S. Senate.

Born February 11, 1934, Mel was the son of Missouri Congressman A.S.J. Carnahan. He and his future wife Jean Carpenter sat next to each other in their alphabetically arranged classroom at Anacostia High School in Washington. The couple was married in 1954 and settled on a farm in Rolla where they raised their four children.

Mel and Jean were active members of First Baptist Church of Rolla. Mel was an ordained deacon in the Church.

Jean Carnahan:  A Missouri Trailblazer

Jean Carnahan was an author, First Lady of Missouri and the first woman to represent Missouri in the U.S. Senate. She was appointed to the U.S. Senate seat that her husband Mel won posthumously in 2000.

During her two years in the Senate, Jean was a tireless advocate for education, children, seniors and working families — causes she also championed during her eight years as Missouri’s First Lady.

As only the fifth woman to ever serve on the Senate Armed Services Committee, she pushed to strengthen national security and improve conditions for service men and women. She secured an extension of health care benefits for returning reservists and National Guard personnel. And she was part of the first Congressional delegation to Afghanistan in the wake of the 9/11 terrorist attack.

As First Lady, Jean promoted on-site day care centers for working families, supported shelters for victims of domestic abuse, volunteered with Habitat for Humanity and encouraged arts education.

She also raised funds for critically needed repairs for Missouri’s historic Governor’s Mansion and frequently opened the mansion doors to the public.

The author of seven books, she published two about the mansion: “If Walls Could Talk: The Story of Missouri’s First Families,” an encyclopedic work researched over five years, and “Christmas at the Mansion.”

Her other books include “Don’t Let the Fire Go Out!,” an autobiography focusing on her years as First Lady and U.S. Senator, and “A Little Help from My Friends,” a light-hearted look at everyday life from a senior’s perspective.

On October 16, 2000, Mel, their son Roger, and long-time aide Chris Sifford were killed in a plane crash while heading to a campaign event in southeast Missouri. Mel was elected to the Senate posthumously three weeks later.

Acting Governor Roger Wilson appointed Jean Carnahan to fill the seat left vacant by her husband’s death. She served from January 3, 2001 until November 25, 2002.

In remarks to her newly elected Senate colleagues, Carnahan observed, “I know I did not come to the U.S. Senate in the same way you did. I did not have a long-term, personal commitment to a campaign. My name has never been on a ballot. On election night, there was no victory celebration. You are here because of your win. I am here because of my loss. But we are all here to do the work of this great nation.”

Jean Carpenter Carnahan was born Dec. 20, 1933, in Washington, D.C., to Reginald and Alvina Carpenter, and grew up in the southeast D.C. working-class neighborhood of Anacostia. Her father was a plumber and her mother a hairdresser.

She met her future husband Mel, son of Missouri Congressman A.S.J. Carnahan, while they were teen-agers attending a Sunday night youth group at a neighborhood Baptist church in Washington.

They were married on June 12th, 1954. A year later, in an era when few women attended college, Carnahan graduated from George Washington University with a bachelors degree in Business and Public Administration.

The couple raised four children on a farm outside the small Ozarks community of Rolla, Missouri.