Rep. Paul Fitzwater, R-Potosi, who represents the 144th District, has announced that he will be stepping down immediately from his seat in the Missouri House to accept an appointment from Gov. Eric Greitens to the state Board of Probation and Parole.
Elected in 2010, Fitzwater would have entered into his last year in the legislature in January due to state term limits. Prior to taking office, Fitzwater — who holds a Bachelor's Degree in Education from Tarkio College — was a teacher and field coach with the Potosi School District.
The Missouri Board of Probation and Parole is responsible for determining whether a person confined in the Department of Corrections shall be paroled or conditionally released and the supervision of all persons on probation and parole.
During his tenure in the House, Fitzwater served as the chairman of the Corrections and Public Institution Committee, which oversees issues related to adult and juvenile penal and correctional problems, the administration of correctional institutions and the state penitentiary.
In announcing Fitzwater's appointment, Gov. Greitens said, "We are excited to have Paul join the Board of Probation and Parole, and for the experience he brings as chairman of the Corrections and Public Institution Committee. While he will be missed in the legislature, I know he will serve our state with great integrity."
Contacted Wednesday afternoon by the Daily Journal, Fitzwater was at the state capitol writing his resignation later to the governor, effective as of midnight Wednesday, and preparing to take on the new role.
“I’m excited, I’ll be honest with you, I just wish the job would be here in a year instead of now,” he said. “It’s just one of those tough calls — like basketball officiating — you have to make. I prayed about it and me and my wife just got finished saying right now that we think it’s the best decision for our family.
“I’m very honored by Gov. Greitens entrusting me with such an important role as serving on the parole board. It’s a job I’m going to take very serious because we’re talking about the livelihoods of these individuals that would love to get back into society and be a good member of society.”
Fitzwater will be working closely with new Department of Corrections Director Anne Precythe who was nominated by Greitens in December to take over the troubled department that has suffered from low morale among its employees who have complained in the past of harsh work conditions that allegedly included acts of sexual harassment and retaliation.
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“I’m very proud of the way Anne Precythe came in and made some big, big, big changes,” he said. “Hopefully she will continue to make changes. Being chair of the Corrections and Public Institution Committee for the past six years has been very important to me, so I’m very excited for the opportunity.”
According to Fitzwater, he’s unsure of what, if any, action the governor will take to fill the vacancy he leaves in the House.
“The governor could appoint someone, hold a special election or choose to leave the seat open until the next election,” he said. “That will be completely up to him and what he decides to do.”
While there is no question of Fitzwater’s readiness to take on this new post, before accepting the job he first had to feel confident that his constituents would continue to be well cared for.
“I think the big thing is the concern the people are going to have back home because they think they’re not going to have any representation in Jefferson City,” he said. “People are going to be able to continue to call my office and speak to Chris Dinkins who has been my legislative assistant for the past five years.
“She has done a remarkable, superb job in this office. I’m leaving this in good hands. She may not be a voting member on the House floor, but I assure you that if there’s an issue down in the district, call the office and she’s going to address it.”
More than anything else, Fitzwater doesn’t want anyone to consider him a “quitter” and hopes voters in his district realize he is no less a public servant now than before — he's just one who has taking on another role.
“The people of the 144th District have been so good and such great supporters of mine. We’ve done a lot of good things in the district and I’m going to miss them. I know there’s going to be some people who are disappointed and think that I’ve thrown them under the bus, but I assure you I have always had their best interest at heart.”