JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) — GOP Gov. Mike Parson on Tuesday named Vivek Malek state treasurer, making him the first nonwhite statewide official in Missouri history.

Malek, a 45-year-old immigration lawyer from the St. Louis suburb of Wildwood, will replace fellow Republican Treasurer Scott Fitzpatrick, who is leaving the position to become state auditor in January.

“Vivek’s story is inspiring proof that the American Dream can and will live on for the next generation of Missourians,” Parson said in a statement. “President (Ronald) Reagan once said immigrants are one of the greatest sources of American greatness, and both Vivek and I agree.”

Only white candidates have ever won statewide elected office in Missouri.

Parson’s appointment of Malek opens a rare door for Malek, who told reporters he plans to run for a full term as treasurer in 2024. Political incumbents, particularly Republicans, often have an advantage in Missouri elections.

Malek moved from the city of Rohtak in northern India to what’s called Missouri’s Bootheel in 2002 to get his master’s degree in business administration from Southeast Missouri State University.

He began practicing law in Missouri in 2006 and opened a law firm in 2011, according to the Governor’s Office.

Parson appointed Malek to the Southeast Missouri State University Board of Governors in 2020. He’ll resign before he is sworn in as treasurer, according to the Governor’s Office.

“Times have been tough lately,” Malek said. “Missouri needs a steady conservative hand in the Office of Treasurer, and I will work every day to make sure taxpayers’ money is invested wisely.”

This is the fifth open statewide elected seat that Parson has filled with an appointment since he became governor in 2018, also not by election. Parson ascended from lieutenant governor after former Republican Gov. Eric Greitens resigned in the face of potential impeachment in 2018.

No other governor has filled more than three vacant statewide elected seats, making Parson the most influential top executive in terms of appointments.

By SUMMER BALLENTINE, Associated Press