The good news about the fifth senatorial district in the city of St. Louis is that it will almost surely go to a Democrat. But an awful lot of people are fretting about how to keep that seat in African-American hands.
And in case you wonder why that matters, let me say that in one sense, it doesn’t. All four of the district’s representatives–Rodney Hubbard, Robin Wright Jones, Connie Johnson and Tom Villa–are term limited out next year. Two have announced they’re running. Two more are considering it, and one of those last two is white. But all of them would do a good job of representing constituents in that district.
Say what you want about Rodney Hubbard taking money from Rex Sinquefield and pushing school vouchers, wag your head in disappointment that Tom Villa opposes abortion and stem cell research. The bottom line is that all four of them want to do good for their people.
So what’s the big deal about having two black candidates–or maybe three if Connie Johnson jumps in–and one white man? The two–or three–African-Americans would divide the vote; and if Villa gets in, he’d almost surely take the seat. It wouldn’t be a tragedy, but consider the history of the city. Racial tensions loom large, in the past and at present. Villa, or any other white candidate, would make three white senators out of three in a black majority city. Not the best scenario for soothing those tensions.
I talked to Connie Johnson last week about her possible plans. As we mulled over the situation, she pointed out what great respect she has for Villa. He’s in his third political incarnation now. He was first elected to the House in 1974, and in those days before term limits, stayed long enough to become the Majority Leader from 1980 to 1984. After that, he went into city politics, became president of the St. Louis Board of Aldermen, and eventually made an unsuccessful run for mayor. After that, he dropped out of politics for five years; then came the third incarnation: in 2000, he was elected again to the House. Johnson points out that he knows more about the rules of the House than any other member–and has as much right to run for senator as anybody.
As for Johnson herself, she says that nobody should rule her out of the running and points with some pique at people who’ve told her that since she has a good job as a lawyer at Armstrong Teasdale, she should leave the field to Hubbard or Wright Jones, who don’t have fallback employment. As far as she’s concerned: “When did the state capitol become an employment agency?” She loves politics, loves working for the people in her district, and feels she has a right to run. After all, she says, considering all the glitches the legislature had last year from poorly written bills, they need more attorneys. And currently, the legislature is almost at an all time low. “On ten percent of the bills we pass, the next year they come back and we do cleanup.”
Johnson also points out that she has gotten six bills passed in her seven years in Jeff City, even though she’s in the minority party. And they haven’t been bills dedicating a library to so-and-so either. They’ve had substance. She got a bill passed to assist rape victims. Previously, the victims had to pay for their own rape kits, which cost $1200. Now the state pays. And rape victims are no longer required to take a lie detector test before they can testify. After all, victims of other crimes don’t have to take lie detector tests.
She also got a bill passed to aid DNA exonorees. Previously, such people were given a bus ticket and told they could apply to the courts for damages–but doing that of course would take time determination, and knowledge of how to go about it. Now, they receive $50 for each day they were incarcerated and social services to help them readjust to society.
So, in light of her qualifications and her desire to help people, she’s considering joining the race. Is she just adding one more good choice to the pot? Or muddying the waters? More on that question tomorrow.
Photos above are–top right: Connie Johnson; top left: Tom Villa; bottom right: Robin Wright Jones; bottom left: Rodney Hubbard