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Oh don’t think I don’t know what you believe about lobbyists. You consider them overpaid shills for blood sucking corporations. They ought to be strung up by their toenails, right? You think waterboarding would be too charming an atonement for their iniquities. Don’t you? Yeah, I know, so do I.

That’s why there ought to be a different word for lobbyists like Mary Mosley. She’s paid the princely sum of … not exactly nothing, but next door to it: $1000 to spend dozens of hours each legislative session knocking her head against Republican intransigence.

A few years back, Mosley, who lobbies for the Missouri Women’s Network and for Missouri NOW, tried to convince then-representative (now senator) Jack Goodman that his bill to cut off alimony to any woman found to be cohabiting with a man was, besides being misogynistic, completely impractical. She asked him how he could even check such a thing, pointing out that her sister-in-law had rented a room in her house to a man for awhile just to help her pay the bills. They had no romantic relationship. Suppose her ex-husband had taken her to court over that? As far as that goes, Mosley told him, some women cohabit with other women. At about that point, Goodman had had enough of what he called her “feminist shit”, pushed her out of his office and slammed the door.

But that’s the only time, Mary says, that she’s faced that level of rudeness. More often, at least from Republican legislators, she gets indifference or thinly disguised impatience.

Mary, who lives in Fulton, lobbies for the Missouri Women’s Network, a group of women from around the state who focus on what the state lege is up to. At their January conference in Jeff City, they examined a packet Mary had prepared for them (she spent hours on hours just putting that together) that briefly described every bill so far filed in the House and Senate. The group discussed which ones they approved of, which they disapproved of, and which they had no particular opinion on, so that Mary could take their recommendations and talk to legislators on both sides of the aisle about the bills that deserve to pass and about the incontrovertible facts that should doom the godawful ones.

When I asked her what it’s like to do that, she laughed and said, “Frustrating.” With no budget to wine and dine them, she gets less face time than the lobbyists with the bucks.

We just aren’t able to change very many minds. They don’t see us as powerful. If you wine them and dine them, they think that you’ve got money, that you must have a lot of backers and must be powerful. We do have a lot of backers. Our strength is the grassroots and we have thousands of women across the state who support our positions. But we can’t get the legislators to see that.

So it’s not like Mary doesn’t know that money makes the lege go round, and that Republicans–who just passed another bill in the senate to lift campaign finance limits–are especially addicted to it. Nevertheless, she lobbies the Rs too. Admittedly, she’s more comfortable talking to Democratic legislators, but she makes herself pop into the GOP offices as well, asking if the rep or senator has time to talk to her.

It would be easier to make a dent in their stubborn adherence to some policies, she says, if small town newspapers would call them out for some of the crap they pull or even just report it at all. But since the stenographers for the Fulton or Lebanon or Moberly News-Chronicles or whatever don’t tell citizens how their reps vote on most bills nor question anything the rep tells them, she has seen reps go back home and, to say the least, stretch the truth about some of their shenanigans. Her own rep, for example, when asked at a town meeting whether she supported vouchers, said she didn’t. That was just an evasion because the woman does support letting people contribute to “scholarship funds”. The money would then be funneled through some separate entity and wind up in a religious school, which would, lo and behold, just happen to grant a scholarship to those very same people in the amount of their contribution.  

But the Fulton stenographer wrote that the rep didn’t support vouchers. Technically, no, she didn’t support vouchers, but her name was on the bill supporting those “scholarships” and Mary found herself having to straighten out the local superintendent of schools about where his own rep stood.  

“Do you change anybody’s mind by lobbying?” I asked her. Hardly ever, she told me. So I wondered why she persists in a frustrating task. She does it, she says, because she doesn’t want to make it easy for them to do the wrong thing. “They should have to look me in the eye and try to explain their reasons.”

The floor is open for nominations. Can we invent an alternative term, something besides “lobbyist”, for someone who gets paid a pittance to be a public conscience?