Most of the good people of Kirkwood, (HD 94), an upscale suburb of St. Louis, disapprove of their representative, Rick Stream–if they only knew it. See, most of them aren’t aware of his actual voting record. He served on the Kirkwood school board for twelve years, voting on little more of consequence than who should be named teacher of the year. So they figure he’s a nice guy. They know he’s religious, and that’s a plus. Yes, Stream is evangelical, but not Jerry Falwell type evangelical. He’s a Serious Person. Kirkwood residents find his calm demeanor reassuring.
And, after all, Kirkwood is Republican territory. Not as solidly Republican as it once was. Before Democrat Jane Bogetto won the seat in a special election in 2005, it had been held by a Republican for the previous fifty years. And Bogetto only kept the seat for a year, losing it to Stream in 2006. But it used to be a seat where, if the Republican even had an opponent–which he often didn’t–he trampled the Democrat by, say, 70 percent. These days, though, the Republican’s percentage is likely to end up in the low- to mid-fifties.
Kirkwood is basically a white collar community. Sixty-seven percent of the residents are college grads. They’ve got enough money to have a history of siding with money, but most of them are social moderates. They’re not scared of gays. They’re likely to be pro-choice. They’re fiscal moderates. They frown on people who want to carry concealed weapons. They’d prefer their public spaces to be smoke free. And they resent like hell anyone messing with St. Louis’s ability to hold onto stem cell research companies. That’s a major growth industry, one that’s being threatened by eighteenth century evangelical moralists.
As it turns out, then, they like a representative who is on the wrong side of every one of those fences. Why the loyalty? Mainly because they don’t know him as well as they think they do.
Now that he’s in Jeff City, these comfortable suburbanites haven’t noticed that, serving as Allen Icet’s fiscal hit man, he was part of the cabal that last year turned down one hundred million free dollars a year from the Missouri Hospital Association that would have given poor people some alternatives to being treated in hospital emergency rooms. That vote was hard right ideology in action, not fiscal moderation. Ask most Republicans in Kirkwood, though, whether they approve of the vote, and they’ll say something along the lines of, “Now, that vote was about … what, again?”
But getting voters educated about turning down free Hospital Association funds is a simple matter compared to cluing them in to Rod Jetton’s shenanigans as a political consultant–and Rick Stream’s participation in them. Stream is respected in his home town as a man of integrity. But he has allied himself with Jetton by hiring the Rodfather as a political consultant. Until Jetton hit the skids this year, he was at the center of dealings that worked like this: Jetton had most of the Republican leadership signed up as clients of his political consulting firm, Common Sense Conservative Consulting (CCC). That way, when supporters of an issue brought a bill forward, it would be defeated. But then those supporters would be encouraged to make sizable campaign contributions to the right Republicans (aka, Jetton clients) and bingo, the next year, that issue would pass.
It was pure sleaze. And anyone who wanted to be part of the inner circle in the House was expected to sign on. Stream signed on.
On one complex issue, though, Kirkwood voters get it. 59 percent of them voted to support the ballot initiative in 2006 to protect stem cell research. St. Louis could, with the support of Washington University and St. Louis University, come on strong in the stem cell industry. Rick Stream is part of the far right opposition to it that makes stem cell startup companies leery of locating here. Resisting stem cell research is part of Stream’s anti-choice ideology.
“I am opposed to embryonic stem cell research because there have been no cures from this,” said Stream. “And there is also the ethical issue of taking a life to save a life. I am pro-life and the embryonic stem cell research is a problem for me. I’m all for adult stem cell research which is where all the actual cures are.”
At least he’s been up front about his stand on that. On two other issues, he’s been less so.
Kirkwood has led the way in St. Louis County by voting last year, by more than 65 percent, to ban smoking in the suburb’s public places. Stream didn’t favor that:
“Smoking is unhealthy. I don’t like it,” said Stream. “But businesses should be allowed to permit smoking if that’s what they want to do. I’m for more ventilation. I am not sure how I will vote on the Kirkwood smoking ban yet. I need to study the language.”
Poor guy was caught having to tell residents he had an unpopular opinion. “I need to study the language,” as we all know, usually means that someone is going to vote against an issue and doesn’t want to say that exactly. But hey, Stream was fairly honest about it.
Which is more than you can say for his votes on last year’s bill to allow concealed carry on campuses. He must know that in 1999 Kirkwood voted to oppose repealing the state’s concealed carry ban. So when the concealed carry on campus bill came up in the lege last year, he voted for it. But then he covered his tracks.
One of the most vocal supporters of the amendment to end the campus concealed weapons bans last week was Rep. Rick Stream (R-Kirkwood). Indeed, Stream was such a strong believer in ending concealed weapons bans that he audaciously discussed last year’s Kirkwood City Council shooting as an example of how concealed weapons could save lives. Talking about the shooting with Rep. Tim Jones (R-Eureka), Stream speculated that if the mayor or other citizens at the meeting had guns, “it’s possible that they could have stopped a number of the killings before the assailant was able to run through that chamber like he did.”
With that vote and debate in mind, it was very surprising to see Stream’s name among the 50 legislators who voted against HB 668 when it came up for final approval yesterday. Stream is already on record supporting the controversial campus provision and invoking the Kirkwood shooting to explain his vote — and now on the record voting against the final version of the bill. Perhaps the flip-flop was an attempt to provide some cover for last week’s actions. Or maybe he had an honest change of heart.
Kirkwood needs to wise up. It could elect a rep this year whose views line up better with the majority of voters. Deb Lavender, in her first run for office, challenged Stream in ’08 and did well, coming in just shy of 46 percent. Now that she’s got some name recognition from her first go round, she stands a chance of snagging that seat. Part of the strategy has to be mailers that lay Stream’s record out.
This is the best opportunity in St. Louis County for picking up a Republican seat this year. It could be one of the eight seats that we’ll need to get the House back. Supporting Deb is a smart investment.