A little over sixty people from the St. Louis area gathered a week ago last Saturday at a forum organized by a local NOW chapter to hear six Democratic state representatives talk about what it’s like to serve in a majority GOP legislature in this day of radical GOPer fringism. Reps. Jill Schuupp (D-82), Jeanette Mott Oxford (D-59), Ginese Montecillo (D-66), Margo McNeil (D-78), Jeanne Kirkton (D-91) and Rory Ellinger (D-72) spoke for about an hour and a half, mostly in response to questions from the audience.
The short version of what they had to say, to paraphrase one of the speakers, is that they feel like they’re trying to hold back the water in a leaky dam as new leaks spring up all around. Rep. Jill Schuup (D-82) put it well:
… We go to to Jefferson city and we have all these ideas, and all these things we support, and the communities we want to represent, and the constituencies that we care about, and we get there and, being in a very small minority most of, a lot of what I think we are doing is doing our best to keep things from moving forward as quickly as they are … it is hard to enforce the dam when there are so few of us.
The comparison that came to my mind as I listened was the famous last stand at the battle of Thermopylae where a small Spartan force valiantly defended the Pass of Thermopylae from the larger force of invading Persians. As Rep. Margo McNeil put it, the GOP is “at war with women, the working class and the middle class and with public education.” But, unlike Wisconsin, she added “if we walked out, they’d keep going … We have to stay, we have to fight the fight.”
The other major theme was the sense that Missouri’s real problems, especially endemic unemployment, are either being addressed unrealistically or being shunted aside. The GOP-dominated legislature plays backup for the Chamber of Commerce and pitches to those who can still get fired up by wedge issues. As Margo McNeil remarked, about the GOP efforts to fix the economy, “Fix-the-Six is like deep-six the working class.” Kirkton added that:
Our attention is not focused on what we said we would do which is create jobs …. We have the English only bill, we have the abortion bill, we’re overturning prop B probably next week … we also have bills that are attacking teachers.
Add the anti-Sharia bill and you get the point of Rep. Tallboy’s (D-37) remark, quoted by Kirkton, that “we’re running out of groups to pick on.” This effort to divide people and the misguided economic policies that are being proposed, as Mott-Oxford observed, “will condemn us to mediocrity in every way … bigotry will cost in terms of jobs.”
Well said, and sadly, too true.
Questions and summaries of answers will be given in subsequent posts: