Since Kenny Biermann lost his state rep seat last November, St. Charles County has been pure red as far as slots in the state legislature. But this November, there’s a special election in district 15 that could go to us. Sally Faith gave up the seat when she won the race for mayor of St. Charles, so now Democrat Paul Woody is running against Republican Chrissy Sommer. He’s got a good shot at it. That seat has been about equally divided between Democrats and Republicans for the last 12 years. And although Woody lost 65% to 35% to Sally Faith last year, we all know it was a deep red year. This go-round is different. This time, he doesn’t face an incumbent; and the mood of the voters, he tells me, is obviously different. Last fall they were telling him: Democrats have screwed up so badly that Republicans get the benefit of my doubt. Now, because of the debt ceiling fight, voters are about equally disgusted with both parties–and ready to talk to any candidate who is willing to listen.
Woody ran last year knowing his chance of success was slim but figuring that it was as good a time as any to start getting the voters acquainted with him. Lordy, how I love these dedicated Democrats. Can you imagine someone being willing to sacrifice hundreds of hours–on top of his day job, yet!–for the privilege of losing? All in pursuit of a seat, should he ever win it, that would take him away from his wife and baby, four days a week–and long days at that–four months of the year. All to earn him less than munificent pay. Democrats do that because they don’t want the state handed, lock, stock and barrel, to a wealthy few.
Woody does it because the Jesuit priests who taught him as he was growing up inculcated in him a belief that he owed his community. He’s prepared to live up to that expectation. And he’s prepared to deliver their message as well. With a couple of exceptions, I admire its message of social justice.
Woody argues that it used to be that if people worked hard, they expected to get decent paying jobs, stable home values, and a dependable retirement. Now the promise of that kind of life is not being upheld any longer. One reason is that unions are under attack, and Woody is irate those attacks. After admitting that he might lose some credibility on that issue because he goes to work every day, as a lawyer, in a suit and tie, he says he doesn’t merely believe unions are important because Democrats always do believe that. Instead, he offers reasons. Like: when organized labor is strong, all workers benefit. Like: the leaders in Jeff City are attacking the very movement that is in large part responsible for good paying jobs and well funded pensions. Like: unions set the standard for what’s fair, and they made a prosperous middle class in this country.
I don’t care if he wears two ties to work, he convinced me of his support for unions.
And he certainly doesn’t stray from the fold on the issue of global warming. Woody is enthusiastic about support for green entrepreneurs. He knows that a green economy will be vitally necessary.
Woody sees one possibility of bipartisan cooperation in the legislature that would help ordinary citizens, specifically Seniors who are having trouble paying rising property taxes. He would back a plan like the successful one in Oregon that allows such elderly people to avoid paying the higher tax rates until they move out of their homes. Many seniors have paid off their mortgages and have equity in their homes that would easily pay the property taxes once they sell. It’s a fine idea that I know other Democratic legislators like too.
But now we come to trickier ground, the part where his Catholicism runs up against our progressive values.
Since Woody went through Catholic schools the whole way, I asked him whether he supported public education. He was unequivocal about support for them, about disapproval of vouchers, and about his disdain for the attacks on teachers.
But. He is pro-life. He tries to take the sting out of that by pointing out that, unlike Republicans, he’s really pro-life. He’s pro-race equality, pro-treating convicted criminals humanely, pro-helping poor people survive and even prosper. That does set him apart from Republicans. However, at least as far as he understands what last year’s legislation on abortion restrictions said–and he hasn’t studied it–he would probably have voted for it. Just as he would vote for restrictions on stem cell research. He supports biomedical research, but only in areas “where no ethical concerns arise, where there is no destruction of embryos.”
For some of us, that’s a deal breaker as far as supporting him as a candidate. It certainly shouldn’t be as far as voting for him, if you happen to live in his district. His opponent, Sommers, visited the state legislature last spring for the final week of the session. Compare that legislative experience with the fact that Woody worked for Gov. Bob Holden, traveling to every corner of the state as Holden talked to constituents. When that stint ended, Woody became the director of communications and policy for House Democrats. He has seen close up how policy gets done in J.C., and having started out as a strongly partisan left winger, he gradually understood that cooperation can often happen. Lots of useful, bipartisan legislation occurs that most people, even those of us tuned in to politics, never hear about.
If his stand on abortion is a deal breaker for you, you can stop reading now. If it isn’t, then know that Paul Woody wouldn’t have taken this much time away from his family if he didn’t believe he could win this one. But he’s going to need help. He needs money to counter the TV ads that Sommers will throw at him and he needs more volunteers.
HD 15 is one of only two races for legislative seats on the ballot in the St. Louis metro area this fall. Sure would be nice to pick up a seat.