Missouri State Rep. Stacey Newman (D-87)
State Representative Stacey Newman has proven a passionate and progressive voice throughout the marbled halls of Jefferson City. Representing District 87 since November 2009, she was first elected in a special election to the Missouri State House after the resignation of Steve Brown.
The mom turned citizen activist cut her teeth in politics by leading the fight against Missouri’s conceal/carry law, working on several legislative campaigns, and as the Women’s Vote Director and Women’s Vote Coordinator for the Missouri Democratic Party.
Whether championing pay equity, women’s reproductive justice, LGBT and racial equality – or tirelessly fighting against gun violence the St. Louis County Democrat is at the top of her game.
During this month’s veto session, Newman, Chair of the House Progressive Caucus and Deputy Minority Whip railed against the Republican-led override of Gov. Nixon’s gun and abortion bills. While her side may have lost, Newman is suited up and ready for another term at the Missouri Capitol.
#Boom kicks off its series of 2014 candidate interviews by sitting down with Newman, who is running unopposed this year, to talk politics, equality, and what’s going on in Jefferson City.
On getting started in politics…
My first career I worked as a flight attendant for TWA – I took an early retirement after 14 years. Actually, aviation, flying around the country, was my life – I took an early buyout when I was pregnant - one child. When Sophie was seven years old, she wrote to Rosie O’Donnell and got on her show to talk about kids and guns. We were not particularly a political family other than being Democrats and watching the news. It totally changed our whole family’s world when the little girl writes a letter to a national talk show host and goes on the air to talk about firearms. This was shortly after Columbine and after some other school shootings, including the day care shooting in Los Angeles that previous fall. As a mom, as a parent, to hear your child at that age talk so eloquently about the fear – she was in the first grade – of guns in schools, shook me to my core and I realized shortly after that TV appearance that I had to do something. If the kid’s willing to go on national TV then me as a parent needs to step up.
We had already committed to participating in the Million Mom March, which that year was Mother’s Day 2000 in Washington, D.C. I had committed to taking a delegation from our Temple – Temple Israel, and so there were 60 of us coming from St. Louis from all over the city that were willing to march on the capitol. This interview on Rosie O’Donnell happened the week before. Sophie asked her on air if she would march with her, which was kind of a cute thing to ask. But the day of the march, we were totally overwhelmed – at the time it was the largest march ever in Washington, D.C – millions of people plus there were millions of people in 60 cities across the country doing rallies at the same time. It was a huge, huge event. It was organized by moms and just exploded. We ended up marching and holding hands with Susan Sarandon, Rosie O’Donnell—Andrew Cuomo was there, and of course, the Clintons were involved – the Gores were involved. But everyone was there as parents – as interested – trying to stop the carnage.
On deciding to run…
I remember it hitting me when we were sitting in the Senate gallery. This was in 2003, they were actually filibustering the conceal weapon bill and I was sitting there with Jeanne [Kirkton], and it was after midnight, and I’m asking Jeanne, “Can we just go home? I’m really tired and I can’t listen to this nonsense any longer.” But I also realized how important it was for us to stay there. Because you’re watching the action and I remember thinking I need to be the one down there. I mean lobbying is great, but I need to be the one to cast my ballot, my vote on things I care about. To me, that’s the ultimate involvement and to be smart – you don’t just wake up one day and say I’m going to run for office, even though there are people who do. You have to look at the lay of the land and I was also aware that Margaret Donnelly was my State Representative and she was ready to move on with term limits. When she announced that she was no longer going to run for reelection I was ready to go.
On entering the Legislature…
I was the only one sworn in January 2010. My class had already had really already completed one year of two year terms, so that was special. Our good friend, Judge Larry Mooney, who’s an appellate judge, swore me in. My husband was there, my family – s o yes, I kind of hogged some of the attention because I was the only one who was sworn in. But that went really fast and the next thing I knew I was at my desk on the floor and ready to go.
My background of being a citizen lobbyist, of understanding how legislation works – the hearings and goals – I didn’t think I was green. I had worked on equal pay, on women’s reproductive justice, equality – all kinds of progressive issues, so I didn’t feel I was behind the eight ball at all. I fit right in – I worked very closely with my friends, most of them elected in 2008. The hard part was because I was already sort of marked as to what my issues are – being a feminist, being extremely progressive – the majority party Speaker of the House also knew who I was and what I stood for. At the time, it was Ron Richard who was the Speaker. I sort of picture myself wearing this little tiara—“I am the new feminist.” So everyone knew it and I was probably not appointed to a committee for over a month. So while all of my colleagues are running around going to committee and budget hearings, I had nothing to do, which felt very odd. But I quickly found ways to get my communications plan together, and yeah – I was singled out. It was very odd, but at the same time, I wasn’t green I was ready to jump right in.
On term limits…
I’m back and forth on term limits, actually. People talk about – with the eight years in the House and the Senate, with term limits, you lose the institutional knowledge. If people aren’t there for 10-20 years you lose the relationships that have built up. To me, I always answer that any job that requires you to have eight years to be able to know how to do it, there’s something wrong. It’s not rocket science. If you care about an issue and you have done your homework in terms of how legislation works and the politics, then it shouldn’t take you eight years to understand what you are doing.
A state representative is kind of at the bottom of the legislative food chain. We have limited powers – particularly being in the minority caucus. But on the flip side in terms of progressives and in particular, women – states that don’t have term limits – we can’t elect progressives and women to office because you can only really get elected when there’s an open seat. So it sort of evens the playing field for all voices that should be at the table. Right now, we’re hovering right at 20 percent of the state legislature being women. Right now, in the House, there are 20 women on each side. There are 40 women out of 163. That’s a normal to an average percentage in other state legislatures and even Congress. So that’s kind of where my heart is too. So I would really like to see more of our voices get elected and knowing that term limits will help that. I’m kind of a rarity in my caucus – people do look at it as a job and as a position. I remember when Joan Bray first ran for State Representative in my similar district. She ran against a long-time incumbent that no one knew who he was and he didn’t do any campaign work thinking he’d be in there forever and she beat him. So it tells you that a long-time incumbent doesn’t mean anything. People should be holding all of us – hopefully my constituents’ hold me to a standard of am I working for them.
On recent veto session…
I think they overreached. Reproductive attacks and gun rights are a political agenda that conservative Republican majorities are using throughout the country, not just in Missouri – to advance their agenda to elect more of their members. It makes me extremely angry that there is no thought in terms of consequences. You know, that it’s real people’s lives that we’re dealing with. They just overturned the veto on 72 hour abortion delay. We tried to point out over and over in all of our debate and work with the media that this is actually real women that you’re talking about – it’s not just this right to life type of thing. That’s what bothers me the most, is they don’t’ care…they don’t care that it’s affecting people.
On guns and choice...
In terms of gun violence, particularly, St. Louis and Kansas City is where our gun crimes are. It’s where both our prosecutors and our mayors and the police chiefs are having a horrible time trying to save lives. This new gun bill, in terms of overruling open carry ordinances to now open carry will be legal anywhere in the state – any weapon there’s no restrictions. Arming teachers – secretly arming teachers. You as a parent would not be able to find out which teacher is armed in your school district. Again, people are against these proposals – superintendants across the state are against them. Many school districts in St. Louis County are saying no, we’re not going to do this. But that’s what makes me angry, is the agenda coming from, again, right to life and the NRA, is more about advancing their agenda and getting more of their conservative members elected than it is about the real consequences. That should infuriate everyone. Do you have to wait until there is gun violence near families?
The thing to hold responsible – and we should the next two years, with the reelection of John Diehl as our next Speaker. He’s from Town and Country, St. Louis County. He as Floor Leader set the agenda. He decided which bills were going to move. Now as the next Speaker, I put this all on his shoulders. His constituents, his own county is against these measures and yet he’s willing to be front and center and allow this extreme agenda to continue because he believes it helps elect his members. So we’re setting policy based on some very extreme right wing ideology.
[Regarding the abortion veto] South Dakota already has it into law which is once you meet with an abortion provider – which there’s only one left in the state... right here – Planned Parenthood, in St. Louis. You had to meet with the doctor and now you have to wait three days. No rape or incest exemption, so now [Missouri's is] just like the South Carolina law. Utah has the 72 hour waiting period but has the rape and incest exemption.
We talked about these – these are real life pregnancies, many of them married women whose pregnancies have gone horribly wrong. A doctor has suggested termination for all kinds of reasons and yet, the entire Republican Party and some of our Democrats support that right to life agenda and they don’t care that it’s real people. Rape and incest victims – you then are almost mandating that we have forced pregnancies.
It’s your personal choice. I shouldn’t come into your house and tell you what your medical care should be. The arguments go back to your killing a life or you’re coming back to a religious view. I’m Jewish and I was just talking to Ray Hartman who reminded me that as a reformed Jew my religion says it’s up to the woman, so does that mean your religion, if you happen to believe differently, trumps mine?
On being a Democrat in a Republican super majority…
I’ve answered this to even some of my own colleagues who have a level of frustration, as you can imagine. To me, I’m in the minority – that’s my role, that’s the way it is so the ball game has to be different. I am not in charge, I am not in power, I don’t have the numbers, and therefore I must be on a defense in terms of progressive issues I care about. I’m not going to Jefferson City to pass a bill. Be very suspect of anyone at your door running for [minority party] office who says “when I get elected I’m going to pass this.” It’s not going to happen – just mostly because we’re in the minority. Minority party legislation does not advance regardless of who you actually think is going to do it for you. That’s not our job. If I was a Republican in the minority, as they once were, I’d be saying the same thing to you. So I go into it – I put the hat on that I am on defense. The stuff I care about I’m going to take then to the hill. So since I’m not there to pass legislation, I’m going to fight it the best way I know how and that is through arguing committee, arguing on the floor, communications. I’d say 90 percent of what I do through my office is communications trying to get the story out of the capitol to the people – to the people that vote and just say, look, you guys are actually in charge here. Voters are in charge. You hiring your elected to go down and advance policy. You need to know what is actually happening under the dome and that’s what I do – not just in my district, but around the state... to say, look, if we can get more voters to actually care and to understand that it is a circle and if we can get more people to actually participate I think that things will be different.
On becoming aware of LGBT issues…
If I don’t have to say my age, I’d say high school, actually. I think for many of us who are progressive, regardless if we’re gay or gay allies – particularly as a woman I’ve always been aware of discrimination. I was going to college during the Jane Pauley era and wanted to originally go into journalism and I was faced with discrimination based on gender. Discrimination based on anything is an easy thing for me to fight because I understand it from myself. I am obviously going to be empathetic to other people and just believe that we all need to work together to eradicate it all. It’s a struggle and I work very closely with A.J. Bockelman [Executive Director of PROMO, Missouri’s statewide LGBT advocacy organization] and he’s a close friend, too. It’s so easy because when you understand discrimination, when you’ve felt it yourself in some respect, then it’s real easy to fight.
On Marriage Equality and MONA…
To me, if you go back in history and look at the history of equality rights of not just the LGBT community but women, too. Most of it has come through court decisions. Women got their right to vote through a fluke – it wasn’t a legislative thing, it was actually a fluke of congress. To me, I’m just so heartened in terms of seeing these decisions being toppled in so many states across the country. Yeah, I think that’s what has to happen here in Missouri because there is a momentum now to equality, to doing the right thing. I think particularly in the last 10 years the majority of people believe this – they are seeing it.
Going back to MONA – actually MONA helped me get the nomination in that special election. There were seven of us vying and I was the only one who knew what MONA was, which was kind of cool to be the only one who could explain it.
Also, look at the trajectory in terms of equal rights for women. I am not equal in our U.S. Constitution and I don’t know if I’ll ever be. It’s such a huge uphill battle to ratify the last states needed to put it in the Constitution, which is part of the problem of someone dealing with equal pay. So if we can’t even get to those things which we have been fighting for 100 years, I don’t know how we’re going to do MONA. In Missouri, because again I sponsor equal pay legislation in the House and for two years I had a supportive Republican who would give me a hearing. Because he got it – he felt his mother was discriminated against in her work as a school superintendant. He’s gone. I can’t even get equal pay to a hearing. So right now, MONA is actually more advanced in the Missouri Legislature than pay equity is. So that is still, I think, the idea – and I don’t understand the other side, this whole mandating equality. I mean, yeah, I wish we didn’t have to mandate equality, don’t you? And we can all just live like we’re supposed to and do the right thing. The next step, too, in terms of pay equity is a federal law in terms of gender. The problem is enforcement. We don’t have the enforcement mechanisms. So again, MONA has a lot further to go and I’m hopeful – we keep working it, PROMO’s presence in the capitol is fabulous under A.J.
On needing younger voices…
Here’s the thing that’s hopeful for all of us – you’re seeing it outside the capitol, you’re seeing the younger generations where equality is a no brainer. So as we see younger people also getting elected to the legislature, people who are not in their 50s or 60s, it’s a no brainer. That to me is the key, if we can, through term limits, get more representative people elected that you don’t have to lobby and convince that already understand it then I think, yeah. It’s back again to the fact that I think term limits give us the opportunity to get more progressives elected.
It’s a horrific situation, to say the least. We were all glued to the television and online via Twitter & Facebook and appalled that prejudice exists right here in our back yard, in our town. We’ve agonized, we’re embarrassed, and we know it was wrong.
I’m an activist at heart and look at the world through that lens. We progressives know that racism is wrong regardless of where it is. It is challenging now to review policies, including state and local laws, which must be changed in order for this tragedy never happens again.
We care about our community, we care about the families involved, we care about the businesses – there’s way more to Ferguson then the couple of blocks which were highlighted on national TV. We must work through the emotions and anger to find real solutions that work - that save lives.
We must all work together to elect the right leaders who are responsible for many of the policies. This involves finding good candidates to run (even at the local level) and then working hard to get them elected. There’s more to do than just registering people to vote...we must give people a strong reason to use the power of their vote . We must engage the entire community and put voter apathy to rest. Ferguson has woken us all up.
On recruiting candidates…
I can only speak for myself. I became so angry, impassionate, entrenched in an issue and I saw what was happening with my local electeds and legislature and I saw real quickly that’s what it takes. It takes you being willing to not just cast your vote, but to say, wait a minute, I’m going to run for that office because I have this passion that is driving me.