Fresh Off Their Election Wins, ‘The Real Work Begins’ For Missouri’s New Legislators
When the 100th Missouri General Assembly starts Jan. 9, more than 30 percent of the seats will be filled by new lawmakers. Many are finding that it’s one thing to run for state office, it’s another to actually serve.
“We just put so much time and effort into (the election) and it went on forever and ever, and now the real work begins … that wasn’t even doing the job,” said Matt Sain, a Democrat who unseated Republican Kevin Corlew in House District 18, which covers portions of Platte and Clay Counties.Along with learning how to file bills and where to park, the new legislators must also juggle their new roles with their existing careers. Among the 62 new House members in the freshman class are people with professions as varied as clergy members, attorneys and restaurant owners.
“I spent a couple of months before I announced, working through what this would look like with the congregation that I serve to make sure that they were OK with having their senior pastor go out and do this,” said Doug Richey, who has been at the helm of Pisgah Baptist Church in Excelsior Springs for 13 years.
New lawmakers also have to hire staff for their offices. House members often share legislative assistants, but senators must hire a legislative assistant and chief of staff.
“I mean the Senate district has about 175,000 people, and so it's really just three people that the senator, the chief of staff and the legislative assistant that are responsible for handling all the legislation that's coming through the office and doing good constituent outreach,” said state Sen.-elect Tony Luetkemeyer, a Republican who’ll represent Platte and Buchanan counties.
Luetkemeyer and Richey have found staff members with extensive experience in Jefferson City, which will help as they try to learn lawmaking “on the fly,” as Rep.-elect Vic Allred put it.
“I'm really lucky to have a legislative assistant with about 20 years experience,” said Allred, a Republican who will represent areas of Platte County. “I'm going to lean on her pretty hard and then hopefully the process plays out pretty well.”
Richey, a Republican who will represent House District 38 in Clay County, gave high marks to the state’s orientation process for new lawmakers, which began in November with a three-day session in Jefferson City.
“Everything from introducing us to staff, the various departments within the building, processes, going through mock hearing sessions, mock floor sessions,” Richey said.All new lawmakers were also invited to go on a two-week bus tour of Missouri, taking them from Cape Girardeau to St. Joseph to visit a range of places that included prisons and aquariums.
“The easiest way to describe it is we went to places that get state money … and so basically they wanted to show us that they were being good stewards of the state's money,” Allred said. “On the other hand, we went to places that generate revenue for the state.
Balancing actAllred said balancing his time between the five restaurants he either owns or co-owns and the legislative transition would be tricky, but doesn’t regret going on the tour.
“I think the bus tour has really been great because it gives everybody a chance to know each other and on the bus,” he said. “We really don't know who’s an R and who’s a D, you’re just gonna know that they're your friend now.”
Current lawmakers said those relationships will help when the fun is over and the hard work of legislating and compromise begins.
“Even though I often clashed with members of the Republican party, because we got to know each other early on, there was at least that established trust and that foundation of a relationship,” said Democratic Sen. Lauren Arthur. “And so we could have those tough conversations.”
Arthur, who joined the Senate in September after serving almost two terms in the House, said her advice to new lawmakers is that learning the rules and customs of the chambers early pays off later.
Fellow Democrat Wes Rogers of Clay County, who is taking Arthur’s House seat, and said her help was essential during the transition. He considers himself more fortunate than some other lawmakers, because he has his own law practice and can set his own schedule.
“It’s something you really gotta want to do. I mean, I don't wake up every morning thinking, ‘How am I going to balance all this?’” Rogers said. “I wake up every morning thinking, 'OK, let's go make a difference.' And I think if you have that attitude, you just make it work.”
Samuel King is the Missouri government and politics reporter at KCUR 89.3. Follow him on Twitter: @SamuelKingNews.