By Kat Riddler, Managing Editor
Students, faculty, staff, and community members of the University of Missouri-St. Louis came together Friday in the Fireside Lounge from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. to speak with four elected officials from around Missouri. The event, Lunch with Elected Leaders, was formerly called Lunch with Legislators and is hosted by the Associated Students of the University of Missouri (ASUM). They made the decision to expand their invitations from just state representatives and state senators to include local government elected public officials as well.
The four speakers who attended were Republican State Representative Cloria Brown, from district 94 in South St. Louis County, Republican State Representative Tom Hannegan from district 65 in St. Charles, Democrat St. Louis City Treasurer Tishaura Jones, and Democrat State Representative Deb Lavender from district 90 in Kirkwood. Following a buffet luncheon for all in attendance, each guest was invited to speak about themselves, why they ran for the position, and projects they are working on.
This was Brown’s second year attending the Lunch with Elected Leaders event at UMSL. Representative Brown is retired, focusing on her fifth year in the House of Representatives. She explained a little bit about her typical day serving on numerous committees. Brown explained what a representative does, “I view it as three things…They vote for bills, they do a budget, and they help the constituents.” She continued that normally she receives calls to help constituents because they do not know who else to call and she navigates them to the right place.
Representative Hannegan works as a magazine publisher of Street Scape Magazine in St. Charles on top of his duties in the House of Representatives. Hannegan said, “I think it’s very ironic that I chose politics and I have this media background because sometimes media and politics don’t necessarily get along. I guess I bring a different perspective.”
Hannegan was interested in representing St. Charles in Jefferson City to make sure it was not forgotten. Hannegan said, “I was one of those people who wasn’t in politics but I enjoyed politics. I was one of those who would go to the city council meetings or the county council meetings, the only one in the audience. Or if I didn’t go I would watch on local access cable… By doing that, it energizes you to find out about government and get involved.”
Representative Hannegan encouraged everyone to get involved on any level. He also commented on something he was told early in his career in Jefferson City. Hannegan said, “Don’t worry about trying to pass laws and create new stuff, sometimes you just have to be there so the bad stuff doesn’t get through. That’s just as important as creating the good stuff.”
Working for equal rights for LGBTQ residents of Missouri is one of Representative Hannegan’s current goals. Currently, in the housing and employment industries, residents can be discriminated against if they are perceived as gay, lesbian, bi, or transgender. This discrimination can happen while other legislative members are pushing for more protective legal rights for other classes when there is a class of citizen who does not have the basic legal rights as other citizens.
City Treasurer Jones was a State Representative for four years and served as the first African-American and female Assistant Minority floor leader while there. She became the first female City Treasurer in 2012. The diverse position is responsible for processing payroll, investing the reserve funds for the City, and parking supervision. Some of the parking revenue is directed into a program for financial empowerment for St. Louis City residents with the new Office of Financial Empowerment. They have a program for a children’s savings account in which the City begins with a $50 deposit with a match savings for the first $100 saved, up to $50 for perfect or near perfect attendance, and parents can earn up to $50 for completing financial education courses. Jones said, “Why am I so passionate about financial empowerment? Because in 2012 when I was running for treasurer, I noticed that the FDIC reported that over one third of African-Americans in the region were unbanked or underbanked.”
Unbanked means that a person spends over $1200 to get access to their paycheck every year. Underbanked means that residents have a bank but they still use predatory services for credit. Jones hopes to get more people banked and give students a chance to save up to go to college. She quoted research done at Washington University, “Children with less than $500 saved are three times more likely to go to college and four times more likely to complete college.”
Representative Lavender works as a physical therapist on top of her duties in Jefferson City. She also had an interest in politics and current events, but she believed she was unqualified. She said, “Everyone sitting in this room is just as qualified to be a representative… It’s how you go about getting there.”
Representative Lavender joked she took the longest route to get where she was. She ran three times and lost before she finally won in 2014. Lavender said, “I love the work. I love the opportunity to learn. It is ongoing. If there is a topic you are interested in, you can make a phone call and they will come and talk to you about it. I find it fascinating and I’m thrilled to have the opportunity to have the job.”
ASUM is a non-partisan, non-profit student lobbying organization since 1975. Every student enrolled in a University of Missouri campus is a member. ASUM is involved in many political events on campus, assisting with voter registration, helping students with absentee ballots, organizing candidate forums, student issue surveys, and the state internship program. ASUM sends students from all four campuses and registers them as lobbyists to lobby on behalf of students around the UM System. Applications are open now for the spring internship.
ASUM’s mission is to advocate and lobby for student interests while educating students on the importance of involvement in government. ASUM lobbies on behalf of UM student interests and provides meaningful student leadership and hands-on learning experiences in the area of policy development, higher education concerns and processes, and day to day operations of state and federal government. ASUM is looking for applicants for the spring lobbyist internship program. Questions about ASUM or the internship program can be directed to UMSL’s ASUM President Jordan Lucas, graduate, economics, at firstname.lastname@example.org.