“The hard-working people of Mid-Missouri are tired of government that works only for the few, for the wealthy and for the well-connected. I’m running for state representative to stand up for working men and women, for seniors, for people with disabilities, for students, for teachers and for everyone in the 50th District who isn’t being heard in Jefferson City.”
This statement on Michela Skelton’s website echoes the core values that Mobilize Missouri embodies. It also serves as an appropriate introduction to our first endorsement of 2017: Michela Skelton for MO House District 50.
Skelton is the sole Democratic candidate running in the Aug. 8 special election for Missouri’s 50th House District. The district includes portions of Boone, Cole, Cooper and Moniteau counties. The election was set by former Gov. Jay Nixon after former Rep. Caleb Jones, R-Columbia, resigned to become deputy chief of staff to Gov. Eric Greitens.
We sat down with Michela to learn more about her and the upcoming election.
Q: If I had an opportunity to ask you to describe yourself before you decided to file, how would you have answered back then?
A: This is a really hard question, but I think the honest answer would be lost. When I was working for the Senate, I was prevented from participating in discussion of anything that could be perceived to be political and I’ve always been a very passionate and opinionated person. So while I loved being a wife and mother and an employee, my job had limited me so that I could not be a whole person with thoughts and ideas about how to make our world a better place. Leaving that job to work on the Bernie Sanders presidential primary campaign helped me to find myself and my voice again.
Q: You’ve been quoted saying, “I plan on winning this race by talking to everybody I absolutely can.” How does the special election change the way you approach that? What are you losing or gaining from having more than a year of campaign time cut out of your strategy?
A: I will definitely be short on time to talk to every potential voter, but I still intend on trying to knock on every door where I think someone is open to hearing from me. I also think it will inhibit my ability to reach out to non-voters to get them engaged for this election. But after the election is over in August, I’ll be right back out there again trying to reach anyone I missed between now and August. I’ll be getting new people registered to vote and engaged in the political process. Because after the August election is over, November of 2018 will be coming quicker than we’d like to think.
Q: You are running as Democrat. Are you able to identify a few key ways in which you deviate from the current national Democratic Party? From the current Missouri Democratic Party?
A: I think one of the few key ways I would deviate from the current national Democratic Party is that I do not believe focusing almost to the exclusion of all else on the advancement of the knowledge economy is going to be able to lift up all of those suffering in my district. I also think we need to be focusing on our moral values of compassion, equality, opportunity and justice for all and bring every policy prescription back to those basic ideals. One of the key ways I differ from the current, though evolving, Missouri Democratic Party is that rural areas and rural constituents are important for the future of our party and our state. We need to do better to hear and recognize the concerns of those people and spend more time and resources on engaging with those communities.
Q: From your website, “I will fight for the rights of workers to unionize and bargain for higher wages and better working conditions.” In the event that House Bill 91 (“Right to Work”) becomes law, what does your vision for “fighting for workers’ rights” look like?
A: My vision of fighting for workers’ rights would be about changing the narrative about the purpose and function of unions as the protectors of worker freedom and strength against corporate tyranny. Until the greater public recognizes what an important function unions and the workers that participate in them serve, it will be hard to turn back legislation like HB 91. I will also support efforts through ballot initiatives to restore the rights of workers through amendments to the Missouri Constitution.
Q: If you are elected, how do you plan to balance your personal beliefs with the needs and desires of your constituents? Do you feel capable of voting against your personal beliefs in a situation where the voters make their opposing opinion very clear?
A: As a representative, I will be elected to serve the varying needs and desires of my constituents. So long as the desires of my constituents do not conflict with the core principles of compassion, equality, and justice upon which I am basing my campaign I can and will set aside my personal beliefs and preferences to meet the needs and desires of my constituents.
Q: What is your biggest takeaway from your time working as Staff Attorney for the Missouri Senate?
A: Term limits have had the unfortunate side effect of taking the power of expertise out of the hands of long serving legislators and placing it with lobbyists. More often than not, when I was writing legislation as a nonpartisan staff person, I was working with the lobbyists because the Senators did not have the knowledge or expertise to grapple with complex issues especially in their first several terms.
Q: Why are you running for office?
A: I am running for office because I believe the voters of the 50th House District deserve are representative who is willing to return their phone calls and emails, be present in their communities, and actually serve their needs and interests rather than those of big-dollar donors and industry lobbyists. I think I have the knowledge and training to be an effective representative from the day I am elected.
Q: Why now?
A: When I was interviewed for the position at Senate Research, I was asked if I had ever thought about running for office. I said that I had when I was younger, but the currently hostile partisan environment convinced me that I didn’t want to. After working there for several years I realized that the reason the system was broken is because too many good people with the knowledge and skill to do a good job were afraid to put themselves out there and do the messy work of leading. I have seen up close and personal how the system is failing us and I want to be part of the change to make it better. If not me, who? If not now, when?
Q: The percentage of active and resident lawyers in Missouri compared to employment is less than 1%. Lawyers represent nearly 13% of all seats in the Missouri House. As a lawyer, how important do you think it is for the makeup of our policy makers to mimic that of the represented population?
A: I think it is very important for the makeup of our policy makers to mimic that of the represented population. However, because of term limits there is a need for more specialized knowledge about how the law works that I think is an important consideration in terms of the over representation by lawyers. I think considering the background and life experience and not just current occupation is also an important consideration in determining appropriate representation. There are huge barriers to a truly representative citizen legislature and many voices and life experiences get left out. We don’t currently have the support mechanisms in place to allow minimum wage workers, single parents, and those living in poverty to serve in the state legislature. The least we can do is elect people who are willing to listen to their stories and represent their needs just as they would for everyone else.
Q: What is something you’d like the people in St. Louis and Kansas cities to know about the people of Boone, Cole, Moniteau and Cooper counties?
A: There are so many more things that we all have in common than the things that make us different. We all want our children to succeed, to have a job that allows us to pay the rent or mortgage and put dinner on the table, and have a purpose in our lives that brings us joy and fulfillment. The more we can talk about those commonalities the easier it will be to stand together to make life better for everyone.
Q: If you could speak to Governor Greitens today as an elected official, what would you say to or ask of him?
A: When you do things that improve the lives of average Missourians, like opposing corporate welfare in the form of tax incentives for a sports arena, I will stand with you. But, when you do things that hurt average Missourians to benefit big corporate interests, like stripping the rights of workers to freely contract with their employers through a union or cutting funding for our community schools to pay for big corporate tax cuts, I will be loud in my opposition and be sure that every voter in my district knows how these policies will hurt us all.
Q: What’s one thing you wish every voter already knew about you by the time you arrive at their door?
A: I care about each and every person in this district and I want us all to succeed. The most important thing I can do as a representative is listen, and that is what my visit is all about.
Find out more about Michela and her run here.