Columbia: Commonalities, money influence focus of female leaders in politics forum

Finding commonalities and a desire for less campaign influence because of money were the focus of a Show-Me Women in Politics forum Tuesday night at Stephens College.

The event was hosted by the Unnamed Committee in Boone County for Open Minds in Politics in cooperation with the college.

Former Columbia Mayor Mary Anne McCollum, former State Rep. Vicki Riback Wilson, current state Rep. Cheri Toalson Reisch, Boone County District II Commissioner Janet Thompson and Republican candidate for Boone County recorder of deeds Shamon Jones took part. The forum was moderated by former Boone County Commissioner Karen Miller.

The evening started off with each woman discussing why she became involved in politics in the first place.

McCollum was the first woman mayor of Columbia. Before that, she was a Second Ward council member. She initially got into local politics to address the hot topic of the day, which was stormwater.

Riback Wilson was the first Boone County woman elected to state office. She was asked by former State Rep. Chris Kelly to run to fill the seat left open by Ken Jacob, she said.

Jones, like Riback Wilson, received a call asking her to run. She said she wants to reconnect families with personal history through records at the recorder’s office and opportunities at Daniel Boone Regional Library and the State Historical Society of Missouri.

Raithel in November. If she wins, the next term would be her last in the House due to term limits.

She became involved in politics as a teenager. She previously had served as city clerk and deputy court administrator in Hallsville. She went on to be that town’s mayor as well before advancing to state office.

Thompson, a longtime public defender, was among forum participants to receive a call about running for office. She realized the work she was doing as a defender would fit with the work of the county commission, she said.

A lot of collaboration

When Riback Wilson was in office, she was among a group of women who established a bipartisan women legislators group. She also was in office as the makeup of the General Assembly switched from majority Democrat to Republican.

Experiencing other cultures is what helped her learn to interact with others.

“(You need to) make sure you put yourself in uncomfortable or different situations,” she said, adding she viewed going into the legislature as a foreign country with a different culture. “I have to be open here in the same way I was when I was living overseas.”

The bipartisan group found common ground on legislation. This same group also has a yearly fundraiser, Toalson Reisch said, adding it doubled its awards in Missouri’s eight congressional districts this year to high school female seniors.

Toalson Reisch also relies on other people’s experiences serving on the House Education Committee, such as Democrat Paula Brown from Hazelwood, who was a lifelong school administrator prior to joining state office.

“There is a lot of collaboration,” Toalson Reisch said.

Finding commonalities is all about listening, McCollum said. Jones cited a time in which she was able to find commonalities with a person of the Buddhist faith for a faith walk. She also noted her ability to understand a variety of perspectives, noting her upbringing with a religious mother, but an atheist grandfather.

Have to fix the system

McCollum and Riback Wilson both were concerned over the preponderance of political action committees. These organizations were first starting to gain traction when Riback Wilson was in office, she said.

“I had a primary and general for a total of $36,000. Now that doesn’t get people one week,” Riback Wilson said, noting her time in office and campaigning was around 25 years ago. “We are complicit in wanting to watch an ad on TV, rather than go out and hear a (candidate) speak in person.

“This is a broken system if we rely on money.”

Toalson Reisch said increased campaign spending is an unfortunate reality now because of all the venues needed to advertise. Not only on TV or radio, but online and through social media platforms.

“It is expensive to run a radio ad or a commercial (in this area). When you are starting out as a new candidate, you have to start from scratch with nothing,” she said.

It is important to have that face-to-face interaction with constituents, both Toalson Reisch and Riback Wilson said.

New candidates are trying to play catch-up with their fundraising against better-funded or incumbent candidates, Thompson said, in part referring to Jones and her candidacy.

“We have to fix the system and not just say it is unfortunate,” she said. “There is intentionality in where people are putting their money and it is having an impact and it often is coming from outside.”

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