JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. – After years of being asked how she could be a Democrat, Rep. Linda Black announced last week that she is switching parties in her final term, choosing to serve as a Republican in the 98th General Assemby. The St. Francois County representative has been a regular voice of bipartisanship and a tireless pro-life voice in a Democratic party that is increasingly pro-choice.
“When people asked me, ‘Why are you even a Democrat?’ I got to the point where I didn’t know anymore,” Black said.
On her way back from Jefferson City after a long day of press appearances following her first Republican caucus, Rep. Black took the time to answer 5 questions from The Missouri Times.
“I’m going to go feed the cows for a few days – they don’t care if I’m a Democrat or a Republican,” Black said.
1. What are the biggest takeaways you’ve had so far?
I knew that there would be negative feedback at switching parties. I knew that going into it. I had to weigh out how important it was for me to switch versus what I would have to go through and the negative feedback that was a result of that. There has been some negativity, but there has also been overwhelming support from people, especially from those who have said, “I used to be a Democrat, now I vote Republican” and “You’re the only Democrat I’ve ever voted for or will vote for because I know that your values and my values are the same.” The positive has far outweighed that negative feedback. Moving forward, I will not regret this decision. It’s one that maybe I should have made some time ago. Here we are and I’ve got to move forward from this point on.
2. Why was it such an important decision for you to make?
It was such an important decision to make because, just recently, the ruling on gay marriage — and the Missouri Constitution very specifically defines what marriage means in Missouri. The voters voted several years ago — 71% of the people – said that marriage is between a man and a woman. Here we are with Democratic leadership who will not support Missouri’s position on marriage. That was one tipping point.
There have been several factors. One, I came in several years ago and there were 32 pro-life Democrats. Now there were 2 – myself and Ben Harris. Our very own leadership – Rep. Jake Hummel — who I think the world of and he is a very close personal friend of mine – came in as pro-life Democrats. [Hummel] is now pro-choice. It is essential to recognize that he has changed his position. Whereas, my party affiliation has changed, my fundamental beliefs have not varied or changed from what I came in as. I have to question whether Missouri Democrats value life less than they did 6 years ago or is changing to accommodate a party. Like has been said before by Ronald Reagan, “I didn’t leave the Party, the Party has just left me.” My leadership no longer had the pro-life beliefs that I had and I had to make a decision and I made it.
3. This is your first time caucusing with Republicans. What are some differences you’ve seen from being a Democrat and now being a Republican in an uber-subermajority?
It is very different. When I leave my district and I go to Jefferson City and caucus with the Democrats, I am the oddball out. I am the one that they don’t hear from and they don’t discuss with and they don’t bring into leadership-type discussions because I vary from their general beliefs. It’s been a cold reception by the Democrats, but the Republican caucus today embraced me with open arms, was very supportive, and very appreciative that I was willing to stand up to the challenge of all the negative feedback to do what I felt was morally, socially, and fundamentally right for me as a person. I think it is very refreshing for my district and the way they vote. It’s a very conservative district back home. The Republican caucus has been very, very accepting and a very warm, welcoming place for me. It’s a natural fit.
4. Do you feel over the next two years, do you feel that you will not only be more welcome, but more productive legislatively?
Absolutely. Now, my citizens back home will have a representative who can move legislation, who can get bills passed, that can be part of active talk on key legislation that is taking place across the state. With the Democrats, I completely felt like I was in the dark. The Governor did not communicate with us as a caucus at all. We felt like we were getting second- and sometimes third-hand information. I’ll have more information, more resources available to do a better job.
5. Generally, what do you want people to know about this choice and the transition that you’re making?
It is important for people to understand that I have always been very bipartisan. I have a reputation for working well with the Republican Party. I was the former chairman of the corrections committee appointed by then-Speaker Steven Tilley. This is an established relationship that I have working across the aisle. This isn’t something new. In my last term, the effectiveness that I will have will supersede any negativity and people will see back in my district, when session reconvenes in January, that they have the same representative working just as hard, getting more things done and being more effective in the role that I have.
Rachael Herndon was the editor at The Missouri Times and also produced This Week in Missouri Politics, published Missouri Times Magazine, and co-hosted the #MoLeg podcast. She joined The Missouri Times in 2014, returning to political reporting after working as a campaign and legislative staffer.
Rachael studied at the University of Missouri – Columbia. She lives in Jefferson City with her husband, Brandon, and their two children.