Rep. DaRon McGee has dreamed of being a lawmaker for decades. He still recalls the field trips to the Missouri State Capitol back in elementary school and says that he knew then that he wanted to work in that esteemed building.
“Like most legislators, you get a bunch of 4th graders coming down here for a field trip,” he said with a chuckle. “And years ago, I was one of those 4th graders, and I came in this building and fell in love with it.”
And in 2015, he made that dream a reality. And while he may have been a freshman legislator in this last term, the Kansas City state representative has some noticeable distinctions from his fellow freshman class. McGee is, simply put, the senior among the 2017-2018 freshman class because of his “early start.”
He says that learning the process shows each legislator that they don’t know as much as they thought before entering the office.
“It’s just different once you’re elected,” he said. “You think you kind of know how things work because many of us have been involved in politics or government in some shape or form. It’s just a different scenario once you are the one making a decision or casting a vote.”
But that one extra year helped propel McGee into a position of importance among his caucus. McGee sits as the Minority Caucus Secretary, a position he was selected for in 2016 by his colleagues in the Democratic Party.
“I was very lucky, I was very honored and blessed by my colleagues and caucus that, after one year of being elected, they voted me as the caucus secretary,” he said. “I don’t know that there’s ever been a legislator to do that, but I feel extremely blessed that they trust me enough to do it.”
Naturally, running for leadership is much any other race, and one must campaign. McGee says that it was an opportunity to really get in touch with the caucus, to sit down and meet with them all.
As secretary, McGee is expected to keep the correspondence to the caucus, as well as coordinating meetings and details. But more importantly, he has a seat at the table for the meetings to discuss caucus strategies with the other leaders.
McGee also sits on one of the most important committees in the state: the House Budget Committee. That work, McGee says, is some of the most important work that a legislator can do, and indeed, it is something he is most proud of.
“It’s a lot of work,” he said. “The budget committee, to me, is very crucial because that is an area where the minority party can really have some influence because there’s so much more negotiation. You have the power of the purse, and it has the most impact on the state and the services we provide.”
In the past session, McGee worked with Sen. Kiki Curls to ensure that $2.8 million would go toward access for recovery funds, money to help people who are struggling with addiction.
“We want those people to have a safe and clean environment to go and get treatment, especially with opioids,” he said. “Before, it was a federal grant, and that grant ran out. Now, we’ve made it a statewide program that is available to citizens statewide.”
McGee said that it was almost unheard of to see such a motion carry through like that proposed item, which had no lobbyist but really originated as more of a grassroots push, particularly in just one year.
But another item that McGee has pushed for is a piece of legislation called “Blair’s Law”, which carried the number of HB 2302 in the 2018 legislative session.
Simply put, the bill sought to change the law to prohibit the firing of a weapon for celebratory purposes inside city limits. The reasoning behind this is that accidents do occur, and firing weapons into the air on the 4th of July or New Year’s always requires those to remember a simple truth about gravity: what goes up must come down.
“It simply gives a prosecutor another tool in the toolbox to prosecute the people who do that,” he said. “Stray bullets can hit children, and I want to protect them.”
McGee picked up the torch on the bill, which has been tried before with no avail, but in his hands, the bill moved further than it ever has before in the legislature – it passed through the House, with some help from fellow freshman Rep. Nick Schroer. He says he intends to sponsor it again, given the opportunity.
McGee says he is also proud of his work with Rep. Jeanie Lauer in bringing 911 services to the entire state.
Looking forward, McGee says he just hopes to continue serving in whatever capacity that might mean. His hope, he says, is that his constituents know that he is here to represent and work for them.
This appeared in the fall 2018 edition of the Missouri Times Magazine, available in Jefferson City at the Capitol, Tolson’s, Cork, and J. Pfenny’s, and online here.
Benjamin Peters is a reporter for the Missouri Times and Missouri Times Magazine, and also produces the #MoLeg Podcast. He joined the Missouri Times in 2016 after working as a sports editor and TV news producer in mid-Missouri. Benjamin is a graduate of Missouri State University in Springfield. To contact Benjamin, email firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @BenjaminDPeters.