ST. LOUIS – Hundreds of Republicans descended onto St. Louis this past weekend for the annual Lincoln Days conference hosted by the Missouri Republican Party. The theme: grassroots, grassroots, grassroots.
“You heard it all this evening: as Missouri Republicans, we have a good story to tell, we have a lot to be proud of, and we have a lot of work to do,” MRP Chair Kay Hoflander said, wrapping up the Friday evening banquet.
Both U.S. Senators, two of the four Republican congresspeople, the Governor, Lt. Governor, Attorney General, Treasurer, Secretary of State, and dozens of the Republican state legislative supermajority were in attendance.
The popular Friday night MRP banquet was keynoted by Gov. Matt Blunt.
GRASSROOTS, GRASSROOTS, GRASSROOTS
Republicans laid out a bottom-up strategy for defending, maintaining, and growing the supermajority of Republicans going into 2020.
Most attendees of Lincoln Days, aside from working politicos and politicians, are activists involved in local politics. Statewide and national representatives pleaded to the crowds to be inspired and active.
“I am really encouraged — as always — with the great crowd of grassroots activists,” Congresswoman Ann Wagner said. Wagner’s entry into politics was as the Lafayette Township committeewoman to the party. “We consider Lincoln Days a tradition in the Wagner family.”
Wagner praised Sen. Roy Blunt for his grassroots maneuvering, saying, “He works this state, grassroots on up.” Blunt has visited every county (plus the city of St. Louis) in the state at least three times.
“We need to have our grassroots people fired up,” Lt. Gov. Mike Kehoe said at the banquet.
In a show of strength and faith, Hoflander and statewides praised the new leadership of Jean Evans as party executive director.
“I believe Jean is a rare and special talent,” Hoflander said. “It takes a special individual to be successful. More than that, she can be a star. I suspect we will see Jean Evans: rising star. No person better suited.”
Evans, who resigned from the House less than a month ago to lead the Party, sought to motivate activists with her own activism and hope for increasing the already deep bench of Republican candidates.
“I love finding and developing talent and seeing them succeed,” Evans said, alluding to her 30-year volleyball coaching experience.
Her father used to tell her, “Whatever it took to get you there, we’ll do what we need to keep you here.”
Evans stressed that not only do candidates and activists need to continue working, they need to keep working harder.
“I’m one of those suburban women who they’re saying is leaving the party, but I’m not leaving,” Evans said. “We have the same values.”
Kehoe resounded the call, praising the direction the supermajorities have sent the state.
“We really are going in a great direction in this state,” Kehoe said. “The statewides are listening to Missouri. We need to approach grassroots from a retail, not wholesale, end.”
The Friday keynote may have explained the importance of grassroots best to attendees.
“Large Republican support means fewer resources from the national party,” former Gov. Matt Blunt said. “It’s up to us to win these elections.”
“It’s important to reflect on what can be done when Republican governors work with Republican legislatures,” Blunt said, pointing to the budget surplus established without raising taxes during his tenure, as well as tort reform, and endorsing the current governor’s priorities.
“The Governor has provided an ambitious agenda,” Blunt said. “It is absolutely the right agenda for our state.”
Attendees walked into the Sheraton Westport Chalet to be inundated with campaign materials — one of the most notable, rally signs shaped like stop signs that said “Stop Socialism” by the Treasurer Scott Fitzpatrick campaign. The signs went on to be one of the most talked about collateral with none available to be picked up by Saturday noon.
Fitzpatrick’s campaign also brought a giant 8-foot tall bi-fold sign for supporters to sign to “send a message to Washington.” However, the Fitzpatrick campaign was not the only entity pushing against what national policies state Republicans are deeming socialist, including the Green New Deal.
“America will never be a socialist country,” Wagner said to cheers Friday night.
National politics have polarized, Blunt contended in a rallying cry for civics education.
“Never in my lifetime or the lifetime of anyone in this room have the two parties offered such vastly different platforms. They’re socialist,” Blunt said. “We need to be sure to educate young people about civics so they learn about civics before it’s too late.”
Attorney General Eric Schmitt also alluded to the needs of civics education, with one of his students of a class he taught in the audience.
“We support life because we want every child to support the freedoms and liberties that make America what it is today,” Blunt said. “You know what is at stake. It’s going to take hard work and I’m confident that we will deliver results. My constant prayer will be that God will continue to bless Missouri.”
The Governor also poked at socialism, as well, separating state and political trends.
“As Democrats scramble to get supporters to endorse socialist politics, Republicans want to get government out of the way,” Parson said. “Missouri is on the right track.”
Across the country just outside of Washington, D.C., the annual Conservative Political Action Committee saw multiple pokes at socialism, including a cry from U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz who said the Green New Deal was not only socialist, but a threat to America’s beloved cheeseburgers.
Governor Parson, Secretary of State Ashcroft, Attorney General Schmitt, and Treasurer Fitzpatrick all touted voter-responsive specific priorities, respectively: workforce development and infrastructure, IP reform, safer streets, and stopping socialism.
Upon taking the stage, the Governor first introduced his wife, Teresa, who has been by his side at the vast majority of his ventures. The First Lady received one of the few full standing ovations.
The popularity of the Governor and First Lady was echoed throughout the conference with attendees commenting and complimenting how open the Governor’s Office and Governor’s Mansion have been. Even with staff in tow, the Governor was quick to constantly recognize attendees and shake their hands.
“We love it when our Governor repeats those words: ‘I love this state,’” Hoflander said, introducing the Governor at the Friday banquet.
Parson talked about the shared priorities of the supermajority Republican presence in the Capitol and the President: creating jobs, putting Americans back to work, and addressing infrastructure needs.
“I am looking forward to the President leading our ticket in 2020,” Parson said, denoting the “terrible policies of the socialist left,” citing the Green New Deal and how Democratic candidates for president have endorsed the policy. “This will lead to more failed big government. We don’t need a culture of government dependency. For the sake of our next generation, we must stand united.”
Both the Governor and President share strong popularity throughout Missouri. An American Viewpoint polling memo from February 12-14 showed Parson has a 57 percent approval rating and President Trump with a 53 percent approval rating — 94 percent approval with Republicans. The poll has a margin of error of 3.5 percent and had 42 percent conducted via cell phone.
“I believe the President is on the right track,” Parson said, one of the few to specifically mention President Donald Trump, citing the surging economy and efforts to secure the border.
“Missouri just hit an all-time historic low of unemployment of 3.1 percent,” Parson said. “That comes with new challenges. We have to identify real solutions so Missourians can retool and reskill to meet workforce demands. As business looks to Missouri to expand, we must make sure Missouri can meet their demands.”
As has become customary for the Governor, he closed with “ten two-letter words”: if it is to be, it is up to us.
Throughout the conference, Schmitt touted his new Safer Streets Initiative that has resulted in Missouri attorneys general being deputized as U.S. attorneys general.
“People deserve to feel safe, our law enforcement deserves to feel appreciated for the fantastic jobs they do every day,” Schmitt said. “We are going to fight violent crime every single day in this office.”
Ashcroft followed up about initiative petition reform, a priority he has stood firm on advocating for reform from “We the People.”
Beyond IP reform, the Secretary voiced concerns over the ease of altering the constitution.
“Somehow it’s only 50 percent plus one to amend our constitution,” Ashcroft said at the Saturday town hall, which his ice cream social followed.
Republicans in Missouri are standing firm in their opposition to abortion and over the weekend they doubled-down on their mission to protect the unborn. The conference took place the weekend of the state house passing an omnibus abortion bill, which was lauded throughout the conference.
From the MRP banquet Friday night to a pro-life rally on Saturday, anti-abortion sentiments resounded.
“I’m looking forward to the rally we’re going to have,” Wagner said. “In Congress, I knew we had to stand up and fight for the lives of those who survive abortion.”
The sentiment resounded through Friday’s dinner, preluding the planned Saturday rally.
“I’m honored to lead a state with so many people standing up for those without a voice,” Parson said Friday. “We will prepare for the day when Roe v. Wade is overturned.”
Even the Attorney General made a comment, met with applause, that audience members interpreted to allude to Roe v. Wade.
“As attorney general, I will never flinch in defending these walls, even if it takes us all the way to the Supreme Court,” Schmitt said.
Friday’s keynote, Gov. Blunt was a leader in modern Republican restrictions on abortion.
“There’s a reason I called Matt Blunt and asked him to speak tonight,” Parson said. “For the first time in our state’s history, we had a Republican governor and majorities in the House and Senate. He’s the reason abortion clinics shut down across the state – and continue to shut down across the state.”
At the pro-life rally on Saturday afternoon, Parson was joined by Wagner, Rep. Mary Elizabeth Coleman, various lawmakers, and stakeholders.
“And I’m going to tell you what: I’m not going to ever, ever stop fighting until the day abortion is not just illegal — but it is unthinkable,” said Wagner.
Parson and other speakers touted the success of the GOP lawmakers in the House. The Missouri House passed an omnibus abortion bill that would ban all abortions if a heartbeat is detected. The bill includes a provision banning all abortions if Roe v. Wade is ever overturned.
Coleman lambasted Democrats for saying that abortion access was for healthcare. She said that Missouri has 104 pregnancy resources centers and one center that performs abortions.
“Every life is worthy of protection,” said Coleman. “Life begins at conception.”
Parson asked all lawmakers to join him on stage along with Teresa Parson, his wife. Then asked all veterans to stand.
He recognized the military at the pro-life rally because “these men and women, along with myself, have served this country. We fought battles, some have fought wars. And we have done that for people we will never know, that we never meet and that we will never see. You that are here today, for this ride, are fighting that same battle to protect fundamental rights for people who can’t protect themselves.”
THE FUTURE? WOMEN.
Reps. Mary Elizabeth Coleman, Kathy Swan, and Becky Ruth gathered together on stage at the 2019 Lincoln Days to share their experiences as women in government.
The three lawmakers hail from varying parts of the state and have spent vastly different amounts of time in Jefferson City. Coleman is from Arnold and in the midst of her first session as a legislator, Swan is from Cape Girardeau and is in her final term in the House, and Ruth is from Festus and was first elected in November 2014.
All three have made a mark on state politics.
“[They are] shining examples of what women can do in government,” said Janice Perdue de Weese, who served as moderator.
Swan has spent her time in the House pushing for improvements to the education system and workforce development. Ruth has focused on infrastructure and is the first female to chair the House Transportation Committee. Coleman helped design and push through a House bill significantly limiting abortions in Missouri.
Throughout their tenure, whether short or long, they have made a significant impact on the General Assembly, de Weese noted. And, as females, they do it while making up roughly a quarter of the members.
De Weese posed the question to the three panelists: why don’t more women run for office? All three had a different perspective on the issue.
Swan said that in the past women have felt a need to have specific experience, to have complete certain steps, and be worthy overall, before entering the fray.
Times have changed, she noted. Nowadays, women are becoming engaged with politics and are starting the path to public service earlier.
That sentiment was echoed by Ruth.
“We do have a lot of women that have stepped up recently to run for office,” said Ruth. “We are seeing more and more women saying, ‘I can do this.’”
Coleman pointed out that part of the reason there aren’t more women involved is partially because more women aren’t asked to be involved.
Each of the three lawmakers got into politics for different but similar reasons. Coleman did not like the way her district was being represented, Ruth “wanted to see us do better,” and Swan “got angry.”
They all noted that being in politics isn’t easy and that it is not for everyone but it is important.
“So much of what we do is incremental. It isn’t glamorous,” said Ruth. “It is little pieces to move us forward.”
Alisha Shurr contributed heavily to this feature.
Rachael Herndon is the editor at The Missouri Times, and also produces This Week in Missouri Politics, publishes Missouri Times Magazine, and co-hosts 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.
To contact Rachael, email email@example.com, or via Twitter @TheRachDunn.