Rep. Deb Lavender was set to finish out her time in the House. Then the General Assembly sent a stringent bill banning most abortions to the governor — who signed it into law — just before the legislative session ended.
So now she’s running for Senate, for the very seat held by one of the conservatives who championed the bill.
“There are a lot of people upset with this decision. A lot of us feel that this decision has stepped over the line,” Lavender, a Democrat, said of the abortion bill. “Inside of that, I think it’s the right thing to take on one of the senators who is the author of the banning of abortions in Missouri.”
Lavender, who is still eligible for one more term in the House, decided to throw her hat in the ring for SD-15, held by Republican Sen. Andrew Koenig. The Conservative Caucus member was largely lauded for pushing through the abortion bill — without compromising on some of the more controversial components — during negotiations.
But while anti-abortion advocates have praised the new law, Democrats like Lavender say not including exceptions for rape or incest victims is “stepp[ing] over the line.”
“How the life of a 13-year-old who has been impregnated by her grandfather, why her life doesn’t matter is unconscionable for me,” Lavender told The Missouri Times in a wide-ranging interview about her candidacy. “And … that was part of this decision-making process to run.”
“Inside of that, I think it’s the right thing to take on one of the senators who is the author of the banning of abortions in Missouri.”
Aside from the abortion issue, Lavender noted three other legislative priorities she promised to tackle in the Senate: climate change, gun control, and public education.
Lavender pointed to the recent flooding that has decimated farms and other areas across Missouri, noting the state’s farmers experienced a detrimental drought just last year.
“If we aren’t stopping to recognize that climate change is an issue we need to be dealing with, we are just truly putting our heads in the sand,” she said.
Additionally, she promised to be an advocate for “common gun sense.” Specifically, she supports background checks for every firearm purchase and “red flag” laws, essentially allowing a judge to have a gun removed from someone’s home if there’s evidence he or she could be a harm to others or suicidal.
She also supports public education and more accountability measures for the state’s charter schools. She noted some “are terrific,” but others need more oversight.
Lavender faces a primary challenger in Mark Osmack, an Army veteran. While other reports have suggested a bit of a conflict between the two already, Lavender shrugged those off as having “exaggerated the situation.”
“I don’t know that anybody is happy when somebody joins a primary. We all hope for a primary-free, uncontested general election,” Lavender said. “What I have said from the first minute I started running is: No one deserves an open election, nobody deserves an open primary.”
“Being unhappy that we hold a primary, I understand that there might be some contentiousness with that, but that’s what the landscape of politics looks like,” she added.
Osmack said he was surprised when Lavender decided to join the race, but “that’s okay.” He said his messaging and strategy would not change, and the end goal was still the same: to beat Koenig.
“His policies are just as destructive and backward as before Deb entered,” Osmack told The Missouri Times.
Lavender is a Connecticut native who moved to St. Louis in 1980 following college. Aside from serving in the legislature, she still practices outpatient orthopedics at her physical therapy practice.
In the House, Lavender has worked on the state’s budget — something she says is one of her proudest achievements in the job. With her work on the committee, she said she’s been able to find fund balances and educate others about the budget. She also said she worked with a Republican colleague to add back funding cut during the previous gubernatorial administration that goes toward people with disabilities.
But what makes Lavender stand out from the other candidates? She said it’s her experience with running and holding office, ability to work with colleagues across the aisle, and her drive for solutions as opposed to “just grandstanding.” She also contended she’s the more “moderate” candidate when compared to Koenig.
The Democratic primary will be held in August 2020. SD-15 encompasses part of St. Louis County.
Kaitlyn Schallhorn is a reporter with The Missouri Times. She joined the newspaper in March 2019 after working as a reporter for Fox News in New York City. Throughout her career, Kaitlyn has covered political campaigns across the U.S. and humanitarian aid efforts in Africa. She is a native of Missouri who studied journalism at Winthrop University in South Carolina. Contact Kaitlyn at email@example.com.