Let’s be honest, Cora was a lot.
I can’t imagine how far back her eyes would roll if I wrote some kiss ass column about her this week, so I’ll do my best to be candid about my friend, but I can’t think about her right now without thinking of how she had more potential, as much just plain raw political talent as anyone around Missouri politics.
She was oftentimes the smartest person in most of the rooms I was in with her.
She was even sometimes the best drinker in several rooms, that is until I entered them.
She was an absolutely beautiful woman. Now clearly I’m not a fashion expert, but somehow she seemed to always know what to wear to anything I ever saw her at. I couldn’t really tell you what someone should have been wearing at most things, but she just seemed to know, and to be wearing it.
It was the damndest thing, she seemed to look the exact same at an 8:00 am committee hearing as she did at last call. She said it was black magic, and who the hell was a simple hillbilly in jeans and Carhartt to argue with her?
It’s a natural thing to get elected as a freshman and have that freshman fire in the belly to change the world. Come to Jeff City and think you’re going to pass your bills in the first month only to get quickly frustrated, then angry, then bitter.
On day one she just seemed to get it. That to get anything accomplished as a member of a small minority caucus she had to do her work in committee amending bills, and to make friends across the aisle, and to earn the respect of her republican colleagues.
Healthcare policy was her bailiwick. I believe she knew more about how a dollar that gets taken out of a Missourian’s paycheck on the medicaid or medicare line ends up actually paying for someone to get healthcare than anyone in my phone.
I saw her go from someone who (let’s be honest everyone was talking about on day one) was a well dressed professional that folks in Jeff City were naturally standoffish about, to someone who republicans routinely approached to ask how the amendment a lobbyist had given them to carry would actually affect a real person’s healthcare. I happen to know a couple republican legislators who served with her still called her for that same advice when she was at the county.
Part of that was certainly the mentorship from Minority Leader, Rep. Crystal Quade. I remember how helpful Senator Victor Callahan was to some republicans on shared priorities until he became minority leader in the senate. After that he was still helpful at times, but as his role changed, he couldn’t be as helpful as before, but he would assist other members of his caucus in being helpful where he could. I guess that’s what being a leader really is.
I’ve seen Rep. Quade help members of her caucus find ways to work with republicans in ways that as the leader she can’t. House Minority Leader is hands down the hardest job in state government. Few carrots, no sticks, and the entire system is rigged in every way at every point to ensure that you lose every vote. I watched her help Cora do things that her role prohibited her from doing.
However, like I said, Cora was a lot. With all that talent and knowledge being her “leader” looked like it was a real honor some days, and a unique kind of hell other days. There is a special look Rep. Quade could get on her face after caucus where I would get a few texts that Cora had decided to weigh in on something. I always assumed that the look on her face was something of a cross between struggling with a Rubik’s Cube and a migraine.
I reckon that Sam Page had a few of those days of great inspiration and a few days of migraines when he brought her to the county.
Senator Brian Williams, a childhood friend of Cora’s and who actually introduced me to her, once told me that they had compiled a database of things that Cora had passionate opinions about, it was called Google.
She was always fun for me to be around because the list of causes that she really was passionate about was longer than I could ever keep track of, and as a simple hillbilly, and a republican no less would often stumble over one of those causes to her great indignation. As someone whose passionate list of public policy causes includes opposing the DH, and well pretty much just the DH, I was always fascinated by the volume of passion she had for the breadth of causes she was so deeply passionate about.
Over the years I had come to know Cora pretty well, and probably got to know her better when she made the move from Jeff City to Clayton. I remember the summer that she was first running when then St. Louis Treasurer Tishaura Jones told me she would be a “special one”, and she was right.
I always liked that she wasn’t sanctimonious. Again, when it came to people she just got it. When I say she was the smartest person in a lot of rooms I was in, it’s not just that she was well educated, she just got people and could read them. She knew what you were thinking before it occurred to you to think it. Cora was no angel, none of us are, and I loved that she didn’t bore me with feeling obligated to waste time putting on airs like she was, a trait that is so rare amongst folks these days.
There was of course an incident before she took office that to be candid hung over her for a while. Both parties ultimately moved on and were both doing very well, and I always felt it was a testament to the strength of both of them that they are. I hated to see her leave public office, but it was probably a good move for her, and because of the pandemic that hit shortly after her taking her new job, a good thing for St. Louis Counians.
However, I never for a minute thought that was the last time I would see her on a ballot.
I truly liked Cora, but to be honest I’m partial toward folks who disagree with me. I figure if someone doesn’t initially like me then they are probably a good judge of character, and I should probably get to know them.
I think she enjoyed pointing out that I needed to quit being such a whiny bitch about wearing a mask. I also think she enjoyed explaining to me how I could ask a question on television about a complicated healthcare policy issue in a way that someone who wasn’t a policy expert could learn something from the answer, or maybe she just took pity calls from a simple hillbilly. Either way I appreciated it, and I certainly enjoyed it.
I don’t really give a damn about the circumstances that surrounded her passing. I can find a smirk in knowing that if this was someone else Cora would be able to predict whatever the story is with an uncanny accuracy; I would have enjoyed listening to that prediction, and later texting her the proper congratulations when she turned out to be right.
I understand that folks in the media will ask questions, and I get it, folks will want to try and find something in this to criticize the Mayor over. That’s simply the rules of the era that we live in.
The truth is that whatever the truth is, a month from now Cora’s friends will remember her fondly, her detractors will move on to detracting someone else, and none of this will matter at all in how St. Louisans view their mayor.
I find it distasteful to pretend to be someone’s best friend when they pass. Cora was not my best friend, she wasn’t one of my closest dozen friends. However, she was someone I did consider a friend, an actual friend. One whose company I truly enjoyed, one who when her name popped up on my phone I smiled and actually answered the call or returned the text, and one who I will never in my life walk into Krueger’s again without hoping to somehow see her at the bar.
And Cora is my friend who tomorrow afternoon I’ll walk into Krueger’s and order her signature grapefruit vodka Red Bull with just a splash of Sprite in honor of.
No This Week in Missouri Politics Sunday for spring break, but next week will be our first broadcast on KWOS in mid-Missouri. We are very excited to start bringing you the show from Warrensburg and truly be the statewide show broadcasting from around the entire state to better cover state politics for you.
Scott Faughn is the publisher of The Missouri Times, owner of the Clayton Times in Clayton; SEMO Times in Poplar Bluff; and host of the only statewide political television show, This Week in Missouri Politics.