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How lawmakers balance the legislature and running for Congress

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — The political careers of Reps. Trish Gunby and Sara Walsh have taken very different paths, but this session, they’re on a similar journey, balancing legislating in Jefferson City while campaigning for federal office. 

Walsh, the majority House caucus chair, has represented HD 50, which includes Boone, Cole, Cooper, and Moniteau counties, since 2017. She is running to replace Congresswoman Vicky Hartzler in Missouri’s 4th congressional district, which includes Columbia and west-central Missouri. 

In 2019, Gunby won a special election to represent HD 99 in west St. Louis County, flipping a Republican-held seat. She was elected to a full term in 2020.

Gunby is running in a Democratic primary to challenge GOP Congresswoman Ann Wagner in Missouri’s 2nd congressional district which currently includes Jefferson, St. Charles, and St. Louis counties.

So what’s it like serving in the legislature while also running for federal office? 

Rep. Trish Gunby is running for CD 2, hoping to challenge incumbent Congresswoman Ann Wagner. (PROVIDED)

“I feel like I have two jobs, and there are a lot of people that have two jobs,” Gunby told The Missouri Times. 

And Walsh said she’s used to juggling multiple responsibilities — so balancing campaign life and legislative work is no issue. 

“I’ve managed an aggressive schedule my entire life,” Walsh said in an interview. “From being delegated household responsibilities from my mother at a young age as the oldest child with three younger siblings, to working midnight shift as a quality control inspector in a factory at 19 years old while simultaneously taking evening college classes, to working a full-time job while earning my master’s degree, to working 10-hour shifts as a staff auditor for the State Auditor’s Office, to serving on the House Budget Committee attending marathon hearings that sometimes lasted until 2 a.m., to serving as majority caucus chair, to running for Congress — my life is proof that with big dreams, fervent prayer, and hard work, anything is possible in America.” 

Both women said their colleagues in the House have taken their campaigns in stride.

“Everybody’s been very supportive, both sides of the aisle,” Gunby said. “There are a few people who already call me congresswoman.” 

As they’ve pursued federal office, both women have drawn inspiration from those who have served in their district and ran before. 

Rep. Sara Walsh poses for a photo with former President Donald Trump. She is running in the GOP primary for the 4th congressional district. (PROVIDED)

Walsh said Hartzler is an inspiration for her career. In fact, it was while she was working for Hartzler’s 2010 campaign that she met her late husband, Steve Walsh, who worked as congresswoman’s press secretary. Walsh said her husband encouraged her to run for the seat after Hartzler announced her candidacy for U.S. Senate. 

“Our date nights were me joining my husband as he represented the congresswoman somewhere in the 4th congressional district,” Walsh said. 

A social conservative, Walsh said she would want to join the ultra-conservative Freedom Caucus if she’s elected. 

“Right now, the biggest fight is in Washington D.C., for the heart and soul of our nation,” Walsh said.

“My life is proof that with big dreams, fervent prayer, and hard work, anything is possible in America.”

-Rep. Sara Walsh

Gunby hopes to challenge a Republican incumbent who won re-election in 2020 with nearly 52 percent of the vote. But Gunby maintains the district is changing.

“I don’t believe Ann Wagner represents our values,” Gunby said. “I’ve had seven town halls since I’ve been elected; she’s had no town halls in almost 10 years. I feel like there’s room for improvement.”

Gunby said she’s received encouragement from former candidates for the seat, Sen. Jill Schupp and attorney Cort VanOstran.

She was recently inspired by a woman she encountered while phone banking who hasn’t left her house since the COVID-19 pandemic began due to a heart condition. The woman still offered to help with her campaign after they talked about vaccines and masks. 

Walsh brought in more than $51,000 last cycle, ending 2021 with $60,107 cash on hand as she faces a slate of Republicans for the 4th congressional district primary. 

Gunby brought in $97,000 during the last quarter, ending it with $75,662 cash on hand. Wagner closed the cycle with more than $1.5 million in her warchest.