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Lobbyist profile: Erika Leonard

ST. LOUIS — A part-time college job and a developed passion for public policy were the first steps to what has become a life-long career for lobbyist Erika Leonard.

For eight years, Leonard has been with John Bardgett & Associates handling work with the Missouri Association with Rehabilitation Facilities (MARF) as well as a task that would scare a non-number person into a frenzy: dealing with budget issues for all of Bardgett’s clients.

“I don’t get to walk the third floor like most everyone else,” Leonard said. “I spend a lot of time talking with Linda Luebbering, Rep. [Rick] Stream and Sen. [Kurt] Schaefer.”

When Leonard joined the company, she said she told Bardgett she was confident she would learn how to manage the budget-related issues for roughly 10 of his clients of his that require it, and she did.

“I’m not a huge fan of numbers, but I know the legislative process and now I certainly understand the budget,” she said.

Erika Leonard
Erika Leonard

Leonard’s work with MARF, however, is one of the most rewarding parts of her job. Unlike some of the tasks set before a lobbyist that might require fighting for a message that isn’t positive, she said the effort to fight for people with disabilities is always positive.

“These providers make sure these people get to live and work in their communities rather than be in an institution,” she said. “It’s always such a positive message and I love that.”

But, like any job, there are challenges that come with what Leonard does. Among those challenges includes educating the constantly changing legislature about the issues that’s he deals with — a problem many, if not all, lobbyists face — as term limits have stripped some of the institutional knowledge away from the Capitol. If not the term limit issue, then it boils down to being a matter of there being so many issues that a lobbyist has to make sure the legislator knows, understands and remembers their issue specifically.

Unlike most lobbyists, who come to Jefferson City by way of another part of the state, Leonard was born and raised in the state’s Capitol.

Just as she was preparing to go to Lincoln University for college, Leonard said she met lobbyist Kathi Harness, whose son is about Leonard’s age. Harness suggested Leonard get in touch with Mark Rhoads, and sure enough, she was hired as a part-time employee during college.

“I did some clerical things that were pretty low key, and I helped where and when I was needed between classes,” she said, adding that a lot of her job was helping Rhoads with his clients, giving her a lot of preliminary ideas of how the governmental relations world worked. Then, after graduation, Leonard started with Bardgett and has been there ever since.

During the interim, Leonard says she represents Bardgett in golf tournaments and other events around the state “to continue educating legislators.” Additionally, she’s responsible for organizing the annual Missouri Community College Association convention — a daunting, yet rewarding task.

On the family front, Leonard has two sons, a 2-year-old and a 5-year old, whom she devotes any extra time to. And having two little children doesn’t keep her from trying to make the most of her career too, which she said she is still able to do with help from her mother and ex-husband.

And as far as work goes, she’s in it for the long haul.

“I would love to stay with John for the long term or as long as he can allow that to happen,” she said. “I really enjoy what I do and hope to keep doing it.”