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Opinion: Our place in history


William King, Shirley Chisholm, Robert Smalls, Susanna Salter.

In the annals of American history, there are dozens of notable names whose legacies are substantial and universally recognized. But throughout that same history, you will find names like the aforementioned ones; names many don’t know, but whose impact was equally consequential.

Senate Majority Floor Leader Caleb Rowden

William King was the first governor of Maine after it became a state in 1820 and was a leading proponent for statehood before that date. As you are well aware, adding a state to the union prior to the Civil War was no small feat as the number of free and slave states had to remain equal. The corresponding slave state that came into existence because of William King’s persistence — Missouri.

Shirley Chisholm served seven terms in the United States Congress. She was America’s first Black congresswoman and was a founding member of the Congressional Black Caucus. A historic political career and yet a name that many Americans wouldn’t recognize today.

Robert Smalls was born a slave and went on to be elected to Congress in a southern state — South Carolina. Perhaps even more impressive is how Smalls got his freedom. Before the end of the Civil War, while he was working as a slave aboard a Confederate warship, Smalls and his fellow slaves commandeered the ship, sailed it out to sea, and surrendered it to the Union Navy. Smalls once famously said: “My race needs no special defense for the past history of them and this country. It proves them to be equal of any people anywhere. All they need is an equal chance in the battle of life.”

Susanna Salter was the first woman elected to any political office in America. She was elected mayor of Argonia, Kansas in 1887 on the Prohibition Party ticket. Salter didn’t run for re-election but lived to be 100 years old.

I stumbled across an article about these and other little-known public servants over Christmas break. In reading their stories, I am reminded of one very important reality as we begin the 2022 legislative session: For most, if not all of us serving in the Missouri Legislature, the legacy we leave likely won’t be our name being remembered but rather the accomplishments we work together to deliver to the people of Missouri. 

These individuals accomplished some of the most consequential things possible in their time, and yet they are largely unknown today. I can’t imagine many people will recognize the name Caleb Rowden decades from now. But I hope and pray they can point to some of the things we will accomplish this session and say “that made my life better.”

As Republicans, we have been given a generational opportunity to lead in Missouri with veto-proof majorities in both chambers and a Republican in the Governor’s Mansion. That means, generally speaking, the only group who can truly deter us from enacting family-supporting, job-creating, child-inspiring policies for the people of Missouri … are ourselves. 

This session, I believe the Missouri Senate will once again be led by a dedicated group of governing conservatives who recognize our constituents did not elect us to yell the loudest or say the most outlandish thing in order to advance our political ambitions, land our names in the news, or go viral online.

The people of Missouri elected us to lead and deliver meaningful and lasting conservative wins that make our state stronger and our citizens’ lives better.

That means delivering more accountability and choice for parents in their kids’ education.

That means passing common-sense election reforms to ensure it is easier to vote and harder to cheat in the Show-Me State.

That means putting more money back in the pockets of working Missourians through tax relief.

And it means pushing back against President Biden and an out-of-control federal government that is crippling future generations’ opportunity at economic success.

These are not wild or crazy ideas. They are simply solutions to problems that we know exist in our state. At the end of the day, that’s really all any of us should be interested in — finding solutions to problems. 

We cannot allow ourselves to fall prey to the prevailing notion that this session can’t be successful. Simply put, the stakes are too high, and Missourians are counting on us to lead and to deliver the policy wins that matter most for them and their families.

Let’s not let them down.

This piece originally appeared in the Jan. 9, 2022 edition of The Missouri Times newspaper.