JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — In the midst of the typical legislative drama and COVID-19 derailments, Rep. Phil Christofanelli has deftly risen as a young star of the Missouri Republican Party.
He’s not a member of House leadership, and it’s only the start of his third term. But while the Senate stalled debate on a massive education reform package after erroneously perfecting the wrong version of the bill — and the House seems unable to garner enough support for a charter expansion bill — Christofanelli quietly emerged victorious with his education savings account (ESA) bill.
Christofanelli, 31, also snagged a lucrative committee chairmanship with the Rules-Legislative Oversight Committee and passed another bill related to the sale of kratom products over to the upper chamber.
And he’s done it all before the midway point of the legislative session.
Christofanelli was first elected to the House in 2016 to serve HD 105 in St. Charles County. He is finishing his final semester of law school at the Washington University School of Law in tandem with the legislative session. Before joining the statehouse, he was a press secretary for former Michigan Congressman Dan Benishek and served on the Missouri Republican State Executive Committee.
Christofanelli said he focused on building strong relationships during his first term in the House — and has made lifelong friends and allies. But he also decided to hone his attention on just a few particular issues, such as education.
“That’s the most valuable and important part for me,” Christofanelli told The Missouri Times. “I made that my passion project for the past four years. It gave me something to work toward, strive for, and focus on.”
Christofanelli’s HB 349 narrowly eked out of the House last month in an 82-71 vote — getting just the right amount of support to pass. The bill would establish the Missouri Empowerment Scholarship Accounts Program, allowing taxpayers to claim a tax credit for contributions to educational assistant programs. The creation of the program hinges on an increase in K-12 transportation funding.
Education reform packages, including legislation dealing with ESAs, aren’t new in the Missouri General Assembly. So how exactly was Christofanelli able to get his through the lower chamber?
“What was really important was the ability to negotiate and compromise and try to find a way that everybody felt like their needs were met, and they were getting a good deal out of the final product,” Christofanelli said. “This took a long time to do, and it took a lot of give and take and compromise and negotiations.”
And as Christofanelli is coming into his own in the statehouse, he’s also opening up about his personal life more this year to his constituents and colleagues. In an interview on “This Week in Missouri Politics” Sunday, Christofanelli said he wanted to share that he is gay.
“People do want to know a little bit more about their representative and their life and their values, and I’m happy to share that information,” he said. “I’ve never felt like my personal life cost me anything politically, and I’m very blessed for that.”
Consultant David Barklage praised Christofanelli during the show, calling him “brave” for divulging more about his personal life on television.
“Kudos to him, and let everybody embrace him, and let him know that he’s always accepted,” Barklage said.
In the Capitol, Christofanelli has an idea of what a legislator should embody — and he’s striving to be that representative.
“The role of the lawmaker is to ensure that the public’s interests are served on behalf of the constituency that they represent,” he said. “My approach to lawmaking has always been full-time transparency about what I believe and why and spending a lot of time knocking on all the doors of my constituents. … What I try to do in the statehouse is make sure that I uphold the promises that I made when I ran for office and told everyone what I intended to do in the statehouse.”
Kaitlyn Schallhorn is the editor of The Missouri Times. She joined the newspaper in early 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., including the 2016 presidential election, and humanitarian aid efforts in Africa and the Middle East.
She is a native of Missouri who studied journalism at Winthrop University in South Carolina. She is also an alumna of the National Journalism Center in Washington, D.C.
Contact Kaitlyn at firstname.lastname@example.org.