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Senate women refuse to let voices go unheard amid redistricting debate

‘I think it’s time we the women of the Senate say what we want to say’

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — And on the third day, the women of the Senate had enough. 

On day three of a marathon debate on congressional redistricting, and about three hours into a Conservative Caucus member’s filibuster, the women of the upper chamber decided it was their turn to speak. 

The legislators from both sides of the aisle, who represent urban and rural districts, one by one stood up to decry the recent rhetoric flying around the Senate as the congressional redistricting fracas crescendoed. 

Sen. Holly Thompson Rehder

“I think it’s time we the women of the Senate say what we want to say,” Sen. Elaine Gannon, a Republican, said. 

The coalition of the 11 women has banded together in a remarkable way throughout the past year, brokering a deal on what became a contentious FRA renewal process and authoring a book to improve literacy in Missouri. 

But on Wednesday, they publicly defended each other and their colleagues on the other side of the Capitol from rhetoric attacking their conservative or pro-life bona fides amid the redistricting debate. Supporters of a 7-1 map, including senators, have chastised Republicans who support a 6-2 map like the one that has already passed out of the House and was up for debate in the Senate this week. 

It was a spur-of-the-moment idea by Gannon, she said in an interview, as a way to rise above the noise of accusations and name-calling and give the women, who haven’t had much time to speak in caucus or on the floor, the chance to do so. 

“We feel we are just as important members of the caucus, and we want to be heard also,” she said. 

Gannon said Republicans have felt “a lot of stress, frustration, and anxiety” as there has been “finger-pointing” and “name-calling” by the Conservative Caucus. Republicans have been called “RINOs,” supporters of Democratic U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, and “not real Republicans,” Gannon said. 

GOP Sen. Sandy Crawford, who represents SD 28, said she’s received threatening emails and phone calls from people urging her to support a map with at least seven districts favoring Republicans. One email, she said, suggested she would “go to hell” if she didn’t support such a map. 

“Personal attacks are disgusting, and I’m really kind of tired of them as well,” said Crawford. “Voting for a 7-1 map doesn’t get you into heaven; accepting Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior does.” 

“I believe in taking my whole Bible, not just what’s fitting for whatever you’re wanting to trash your fellow colleagues with,” Sen. Holly Thompson Rehder, a Republican, said during her time on the floor. “How wrong to assassinate their character to get a headline.” 

“This last week has been the most self-serving kind of work I’ve seen,” Sen. Karla Eslinger, a Republican, said. “We need to move our state forward to make sure we’re taking care of the most vulnerable.” 

Karla May, May
Sen. Karla May

Democratic Sens. Lauren Arthur, Karla May, Jill Schupp, and Barbara Washington also took to the floor to encourage their colleagues to draw a congressional map so the legislature could move on to other important work. 

Arthur said there are some “very well-intentioned people here who mean well, and they’ve been misled. They’ve been misled because people have personal ambition.” 

“This is not about freedom. How does drawing a line down the middle of Taney County determine whether or not we’re free in this country? It does not. I think the people who are pushing a certain agenda are doing so for purely personal reasons, and let’s name that.” 

She continued: “I hope we can all arrive at a place where we’re finally able to vote on [the map] because we have so many things we need to work on.” 

Sen. Jill Schupp talked about the importance of fostering relationships. She said the 11 women “have developed relationships unlike any I feel like I’ve had with any of us across the aisle. This is the year I’m excited to come to session and see my colleagues on the other side of the aisle.” 

“Once again, it’s the Missouri Senate’s women who restore common sense. It’s about time we stop tip toeing around a few mens’ fragile egos,” Kelli Jones, the spokeswoman for Gov. Mike Parson, said on Twitter

In another show of force from the women legislators, it was Madame President Thompson Rehder who presided over the chamber during much of the discussion. And as May noted, she did it with “grace,” being less than heavy-handed with the gavel when newer senators made a mistake. 

“I think it’s been a great afternoon for the women of the Senate,” Gannon said. 

“Your leadership is very much appreciated today,” Thompson Rehder said from the dais. 

And with that, Sen. Bill Eigel rose, thanking the women for their “thoughts and words,” and began to read from “The Conservative Heart.” 

The Conservative Caucus filibuster was back on.