An email to Representative Kirkton elicited a quick response and just a few weeks later we found ourselves facing each other across the table at the Webster Groves Bread Co. The day was a hot one, so I clung to my iced tea to stay cool, Jeanne delicately sipped her coffee.
The Effects of Gun Violence (on Jeanne)
In the days when Maryville was still a college, Jeanne studied there and received her degree in nursing. Following graduation, she began work at the St. Louis County Hospital where she often witnessed the terrible effects of violence. Not one to sit back in the face of a problem, Jeanne joined a group that advocated for safe gun laws. “As a nurse I certainly saw my share of gun violence and thought, well this is something that I could get into.”
In 2003 when a concealed carry ban was overturned by her Senator, Jeanne finally had enough. She was finding herself in Jefferson city more and more, so when someone suggested she run against him, she did. “I never expected to be in politics. I knew nothing about it. I had been a nurse and a mom… but I did it!”
Well, not at first. After losing her first election, Jeanne ran for the Webster Groves city council and here she was successful. When her seat was term-limited she ran for State Representative and… “Here I am!” Toying with her coffee cup she reflected on the progression from healthcare to politics. “Life’s interesting. You never know when a window is going to open.”
Keeping the Constituents Happy
Voting on legislation isn’t as straightforward as following the instructions of constituents. For Jeanne, there are three components to making an informed decision: listening to testimony, constituents, and floor debates. Understanding that her preconceptions about certain topics can influence her vote, she is always willing to hear out both lobbyists and residents of her district. “There’s a bumper sticker I saw several years ago and I never forgot it. It says, ‘Don’t believe everything you think.’”
While some voters are very comfortable contacting her and expressing their opinion, she feels that for many people it’s intimidating to meet with a legislator. “That makes me feel sad. We’re just people.” Which is part of the reason Jeanne’s campaign strategy for this November is going door-to-door. “It’s how I learn what’s really going on.”
No matter what happens, she knows that it’s impossible to make everyone happy. “When I wake up in the morning a third of the people are very happy with me, the other third will be very angry, and the other third haven’t made up their mind, yet.”
Wag More, Bark Less
As we cleared our table and drifted towards our vehicles, the conversation continued, but on heavier topics. Discussing the Michael Brown shooting, Jeanne told me that she believes there are a lot of factors and we owe it to ourselves to take time to evaluate it. She certainly thinks there are lessons to be learned from the situation and if we don’t learn from it? “Then shame on us.”
Approaching our cars, she shook my hand and politely wished me a nice day, then climbed into a beat-up vehicle with a ‘Wag More, Bark Less’ bumper sticker and drove off.
NOTE: With November elections approaching I posted Jeanne's story sooner which is why you may notice a discrepancy between the last coffee # and this. I will shortly be posting a blog about her opponent in the upcoming electoral race.