I had the opportunity this week to visit extensively with some members of the Missouri General Assembly who were in Sikeston. They were here at the invitation of our Rep. Ellen Brandom. Speaking of our local legislator, her colleagues gave her very high marks for her commitment and eagerness to "learn the ropes" in Jefferson City. Though quiet by nature, her voice is definitely getting heard in the corridors of the Capitol.
But the more I listened to these legislators from around the state, the more I came to realize that many problems we face in the Missouri Bootheel are unique to our part of the state. That's perhaps oversimplified but not by much.
I certainly don't criticize these elected officials for not having the depth of understanding about our region because I most certainly don't have that same understanding about their part of the state. But as I listened and asked questions, it became crystal clear that in so many ways we are from different parts of the world, not just the state.
What also struck me was the amount of time and attention given to the mechanics of government rather than the needs of the people. That is indeed the nature of government. But these legislators spend vast resources of time and energy on the process itself. The results are almost secondary it seems.
At a meeting earlier in the week some local civic leaders tried to advance the discussion on Right to Work in Missouri. In the Bootheel, for example, we have lost several industries and jobs to other states that have Right to Work laws that prohibit mandatory union participation. Union workers disagree strongly but the facts are that many industries fear the potential consequences of mandatory union membership.
But Right to Work legislation is not a high priority in those parts of the Missouri that are not losing jobs to other states. I suspect much of our discussion fell on deaf ears simply because in their "world" this issue is of little significance.
I visited with a respected legislator who said the challenge in his district was to get workers from minimum wage jobs to higher paying employment. I said our challenge was to get people off the porch and into any type of job. We were both Missourians but we live in different worlds.
I came away from meeting these lawmakers with hope because, in general, they were honest and dedicated and willing to listen. That's about all you can ask for. But I also came away knowing full well that the reality is that most of Missouri is far different from our tiny corner of the state. Our challenges are different. Our solutions are different. And unless change comes, our futures are different.
I will always heap as much praise as possible on those who accept public service. Believe me, they are not getting rich by representing our interests in Jefferson City. Not by a mile!
But I also realize that the once powerful voices of the Missouri Bootheel have been rendered all but silent in a changing state. And it simply re-enforces the reality that if we are to change our community and our region, we'll have to do the heavy lifting ourselves.