On the latest edition of the Politically Speaking podcast, St. Louis Public Radio’s Jason Rosenbaum and Jo Mannies are pleased to welcome back Senate Minority Leader Gina Walsh.
The Bellefontaine Neighbors Democrat is the leader of Senate Democratic Caucus, which has shrunk in recent years to nine members after Republicans took over scores of seats in outstate Missouri. Even though Republicans outnumber Democrats in the Senate, the minority party can still use the filibuster to block or force changes to legislation.
Walsh represents the 13th District in north St. Louis County, which encompassing portions of Ferguson and Dellwood. Walsh spent nearly three decades as part of the Heat and Frost Insulators and Allied Workers Local #1, and she's currently the president of the Missouri State Building & Construction Trades Council.
For years, Walsh has been a major opponent of “right to work,” which bars unions and employers from requiring workers to pay dues a condition of employment. Gov. Eric Greitens signed that policy into law earlier this year, although unions are circulating a ballot initiative aimed at preventing it from taking effect.
Walsh is handling a bill that would allow a number of counties to vote on a sales tax increase to help the St. Louis Zoo. The legislation became embroiled in controversy last week when Sen. Bob Onder crafted an amendment (that was not offered on the floor) to rename the facility “The Midwest Abortion Sanctuary City Zoological Park” — a reference to how St. Louis passed an ordinance barring employers and landlords from discriminating against women who are pregnant, use contraception or have had an abortion.
Onder issued a statement last week. “I had various amendments to the tax hike bill, some serious to protect the citizens in my district, others were senatorial banter meant to point out the irony of the recent action of the Board of Aldermen in the City of St. Louis,” he said.
- Members of labor unions ended up voting for Greitens last year — even after they were told he’d support policies aimed at weakening labor unions. “I worked polls where I’ve seen members that I know say ‘I know what my union hall saying, but I know what I’m doing,’” Walsh said. “So our membership elected the president and governor of the state of Missouri, and we have to take ownership of that.”
- She hopes senators can block efforts to repeal the prevailing wage. Missouri’s law effectively requires higher wages to be paid in rural areas for public projects, such as school construction.
Some Republican senators have questioned whether Greitens could issue an executive order offering paid leave for some state employees without legislative action. Even though she supports paid leave, Walsh says the GOP concerns have merit. “You know I love the idea that we’re going to give moms longer time off at home with their new babies,” she said. “But we have to be able to afford it.”
Walsh also said some senators were skeptical about taking up some of Greitens’ ethics-related priorities after the governor set up a nonprofit group that can raise unlimited amounts of money from unknown donors.
Follow Jason Rosenbaum on Twitter: @jrosenbaum
Follow Jo Mannies on Twitter: @jmannies
Follow Gina Walsh: @walshgina
Music: “Gold Lion” by Yeah Yeah Yeahs