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Roorda Says Any Talk of McCulloch Gives Him A Boost In Jefferson County

Mo. House Communications

Amid the continued controversy within Democratic ranks over St. Louis County Prosecutor Bob McCulloch,  one official remains solidly in his corner and not afraid to say so:

State Rep. Jeff Roorda, D-Barnhart.

“Bob McCulloch is the definition of integrity and he was elected overwhelmingly,’’ said Roorda, who’s now locked in arguably the region’s most competitive state Senate contest this fall.

Roorda is competing against fellow Rep. Paul Wieland, R-Imperial, for the Senate post in Jefferson County vacated by Democrat Ryan McKenna because of term limits.

Roorda’s position on McCulloch is noteworthy because Roorda also sits on the board of directors of  Shield of Hope, the charitable arm of the Fraternal Order of Police. Shield of Hope is a 501C3 group, meaning that it is a nonprofit and must report its finances to the IRS.

The group is handling more than $400,000, by Roorda’s count, that has been donated to help Ferguson Police Officer Darren Wilson, who fatally shot Michael Brown, an unarmed teenager, setting off almost three weeks of  unrest in Ferguson. The nation was riveted by the protests, looting and the initial police response, which included tear gas and armored vehicles.

McCulloch is overseeing the local investigation into the shooting. He is the target of some elected officials, mainly Democrats, who unsuccessfully lobbied Gov. Jay Nixon to replace McCulloch with a special prosecutor.  McCulloch’s detractors question whether McCulloch can be fair because his father was a policeman killed in the line of duty by a black suspect. McCulloch says he will be fair and has declined to recuse himself.

More than $400,000 raised for Wilson

Just over half of the money raised on Wilson’s behalf came from a website, “Support Officer Darren Wilson,” that was set up by a young area woman. Roorda said the woman, whom he declined to identify, asked the FOP’s charitable arm to take over her effort when she began to get threats.

Fundraising was temporarily suspended about a week ago, while Shield of Hope is seeking legal advice to determined whether the money could be used for legal expenses as well as for Wilson’s medical bills.

Roorda is a former police officer and currently the business manager for the St. Louis Police Officers Association.  He says that the money-raising is no different than what the Shield of Hope does for any police officer in need.

Roorda emphasizes that he’s not taking a stand on whether Wilson acted appropriately or not. But he adds that Wilson deserves a fair investigation and an adequate defense.

“I think Ferguson is symptomatic of some larger social problems that need to be tackled,’’ Roorda said. “I really bristle at this idea that the police are responsible for everything.”

That said, he asserted that “Michael Brown is emblematic of the hopelessness of a generation of young African-American men,’’ particularly on an economic level.

Roorda says that Wieland and some Republican allies are attacking Roorda over his role in the money-raising effort to help Wilson. Wieland says that’s not true.

Roorda also acknowledges that some fellow Democrats aren’t happy with him, either. He says he’s had private discussions with some of them to explain the situation.  “There’s no big, big mystery,’’ Roorda said, referring to the fundraising effort to aid Wilson.

And as Roorda sees it, there’s no political downside to his activities – at least not in Jefferson County.

“In my district, people support the police and they’re not part of the rush to judgment before all the evidence has come to light,’’ Roorda said.  “If Paul Wieland and the Missouri Republicans want to make this election on whether police officers should have the best legal defense, a fair trial and due process – I’m all for it.”

Wieland denies focus on Ferguson

Wieland, by the way, says he hasn’t been talking about Wilson or McCulloch at all.  “I’m 100 percent focused on Jefferson County,’’ he said. “Jobs, economic development and Obamacare.”

Wieland is a staunch opponent of Obamacare, officially known as the Affordable Care Act. He’s also been in the news this week, in this case over his suit aimed at derailing the act’s mandates about contraceptive coverage included in most insurance plans.

As he campaigns, Wieland said that Jefferson County voters aren’t paying much attention to Ferguson or McCulloch, much less to any activities of Roorda’s on behalf of Wilson.

Contended Wieland, “Pretty much all I hear from people is, ‘What a mess up there.’ ”

Jo Mannies has been covering Missouri politics and government for almost four decades, much of that time as a reporter and columnist at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. She was the first woman to cover St. Louis City Hall, was the newspaper’s second woman sportswriter in its history, and spent four years in the Post-Dispatch Washington Bureau. She joined the St. Louis Beacon in 2009. She has won several local, regional and national awards, and has covered every president since Jimmy Carter. She scared fellow first-graders in the late 1950s when she showed them how close Alaska was to Russia and met Richard M. Nixon when she was in high school. She graduated from Valparaiso University in northwest Indiana, and was the daughter of a high school basketball coach. She is married and has two grown children, both lawyers. She’s a history and movie buff, cultivates a massive flower garden, and bakes banana bread regularly for her colleagues.

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