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On the Trail: We want you to tell us about what it's like in Jefferson City

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File Photo | Jason Rosenbaum | St. Louis Public Radio
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The Missouri Capitol Building

Within the outcry over state Sen. Paul LeVota’s resignation, one response in particular stood out.

It wasn’t from a Democratic heavy-hitter like Sen. Claire McCaskill or Gov. Jay Nixon. And it didn’t come from a pundit or a journalist. The most poignant reply came from Rachel Gonzalez, a 16-year-old student who is president of the High School Democrats of Missouri.

Gonzalez lives in Independence, the town where LeVota resides and earned his political keep. She expressed deep disappointment that a Democratic official she admired had faced accusations of sexual harassment and retaliation.

“I had hoped that it wasn't true because, he was someone who had inspired and encouraged me to one day go into politics,” Gonzalez said in a written message to St. Louis Public Radio.

It’s tough not to feel a knot in your gut from those words — especially after scandal and sorrow rocked Jefferson City over the past few months. LeVota' downfall came after troubling exposes from the Kansas City Star where former female interns went public about harassment they experienced in the Missouri Capitol. His resignation also comes after former House Speaker John Diehl, R-Town and Country, stepped aside after text exchanges with an intern became public.

For her part though, Gonzalez isn’t disillusioned about entering into politics sometime in future. In fact, she's more determined than ever. But she said LeVota episode “shows me that this country still needs the presence of strong women in politics.”

“It is terrible that this fiasco may deter some women from pursuing a career in politics due to a fear of not being taken seriously by their colleagues,” Gonzalez said. “Harassment is something that nobody should have to be subject to.”

Few people would disagree with Gonzalez’s sentiments. But systematic change isn't as easy as passing a law or waving a magic wand.

Case in point: I created a post on Facebook on Sunday asking people if there was something wrong with Jefferson City — and if so, what’s causing the problems? The post elicited dozens of responses from a bipartisan group of current and former legislators, staffers, interns, journalists, academics and ordinary people.

Respondents pointed to a cluster of structural issues, including term limits, a constant flow of lobbyist food and drink, availability of alcohol, big campaign donations, and the relative isolation of the Missouri Capitol. Others pointed to things that are harder to legislate away, including sexist attitudes toward women, people who come to office with preexisting character flaws, or how the amount of time and effort needed to run for the Missouri Legislature keeps good people from running for office.

It’s obvious that recent events out of Jefferson City struck a nerve with a lot of people. We want to hear more about what people experienced or are experiencing in Missouri Capitol — and what, if anything, should be changed under the Capitol dome. You can provide insight about your experience by sending an e-mail to jrosenbaum@stlpublicradio.org or jmannies@stlpublicradio.org.

There’s a lot of ground to cover and we want to hear your perspectives. We’ll plan on sharing what you tell us in the coming weeks.

On the Trail, a weekly column, weaves together some of the intriguing threads from the world of Missouri politics. 

Send questions and comments about this story to feedback@stlpublicradio.org.