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How Democrats Lost Missouri — And How One Author Says They Can Win It Back

October 1, 2019 Meaghan Winter
Lara Hamdan | St. Louis on the Air

In May 2016, New York-based journalist Meaghan Winter made a trip to Missouri, one that would ultimately inspire her new book. While watching the Republican-dominated state Legislature in Jefferson City push through bills on abortion, guns and voter IDs in a single day, Winter realized just how outmatched Missouri Democrats had become. What was once a purple state had become solidly red — with GOP legislators handily passing legislation that just years before might have been considered extreme. 

Winter’s exploration of the roots of that phenomenon, as well as her prescription to Democrats eager to reverse it, is the subject of “All Politics Is Local: Why Progressives Must Fight for the States.” Before kicking off her book tour, she joined St. Louis on the Air to discuss what she found in her research.

Winter argues that the Democratic Party and its donors have focused on national races and issues to the detriment of progressives. Her book is an indictment of what she sees as a short-sighted strategy that has allowed Republicans to dominate statehouses across the country. 

Despite the Democratic Party’s current lack of success in Missouri, Winter said she found some bright spots for them. That includes the local chapter of Moms Demand Action, which is fighting for increased regulation of guns. 

“They’re doing a lot of things that work,” she said. “They drove out to outstate Missouri and organized groups … But I think what really stands out is trying to make personal connections with people, and being there constantly. It isn’t just showing up two weeks before an election.”

Even so, the Missouri Legislature continues to pass laws that make guns more accessible. Winter said she did find herself wondering if there is hope for Democrats in places like Missouri. 

Still, she said, “one of the things that’s so important to keep in mind [is that] change is long term. If we start thinking of change as something that happens in three months, or about one bill, or one election, it’s not going to work. One of the ways that Republicans took over state legislatures across the country is that they laid out a plan that took about 20 years to execute. So, yes, there are a lot of hurdles. But what needs to happen for Democrats to regain any momentum, and for these interest groups to push their platform, is for long-term strategy.” And, she stresses, investment at the state and not just federal level.

Related Event

What: Left Bank Books Presents “All Politics Is Local”
When: 7 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 1, 2019
Where: Ethical Society of St. Louis (9001 Clayton Road, St. Louis MO 63117)

St. Louis on the Air” brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. The show is hosted by Sarah Fenske and produced by Alex Heuer, Emily Woodbury, Evie Hemphill, Lara Hamdan, Alexis Moore and Tonina Saputo. The engineer is Aaron Doerr, and production assistance is provided by Charlie McDonald.

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Sarah Fenske served as host of St. Louis on the Air from July 2019 until June 2022. Before that, she spent twenty years in newspapers, working as a reporter, columnist and editor in Cleveland, Houston, Phoenix, Los Angeles and St. Louis.

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