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Winning Jewish candidates face challenges ahead

Candidates

From left: St. Louis County Assessor Jake Zimmerman, State Rep. (and State Senator-elect) Jill Schupp, State Rep. Stacey Newman and State Rep. Sue Meredith.

Jake Zimmerman is happy that he was returned to office, but the former state representative admits his feelings on the election of 2014 are bittersweet.

“I’m grateful for the vote of confidence from the people who put me in this job,” said Zimmerman, a Democrat who was reelected to his position as St. Louis County Assessor last week by more than 50,000 votes. “But not everybody I cared about fared so well so I have mixed emotions.”

Zimmerman’s party took a beating in the returns at the state and national levels while the Republicans reinforced an already-veto proof majority in both the Missouri House and Senate. Despite the political bloodletting, however, the few members of the Jewish community in elected office seemed to have good luck in last Tuesday’s results. Zimmerman won a second term handily and fellow Democrat, State Rep. Jill Schupp, was narrowly elected to an open state senate seat in the 24th District over opponent Jay Ashcroft in one of the area’s more heavily publicized legislative races. Democratic Rep. Stacey Newman ran unopposed in her mid-county district. All three expressed similar mixed feelings about election night.

“Obviously, I’m returning to a minority caucus that has a few less members, which is going to prove a continued challenge to those of us who work on progressive issues,” said Newman, who was first elected in 2009. 

She said she hoped to work on initiatives to quell gun violence and expand Medicaid. Other priorities included fighting for abortion rights and opposing what she termed “voter suppression efforts” by Republicans who have been pushing for stricter voter identification laws. 

“Our work really remains the same,” she said. “One of the roles of a minority caucus, regardless of which party it is, is to play defense in terms of defending against bad ideas and policies.”

She said that as one of the few remaining Jewish officeholders at the state level she hopes to educate other members of the legislature on how their policies affect the Jewish community, especially the elderly.

“It’s a mantle I wear heavily but since my political roots came from the Jewish community, it is something I hold dear,” she said.

Schupp said that she’s found that she may be the first Jew some of her fellow lawmakers from rural areas have ever met. “For them to work in tandem with someone, to serve on committees, to have conversations they may have had stereotypical images of, for them to get to know a person as another human being with strong values and ideas and a real desire to serve, I think is very good,” she said.

Schupp said that the prospect of having her party so outnumbered is daunting but she believes that the smaller senate she’ll be joining is a more collegial body where members might partner together more easily.

“I’m hopeful that I’ll be sitting down with the Democrats to go over our vision and hope for the next couple of years,” she said. “Hopefully, we can sit down with the Republican senators and do the same and see what things we can work on as a team for the betterment of the state as a whole.”

Schupp said that her own priorities will focus on reproductive rights as well as campaign finance reform, an issue she feels is very important after seeing how expensive the campaign for senate was.

She also hopes to advocate for Medicaid expansion, which was envisioned by the Affordable Care Act but which a number of states, including Missouri, have so far turned down. She said this issue should appeal to the values held by many religious traditions, including the Jewish community.

“We’re supposed to heal the sick, take care of our neighbors and follow that Golden Rule,” she said. “To me this is one example of being able to clearly do that.”

Zimmerman said he’s pleased with the progress made so far in improving the assessor’s post, which he took over in 2011 after it was made an elective position by a change in the county charter. Previously, he had served in the state legislature.

“We’ve taken some pretty big steps toward reforming the office and fighting for fairness for everyone in St. Louis County, trying to treat everyone the same whether their property is worth $50,000 or $5 million,” said Zimmerman, who will serve a four-year term.

Zimmerman’s contest seemed mostly unaffected by the controversy impacting the contentious county executive’s race where divisions erupting from the Michael Brown shooting had riven both the Democratic Party and the area as a whole.

“It’s been an uncomfortable time. I’m glad to have the election behind us and I hope that there will be some opportunity to reunite and heal some of those wounds,” said Zimmerman. “Maybe that’s a place where Jewish elected officials, folks who come from a minority group in our community and in American politics, (will) have some opportunity to work on that. Whether you are talking about divides in North County over what happened in Ferguson where members of the Jewish clergy have played a really important role or whether you are talking about county politics where someone like me could play a role, it is our responsibility to make our voices heard.”

Newman also encouraged active citizen involvement.

“It is their voices that matter,” she said. “Citizens have hired us to advocate on their behalf. Don’t disappear. Stay involved in the process.”

The office of Rep. Sue Meredith, a Democrat who represents the 71st District, which encompasses the Millstone campus, confirmed she is Jewish but she did not return a call requesting comment by press time. Elected in 2012, she was returned to office on Tuesday over GOP challenger Jim Cain.

Secretary of State Jason Kander, a Democrat who hails from the Kansas City area, is the only statewide Jewish officeholder. His position was not up for reelection this year.