Federation’s inside man at the Capitol

David Winton

BY ROBERT A. COHN, Editor-in-Chief Emeritus

David Winton is a familiar figure at the Jewish Federation Kopolow Building – and equally well known in the Missouri Capitol Building. As Government Affairs Consultant to the Government Relations Office of the Missouri Jewish Federations, Winton, 42, meets with members of the Missouri General Assembly, representing the interests of the Jewish community of St. Louis.

A Florida native, Winton came to Missouri after earning his bachelor’s degree in economics and a master’s degree in public administration from the University of Florida. He started as a staff member at the Jewish Federation of St. Louis shortly after graduating. He is an active member of the Good Government for Missouri Political Action Committee, a bipartisan PAC that develops positive relationships with Missouri officeholders and candidates for office, and helps them understand issues of concern to the Jewish community.

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Winton also started a consulting firm based in Jefferson City.

What are your primary duties?

As the Government Affairs Consultant to the Government Relations Office of the Missouri Jewish Federations (GROMJF), I work with the Jewish Federation and constituent agencies to provide a conduit for timely and relevant information on issues being considered by the state General Assembly and executive branch in Missouri. This is always with an eye toward items that represent potential barriers to the Jewish Federation and the many agencies under the Jewish community umbrella as well as potential opportunities for our agencies to expand on the important work they do.

I also represent the direct interests of the JFED and agencies to the General Assembly and Executive branch. These services span appropriations for human services i.e. the Naturally Occurring Retirement Communities (NORC) program or Child Abuse prevention program of JF&CS, as well as statutory and regulatory issues.

Do you relate to the JCRC, ADL, AJC and American Jewish Congress in your work?

Although we are focused on funding and regulatory issues, we also provide information to many of the community’s defense agencies on community relationship issues.

Our relationship with the Jewish Federation covers all of the agencies, including JF&CS and the JCC. Currently we are working with the JCC to look for appropriate state programs to support some desperately needed improvements to Camp Sabra as an example. 

How has your role and that of GROMJF changed over the years?  

I started with GROMJF in 1993 as a staff person at the Jewish Federation. In 1994 my partner, Scott Penman, and I started our own lobbying firm and shortly thereafter my relationship with the Jewish Federation transitioned to a contract. As we have grown in our firm and increased our network in Jefferson City, the opportunity to provide services to the Federation has also grown. Some of the issues have remained constant, like funding for meals for the elderly or access to mental health services, and some are episodic, like regulatory changes.

The first big project I worked on for GROMJF was during a time when the state was recalculating how nursing homes were funded. We were able to score an early victory during this debate by working with state officials to include provisions in the formula that were specific to the Jewish Center for Aged (Cedars) This increased the annual reimbursement levels by over $1 million just by changing a few words.


How frequently do you meet with the so-called “Jewish Caucus” of legislators in the General Assembly?

We are blessed with a delegation of very competent Legislators including Rachel Storch, Jake Zimmerman, Stacey Newman, Jill Schupp (all of St. Louis) and Jason Kander from Kansas City. I am in constant contact with them on issues affecting the Jewish community as well as a host of other subjects. It happens that this core group of individuals is also some of the brightest and hardest working members of the Legislature and as such are involved in a host of issues. We will greatly miss Rachel as she begins the next chapter of her life with her new husband. 

How do you arrive at the “wish list” of legislative goals for each session?

We group items in three categories: Protecting existing programs and supporting any changes or enhancements that will facilitate our ability to serve people; agency objectives in relation to programs that require government assistance or legislative changes.

These are proactive issues that increase the reach of our agencies to serve people and solve problems; finally, potential reactions to state priorities (i.e. changes to non-profit treatment).

How do you come up with your issues of concern?

Issues are raised through interaction with agencies as well as discussions with Federation professionals in the context of the state legislature and government activities. From this base of information we work through a process that yields items of importance that have a good chance of moving during the coming session or items that we want to put on the policy table as a prelude to future sessions.

Exactly how do you “lobby” the legislators?

Our lobbying activities run the gamut from in-depth meetings at the Jewish Federation building with professional and lay leadership to discuss issues to simple interactions in the hallway of the Capitol. We are blessed with an outstanding set of professionals that have substantial bodies of literature and evidence for the programs and concepts they suggest. A major part of our work is following up meetings with materials and reminders.

We also do very traditional lobbying of policy makers in their legislative offices by appointment. We want to make sure that we have a relationship established with legislators so when we have issues to discuss we are a familiar presence with credibility. This is a tall order with term limits and we are constantly nurturing existing relationships as we form new ones.

What role does the Good Government PAC play in Jefferson City?

I have found that legislators are very responsive to the issues we ask them to consider and I attribute this to a few factors: We are judicious in the number of requests we make; we always provide balanced information and give them all the facts we have, both good and bad; the Jewish Federation and Jewish community has an excellent reputation as an organized group prepared to partner with government to solve tough problems. Our relationships are across the political and geographic spectrum for these reasons.

How have term limits affected your work at the Capitol?

There has been a lot of change. With eight-year maximum service in the House and Senate, legislators have to approach their political career far differently. When I first arrived at the Capitol members had long tenure, on average, and far more institutional knowledge. Most members spent their first year or two learning the process and becoming experts in a specific area (i.e. education, retirement, etc.). Today, legislators feel tremendous pressure to make their mark immediately. Therefore, as a general rule they don’t have the opportunity to really delve into issues. This has also transferred much of the power in the process to those that have institutional history, namely the bureaucracy and lobbying corps.  

Is the Tea Party movement having an impact on the General Assembly?

It is really difficult to gauge the impact of the Tea party movement on Missouri. Missouri is a conservative state politically and this has been a constant. Our politics in the state house are on a pendulum, but that pendulum starts right of center. I think all individuals that work within and around government have to pay attention to the frustration that is embodied in this movement and consider its causes. I strongly believe we will be engaged in a discussion about the role of government. This is driven by resources and no single group, but I see it coming.

Do you anticipate that there will be an immigration bill in Missouri similar to that passed in Arizona? How will the federal court decision striking down portions of the Arizona bill affect that possibility?

I think we will definitely see an Arizona-like bill. Rep. Mark Parkinson (R-St. Charles) has already announced his intention to file a bill.

The Jewish Federation has been very active on this issue and two years ago we were instrumental in assuring that the legislation passed in Missouri did not burden non-profits. In its original form non-profits would have become an arm of the immigration service and law enforcement. This would have created tremendous obstacles to our agencies providing services.

We have not discussed this yet, but based on the past I would anticipate us being very active in this discussion. I think the action of the Supreme Court will likely have an impact on the drafting of the bill to avoid certain Constitutional pitfalls. However, it will not stop our Legislature from proceeding.

What are your top legislative goals for the coming session?

We are in the process of gathering information from agencies. However, I would anticipate having a set of issues that include items like immigration as well as preserving services to the elderly through the NORC and other community driven options. However, we always have a basket of priorities that span the spectrum of legislation, appropriations and regulation.

Additionally, it will be a top priority to educate the new members of the General Assembly – of which there will be more than 60 – about the important work we do.