Missouri’s ‘Jewish caucus’ eyes legislative priorities for coming year

Jake Zimmerman

By David Baugher, Special to the Jewish Light

When Jake Zimmerman talks about being “a member of a fairly small minority” he does so with a matter-of-fact tone. He is Jewish, after all. But in this instance he isn’t referring to his faith. Zimmerman identifies as part of another small minority as well – one that’s increasingly rare.

He’s a Democrat in the Missouri General Assembly.

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Like the other four members of the Jewish contingent to the state’s House of Representatives, Zimmerman is part of an already battered minority party that will limp back to Jefferson City in January after a bruising election in which Republicans gained 17 state House seats. That puts them just three votes shy of wielding a veto-proof majority against Missouri’s Democratic governor. The GOP controls enough votes in the Senate to override a veto already.

Meanwhile, the entirely Democratic Jewish delegation to the House is reacting to November’s midterm Republican tidal wave with a strategy of political realism tinged with language suggesting worried uncertainty.

“It’s hard to predict what’s coming around the bend until we actually see the headlights,” Zimmerman said.

The one-term representative, whose 83rd District takes in the Overland/Olivette area, said his legislative agenda will revolve around playing “small ball,” crafting targeted proposals on individual issues. Ethics reform is on his mind as is an effort to clear up loopholes in the state’s “no-call list” laws. He also hopes to advance a tax deferral plan, based on a similar measure in Oregon, to keep seniors on a fixed income from losing their homes to property taxes.

On other issues it’s largely a wait and see approach but Zimmerman said he doesn’t know what sorts of initiatives might be brought to the table by the other party.

“I think it’s hard to answer that question until we see how aggressive the new majorities in both the House and the Senate are going to be,” he said. “I anticipate the possibility of playing a lot of defense this year.”

So does Stacey Newman. Newman, who represents the Clayton/Richmond Heights area, said she’d like to push new ideas for boosting revenue including a cigarette tax and Internet sales tax but is uncertain about the reception they might receive.

Meanwhile, she said she anticipates opposing potential efforts to pass right-to-work legislation, repeal the state income tax and require picture identification to vote.

“The majority of what we are going to be doing is fighting the bad stuff,” she said. “We know even with our numbers from last session, advancing some of our proactive issues from last year is going to be almost impossible.”

Newman said the legislature’s progressive contingent, of which she counts herself a member, now makes up a majority of her party’s caucus. She said she hopes to help reinvigorate the caucus and protect programs she feels are of interest to the Jewish community.

“The major story throughout the year will be how are we going to hold the line on the programs that we know are vital with all the cuts in the budget,” she said. “There