State’s Jewish Democrats face changed political landscape

Missouri Capitol Building

By Eric Berger, Staff Writer

Jewish Democrats — and Jewish legislators — will have a harder time preventing Missouri from moving in a more conservative direction following the Republicans’ victory in the governor’s race and retention of control of the State House and Senate.

Missouri voters elected the state’s first Jewish governor, Eric Greitens, but he and other legislators disagree with Democrats on a number of issues — gun control, abortion rights and voting rights — that are important to many Jews.

Two Jewish Democrats who were reelected — State Reps. Stacey Newman and Sue Meredith — predicted that they will not be able to accomplish many of their goals because of the Republican majority. 

“So many of the policies that (Greitens) talked about during his campaign were very hurtful to our community,” said Newman, who ran unopposed in a district that covers part of St. Louis County. “I would be very anxious to meet with him and find out what he is serious about and if there is something that we can find in common, I would be more than happy to work with him.”

Greitens, a former Navy SEAL who grew up in Maryland Heights, ran a campaign advertisement that showed him firing an automatic weapon while a narrator said he will protect gun rights. He has described himself a lifelong member of the National Rifle Association. (Interestingly, his opponent, Democrat Chris Koster, received the group’s endorsement.)


The state legislature passed a law in September that removes permit requirements to conceal and carry a firearm. It also changed some of the rules in the “stand your ground” law, giving people the legal right to defend themselves with a weapon if they feel threatened. The law no longer requires that people to attempt to back away from trouble in public.

Meanwhile, Newman has proposed legislation that would institute additional gun-control measures such as a requirement that the sale and transfer of firearms go through a licensed dealer. That has little chance of passing given the Republican majority. 

“Not one of (the Republicans) is talking about saving lives; they are talking about making it easier for gun owners to access more weapons,” said Meredith, who easily defeated her Republican opponent. 

Another issue that has received significant attention in Missouri is abortion rights. The state currently has only one abortion provider, a Planned Parenthood clinic in the Central West End, and requires that women wait 72 hours after consulting a physician before undergoing the procedure. 

Meredith said Republicans don’t care about “someone who is poor and has a need to terminate a pregnancy and has to drive across the state to St. Louis, losing a day of work at their part-time, minimum-pay job.”

Voters also passed a law that requires Missouri residents to show a state-issued ID to vote. And many expect that Republicans will soon make Missouri a so-called “right-to-work” state, weakening labor unions. 

“The Republicans don’t understand that without labor being paid a fair wage, you can’t make the economy stronger,” said Meredith, who also represents part of St. Louis County. “The way to do that is to put money into people’s pockets, which they will then spend.”

Despite their different agendas, do the two Jewish lawmakers think they will be able to work with Greitens? The governor-elect grew up at B’nai El Congregation and quoted Abraham Joshua Heschel in one of his books, according to the Jewish Telegraphic Agency. (The Jewish Light has requested an interview with the campaign.)

“I am hoping that there is that tie of being Jewish. I’m not sure how many people understand or know that he is Jewish and if that gives us one thing in common, that would be absolutely wonderful,” said Newman. But “so many of the policies that he talked about during his campaign were things that were very hurtful to our community.”

Newman said she expects to play defense against a “drastic, extreme agenda.”

Meredith had similar thoughts. 

“I am very, very worried about our state because it’s very one-sided,” said Meredith.

But the National Council of Jewish Women has an agenda of legislation it thinks has a good chance of passing, according to Melissa Alper, the organization’s Missouri State Policy Advocacy Chair. For example, one proposal, sponsored by a Republican representative, would require that public places such as an emergency room or strip club display a poster with information about the National Human Trafficking Resource Center Hotline. 

“We have a lot of work to do; we have a lot of opportunities to have our voices heard and to get some (legislation passed) that will help women and children and families,” said Alper.

As to the issues that draw more headlines like the voter ID law, which passed in this election, Alper said her organization will monitor the law to ensure that it is used for the reasons Republicans had claimed it would be, to prevent voter fraud. 

“That’s what we were told was the reason it was put on the ballot but it has dire unintended consequences, such as taking away the right to vote and access to polls for so many people who wouldn’t have access to a state-issued identification,” said Alper. “It is our job to make sure it doesn’t get worse for them.”