RFT Asks: How Would Stephen Webber Fight Missouri's 'Extremism'?

The Democrat dishes on why Trump-era politics moved him to run for state senate a second time

Jan 13, 2023 at 10:28 am
click to enlarge Former State Representative Stephen Webber speaks at a Planned Parenthood rally in Columbia. - Courtesy Stephen Webber
Courtesy Stephen Webber
Former State Representative Stephen Webber speaks at a Planned Parenthood rally in Columbia.

Former Democratic state representative Stephen Webber's newly announced race for Boone County’s Missouri Senate seat will be closely watched in 2024. Redistricting removed the more rural parts of District 19 — giving Democrats like Webber a rare shot at flipping a historically Republican seat from red to blue.

Boone County, with Columbia right in its center, now makes up the whole of District 19. Webber will be a familiar face for voters there; he served eight years in the Missouri House representing Columbia before he reached term limits in 2016. He also lost a race for the same senate seat to Republican Caleb Rowden in 2016.

Webber is the former chair of the Missouri Democratic Party and current political director for Missouri AFL-CIO, the state’s largest federation of labor unions. 

The RFT caught up with Webber this week to talk about his campaign, and why Democrats winning seats is important for eliminating “extremism” in Missouri.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Why are you running for state senate again?

We have an extremism problem in this state. It’s getting worse and it’s not going to go away until we stop it. We need to do is win back seats and keep extremists out of the Missouri legislature. 

You said something similar when you announced your campaign. You said in a statement: “With an extremist legislature that is taking power away from us… We need leadership that will fight back.” What do you mean by that exactly? What is this “extremism problem?”

It’s the MAGA moment, the idea of no real values, that nothing matters except owning the “libs” or your opponent. Hating whole groups of people. When I first came into politics in 2008, there were a lot of Republicans that were trying to take away women’s right to choose. That’s not a new thing. But now we’ve evolved to extreme measures like bounty bills, where the state would pay you money to turn someone in. Republicans in 2008 would’ve been like, "Whoa, that’s a little too far." It’s like that on so many levels. Like gun issues — folks are not only advocating for possessing weapons but arming teachers. Everything has gotten so much more extreme in a way that would have been unrecognizable a few years ago. 

You mentioned MAGA earlier. Do you think this extremism is a direct result of Donald Trump? Or did you notice this in Missouri before his administration?

Missouri Republicans have always been the leaders in terms of crazy… I think Donald Trump has emboldened the worst instincts that were already there for a lot of these folks. He’s moved the Overton window of what is acceptable. 

You unsuccessfully tried to flip the 19th district senate seat in 2016. So did Judy Baker in 2020. What makes you think things will be different in 2024?

Our district is different. In previous elections, Republicans have always lost Boone County but won the rural counties. Now the district is just Boone County. 

I think there are a lot of people who were taken aback by the extremism, too. They were voting Republican a few years ago, and now they’re voting Democrat. 

Why do you think it’s important for Republican seats to flip in Missouri?

Two reasons. We haven’t won a senate district outside of the St. Louis or Kansas City areas since 2006. There’s no way we can be a competitive statewide party if we can’t win select senate seats. Also, these MAGA extremists are not going to stop. They overturned Roe. They’re not done. They’re looking at banning birth control, charging people [with] murder for getting an abortion. They’re never going to quit, and we have to have people in the legislature who can fight back against this agenda and try to stop it.

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