The Democratic field for the chance to challenge Senate Majority Leader Caleb Rowden in the 2020 election grew Thursday with the announcement from former state Rep. Judy Baker that she will run for the 19th District state Senate seat.
Baker joins Michela Skelton, a two-time legislative candidate and David Raithel, a self-styled radical who sought the Democratic nomination in 1992. Renee Hoagenson, who was the 2018 Democratic nominee in the Fourth Congressional District and a potential candidate, said she is not planning to run but did not rule out joining the field.
Baker was the Democratic nominee for the old Ninth Congressional District in 2008, coming within a few thousand votes of victory. She ran for lieutenant governor in 2012 and was the Democratic nominee for state treasurer in 2016.
Baker represented eastern Columbia in the Missouri House for two terms before running for Congress. Since that time, Republicans have increased their legislative majorities to where the party now controls two-thirds of the seats in both chambers.
“I have learned that our current legislature does not represent the people,” Baker said in an interview when asked what is different about the General Assembly today versus the time she was in office.
“I have learned that the current politicians only serve the interests of those who have means and influence," she added. "I have learned that this legislature is more than willing to overturn the will of the people by overturning ballot initiatives. I think it is time for them to go.”
Skelton said in an interview that she welcomes Baker to the race. She said she is better prepared to take on Rowden because of her work organizing for legislative races in the 50th Missouri House District and other political activities.
“I think what sets me apart is that I have been continuing to work hard in all the communities in Boone County and Cooper County for the issues that are important to the people who live here,” Skelton said.
Hoagenson said she will support Baker unless she decides to get into the race herself.
“I think that out of everyone who has declared so far, I think Judy has the best chance of winning the general,” Hoagenson said.
Rowden has the most powerful legislative post held by a Boone County lawmaker since A. Basey Vanlandingham, a Democrat, became Senate Majority Leader in 1969. He narrowly defeated then-state Rep. Stephen Webber in 2016 in the most expensive state Senate race in Missouri history, losing the vote in Boone County but carrying the other county in the district, Cooper County, by a wide margin.
Because he must appeal to a more liberal constituency than many of his GOP colleagues, Rowden has sought to portray himself as a moderate. But Baker said the passage of a bill outlawing abortions after eight weeks, with no exceptions for rape or incest, shows Rowden to be as extreme as his colleagues.
“I don’t think anyone really thought that the legislature would go this far on women’s reproductive rights, including banning abortion in case of rape or incest,” Baker said.
Rowden, at a recent campaign kick-off event, said he has never concealed his opposition to abortion so his constituents knew where he stood when they elected him.
After her loss in the congressional campaign, Baker was appointed regional director of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. She and her husband, John Baker, are Baptist ministers, serving at First Baptist Church in Columbia and founding Cornerstone Baptist Church. She founded SEED Success, a local not-for-profit dedicated to raising money to help families create college savings accounts.
On her campaign website, Baker said she supports gun control legislation to require background checks for all gun transfers, red flag laws that would allow courts to take away the guns of someone reported by their family to be dangerous and re-instating the requirement that people who carry concealed weapons have a permit issued by the county sheriff.
She also supports repealing legislation passed this year barring counties from enacting rules for large animal feeding operations that are more strict than state regulations.
“I want to work for farmers on local control issues,” Baker said. “I also will be working for farmers to protect them economically from poor trade practices. I realize that is a federal issue but we can speak up and give it voice.”
Other issues that lawmakers should address are reducing the number of people without health insurance, controlling the cost of higher education, and moving to a new energy economy that recognizes the threat of climate change, Baker stated in her news release.
“I am a person who can appeal to all citizens, not just those on the fringes,” she said. “I worked with people in both parties while I was a state representative, and I can do it again.”