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Secretary of State hopeful Mary Elizabeth Coleman says the job fits her goals

Sen. Mary Elizabeth Coleman, R-Arnold, speaks during session on Jan. 25, in Jefferson City.
Eric Lee/St.Louis Public Radio
Sen. Mary Elizabeth Coleman, R-Arnold, speaks during session on Jan. 25, in Jefferson City.

Missouri state Sen. Mary Elizabeth Coleman was the first candidate to jump into the GOP fray for the 3rd Congressional District seat, but ended up being one of the last to file for secretary of state.

During an episode of St. Louis Public Radio’s Politically Speaking, Coleman said she switched races because the statewide post that oversees elections, business registration and securities regulation is a better fit for what she wants to accomplish.

“I have never run in a race that wasn't a multi-candidate primary, a scrum,” Coleman said. “Now, this is certainly the place that I've had the most opponents in. But when you're in a race, really what your focus is talking to the voters, getting to know them, talking about the issues that matter most to you so that they get to know you. And I don't think that the number of competitors or candidates really changes how you run that race.”

In addition to Coleman, House Speaker Dean Plocher, state Sen. Denny Hoskins, Greene County Clerk Shane Schoeller, state Rep. Adam Schwadron, businessman Mike Carter, St. Louis County resident Jamie Corley and St. Louis resident Valentina Gomez are running to succeed Jay Ashcroft. Democratic state Rep. Barbara Phifer is the most well-known of the Democratic candidates who filed.

“As a mom on a mission, I'm the one who's going to get things done, I'm going to make sure that things are taken care of,” Coleman said. “If you want something done, ask a busy person — and especially a busy mom.”

Coleman is an attorney who previously served on the Arnold City Council. She was elected to the House in 2018, beating a Democratic incumbent who prevailed in a special election. Four years later, she won a crowded GOP primary for the state Senate — which was tantamount to election in the heavily Republican 22nd District.

Here’s some of the issues Coleman also discussed on her Politically Speaking appearance:

  • One of her key priorities is examining the state’s voter rolls to make sure that undocumented immigrants haven’t registered. “If you're willing to walk across the border illegally, if you're willing to break that law, why would you not be willing to break the law to vote illegally in Missouri?” she said.
  • She would advocate for local library boards to be elected, as opposed to appointed, positions. “Really returning the power to the people to make sure that they're able to decide: Do they like or do they not like what their libraries are doing?” Coleman said.
  • Unlike Hoskins, Coleman isn’t sold on the idea of hand counting all ballots — pointing out that countries that do, like France, only may have one race to tabulate. By contrast, Missouri’s general election ballot could have multiple races up for grabs — especially in places like St. Louis or St. Louis County with judge retention elections.

Sarah Kellogg / St. Louis Public Radio Alex Cook, with Abortion Action Missouri, leads supporters in chants during a rally on May 3 to celebrate the turning in of more than 380,000 signatures for a petition that would legalize abortion in Missouri.

She doesn't expect November to be final word on abortion

Coleman helped craft the law that ultimately banned most abortions in Missouri, something she’s continually said is one of her proudest legislative accomplishments.

But that measure could be undone later this year if Missourians approve a constitutional amendment legalizing abortion. Backers of proposed constitutional amendments needed to collect a certain percentage of signatures in six out of eight congressional districts — which at minimum was around 171,000 signatures. They turned in more than 380,000 which are being checked by Ashcroft’s office. He’s expected to announce later this year if the plan will go before voters in November.

Even if the abortion legalization measure ends up passing, Coleman said the GOP-controlled legislature will almost certainly try to put something on a future statewide ballot to repeal or change the amendment.

“And so to think that would go unchallenged by the Republican supermajority, I think is probably a little bit of a pipe dream,” Coleman said.

Coleman, who was the sponsor of a measure to make the Missouri Constitution more difficult to amend, said she will continue to advocate to raise the threshold if she’s elected secretary of state. That proposal failed to pass in the last week of session.

“I don't think that's going to tamp down the desire to make it harder to change the constitution,” said Coleman, referring to the possibility of the abortion legalization measure passing. “I think you're just going to see pro-life initiative petitions or pro-life ballot initiatives that are put on by the supermajority and probably also continued efforts to make sure that our founding documents are harder to change.”

Republicans currently hold supermajority status in the state House and Senate. While the GOP is not expected to lose control of either chamber, Democrats are optimistic that the abortion legalization measure could increase Democratic turnout and allow them to make enough gains to break the supermajorities for the first time since 2013.

Sarah Kellogg is a first year graduate student at the University of Missouri studying public affairs reporting. She spent her undergraduate days as a radio/television major and reported for KBIA. In addition to reporting shifts, Sarah also hosted KBIA’s weekly education show Exam, was an afternoon newscaster and worked on the True/False podcast. Growing up, Sarah listened to episodes of Wait Wait...Don’t Tell Me! with her parents during long car rides. It’s safe to say she was destined to end up in public radio.
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