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Jessica Piper: Democrats Must Contest Every Seat

I grew up in the 80s and 90s as a feral Gen Xer. I did some wild and sketchy things, from riding in a laundry basket instead of a car seat as a baby, to living from dawn to dusk outside every summer as a child, to drinking from a bottle of Mad Dog 20/20 at a party in a random pasture on a Friday night as a teenager. But, I’ve never done anything as wild as what I did in 2022.

I ran for office as a progressive Democrat in very rural, very red Missouri. I didn’t win. I was able to move the needle a few points, but the point isn’t always winning–the point is always running.

We must stop letting seats go uncontested. We have to stop giving away our state government to folks who answer to no one. It stops today…this is how we do it. We run everywhere.

I was an English teacher for 16 years. My last 6 years were teaching American Lit to high school Juniors. I absolutely loved my job. I was traveling the country teaching other teachers how to incorporate the history of slavery into American Lit. I was tenured. I loved my school and loved my students, but something was nagging me.

The world changed in 2016. Trump was elected and there were immediate repercussions. I started getting louder and noticing politics and how they related to me as a Union member. I saw Right to Work legislation being proposed. I saw abortion bans. I saw laws to allow guns everywhere in our state passing. I am a rural person, born and raised, and I was taught not to talk about politics and remain polite, but when I went to the voting booth in 2020, I had no Democrat to vote for on most of my ballot. There was only one State Representative candidate, and he was one who signed the abortion ban with no exception for rape–no exception for children who had been raped.

It was enough. I had finally had enough.

I came home from the voting booth and told my husband that I intended to run for office… he didn’t bat an eye and asked how he could help. That was the start of a two-year journey that led me from a mild-mannered schoolteacher to an outspoken advocate for rural communities, and especially rural schools.

Folks think I am an anomaly as I am very rural and very critical of the GOP supermajority. I am not an anomaly. I am at least one-fourth of the population in my tiny community as that is the amount of votes I garnered. 1 in 4 voted for a progressive woman–and this is just the beginning. I’m just getting started.

I raised more than any candidate running for State House in a district that hasn’t elected a Democrat in 32 years and has never elected a woman. So, by this point, you probably know that I wasn’t going to flip my district in one election, so what was the point? Why raise money, and quit my job, and call folks, and knock doors, and cash out my retirement, and put my family through hell…for what?

To give voters a choice. To say that we won’t send unopposed Representatives to the Capitol anymore. To say that Missourians deserve representation and folks who will listen and work for them. For Democracy.

In Missouri, 40% of the seats went uncontested in 2022. 66 State Representatives walked into their position without even having to interview for the job. 2.5 million Missourians had no choice. Here’s the thing, I hear folks point to bad legislation and look at us and say, “You get what you vote for.”

Well, that’s not really true in the 40% of Missouri districts who had no choice in their vote. That’s why I ran and that’s why I am setting up the infrastructure to support down-ballot candidates now. I am now working with Blue Missouri, and they have the plan to move Missouri into a more purple future. It’s an easy plan–we run everywhere.

You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take. And, for far too long, too many statehouse races have gone uncontested and unsupported. Folks in these districts feel abandoned, ignored… forgotten. Meanwhile, GOP nominees get free passes. These unopposed legislators feel empowered to do anything–to be as extreme as they want by attacking union wages, defunding public schools, letting our roads crumble, and taking away bodily autonomy from women and girls.

I now spend my days spreading a rural progressive message and crowdfunding for rural and down-ballot candidates with Blue Missouri. This is what I can do to create the change we need in Missouri. This is what we can all do…no more unopposed candidates. No more free rides.

No seat uncontested.

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