If John Hickey's panic deserves attention, then so does his invitation to dinner. Maybe "panic" is too strong a word. Let's call it "worriment" and leave the director of the Missouri Progressive Vote Coalition (Pro-Vote) to decide when to hit the alarm.
Actually he already has, because with the fulfillment of Missouri's legislative term limits only four years away, this political equivalent of Y2K threatens to change the mainframe of Jefferson City literally overnight. Not only will 110 members of the Missouri House of Representatives and 15 senators be unceremoniously kicked out of office, voters will have to find the wherewithal to replace them. And that has Hickey worried.
"It's like this avalanche coming down the hill," he says. "It's going to hit hard, and I don't think anyone's paying much attention."
And thus the invitation to dine.
Because getting qualified, progressive candidates into state office is the long-term goal of Pro-Vote, this year's awards dinner will try to jump-start the process of harvesting candidates -- lots and lots of candidates.
Think about the fact, says Hickey, that in four short years there will be 125 vacancies to fill with 125 candidates, qualified or not. And because legislators are really only fronts for those who pay their campaign bills anyway, Hickey warns that the progressive community had better start looking for its own candidates now.
"People who might be interested in running need to get ready now," Hickey says. "They need to start thinking about running for a more local office to get more of an understanding of their community. They need to start thinking about their current jobs, for instance, or about what child-care needs they might have when they're campaigning."
In 1992, Missouri voters approved eight-year term limits for both House and Senate members, with a 16-year lifetime limit on serving in both houses. The clock started ticking for most lawmakers in 1994, except for a handful elected in earlier special elections. In other words, House members from St. Louis city and county elected during special elections between 1992-94 will have to leave office in 2000, including St. Louis-area Democrats Dorathea Davis, Rita Days, Dana Murray and Brian May.
Then, in 2002, the following Democratic crew from the St. Louis area will leave its shift: Reps. Ron Auer, Joan Bray, Paula Carter, Pat Dougherty, Jim Foley, Louis Ford, Tim Green, Russell Gunn, Mary Hagan-Harrell, Chris Liese, Bill Luetkenhaus, Pat O'Connor, James O'Toole, May Scheve, O.L. Shelton, Lana Stokan, and Charles "Quincy" Troupe; and Sens. Ted House and William "Lacy" Clay.
Because Pro-Vote helped get a good many of the aforementioned legislators elected in the first place, the impact of all of them leaving at the same time will be widely felt. Hickey says progressive groups -- including those focusing on education, organized labor, the environment and social welfare -- must start strengthening their coalition now.
So come to the dinner. It's a fundraiser for Pro-Vote. Tim Foley, national director of the Community Action Program for the United Auto Workers, is the keynote speaker, and awards will be presented to state Rep. Tim Harlan (D-Columbia); Bob Carico, acting director of State Council 72 of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees; and Jeanette Mott Oxford, executive director for the Reform Organization for Welfare. The reception and dinner on Saturday, Dec. 5, start at 5:30 p.m. at the St. Louis Airport Hilton. For reservations, call 531-2288.