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Exit interview: Jane Cunningham on where she's been, and what's next

State Senator Jane Cunningham
Jane Cunningham official website
State Senator Jane Cunningham

A long-time St. Louis County lawmaker is leaving office this year because her Senate district was moved to the Kansas City area.  Republican Jane Cunningham of Chesterfield has spent eight years in the Missouri House and four in the Senate, making a name for herself as an outspoken social conservative. 

During her last visit to the Capitol as an elected official last week, she sat down with St. Louis Public Radio’s Marshall Griffin to talk about her record in office and where she goes from here.

Education reform & Proposition C

“As you know, education reform has always been a high priority of mine…the passage of my Health Care Freedom Act by the voters in 2010 drew a line in the sand between Missouri voters and the federal government with regard to Obamacare.  That issue continues to be a focus…everyone that runs has comments going back to that point and that vote of the 71 percent of people expressing their displeasure and anger and desire not to have the mandates of Obamacare."

You have focused on teacher tenure (this year).

"There’s a teacher’s strike right now in Chicago, and one of the issues is evaluations, and tenure and those kinds of things…the teachers there are making on average $76,000 a year, and yet they don’t want to be evaluated and held accountable for what the students actually learn in their classrooms…our nation is now facing security problems because of the mediocre education that we’re providing…that has been documented recently by a report that was lead by Joel Klein, the former chancellor at the New York (City) schools, and Condoleezza Rice, and about 28 other educators, academics, business people, that have found that in competing with the rest of the world, we are in dire straights to the point that it’s a national security issue."

How is it a national security issue? Are we talking about the intelligence of students going into the military?

"Yes, but also economic security…when we don’t have people that can take these high-level jobs and we’re needing to hire people from other countries to do those jobs, economic security is one thing – can we keep our businesses here, can we keep producing those jobs? During one of the hearings that I led in St. Louis, the Army recruiter (said that they) cannot make their quota of what they need to recruit into the Army…one of the reasons they can’t is because the students who graduate from our high schools in St. Louis cannot pass the basic academic test to get into the military."

You’re eligible for four more years (in the Mo. Senate), but due to the redistricting process and the new map, you were faced with either not running, moving to Kansas City, or challenging one of your (St. Louis-area) Republican colleagues for their seat. How did that make you feel, knowing that those were your only options?

"What made me feel worse was what happened to St. Louis…that redistricting, because (the commission) did not have a representative from St. Louis, really overlooked the need for the job-producing area of this state…the most secure, pro-economic development, pro-jobs, pro-conservative district was eliminated from St. Louis (County)…that is a travesty for the St. Louis area, especially when St. Louis sends so much revenue to the state of Missouri…that is far more serious than what personally happened to me…the decision I made not to take on one of my colleagues was a decision that I felt right about, for now…in the future we’ll have to see what doors open for me."

What are you going to do after you leave the Mo. Senate?

"I’m not sure…some of it will be determined by the upcoming election and what opportunities make themselves available…some people have talked with me about some leadership as far as the state party is concerned…if there is a Romney presidency, obviously I support his issues, particularly in the area of education reform…if I could find a place to contribute in either of those areas I would certainly be open to them."

Are we talking about a Cabinet position?

"[Laughs] I think that’s too big, definitely…I’ve put a lot of time in studying these issues and I know a lot about them, not just at a local or a state level, but nationally, because I’ve been working at a national level on education reform…I’m also very interested in the party in the state of Missouri…there are many things we can do to improve and become more effective as a party structure."

If the opportunity comes up to run for (State) Senate again, I’m assuming you’ll consider that…what about any other statewide office or other political office?

"I’m a policy wonk, and I really love policy…it’s probably a little difficult for me to (run for) a statewide (office), although I’ve been encouraged to do that…I really like the lawmaking process and the debate process, and probably that’s where my heart is most, along with education reform, because it’s so critical, not only to the children who are the consumers of this product, but to the entire country."

Follow Marshall Griffin on Twitter:@MarshallGReport

Marshal was a political reporter for St. Louis Public Radio until 2018.