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Politically Speaking: Empower Missouri chief Jeanette Mott Oxford lays out 2016 objectives

Jeanette Mott Oxford
Jason Rosenbaum | St. Louis Public Radio
Jeanette Mott Oxford

St. Louis Public Radio’s political duo of Jason Rosenbaum and Jo Mannies welcomes Jeanette Mott Oxford, head of Empower Missouri, as our guest on the latest edition of the Political Speaking podcast.

Oxford is a former Democratic legislator from St. Louis and has been active for more than 25 years in anti-poverty and social-justice organizations.

Empower Missouri is the latest moniker for a progressive advocacy group that’s been around since 1901 under various names.  Most recently, the organization was  known as the Missouri Association for Social Welfare.

Empower Missouri has six key objectives, focusing on affordable housing and homelessness, criminal justice, economic justice, health and mental health, human rights and hunger.

Oxford grew up in rural Illinois, the daughter of gospel singers, and came to St. Louis in the mid-1980s to attend Eden Theological Seminary. She received her masters in divinity degree in 1989.

After nine years as the executive director of the Reform Organization for Welfare, Oxford ran unsuccessfully for the Missouri House, losing by less than 70 votes to Russ Carnahan.

She ran again for the House seat in 2004, when Carnahan ran for Congress. She won and served through 2012. Oxford made an unsuccessful bid for the state Senate in 2012, losing in a three-way primary to fellow legislator Jamilah Nasheed.

Oxford was the first "out" lesbian to serve in the Missouri General Assembly.

Among Oxford’s observations on the show:

  • Throughout her career, she’s sought to work across political lines to achieve her objectives. “Party labels are so unhelpful. A party label doesn’t tell you anything about a person’s character. … We’ve been sticking to ‘values.’ “
  • For more than a decade, she has been an outspoken opponent of using public money to help build sports stadiums. In 2001, she helped found the Coalition Against Public Funding of Stadiums, which went on to win passage of such requirements in the city of St. Louis and St. Louis County. (The city requirement was recently tossed out by a judge, but her group plans to appeal that ruling.)
  • She supports changing the state’s tax code, which now starts at 5 percent on anyone earning $9,000 or more. She’d like revamp the top tax brackets, so that it applies to people with higher incomes, while people earning $30,000 or so would pay a lower rate.
  • Her group is involved in drafting the proposed “Fair and Impartial Policing Act,’’ to address racial disparities in arrests and traffic stops, among other things.

Follow Jason Rosenbaum on Twitter: @jrosenbaum

Follow Jo Mannies on Twitter: @jmannies

Follow Empower Missouri on Twitter: @EmpowerMissouri

Music: "Where It's At" by Beck

Jo Mannies is a freelance journalist and former political reporter at St. Louis Public Radio.
Jason is the politics correspondent for St. Louis Public Radio.