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Politically Speaking: Meet Rochelle Walton Gray, the woman who shook up St. Louis County politics

Rochelle Walton Gray
Jason Rosenbaum | St. Louis Public Radio

On a post-election edition of the Politically Speaking podcast, St. Louis Public Radio reporters Jason Rosenbaum and Rachel Lippmann welcome state Rep. Rochelle Walton Gray to the program for the first time.

The Democrat from Black Jack provided a thunderbolt of sorts to the St. Louis County political scene on Tuesday when she defeated incumbent St. Louis County Councilman Mike O’Mara, D-Florissant, in the primary. Her resounding victory marks a big change for the politics of north St. Louis County — and St. Louis County Executive Steve Stenger’s ability to push controversial items through the St. Louis County Council.

Walton Gray faces Republican Curtis Faulkner and Libertarian Jeff Coleman in the general election in November.

She is the daughter of Elbert Walton, who served for more than a decade in the Missouri House. She’s also the stepdaughter of the late Juanita Head Walton, who was a state representative from 2000 to 2008. Walton Gray won a contested primary in 2008 to succeed her stepmother in the House. After 2008, Walton Gray went onto win three more terms in the House — including a very competitive incumbent versus incumbent match-up in 2012 against state Rep. Sylvester Taylor.

During her legislative tenure, Walton Gray charted out a voting a record favorable to organized labor. (Her husband and likely successor, Alan Gray, was a union member.) She also sponsored a slew of bills aimed at addressing issues related to the Ferguson unrest, many of which failed to get a hearing.

Here’s some of what Walton Gray had to say during the show:

  • It hasn't necessarily been fun to run in a lot of Democratic primaries. She said no matter who her opponent is in the election, she works "very, very hard to make sure that I have a grassroots campaign and that I am part of that campaign." 
  • One of the things that made her consider running for St. Louis County Council was because she had reached her term limit in the Missouri House. "When you're an elected official and you really like what you do, you just don't want to stop," she said. "And if you are in it for positive and good reasons, you want to stay in and you want to stay in and help people."
  • She said that she won't come into office next year automatically antagonistic toward Stenger. But she added she's allied with her constituents — not the Democratic official. "And that's where my allegiance lies," she said. "It's not with Stenger and it's not with anyone else. It's with my constituents. Whatever they want me to do or ask me to do, that's what I'll try to do."

Follow Jason Rosenbaum on Twitter: @jrosenbaum

Follow Rachel Lippmann on Twitter: @rlippmann

Music: "The Rat" by The Walkmen

Jason is the politics correspondent for St. Louis Public Radio.
Rachel is the justice correspondent at St. Louis Public Radio.