State Senator Lauren Arthur was elected in 2018, becoming the youngest woman ever to serve in the Missouri Senate. She won a special election on June 5, 2018 and spoke to the Women’s Foundation about why she decided to run for office and why she hopes even more women do the same.
What made you decide to get involved in public service?
I decided to run for office for myriad reasons. As a middle school teacher, I realized that decisions made in Jefferson City were negatively impacting my school, my students, and their opportunities for a better future. I ran to advocate for kids and all vulnerable populations in Missouri. I also recognized that women were seriously underrepresented in the statehouse. When I first got elected, I was the only woman in her twenties in the legislature. I believe it's important that legislators reflect the populations they represent, and I thought I could offer a unique perspective.
What’s the biggest challenge or setback you’ve faced?
Sexist and misogynistic attitudes still pervade the culture in Jefferson City. Women – and I mean all women, including staffers, lobbyists, interns, and legislators – encounter subtle forms of sexism. It’s tough to navigate. As a young woman, I battled against stereotypes. Folks wrongly presumed that I was an intern, sister or daughter instead of a legislator. They assumed that I was in over my head, demure, or inexperienced. I had to prove such misconceptions wrong while also learning a new job and trying to establish myself as a serious, professional legislator. Young men, on the other hand, were often lionized automatically.
What is your advice to others, especially women, who want to get involved in public service?
Do it! You have the network and tools needed to succeed, and you are imminently qualified. There's a popular joke in politics: The first week you're in office, you look around and think, "How did I get here?" The second week you're in office, you look around and think, "How did everyone else get here?" Don't let self-doubt prevent you from getting involved.
Studies show that women make great public servants. Women tend to be more collaborative, solutions-oriented, and responsive to constituents. Women also make up the bulk of low-wage earners, are heads of households, and often understand the struggles of accessing affordable health care and childcare; as a result, the policy issues they focus on help families, communities, and our society overall. The fact that women comprise less than 25% of the General Assembly is a huge disservice to all Missourians.
Is there anything that has surprised you about public service?
I don’t think I appreciated the commitment level required for public service. It entails a serious time commitment. It also demands emotional, physical, and mental investment, as well. However, it is well worth the effort and one of the most rewarding things I have ever had the privilege of doing.
What’s your favorite thing about serving in your role?
I love talking to students about state government. They ask insightful questions and demonstrate a genuine curiosity. And, it’s vital that we encourage their engagement and involvement. I worry that knowledge of civics is waning. I recently saw a poll that stated only 31% of people surveyed could name one branch of government. Low levels of civic understanding can lead to a host of deleterious effects for society. So, teaching students the power of their voices is so important. And, the kids are so smart, and fun, and funny!
How has your background shaped the way you serve your constituents? I joke that working with middle schoolers was good preparation for joining the legislature. But, in truth, it helped me understand the power of relationships. When you have 30 people in a room who may have different experiences, personalities, opinions and interests, you have to know how to bring people together and achieve common goals. My experience in the classroom sharpened those skills. Interactions with students also taught me that I should never jump to conclusions or make assumptions. Everyone faces his or her own struggles and defines success in different ways. But, every person deserves dignity, respect, equitable opportunity and an advocate or ally. I try to have that mindset when I meet constituents.
Have you ever had a mentor, or someone who inspired you? I was inspired by my teachers. I was shy as a young child. My teachers made me feel comfortable and encouraged me to be my true self. They helped me feel special and know my worth. They imparted valuable lessons and acted as my cheerleaders. I am grateful they helped me reach my academic potential. And, I also appreciate that they modeled public service and giving back to the community.
Is there anything else you’d like to add?
It is truly the greatest honor of my life to get to serve my friends, family, neighbors, and constituents in the Missouri Senate.
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Our Change-Maker Profiles feature elected officials, civic leaders, and everyday citizens who are working for change in Missouri and Kansas. They do not represent endorsements for candidates for political office or their public policy positions.