COLUMBIA — The lulling crunch of Mexico Gravel Road leads to Kelly and Loren Schultz’s house, just outside the tiny unincorporated village of Shaw. Call it the suburbs of Shaw, Kelly Schultz later joked.
It’s a T-shirt-weather Saturday, and that’s good news. It means the full day of campaigning can proceed as planned. Just a hair past noon, Schultz has already made the trip to Paris to be in a parade. So short was the parade that everyone in it just wound around in a figure eight and did the whole thing again, backward. It’s double exposure for Schultz, the 21st Missouri House seat challenger.
RESIDENCE: Boone County, near Shaw
PERSONAL: 31. She is married to Loren Schultz. Their daughter, Brianna, is 3 years old.
PARTY AFFILIATION: Democrat
CAMPAIGN WEB SITE: kellyschultzfor21st.com
OCCUPATION: Legislative assistant for state Rep. Sara Lampe, D-Springfield
EDUCATION: Bachelor’s degree in political science from MU, 1999; master’s degree in public administration from MU.
BACKGROUND: Schultz has worked in the Capitol as a legislative staffer for nine years. She served as legislative liaison for state Sen. Sidney Johnson, D-Gower, and as director of legislation for former House Minority Leader Jeff Harris, D-Columbia. She enjoys reading and playing with her daughter.
WHAT'S THE JOB? There are 163 members of the Missouri House of Representatives, which works in conjunction with the Missouri Senate to pass legislation and craft annual state budgets, subject to the approval of the governor. The General Assembly convenes in early January and continues its session through May. It occasionally reconvenes in September to reconsider either vetoed bills or bills strongly advocated by the governor but not passed in regular session. Representatives earn $31,351 per year and receive daily expense allowances and reimbursements for mileage to and from the Capitol.
Next stop is the Hatton Craft Fair, but first, the Schultzes' 3-year-old daughter, Brianna, needs to finish her lunch. What plays out is a struggle as old as time: the finish-your-vegetables duel. Brianna isn’t interested in her remaining corn kernels or macaroni but has left over barbecue sauce. She’s after more chicken nuggets to dip. The logic seems sound. Still, Schultz holds firm.
“Finish your noodles and your corn, and then we’ll see about more chicken nuggets.”
As the situation stalemates, Schultz describes her other big challenge. Her district has a 47 percent Democratic performance rating. The incumbent, Republican Steve Hobbs, has held the seat for six years.
“It just means we have to work three times as hard, isn’t that right, baby doll?” Schultz says, turning back to Brianna.
Schultz has lived and breathed Jefferson City since graduating with a political science degree from MU nine years ago. Policy work felt like a calling. In college she worked as an intern with a state legislator from the St. Louis suburbs. Schultz progressed to director of legislation for 23rd District State Rep. and House Minority Leader Jeff Harris, and she works for state Rep. Sara Lampe, from Springfield.
Harris described Schultz as an intelligent and honest person with significant and substantive experience working in the Capitol. Harris noted Schultz was a hard worker who excelled as part of his Democratic leadership team.
“She’s a fine person who approaches things with the very best of intentions,” Harris said. “That’s the type of person we need in public office.”
Fellow Democrats have congratulated Schultz on her candidacy but seem to have written off this year’s campaign as training for the 2010 election, when Hobbs no longer will be able to run because of term limits.
“I said, ‘Thanks, but I’m trying to win this year,’” said Schultz.
Before leaving home again for part two of the day’s campaigning, Schultz pulls two armloads of paperwork from the passenger seat of her dusty Ford Taurus X and transfers them to the back. The vehicle is just a few months old but already looks well-worn. Strewn about the inside are yard signs, what looks like a pink stuffed elephant, stacks of door-knocking fliers and still more piles of documents.
The rigors of campaigning claimed her last vehicle quickly. Its engine seized up while Schultz was out knocking on doors. So far, the new Taurus has only blown a tire.
"It’s my mobile office slash mobile day care,” Schultz said.
Schultz stops at the mailbox and can’t contain her excitement. In the mail are a campaign donation check and a post card from a voter. Her campaign advertises openness and availability, and the materials she gives away come with tear-away post cards and her cell phone number so voters can always reach her.
Sometimes answering the phone seems to be enough.
“I got a call from a constituent, and she said, ‘OK, you passed the test,’” Schultz said. “She just wanted to see if I really answered my phone.”
Driving past “Kelly Schultz: State Representative” signs on the road is still a bit surreal for Schultz.
“As a candidate you really have to put yourself out there,” she said. “My style is policy-heavy, but you have to realize that people aren’t attacking you personally, they just might not agree with your policies. And that’s OK.”
The limelight is something of a change for Schultz, a fact she’s the first to admit. Her work so far has been largely behind-the-scenes as a legislative staffer, albeit a critical one. But the Democrats in the Missouri House asked her to run for the 21st District seat.
“I had to sit down with the family and make sure this is something I wanted to do,” Schultz said. “I’d been focused on policy and constituent services and not personality. We had to discuss that new personality layer and what that was going to involve.”
A strong family is more than a stump-speech bullet point for Schultz. She and Loren have provided foster care in their home for nine troubled children. Soon after graduating from MU, Kelly Schultz started volunteering at the Rainbow House, a support center in Columbia for children in crisis. Volunteering soon evolved into a weekend staff role. Schultz helped take care of the children and became a role model for them. The work drew her in, particularly work with adolescent males. It led directly to foster parenting.
“Teenage boys are like firecrackers,” she said, “When something’s wrong, they explode, but that’s the end of it.”
Schultz said her goal for foster care with the teenage boys was to quickly teach them life skills before they age out of the system. Foster children might not have had a chance to learn how to do laundry, change oil or balance a checkbook. Schultz has a habit of describing her foster children using the ages they were when they arrived at her home.
“Our 17-year-old got his GED recently and started taking a few classes at Columbia College,” she said. “Our 18-year-old was the first in his family to graduate high school, and, actually, the first in his family to age to adulthood outside of a correctional facility,” she said.
Most recently, the Schultzes provided foster care to a 6-day-old baby born with serious disabilities at only 4 pounds. With a great deal of care and the help of five medical specialists, the baby experienced phenomenal physical and psychological development. Meanwhile, the Schultzes helped rehabilitate the birth mother so she could once again take care of her baby. Ten months later, the baby and the mother were reunited. They keep in contact with mother and daughter still.
Brianna, too, was their foster child until the Schultzes adopted her in June 2007.
The Hatton Craft Fair turns out to be a much bigger affair than Schultz anticipated. Scores of white tents house vendors quietly peddling homemade trinkets to position on stoops or stuff in stockings. Schultz has agreed to help work the event, but it’s not easy to find her contact in the sea of Americana. Eventually, Schultz finds who she’s looking for in the community center basement and promptly takes over cashiering for fair-goers hungry for pie and chicken salad sandwiches.
Schultz’s campaign strategy relies heavily on strategic door-knocking and targeted mailings, but also on softer in-person appearances. At the fair, she wears her campaign shirt and chats with people about the day’s activities. She relies on a friend of her husband to periodically introduce her as a 21st District candidate.
“People don’t like to be harassed by politicians at a craft fair,” Schultz said. “I work these types of events gently and hope people will remember that I took the time to go.”
Schultz banters genially with fellow volunteers and turns back around to deliver detailed, multi-faceted responses to policy questions. Her strength is that she speaks like a person well versed in legislative processes without sounding arcane.
It probably has something to do with how Schultz has had an up-close view on many of the issues that are most important to her.
Increasing access to health care is top priority for Schultz. Her younger brother has debilitating bipolar disorder, and his behavior is erratic. He has trouble holding a job. Schultz believes strongly that health insurance should cover mental health issues, and she has testified to that during a state legislative hearing, arguing the economic benefits of providing preventive mental health care from the policy perspective.
As both a mother and foster mother, Schultz is in a unique position to look at the effects of existing education policy measures as well.
“For my teens, education is the key between them providing for themselves and their future families and in some cases staying out of a correctional facility,” Schultz said. “It’s not an abstract concept to me. I see these issues from a very personal point of view.”
After the fair it’s on to door-knocking before supper time. Schultz is meticulous about hitting the door of every potential persuadable voter. In Monroe County, she talked with someone who said no candidate had come to the door in 26 years. It’s just part of the strategy.
“The door left unknocked is someone you just know won’t vote for you because they never heard your name.”