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Baker cites strength to stand up for what's right

Wednesday, October 22, 2008 | 12:25 a.m. CDT; updated 10:35 a.m. CDT, Wednesday, October 29, 2008
Watch video of 9th District candidate Judy Baker at a debate outside of St. Louis.

She answers the question: What can the federal government do to improve the academic performance of our students coming out of high school, and our colleges and universities?

COLUMBIA — It was never about the politics.

Judy Baker

HOMETOWN: Columbia
PERSONAL: 48. She is married to John Baker. They have three children.
PARTY AFFILIATION: Democrat
CAMPAIGN WEB SITE: judybakerforcongress.com
OCCUPATION: State Representative, 25th District.
EDUCATION: Bachelor’s degree in educational studies, MU; master’s degree in theology, Southern Baptist Theological Seminary; master’s degree in health administration, MU.
BACKGROUND: Former interim executive director, MU’s University Physicians; former administrator of rural health clinics in Georgia and Missouri; worked with inner-city children through Camp Fire USA; part-time administrative director, A Call to Serve International; adjunct professor of managerial economics, Columbia College; attends First Baptist Church.

WHAT’S THE JOB?
U.S. representatives introduce and debate legislation, serve on a number of House committees and represent constituents within their district. They serve two-year terms, less than half the number of years a senator serves. Representatives manage staffs of up to 22 members. There are 435 members of the House of Representatives. The 9th District in the 2000 U.S. Census was home to more than 600,000 people.


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The Sunday school classes at First Baptist Church. The relief work for the Republic of Georgia. The time spent with inner-city children whose parents were in prison.

The cynic would call it padding: cheap bullet points on a Congressional candidate resume. But for 25th District State Rep. Judy Baker, D-Columbia, the motivation for the deeds was more spiritual than political.

Because what the resume doesn't say is how she met her husband, John Baker, at a seminary in Kentucky, or how much time she and her three children spend at the First Baptist Church, where he is pastor.

"I in no way put faith on for politics," said Baker, 48, who is seeking the 9th District seat in the U.S. House of Representatives. "It's my faith, and the ethic that comes with my faith that informs many of my decisions and what my values are."

"Sometimes today, because of one party that seems to identify more with a certain strain of Christianity than another, we are accused from time to time of using religion, but nothing could be further from the truth," John Baker added. "This is just who we are as a family. It's just who she is as a human being. It's who our children are. It's what I do. This all precedes and predates any kind of run for office."

For Baker, the focus on service began at a young age. Her parents, she said, emphasized the importance of giving back to the community, wherever that happened to be. Born in Columbia, she spent her childhood as part of the prototypical military family, following her father, Norman Wall, of Springfield, to six different states during his stint in the Navy.

Baker later returned to Columbia to attend MU, her parents' alma mater. There she earned a bachelor's degree in educational studies after abandoning her pre-med ambitions. She planned to become a biology teacher — the logical intersection of her interest in medicine and her love of teaching. Instead, she pursued a master's degree in theology at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky., a degree that would provide no more insight into her future professional life than her education degree had a few years earlier.

She spent the next several years on the move again. Baker followed her husband to church after church, having her three children in three different cities — the last of which, Atlanta, presented at last an opportunity to begin a career of her own.

In Atlanta, Baker ran a pair of health clinics, the first of many she would be involved in over the coming years. It was then, in 1998, that she returned to Columbia for good, wanting a stable base from which to raise her family, and armed at last with a fledgling career in health-care administration.

In Columbia, Baker began overseeing the financial operations of MU's University Physicians, a multi-specialty health care practice. She would eventually serve as the group's interim executive director, a position that has since been a lightning rod for criticism on the campaign trail.

A state audit revealed that University Physicians lost $2 million to improper billing and other bookkeeping mistakes between July 1999 and January 2002, a time period that overlaps with Baker's tenure as executive director.

Blaine Luetkemeyer, her Republican opponent, and his campaign have criticized Baker for the losses, but she ignores it. To her, the University Physicians job is a reason to vote for her, not against.

"What had happened was that prior to my being there, there were a bunch of accounts, millions of dollars of accounts, that went unbilled to insurance companies and/or individuals," Baker said, explaining that the accounts were so old they couldn't have collected payment on them. "They were dead, and so we got rid of them off the books. We cleaned up the books, and while cleaning up the books, the audit counts that as a loss. Well, it's not really a loss, because we were actually saving money by not working dead accounts."

Baker's first foray into politics came in 2004, when she ran for the Missouri House of Representatives in the 25th District. She won a re-election bid in 2006. And it was her experience with University Physicians, among other health-care groups, that helped her land placements in the Budget and Health Appropriations committees.

The Health Appropriations Committee in particular taught her the importance of compromise. She said she was able to persuade reluctant Republicans and Democrats to recommend restoring portions of contentious Medicaid cuts. The recommendations would ultimately fall apart in the Budget Committee.

"I'm proud of the fact that I'll stand up when something's wrong, and I'll stand up when we disagree, but when I think that we can work together towards some common solutions, then I work hard to do that," Baker said. "And I'm well known for that."

In another instance, Baker simply ignored the legislature all together. Concerned about teen mortality rates on the highways, Baker pushed a bill that would have created an online course aimed at teaching young drivers about highway safety. It failed to pass.

"I said, ‘Well, you know, let's do it anyway,'" she said. "I worked with the Department of Education and got the course work developed for the online driver's education without the legislation. ... I didn't let that hurdle stop me."

The hurdle of campaigning, though, has sometimes been tough to overcome.

"Hands down, the hardest part of campaigning is being away from my family," Baker said. "I miss them. We're getting to the end here, and I miss them a lot."

"Judy puts in 16- to 18-hour days every day, seven days a week," John Baker said. "And (she) has been doing that since last December. To think that she still has the energy stores ... it's just remarkable."

But she hasn't had to do it alone. It's common to see her husband or her 21-year-old daughter, Sarah, out speaking on her behalf, knocking on doors or stuffing envelopes at campaign headquarters.

"It's really become a family effort," said Sarah Baker, an economics student at MU. "She's not the only one running, we all are kind of — in a way."

"The overwhelming support keeps you going," Judy Baker said. "It gives you the energy to keep going 'cause when you walk into a room and people are so interested in what you're doing and so interested in telling you how they feel and what they want, you can just feel the energy that, ‘I'm hoping that you can help me,' you know. That ‘I'm telling you today what I need and what my family needs and I'm hoping you can help me.'"

 


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