COLUMBIA — State representative Stephen Webber, D-Columbia, knows Columbia like the back of his hand. After all, he grew up here.
“I love Columbia,” he said. “I am very committed to it, and I think it’s just a great town to have grown up in.”
Webber grew up in the Old Southwest neighborhood in the Fourth Ward and graduated from Hickman High School. Growing up here has made it easier for him to relate with constituents and to advocate for their needs in Jefferson City, he said.
Hank Ottinger, president of the Old Southwest Neighborhood Association, said that background will help Webber win the election. Webber faces Republican opponent Fred Berry.
“I think the district will go for Webber overwhelmingly,” Ottinger said. “People have known him forever. They have seen him grow up.”
Webber, who has represented the 23rd District for four years, is running for a third term in the Missouri House of Representatives, this time in the 46th District.
Webber attended St. Louis University, majoring in economics. He said he wanted to experience living somewhere other than Columbia, which is the only town he had known up to that point.
“A lot of kids from St. Louis go to Columbia to get out of St. Louis,” he said. “I went to St. Louis to get away from Columbia, which was good. It was good that I left for a few years.”
While attending college in 2002, Webber joined the Marine Corps when it was clear the United States would go to war in Iraq.
“I knew we were going to Iraq, and I thought it was a terrible idea,” he said. “But I thought if society was going to choose to make this terrible idea, then it was sort of my obligation as somebody who received the benefits and protection of society to help. It was what I felt I had to do.”
Webber went on two seven-month tours in Iraq in 2004 and 2006. He served as a squad leader.
“I can’t imagine anything I would do that would be more rewarding than that,” he said.
After Iraq, Webber worked for U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., in Washington, D.C. In 2008, he moved back to Columbia and decided he wanted to hold an office himself.
“I think government and politics is just one of the best ways to affect broad change in a lot of different areas, which is why I was initially interested in it,” he said. “I knew I wanted to help Columbia, and I decided for it to be through holding a public office.”
After winning the primary election in August 2008, Webber ran unopposed in the general election. At age 25, he became Missouri’s youngest representative.
“When I was in D.C., I was in a way representing Missouri working for the senator,” he said. “What I’m doing is just a different way of doing it. I think there’s a lot I’ve accomplished in the last couple of years, but there’s a lot more I want to get done.”
While running for his second term, Webber began law school at MU, where he is now in his third year. Holding a political office, running for election and attending law school certainly keeps him busy.
“I don’t even consider myself the type of person that likes to stay busy,” he said. “I think it just kind of happens. I used to prefer things a little slower, but my life just hasn’t been that way. I don’t mind it, though.”
Webber said he's able to make it all work without too much stress. He doesn't take a full load of classes when the legislature is in session during the spring or when he's campaigning. He said his favorite law classes thus far have involved land-use controls and natural resources and energy laws.
“The good thing about politics and law school is that they’re both very flexible,” he said. “You can study at different times of the day, and a lot of the political stuff you can do at different times of the day, so because of that, I can make it work. I have some catching up to do, but I’m OK with that.”
In his rare free moments, Webber enjoys watching “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart” and the NFL, especially the Pittsburgh Steelers. He became a Steelers fan because his father, David Webber, grew up in Pennsylvania and is a fan himself.
“I grew up with the Steelers on in the house,” he said.
Although Webber occasionally attends games, he prefers watching them on television.
“I actually like watching these sports on TV a little bit better because you can replay,” he said. “I feel like it’s easier to concentrate and watch the game. It’s just a better viewing experience. Though with the Steelers, it’s been a rough couple of seasons.”
Webber also said he enjoys spending time with his parents, who still live in Columbia and work for MU. His mother, Barbara Schneider, is a recruiter for the master's in business administration program at the Trulaske College of Business, and his father, David Webber, is a political science professor.
“Obviously, because I have two parents so tied to the university, I grew up a Mizzou fan,” he said. “It’s cool having the stadium in my district.”
Webber said it's been a benefit knowing his district so well.
“I grew up, and everybody who knew me knew I was going to get into politics,” he said. “I’ve talked to my friends and teachers, and none of them were surprised when I ran.”
He said his favorite thing about Columbia is its size.
“Almost every day, I run into somebody I know from high school or somebody I’ve known for 20 years, and that’s a lot of fun,” he said. “It’s really cool seeing the people you’ve grown up with as adults in town. I get a kick out of that.”
Webber said that he wants to improve the city and that politics can help him do that.
“This is the best way I know how to positively better people’s lives,” he said, “There’s a lot of different ways to do it, but this is what I’m best at.”
Webber said his most significant accomplishments in the legislature so far have been winning funding for the Ellis Fischel Cancer Center and helping Columbia and Boone County gain legislative power to establish an airport authority.
“One of the things I’ve really focused on is getting issues done for the city of Columbia,” he said. “That’s what my focus always is, getting things done for my community. I always ask what I can do for this town. I don’t get distracted by what’s going on in Washington. I really focus on what’s going on in Missouri.”
Fifth Ward Columbia Councilwoman Helen Anthony said she is confident Webber will continue to lead the district successfully.
“Columbia is very progressive, and he is doing a good job with women’s rights and economic development,” she said. “Stephen has done a really great job attracting businesses to Columbia, making sure we’re competitive.”
Webber is a confident leader whose passion for politics is evident when he speaks to residents.
“I think the residents really trust him,” Ottinger said. “They have gained that trust from all the years Webber spent here.”
Webber is unsure what type of lawyer he wants to be or where the next several years will lead him, but he said without a doubt he plans to continue working in politics. He's not sure, though, what's in store for him down the road.
“I could have never in my wildest dreams have come up with the last 10 years,” he said. “I couldn’t have imagined the last 10 years, so I have a hard time seeing myself 10 years from now. But I would guess I would still be here, hopefully helping the town I love the most.”
Supervising editor is Scott Swafford.