From House to home

Vicky Riback Wilson, after deciding not to run for state Senate, is leaving office after eight years in the Missouri House of Representatives
Tuesday, April 20, 2004 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 4:56 p.m. CDT, Saturday, July 19, 2008

It was a difficult decision and one not officially made until 5 p.m. the final day of filing.

After careful consideration because of so many people urging her, State Rep. Vicky Riback Wilson, D-Columbia, looked at the clock on March 30 and knew her decision was final. She would not run for the 19th District Senate seat being vacated by Ken Jacob.

Wilson, originally from Columbia, has served eight years in the House as 25th District representative. Term limits, however, are forcing her out of the House she loves.

“I tell people it’s the most exciting, challenging, rewarding and frustrating experience I’ve ever been through,” she said.

Still, the desire for change was one of the main reasons for her decision.

“I’ve always thrived on change,” Wilson said. “I’ve always liked change, and I’ve always embraced new challenges.”

Wilson has been in the work force for more than 40 years; her stint as representative was the single longest-running job she’s had.

“Nearly every time I’ve gotten a job, a new opportunity has come up that has taken me in a new career direction,” Wilson said.

That is what happened when she first ran for her House seat in 1996.

The call to office

About a week before the primary filing day, a cell phone call came asking her to run because no one had filed. While she first declined because of her love for being a leadership educator in the University of Missouri system, Wilson quickly changed her mind after talking to family and friends. Two other people filed with her on the last day.

Wilson, a person who had no plans to ever run for public office, had suddenly been propelled into a three-way primary.

“Sometimes people see qualities in you (that) you don’t see in yourself,” she said.

Wilson is happy she filed and eventually got elected, though she was frustrated at times. Being one of 163 representatives in the House, she was unable, she said, to always do what she believed in and what she felt was best for her constituents.

“I read somewhere once that the public thinks we have a lot more power than we actually do, and we think we have a lot less power than we actually do,” she said. This is the reason Wilson thinks it is important to restore people’s faith in the legislative process and to help them learn that they have influence at whatever level they want.

Despite the occasional angst, the legislature brought good moments, too.

“I’m pleased with many of the things I’ve accomplished,” Wilson said.


State Rep. Vicky Riback Wilson, D-Columbia, has completed her term and is not planning to run for a seat in the state Senate. CHRIS DETRICK/Missourian)

Though she loves the public policy process, working with children, getting government to work for constituents and door-to-door campaigning have been the highlights of her job. She enjoys making personal connections even more than the action on the House floor.

Of course, getting legislation passed isn’t bad, either.

The bills

“It was wonderful being able to get domestic-violence legislation through the House,” Wilson said, adding that it was particularly satisfying because it took a bipartisan effort.

Wilson was the primary sponsor of the domestic-violence bill that was signed into law in 2000. The measure improved the tracking of domestic-violence crimes and created escalating penalties for repeat offenders.

Wilson has also been a main supporter of education and mental health care. Recently the House passed a bill she has advocated that requires insurers to offer equal coverage of both mental and physical health care.

Wilson has also been a constant supporter of reproductive rights. What struck Wilson in her early days of door-to-door campaigning was the number of people who wanted someone to fight for reproductive rights. More people asked about her stance on that issue than any other, she said.

Even so, Wilson describes her pet issue as “justice in all its forms,” particularly human rights.

“Those issues of justice, human rights and equity resonate with my voters; those are the values we share,” Wilson said.

Wilson said she’s also dedicated to the value of truthfulness. It’s a principle she instilled in her son and daughter, she said.

Wilson also prides herself on trying to get as much information as possible and multiple views on each topic. She does her own homework, makes her decision and is not easily swayed. This is one reason lobbyists often ignore her, she said.

“I can be influenced by factual information but not easily swayed by political pressure,” Wilson said.

Peer praise

University of Missouri system lobbyist Jim Snider said Wilson uses lobbyists in an appropriate way, to seek out information.

“Vicky is one of the members of the House over the years who has always been very prepared,” Snider said.

Former 23rd District State Rep. Tim Harlan, D-Columbia, who is running for the Senate seat, said that getting informed opinions is one of Wilson’s strongest points and that she is always a person to go to for information on a particular subject.

“She keeps you on your toes, and one of the reasons she does this is she researches everything very thoroughly,” Harlan said.

Harlan said Wilson’s absence from the Senate race makes his campaign easier.

“It’s always simpler if you’re not running against someone with similar ideas to you.”

Harlan’s Democratic opponent, 24th District State Rep. Chuck Graham, agreed.

“I think she would be a very qualified and capable opponent,” Graham said. “But you always prefer not to run against people you like and respect.”

Graham called Wilson a “top-notch legislator” with a strong ability to articulate policy on the House floor.

Even 151st District State Rep. Chuck Purgason, R-Howell County, complimented his frequent foe.

“Vicky is a very dedicated and motivated person who I have been able to work with for the past eight years,” Purgason said. “I respect her because she has great core beliefs even though we rarely agree on anything. ... She would have been a formidable candidate if she would have run (for Senate). She would have been tough for anyone to run against.”

Wilson said her decision to not run for the Senate doesn’t mean she won’t seek office in the future. Asked if she had any particular offices in mind she replied, “No, but I didn’t have this in mind, either.”

Wilson said her family was willing to support her no matter what she decided. Family, however, was another reason for her decision not to seek the Senate seat. “We have given up a lot of family vacations and family events because my time wasn’t my own,” Wilson said.

Wilson said it is hard to give up the vote to influence public policy, but she will continue to work for her issues in other ways.

“I am a member of this community. I was involved before I ran, and I will continue to be involved,” she said.

For now, Wilson is going to enjoy every last minute of her House seat, which she will give up in January.

“I’m not in any hurry,” Wilson said. “I want to continue being a representative and working for my constituents as long as possible.”

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