Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Living Jews: State Representative Rachel Storch

Last week, at Sasha's Wine Bar on Demun, several of The St. Lou Jew's bloggers had an opportunity to sit down with Rachel Storch, State Rep from the 64th District.

We think that St. Louis is pretty fortunate to have her as a representative, read on to find out why.

A native of St. Louis and graduate of Washington University's School of Law, Rachel Storch is connected to St. Louis.

As the State Representative of the 64th District, she represents an area that includes Dogtown, the Hill, Forest Park, Washington University and the Delmar Loop.

How did this young woman end up speaking for some of our favorite St. Louis neighborhoods?

"I did a year in Americorps Vista," says Rep. Storch, "which was amazing. It was a mix of law and public policy around health and welfare and there was a lot opportunity to impact legislation."

Following this, Storch worked on Mel Carnahan's Senate campaign and after he won, Storch was asked to go to Washington to work for his wife, who took his place.

After making some good connections, Storch was recruited by a group dedicated to bringing women into politics and won the State Rep. election.

When she was first elected, she was the only Yid in the state legislature and we wanted to know how being young, Jewish, and female play out.

Rep. Storch quashed that pretty quickly by pointing out that the largest divides in the MO congress are really rural/urban. She also made the point that the art of legislating is really about finding commonalities, so labels and really get in the way.

She explained further, "I wouldn't say that the labels mean nothing and sometimes you have to overcome them, but I think that you do yourself a sdisservice when you let a category dominate your perspective."

She summed up the point simply and eloquently, "Assuming that you can only represent people that fit your demographic is unrealistic."

Still, we wanted to push a little further and understand how a Jewish upbringing and identity have influenced her (she did Americorps, after all) and it turns out that Yiddishkeit has had an impact:

"I think that being Jewish really informs your whole value system. Some of the traditional Jewish values like education, access to science and healthcare inform decisions that we make. I think those are shared values."

So now that we had that out of the way, we moved along to St. Louis, and a topic near and dear to our hearts, Washington University's expansion/gentrification/land grab.

Storch pointed out a lot of the positives that the university has had as a community anchor and employer, but noted room for improvement.

"WU has a committment to the communities that they are in. People should be engaged in those area, there could be a symbiotic relationship there in which, for example, social work students participate [in the communities, around the issues they are studying] a lot more."

We also wanted to get her take on the issues that the city of St. Louis is facing.

Storch noted that, while historic preservation tax credits have been immensely successful, the city is not in a great place, "I think STL is in a dangerous place right now.. Some of these communities are like 3rd world counties. Schools are failing, there are high rates of STDs. The fragmented racial history hasn't been overcome and some major companies are pulling out or being sold."

But Storch remained positive and confident that with a continued emphasis on improving leadership and involvement, progress will be made on these issues.

The St. Lou Jew wanted to get to know Rachel Storch a bit better, beyond the politics. So we asked what she watches and reads.

"I watch almost no TV, and I don't have much time. I loved the Sopranos, I like Mad Men. Went to High School with Jon Hamm (lead on Mad Men). I've watched my share of Law and Order, too. But I love movies, I will see almost anything. Just saw Frost Nixon, and I really liked Doubt. I really love old movies, especially Casablanca and those with Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn.

Books are another story, I was a lit major in college, and really love late 19th century American writers like Emerson but also Yeats.

I really wanted to know what Storch does in her free time and asked, "Do you ever get time off when you are in STL," to which she easily responded, "do you really want to know?" and proceeded to produce a ridiculous schedule.

"The line between personal and professional blurs, but I really enjoy a lot of this stuff, you really have an ability to impact public policy."

As we wound down, we wanted to get a sense of accountability and transparency. If we give someone a call, will anyone care?

"One thing about MO, the house districts are really small, so you can't be really unresponsive. I may not personally respond to every email that comes in, but I certain read them all."

Ok...so how do we get to where you are?
"The best way to get involved is to volunteer on a campaign. It really gets you on the inside."

My only remaining question was, why aren't there more Jewish women like Rachel Storch on Jdate?

No comments: