February 27 2012

Portrait of a Modern Feminist: Sarah Steelman

Charlotte Hays

If Sarah Steelman, the state senator from Missouri who hopes to get the GOP nod to run against Senator Claire McCaskill, makes it to the Senate, expect that some less idealistic types will rue the day. They might even decide to go home early because of Ms. Steelman.

That’s because Ms. Steelman intends to do everything in her power to abolish congressional pensions. Nancy Pelosi boasted she would drain the Washington swamp; Steelman’s not-so-modest proposal might actually be the shot of penicillin that cures Potomac fever.

“You are supposed to be a servant of the people, and it would be a sacrifice to serve,” Steelman says. “Abolishing the pension could get motivated people who want to do the right thing. Also, I think that if members of Congress were in the same boat as the rest of us, they wouldn’t stay in Washington as long.”

Congressional pensions are lavish enough to be a big incentive for—er—public service. According to Politifact, a three-term congressman or one-term senator, would be eligible for an annual congressional pension of $17,588. Not bad for six years on the job. A member of 25 years standing, however, would be more fortunate: $67, 249 a year. Members are also eligible for Social Security. Nice work if you can get it, no?

A free market conservative whose favorite author is Milton Friedman, Steelman might turn out to be the entrenched incumbent’s worst nightmare. “The Senate has its own barbershop—for heaven’s sake—that is subsidized by the taxpayer,” Steelman says.

Although Steelman refuses to call herself a feminist because she believes that the term carries “a connotation that women should be treated differently,” she would like to see more women run for office (she thinks the turnover generated by congressional pension elimination would help). Steelman has a project for women, in and out of office: work to get schools to teach more about the free market.

“I’d love to see women put their arms around this. The market works beautifully if we let it,” says this 53-year-old mother of three sons, former Missouri state treasurer, and former investment broker at A. G. Edwards. She also ran unsuccessfully for governor in 2008.

She uses lessons learned as a mother to show how the market works. “There will be failures, but people have the chance to comeback leaner. I hate to see my sons fail. It breaks my heart. But they learn from failure.”

Steelman has already put out her first campaign ad and it is one Republicans who’ve lost track of the real issues might want to watch. In it, Steelman, a soft-spoken woman with a mane of blonde hair, talks about the infamous HHS mandate that faith-based institutions must pay for insurance policies for services they consider objectionable.

The ad is noteworthy for the word it doesn’t use: contraception. Steelman, who says she has no problem with contraception and indeed has used it, never let the ad drift from the main issue, freedoms guaranteed under the Constitution.

If the government can mandate this, she says, pretty soon, it “will mandate what kind of car you can drive.”

Steelman’s website features “Sarah’s Show Me Solutions for the First 60 Days,” an ambitious set of proposals that include fighting for a “simpler, fairer” tax code, preserving the charitable deduction, increasing the personal deduction, an audit of the Federal Reserve—and, of course, eliminating congressional pensions.

Too ambitious?

“When we stop believing, we will be in really big trouble,” Steelman says. “I’m going to do what I can do to get these things through the Senate.”

Steelman, who has served in the Missouri state senate, tried unsuccessfully to eliminate pensions for state-level lawmakers. Undaunted, she is excited about trying again on a national level. She was more successful, while serving as state treasurer, at promoting terrorist-free investing of state funds. She worked hard for a policy of selling any funds that involved companies doing business with regimes that promote terrorism. Instead of costing the state money, Steelman says, this policy is not only the right thing to do, but it has actually improved the bottom line.

“I am a proven conservative fighter,” says Steelman, who has taken on earmarks and ethanol subsidies in a state that has ethanol-producing sections.

Senators might fear for their barbershop if Ms. Steelman comes to Washington.

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