Steve Paul

Forty years later, McCaskill reflects on Missouri Legislature’s intern problem

Sen. Claire McCaskill, Missouri Democrat, during a hearing in Washington.
Sen. Claire McCaskill, Missouri Democrat, during a hearing in Washington. Associated Press

Synchronicity.

On the day that the news broke about Missouri House Speaker John Diehl’s apparent dalliance with an intern, I sat at my desk between emails and cracked open a new book. It’s an advance reading copy of Sen. Claire McCaskill’s memoir. Titled “Plenty Ladylike,” it’s scheduled to come out in August. Interesting timing for those wondering about McCaskill’s role in the 2016 presidential campaign.

But what really struck me as interesting was her recollections in the early pages of her “unsettling initiation” to politics and her “most valuable learning experience outside the classroom” by way of the Missouri legislature. In 1974 she served as an intern in the office of Rep. Sue Shear, a Democrat from Clayton.

“It was the first time I experienced moments of being very uncomfortable as a young woman surrounded by lots of men,” McCaskill writes. “There were inappropriate things said to me and inappropriate behaviors that made me very uneasy.”

Part of her gopher activities included running errands to the upper floors of the Capitol:

“One day I ended up in the elevator with two older male legislators and one of their assistants. They began asking if I liked ‘to party’ and then tried to get me to come to one of their offices for some drinks. I felt trapped. For the rest of the internship, I took the stairs.”

Given that this book is months away from publication, one must adhere to the caveat that quotes run the risk of changing by the time the book is finished.

But the timely resonance of McCaskill’s story is a powerful reminder that perhaps nothing ever changes in the halls of power. Especially in Jefferson City. The boy’s club still needs to clean up its act.

Steve Paul, editorial page editor: paul@kcstar.com; on Twitter: @sbpaul.

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