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June 21, 2012 | 12:00 a.m. CST
As a boy, Stephen Webber asked his parents to drive him to Jefferson City to watch the general assembly at work. At 25, he became the youngest state representative in the Missouri General Assembly and brought a soldier’s perspective to the house floor. The Hickman High School alumnus enlisted in the Marine Corps at St. Louis University and did a tour in Iraq before returning to SLU. He received a degree in economics in 2006 and then volunteered to return to the Middle East. He gained regional notoriety at the conclusion of this year’s legislative session by proposing an amendment preventing the creation of a Missouri license plate featuring the University of Kansas Jayhawk or other KU logos. Webber, the Democratic incumbent, is up for re-election this November and plans to graduate with a law degree from MU next year.
What made you want to join the Marines?
I was always against the idea of invading Iraq. But I do believe that society is a team effort, so if the country decided to do this, I thought as a healthy 19-year-old, I should do my part. Every generation seems to have a dumb war, and at 19, it wasn’t my job to stop the Iraq War. That was the job of the Vietnam generation. In 20 years or whenever, there’s going to be another effort by somebody to start a new dumb war, and it will be my job to stop that one.
License plates can be established in one of two ways. Any organization can submit a request for a specialty license plate to the Department of Revenue with a $5,000 fee as well as a list of 200 individuals committed to buying the plate. An oversight committee considers those requests. The means of producing a special license plate is to have the state vote to establish one.
Missouri schools can make the request for logos or mascots if the request comes from the school itself. However, the KU Alumni Association utilized a loophole in the current law. The law did not specify whether nonprofit associations for foundations could make requests on behalf of out-of-state schools.
Who have been some of your role models?
Growing up, really it was the entire Columbia delegation that was very, very kind to me. I remember (former Missouri Gov.) Roger Wilson. He let me sit up on the dais with him while he was closing the Senate. I really loved that. I’m very grateful to him for that.
How did the KU license plate ban come into action?
I’ve spent less legislative time working on this than a multitude of other issues, but I’ve gotten more attention for it than everything else I’ve done in the last four years combined. Some constituents asked me whether I’d heard KU was going to get a license plate. A Department of Revenue liaison drew up the legislation that said for purposes of higher education, you have to go through the general assembly. There was a higher ed bill coming through, and I just put it on as an amendment. People in Kansas weren’t real excited about that.
What would you say has been the moment in your political career that you’re most proud of?
I think the thing that I’m most proud of was when I offered an amendment on sexual orientation as a protected class under Missouri human rights statutes. I think that’s the thing I’m most proud of. I know that it’s clearly the right thing to do, and I know that 40 years from now when it’s law, and it’s accepted, and nobody thinks any different, I’ll remember a time when it wasn’t always like that. I’ll know that I played my own small part in trying to change that when it wasn’t popular.
What motivates you?
Columbia really motivates me. When I was in Iraq, I didn’t know I’d ever see this place again. My mom used to take pictures around town and mail them to me — things like Shakespeare’s or the Katy Trail. I’d look at them and want to be back here. I enjoy this community. I think Columbia’s special, and I want to try to make it as special as it can be.
How do you want people to think of you when you’re finished with your political career?
Well, my favorite book is Profiles in Courage. I really enjoyed reading about people who do what they think is right even when it’s hard to do. After I’m done with politics, I’d hope people would say that I made up my own mind about things and that I was independent — that when I did decide to support something, I fiercely supported it. One of my biggest frustrations in Jeff City is the lack of political courage. A lot of politicians take the easy way out and say “I can’t” when they mean they won’t.
What are your days like as a state representative?
There are Jeff City days and non-Jeff City days. On Jeff City days when we’re in session, there’s always a mix of committee meetings, floor time and then the part that I really enjoy: Folks will come into your office and have meetings. I really like the fact that you work on 15 different issues a day. You’ll have some folks that come to you about some farming issue, then a teacher group will come to you, and then you’ll have some health care related thing. I enjoy that. On days we’re not in session, it’s slower.
How long do you foresee your political career continuing?
I don’t know. I’m up for re-election this fall, so it’s up to the voters. It may be that I never have another session in the Missouri House. There are always term limits. Stunningly, I’m halfway done with my house career. If the voters return me, I can still only do four more years in the house. Beyond that, politics can change so quickly. I still enjoy politics, so I think as long as I enjoy it and voters will let me do it, I’ll keep trying to. If the voters decide I shouldn’t do it anymore or if I decide I want to do something else, I’ll do something else.
What do you like to do on your days off?
I run with my dad. He can outrun me, which is kind of embarrassing. He’s 61, and I’m 29, and he can outrun me. We go bike on the (Katy) trail. I love going to Shakespeare’s. I hang out downtown a lot. It’s probably my favorite part of town.