Friday, March 06, 2009

Lampe's Big Bold Stand


The look on Sara Lampe's face said it all.

Springfield's #138th District State Representative doesn't hide her emotions well.

She wears them on her sleeve, and face and throughout her body -- as she did when she walked off the House floor Tuesday after a brief but emotionally explosive debate on abortion.

A major portion of the legislation at hand was a provision to criminalize the act of coercing a woman to have an abortion. Lampe, who is in the process of weighing a State Senate run in 2010, didn't have to stand up and voice opposition. She knew, legislatively, it was a losing battle. She's also fully aware of abortion politics in Greene County. A consultant might have warned her to lay low and zip it. But she didn't sit on her hands.

Instead, she offered an amendment to make an exception for rape and incest, while raising the point that a significant number of those victims are children under the age of 12. "If this 12-year-old, 11-year-old, 10-year-old is pregnant, this child is now considered a woman," Lampe said on the floor. "Most parents, in dealing with 10, 11 or 12-year-old, are going to be, perceived as being coercive with their child."

Lampe's amendment predictably went down to defeat two days later.

In an interview immediately following her speech, Lampe was visibly shaking. She acknowledged she "had to stop getting so worked up about these things." But then immediately began doing just that in our interview.

Ed Martin of Missourians United for Life sent me a scathing statement that he wanted included in my story Tuesday night. It viciously ripped Lampe for not caring about women being coerced into abortions. After watching that debate, and seeing Lampe in person, I couldn't run that statement in my story. It seemed over-the-line and unfair -- in addition to avoiding the central point about particular cases of rape and incest. (When asked by The Notebook, Martin declined to offer further on-the-record comment.)

Debate on the merits of the position should be encouraged; labeling someone in favor of coercion seems like over-the-top demagoguery.

Anti-abortion advocates believe the rape and incest statistics are overblown just as much as abortion-rights supporters think partial-birth abortion numbers are inflated overemphasized. Some on the right willingly admit they're happy to have a fight over what "coercion" means, if it stops an abortion. Their position is pure and deep-rooted in fundamental beliefs.

But so is Lampe's.

If Lampe, who is in Hannibal this weekend for Democrat Days, does decide to seek Springfield's 30th District State Senate seat, her abortion amendment is likely to pop up in fliers, door hangers and robo-calls. (Sara Lampe voted to allow women to be forced into abortions . . . the voice will intone.)

She's full aware that she'll see and hear about this vote again. It would've been easier to skirt off the floor and claim a prior appointment.

But the fact that despite all of this, she still stood up and voiced her minority opinion is a bold stroke of political chutzpah.

Later in the week, Nora Cox, Lampe's closest political confidante, said that the State Representative had been deluged with messages from around the region from women thanking her for her stand.

One woman described a pregnancy while dealing with mental health issues. Others wrote about overcoming incest -- and worse.

"This is not about politics for her. It's too important for politics," Cox said, dismissing the possible fallout that may occur down the road.

It's hard for any Democrat to get elected in Greene County. Being vocally in favor of abortion rights won't likely help Lampe's chances in achieving that goal.

But any politician willing to stand their ground -- politics be damned -- deserves a hat tip.


Paul Seale said...

./golf clap

Need anymore proof of opinion journalism or why Republicans feel like they cannot get a fair shake with this blog?

Many Republicans from this area have taken principled stands and get taunted from this very publication.

What happens when a Democrat decides to cut against the grain of the district? You not only lionize them, but cannonize their position.

Jim said...

I will not be voting for Sara Lampe but you have to admire her courage. Even if I don't agree with her position.

Ed Martin, on the other hand, is a disgrace to my party, state and country.

What that man did to Scott Eckersley is a travesty.

Right thinking people including my party should ignore his gutter politics.

Matt Morrow said...

Dave, you do a great job on political coverage generally, but I can't help wonder when the last time was that you were impressed to "tip your hat" to an equally sincere, impassioned and emotional stand from the right. I'm not sure I'm comfortable with a reporter deciding that one side of the story shouldn't be included on the basis of the reporter's judgment that that side's comment was too scathing (or, that it was potentially politically damaging in this case to Rep. Lampe?). I suspect the omitted comment was pretty strong, politically charged (and perhaps even politically motivated), but that still IS the alternate view in this particular story. And Rep. Lampe would have every opportunity to contrast it with the merits of her own position in the story. Shouldn't the official comments of both sides be included and allow viewers to decide if either is over-the-top?

David Catanese said...


I respect your opinion and I think you make a fair point that I want to attempt to answer. First, understand that both sides were represented fairly in our story for TV that aired on KY3 News @ 10 Tuesday night. Speaker Pro Tem Pratt's views were included extensively. I felt compelled to write this blog post, a) because I saw the debate in person on the floor b) it involved a local lawmaker c) it involved a position of political risk and d) the blog is meant for a different audience and analytical venue.

Let's be clear. I'm not endorsing one side or the other in the abortion war. I'm just recognizing what I saw was some political courage. I'm not going to go back and list the pieces I believe were favorable to Republicans or complimentary to someone or something the right. To me, that's beside the point. I'm not keeping score.

I believe if you are consistent reader/viewer over the years, you will see that I have heaped praise and criticism on both parties and candidates at different points.

Furthermore, to me, journalism shouldn't just always be about listing positions.

I did that in the TV piece, but the blog is meant to be different, more analytical, something more than just the daily give and take.

In this case, Ed Martin's release did not offer a critique of the issue at hand (i.e. whether rape or incest should be exempted). It was just a plain attack on her.

When I wrote Ed back seeking comment on the specifics of what I was writing about, he wrote back to me an impassioned stand that I found very deep-rooted and pure. But he said he wasn't sure he wanted it included for the record.

I understood that writing this column about Lampe would strike a chord. Emotionally, it is now easier for my critics to label me as "in Lampe's camp," or "against the right," but intellectually I'm trying to analyze the situation I saw and provoke some thought about it.

I understand your unease about the role I am taking, and think how far I go is a healthy debate to have.

I just wanted to give you a better sense of where I was coming from and the daily journalism I'm trying to produce on multiple mediums.



Matt Morrow said...

Thanks for your clarification Dave. And I've been meaning to drop you a note to tell you that I very much enjoy the blog (get it via email on my phone). Am also now following you on Twitter and appreciate your frequent insider "tweets" (is that the jargon? I've only been, uh, "twittering" for less than a week).

Joe said...


Did I hit a nerve with the last comment I left?

I am anxiously awaiting for the post and the answer.