A Political Panel for History Students

The Class of 2025 gathered in Brauer Auditorium this week to learn about politics from several key sources as part of their required History of St. Louis class. This panel is one of several engaging sessions that allow students to hear from local people who care deeply about their community and work hard to make a difference.

The panel consisted of Ian Mackey, a Democratic state representative first elected in 2018, Shamed Dogan ’96, former Republican state representative first elected in 2014, and Jason Rosenbaum, political correspondent for St. Louis Public Radio and host of the Politically Speaking podcast. Upper School History Teacher Alex Rolnick moderated the discussion. He began by asking the panel to share one thing they think MICDS students should know about Missouri and St. Louis politics and why.

Dogen said, “While we have a lot of challenges as a community, there are a lot of great things about St. Louis and Missouri. Coming from St. Louis, we oftentimes have a biased view of rural Missouri and Kansas City.” He toured the state as a freshman legislator, visiting schools, the Calloway nuclear power plant, universities, and more. “I met all different kinds of people, and it was much more diverse and understanding than I expected to find. It’s the same with St. Louis: while we wish things were better, we do have a lot of good reasons to live here and raise families.

“Don’t think that the status quo can’t be changed, that just because something has always been that way, that it’s the way it always has to be,” said Mackey. “It’s a challenge. The way St. Louis is set up with different mayors and fiefdoms, the division with STL and County…just because it’s been that way, doesn’t mean it has to be that way in the future. Stick with it. What’s going to happen if we don’t work on it?”

Rosenbaum prefaced his answer by explaining that he has an outsider’s perspective since he grew up in suburban Chicago. However, his family has lived in the St. Louis area for over a hundred years, so he has a great vantage point to look at some of the problems and issues that are part of this community. “Using the whole idea of historicalness to justify the status quo is a crutch to oppose doing things better,” he said. “There are people who understand the status quo isn’t acceptable and are willing to work, but the question is whether what they want to do is the right thing.”

Rolnick then asked the panel for a sense of the current state of the Democratic party and Republican party. Rosenbaum answered first, saying, “I’m a split-ticket voter, and I vote for the person I want to deal with more as a reporter. The state of both parties in Missouri is that both are at a crossroads for different reasons. The Missouri Democratic party was very powerful and successful at winning statewide elections years ago, but that hasn’t been the case since 2018. Democrats are trying to find candidates and issues that will bind together a diverse coalition. It’s going to be a challenge and might require a bit of luck that they’ll get with the Republicans imploding. Democrats are on the outside looking in, trying to rebuild. Missouri Republicans are facing a similar challenge as other Republican states: There is a lot of infighting on how conservative they want to be. The establishment in Jefferson City is still very conservative. There are distinct differences in where both parties want the state to go.”

“It used to be that the whole reason you ran for office was to do things, to lower taxes or pass policies on climate change, but what we’ve seen in the last eight years is that people who run for office, and vote, and who are most passionate, aren’t talking about issues anymore,” said Dogan. “They are only talking about hatred for the other side. It’s performative. Political consultants know the pain points and anger points to push people on social media to get them riled up about an issue that doesn’t matter at the end of the day. We’ve gotta do better than that. The country we have is supposed to be based on a well-educated citizenry, people who are serious about democracy and self-government. If people don’t do this the right way, well, our country is already starting to change from being the republic it was founded as, the self-governing democracy, and it’s going to a place where people are checked out, they don’t care, and they don’t know how to influence things. It’s up to you all, the young people, to get us back to where we need to be. If we don’t have a functioning democracy, we won’t get where we need to be.”

Rolnick noted that turnout for elections is low; why should people go out and vote? What else can young people do besides voting?

Mackey was emphatic: “You have to vote! You really do have to vote.” He talked about watching the Sunday political shows report that most people don’t want Joe Biden or Donald Trump to be the nominee. “Who are people voting for? We get to pick who the nominees are, we get to vote in presidential primaries. You really shouldn’t complain if you’re not voting.”

Rosenbaum brought the conversation back to the local level. He shared that local government is a niche political environment, typically with a small group of people getting excited about various things while most citizens don’t pay attention. The pandemic happened, and the St. Louis County government was then dictating what people could and could not do outside their homes, making local government suddenly very relevant to most people. “That showed that you need to pay attention to local government because it has the most direct impact on your life,” he said. “I saw a lot of people complaining about what was happening in St. Louis County, and I wondered whether they had been engaged before it directly affected them. Local government can be very consequential not only to your life but to the rest of the country. Stay engaged and vote, and make sure the people you elect fit your values.”

Dogan agreed, and stated a hard fact: “Most of government is boring. If you go to a city council meeting, it’s boring. They’re talking about curb cuts, business licenses, residential codes or commercial codes, or why you should make this little tweak to the code, but guess what, government is run by the people who show up. It’s a self-selected group that is in local offices. Local mayors get paid only a couple thousand dollars a year, so they’re not doing it for the money; they’re doing it to make a difference. If you want to have an impact, you can at the local level. The impact of your vote is so much more important at a city race, mayor race, or even a state-level race. A lot of those races are fueled by the energy of college and even high school students.”

The History of St. Louis students recently surveyed their parents, asking for three words to describe the metropolitan area. Rolnick asked the panelists for their three words, and the auditorium fell silent as they contemplated their answers.

Mackey: fragmented, home, challenging.
Rosenbaum: historic, divided, over-optimistic.
Dogan: divided, family-oriented, change-averse.

With that, the moderator opened the floor for students to ask the panelists questions.

One student addressed his question to Mackey: “Do you expect to accomplish any of your legislative priorities with the Republicans in power?”

“I’ve gotten lots of legislation passed since my freshman year,” Mackey said. “Memories are super short in politics, and they have to be. I will speak positively about my colleagues who support January 6 because they do care about some issues. They’ll help me with education issues and support legislation like protecting 529 college savings plans from bankruptcy or laws to help kids in schools not have to face arcane disciplinary procedures. We still sit down and work together because we still have to create public policy at the end of the day.”

Rosenbaum weighed in with a neutral observation: “It does seem like the Republicans now are less rigid with letting Democrats have policy victories. There are issues with common ground where both sides can come together.”

The panel then discussed whether it’s important to vote for third-party candidates who have little chance of winning, with opinions coming down on both sides. Everyone agreed though: it’s always important to vote in primary elections. “Don’t wait until November,” they said.

“I enjoyed the Politics Panel because we were able to hear from a wide range of perspectives and we got to learn a bit more about St. Louis and its most pressing issues,” said Zach Krivonak ’25.

“I really enjoyed Wednesday’s panel because the insight I received from the speakers changed and supported the perceptions I had of St. Louis,” said Anika Mulkanoor ’25. “Additionally, some of the topics discussed were ones I was unfamiliar with, but I am eager to explore them and their correlation with each other in class.”

Many thanks to our outstanding panel for sharing their thoughts, feelings, and experiences with the Class of 2025. Your time and energy helps our students become part of that well-educated citizenry who will strengthen our democracy that Dogan referenced during the discussion.