Despite moving away multiple times, Kathy Licklider calls Jefferson City “home” and is the first to admit that much of her personal and professional life revolves around one thing: politics. Since 1989, she has served as a passionate legislative assistant to various representatives in the Missouri House, including former state lawmaker Pat Dougherty, Lana Baker, Wes Shoemyer and Susan Carlson.
For the past two years, she’s worked for Representative Gina Mitten, a Democrat representing portions of St. Louis City and County, and plays an important role in making sure the Democrat’s office and affairs run smoothly. Her husband, Sam, is a lobbyist for the Missouri Realtors Association but they met when he was lobbying for the cockfighters association and her boss at the time, Rep. Dougherty, had a bill to ban cockfighting. Sam won. Married in 2011, they each have two children from a previous marriage and enjoy spending time with them and their seven grandchildren. HER contributor Kate Woodward caught up with Licklider at her cluttered, windowless office on the first floor of the Capitol.
Tell me a bit about yourself. How did you end up working as an legislative assistant here in Jefferson City?
Kathy Licklider: When my kids were two and four I decided to go back to work. This was in 1989 and I took a secretary computer course at Linn Tech. This was when no one knew how to use computers. It happened that the target audience for these classes was welfare moms. This is when I became a Democrat.
Can you talk about that?
KL: I saw that there were people that I thought had access to the same education that I did but they couldn’t add, couldn’t multiply, couldn’t spell, or read well. I had lived in my little bubble here in Jefferson City and had access to so many opportunities. I remember thinking, “Wow, somebody needs to help these people.” I think my mother blames my working at the Capitol for me being a Democrat but I believe that it was the moment when I saw that there were really people out there that needed help.
KL: Anyway, I graduated (from Linn Tech) and one of my teachers told me she had a couple of people she wanted me to talk to. Also, a friend of my brothers was a lobbyist and he helped me make connections. Back then you worked the legislative session and then you could possibly get on during the summer. I worked the first session, took off, and then I came to work for a different man because I didn’t like the first person I worked for. I only worked two and a half days a week in the interim until around 1995 when they made us full time. It’s a perfect job for a mom! Absolutely perfect because you’re available on Fridays and during the interim you can be home with the kids or take time if you need it. That is, if you have the right boss. I was always fortunate to find the right one.
Describe some of your responsibilities; what is a typical day like?
KL: I can’t have to-do lists. I seem to be attracted to very energetic bosses. Primarily, with all my bosses, my job is to make sure that they are prepared for debate and for the constituent aspect of their job. With 163 different representatives here you couldn’t really define what our job duties are and have that description accurately apply to everyone. Technically we’re supposed to get off at 4:30 but I don’t leave at 4:30. If my boss is here and they’re on the floor I try to stay because she may need something. Like I said, my job is to make sure that they have all the information they need. I have been fortunate to have had bosses that let me go on the ride. For example, I have testified on bills in committee. I try to take this job above and beyond. I don’t understand how you could do it any other way.
How much security does this type of job afford you?
KL: Primarily, the way you get through the constant changeovers is by getting your boss to give you a strong recommendation. We have a group that sends out resumes to all of our candidates. We encourage them to hire from within. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. We had one woman come in this year who said, “Oh, I didn’t know there were secretaries here!”
Many people think it all just happens magically, right? Would you say it is difficult for outsiders to break into this field?
KL: I don’t know how in the world you get into this building without knowing someone. The way that it appears to me is that you get into this career by working a campaign (Republicans are big on this) or you work as an intern. This job literally has nothing to do with campaigns. Unless you call it constituent services. And it really doesn’t have anything to do with political science. You can dress it up any way you want to – we’re secretaries. We’re assistants.
Do you feel that women are playing a key role in Missouri politics?
KL: I think women can do better. There has been such a shift in Republican politics with this Tea Party versus the traditional Conservative situation. It shifted back towards the men being in charge. It’s this building – the House of Representatives – that is still very much a man’s world. I will say it is still a boy’s club. The Republican side, our side; it doesn’t matter. It’s still all about the white guys. There are a lot of women involved but they will often … well, they will back down. If they don’t back down they get labeled as “crazy” and that takes over the conversation.
“Crazy” seems to be that magic word that, when used by men, attempts to discredit anything a woman says or does. How does this office cope with being part of the minority?
KL: Not very well!
I can’t imagine how frustrating it is to work so hard and not see results. What keeps you motivated?
KL: The fact that I can retire April 1st! No, what really keeps me motivated is that every once and a while you get to help a constituent. I help people with Medicaid problems and getting issues cleared up so they can receive services. I had one man who was in a situation where the state kept telling him that he owed money. I finally called legal services and said ’Look, I need somebody to sit down with this guy and look at what he’s got going on because I think he’s right and whoever he is dealing with at the local level isn’t hearing it.’ Someone finally sat down with him and it turned out that he was right and he ended up not having to pay back a great deal of money. It’s those little things that keep me going.