Representative Paula Brown honored with Robert J. Kelley Labor Hero Award


REPRESENTATIVE PAULA BROWN (D-Hazelwood) is the recipient of this year’s Robert J. Kelley Labor Hero Award presented by the St. Charles County Democratic Central Committee.

Representative Paula Brown (D-Hazelwood) is this year’s recipient of the 2023 Robert J. Kelley Labor Hero Award presented at the St. Charles County Democratic Central Committee’s First Capitol Dinner June 5.

Brown taught for 31 years in the Hazelwood School District and was president of the Hazelwood NEA for eight years before she was approached about running for office.

“I got interested in 1986 working on campaigns,” she said. “I would do lit drops, work the polls, and I got involved in school board races. I thought I would run for one of those seats when I was done teaching.”

When she retired in 2017, she was contacted by Democratic representatives Margo McNeil of Florissant and Bill Otto, of Maryland Heights, about running for the representative seat in the 73rd District. She turned them down twice. Then, she received a call from U.S. Senator Claire McCaskill.

“I told her no, then she called me again and said, ‘We need you. We need an educator, and we know you can do this,’” Brown said.

“When I got off the phone, my husband, an Operating Engineers Local 513 heavy equipment operator, said to me, ‘You’re either going to be part of the problem or part of the solution,’ and I was like ‘Ouch,’” she said.

Brown and her husband, Rob, were sitting on the beach at Gulf Shores, Ala., when McCaskill called again, and, this time, Brown said yes.

“I put on the only nice retirement traveling outfit I had, and we drove from Gulf Shores to Jefferson City,” she said. “And I signed up to run for office.”

Brown ran for State Representative in District 73 in 2018 and flipped a red seat to blue, representing parts of St. Louis and St. Charles counties.

While redistricting in 2020 removed her from St. Charles County, she continues to support those candidates. She now serves in the 70th District.

In 2021, she and Senator Doug Beck (D-Affton) passed legislation to get lactation rooms in public schools, and in 2022, she was instrumental in passing the “Get The Lead Out of School Drinking Water Act.”

“Not only does it create safe drinking water for kids, but it’s also a workforce development bill in that we know that the pipefitters and laborers and digging operators will get work from it,” she said. “The laborers and fitters helped me get this legislation across, and it was really bipartisan.”

For the past four years, Brown has been working on a bill to eliminate the MAP test in public schools for grades three to eight “because it doesn’t tell us anything, costs a lot of money, and is a waste of instruction time,” she said.

“I also want to get DESE (the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education) out of the accreditation business,” she said. “I don’t think DESE should be accrediting schools because accreditation doesn’t mean anything. We’ve had school districts go in and out of accreditation, and DESE’s in charge of that, and clearly, they’re not doing what they’re supposed to do.”

The bill made it out of committee this year, Brown said, “so I’m hoping we get it passed on the floor and to the governor’s desk next year.”

Ever the educator, Brown also filed the Media Literacy and Critical Thinking Act, which would require teaching media bias and internet safety in schools.

A fervent Labor supporter, Brown works closely with area unions on various issues.

“I’ve been known to text them on the House floor and ask, ‘Where am I on this? Where are you guys on this?’ and I get answers right away, which is great, and I love the relationships I have with the different locals,” Brown said.

Brown has had uncles and grandfathers in different unions, her husband is in Operating Engineers Local 513, and her youngest son is entering his second year of apprenticeship with Heat and Frost Insulators, Local 1.

“Our family is in the thick of it all the time,” Brown said. “I was president and negotiated contracts for 20 years when I was associated with the MNEA union in Hazelwood while teaching.

“I became president of the union and went from there to professional development because that was a niche for me that I liked,” she said. “Being a union president prepared me for this job.”

An endorsed Gun Sense Candidate, Brown wore Orange for the National Gun Violence Awareness weekend on June 2 and 3.

“I’m a gun owner, and my gun is in a safe, and bullets in a different place,” she said. “I don’t care if you have an arsenal, but we have people who should not have guns, and we don’t register them, so we don’t know who they are.   

“In Missouri, toddlers can carry guns, and no one will say a thing,” she said. “We don’t want to take anybody’s guns. Let’s go back to conceal and carry because we know you’re trained with permits and registration, and I don’t know why that’s so challenging.”

Brown serves as the ranking member on the Conservation and Natural Resources Committee and the Elementary and Secondary Education Committee. She also serves on the House Ethics Committee, the Joint Committee on Education, the Joint Committee on Public Employee Retirement, and the Joint Committee on Disaster Preparedness and Awareness. She is also a member of the House Democratic Labor caucus.

She is also a member of the North County Labor Club, West County Democrats, and Chesterfield Democrats and a retired MNEA member.

She and her husband, Rob have two sons, Austin and Tyler.

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