Chuck Graham runs for re-election in Senate
The Missouri incumbent's experiences connect him to his politics.
Oct. 13, 2008
Sen. Chuck Graham is no stranger to the political process.
Before he was elected in 2006 to the Missouri Senate, he served four terms in the House of Representatives. Graham, D-Columbia, is running as the incumbent in the Senate race for the 19th District seat.
"Experience is a premium in our legislature because of the lack of knowledge," Graham said. "In the Senate, knowledge is power. If you don't have any, it takes a while to ramp up to that."
For Graham, this experience is the actualization of a lifelong dream.
"I wanted to serve in the Missouri House since I was 12," he said. "That was the year that we studied state government, and I was very interested in that."
Graham was born in St. Louis, which is where he lived until about the fourth grade. Then he moved to Louisiana, Mo., a small town south of Hannibal.
He later attended the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and graduated with a journalism degree.
After college, Graham worked as a community organizer in Illinois and worked to help people in the disabled community affect change in government.
"Seems to be a trend in the election this year, community organizers from Illinois," Graham said.
He moved to Missouri in December 1991, and came to MU to do training programs about the Americans with Disabilities Act, which Graham lobbied to help pass.
"(People with disabilities) didn't have a legal right to go to school until 1975," Graham said. "It's been a long struggle, and we're far behind other civil rights movements."
Graham said creating opportunities for people with disabilities is something very close to his heart; he has been paralyzed from the waist down since he broke his back in a car accident, and his brother was in a separate car accident in which he broke his neck. Their mother also had muscular dystrophy.
"One day you're running track, and the next morning you can't walk," Graham said. "Obviously, that made me grow up quickly, because I was dealing with a very mature and adult situation. I had to relearn how to be independent. Instead of people saying, 'You can grow up to be president or run a bank or whatever,' they start telling you, 'Oh, you can't do this. No, you can't drive, you won't date, you won't go to college, you won't have a job.'"
Graham also said his mother's death after a long battle with cancer was a defining moment in his life.
"I had to take on a lot of responsibility with that, including making the decision to stop treatment," he said.
Her death was the hardest thing he's ever been through.
"That was part of what gave me the courage to run for office," Graham said. "I thought, 'Well, even if I lose, it can't be as bad as what I went through.' It has given me a lot of strength in adverse situations and courage not to wilt in the heat."
Graham faced another difficult situation in October 2007, when he was convicted of driving while intoxicated, to which he pled guilty.
"We all make mistakes, and I certainly made a big one," Graham said. "I regret it immensely. If all we can elect is perfect people, we're going to have an empty legislature."
Despite adversity, Graham says he has a number of accomplishments during his time in the House and Senate.
"I'm a problem solver by nature, almost to a fault," he said. "If there's an issue or a problem, all I do is figure out how we can find a solution to them."
Graham said he is most proud of "having the courage to stand there and stop the things that (Gov.) Matt Blunt was trying to do."
He is also proud of his work protecting research at the university and proposing a bill that would give a vote to the student member on the UM system Board of Curators.
Campaign manager Nate Kennedy took a semester off from MU to assist Graham.
"He's really determined, and he's convinced that one person can make a difference, and he is standing up for what he believes in and not backing away from that," Kennedy said of Graham. "It's hard. There's a lot of pressure from lobbying groups and things like that. He's always held firm to his beliefs."
Graham said at times, the Republican majority could make things harder to accomplish, but that it wouldn't deter him.
"When you have such power on the other side of the aisle and not a lot of people on your side of the fence motivated to do something about it, I think that it does take a certain amount of courage to go out there and say, 'This is wrong,'" he said.