Parents Talk Back by Aisha Sultan

When a Mom Runs for Governor

With some politicians, you can tell when the political becomes personal.

While listening to Nicole Galloway’s stump speech at a recent campaign event, I noticed the moment when her steady Midwestern demeanor took on a stronger tone.

Galloway, running for governor of Missouri, was talking about meeting mothers whose children were turned away from routine doctors’ appointments because their kids had been dropped from Medicaid during incumbent Gov. Mike Parson’s tenure. In Missouri, about 100,000 children lost state health insurance coverage between January 2018 and December 2019 -- more than anywhere else in the country.

Any decent person would be upset about children unable to see a doctor when they need one, but these stories seemed particularly personal and urgent to Galloway. When I talked to her about it later, she told me about her oldest son, William, now 8, and the difficult labor and delivery she had with him. On the day she and her husband were supposed to take him home from the hospital, the doctor told them their baby needed to see a pediatric cardiologist instead. William was born with a fairly common congenital heart defect called a bicuspid aortic valve.

“Honestly, it was terrifying,” she said, especially as a new mom. They learned that William, while otherwise healthy, would have to avoid certain sports and activities that could put too much of a strain on his heart. He would also need annual visits with a cardiologist to keep an eye on things. At one of these follow-ups, they discovered he had another heart condition -- Wolff-Parkinson-White syndrome -- which will require a surgical procedure in December to correct.

The importance of William’s early diagnosis -- and of her family’s ability to get him the treatment he needs -- isn’t lost on her.

“What if we couldn’t take William to the doctor for his heart?” she said to me.

When someone in your family has had any kind of health scare, other people’s stories about their health struggles hit differently. Galloway said she has felt tears come to her eyes when talking to parents whose children have been denied health care. She knows what it feels like to fear for your baby’s health.

Then, her empathy turns to anger.

“They didn’t do anything wrong,” she says of the kids’ parents. “They feel like they have failed their children, when really, it’s someone in a position of power they have never met who made a decision on their behalf without even considering how it would impact them.”

Galloway, a CPA and fraud investigator who won her second term as Missouri’s state auditor in 2018, has taken on an uphill battle for governor with three young boys at home. There are times when campaigning during a pandemic, while her older boys are doing virtual school, can be exhausting. In those moments, she said, she remembers the reasons why she got into the race.

She goes back to her conversations with those moms.

Galloway would become the state’s first female governor -- the first mother to hold that office, if she wins. The race for the office has become increasingly competitive. When she talks to voters, she focuses on her professional experience, her priorities and her criticisms of the current administration. But she hasn’t shied away from how her experiences as a mother shape her political outlook.

She knows firsthand how badly parents want children back in schools, as safely as possible. Her mom is a nurse who works at a St. Louis-area hospital, so she knows too well the toll this pandemic has taken.

She has a mother’s righteous anger when she talks about the most vulnerable kids in the state.

“If you mess with my children, I will have a word with you,” she said at an outdoor campaign event in Ballwin. “But if you mess with Missouri’s children, I will build an army. I will run against you, and I will win.”

For this mom, it sounds personal.