JEFFERSON CITY _ Despite leaving seminary two years short of graduation, Rep. Pat Dougherty is a man with a mission.
In the midst of an office filled with family pictures, a 45-gallon fish aquarium and the music of contemporary Christian artist Amy Grant, the Democratic St. Louis lawmaker has plans for bills he'd like to push as the new chairman of the Children and Families Committee.
The Children and Families Committee deals with issues like day care, adoption and child support.
In 1983, Missouri became the first state to establish a legislative committee specifically on children's issues. Dougherty is only the second chairman of the committee, replacing Kaye Steinmetz who did not seek re-election to the House.
"That committee has such a humongous responsibility, burden and opportunity all rolled up in one," Dougherty said.
But Dougherty's quest for public service doesn't stop there.
The 46-year-old father of three is on the boards of several charitable organizations, like the United Way and the American Lung Association, and is active in community charities in St. Louis.
All of his commitments, with maybe the exception of helping one of his daughters sell Girl Scout Cookies, stem from his philosophy, "You're supposed to leave things better than you found them."
Dougherty spent six years training to become a Catholic priest. After a year spent reflecting on his future, Dougherty changed career paths and began working as a case worker for the Missouri Family Services Division.
There, Dougherty said, his eyes were opened to a number of social problems, particularly poverty and unstable family structures.
"Looking at the different things that were thrust into people's lives impacted me in terms of what I did when I got here," Dougherty said.
As a legislator, Dougherty has been influential in passing the Good Semaritan Food Act, which encourages businesses to donate surplus food to the needy; the anti-stalking law; family preservation programs and legislation setting high standards for breast cancer tests and testing equipment. For 14 years, he has been on the committee that appropriates money to social services.
Committee Member Rep. Bill Boucher, D-Kansas City, cited Dougherty's compassion has one of the attributes he brings to the job.
"That's the number one thing for that chairmanship _ to have compassion for children and children's rights," Boucher said.
That compassion has been a part of Dougherty for a long time.
"I've always had an orientation from my upbringing to work with people," Dougherty said.
He called his promotion to chair the Children and Families Committee "a natural evolution."
Committee member Rep. Norma Champion, R-Springfield, said that Dougherty's efficiency and sensitivity to balanced viewpoint will make him a good chairman.
"He's always taken a strong interest in legislation for families," Champion said. "It's not going to be new for him."
As Chairman of the Children and Families Committee, Dougherty said he would like to see more time and money spent investing in crime prevention.
"I'd rather invest in our young people on the front end rather than the back end which is prison."
Dougherty said it is too early to say specifically what other programs and laws his committee will focus on this session.
However, Dougherty didn't hesitate to define the committee's general focus under his leadership.
``It's what we can do to enhance the chances of our families being successful, healthy, prosperous and that our kids be protected and be given the best chances of making a successful life."
And to Pat Dougherty, that's the difference that counts.