Unless it’s one of a goalkeeper’s, you can’t put Israel Baeza in a box.
As a young Hispanic-American, Baeza is not what most would the picture as President of the local Mid-Missouri Young Republicans. After years of commanding a back line on the pitch, it’s only now that he’s gaining recognition for his voice within politics.
Baeza began his traveled soccer journey locally at age 11 for the Warrensburg Scorpions, saying beforehand, “I didn’t even know how to kick a soccer ball.”
It didn’t take long for that to change. Since then, soccer has taken him a variety of places, including Guadalajara, Mexico, where he was born, to training with Sporting KC and, most recently, to Sacred Heart School and State Fair Community College.
His travels have perhaps uniquely prepared Baeza to step into a bigger role politically.
“Being able to play soccer, you get to see a lot of different cultures and meet a lot of people who maybe don’t think like I do,” Baeza said. “But any time you can learn from people, it’s always good to listen and get a broader idea of what’s going on in other people’s lives.
“One of the biggest things I’ve loved about soccer is meeting people from different countries, having teammates from all over the world and learning about the way they see life.”
Baeza, 26, said he’s always had an interest in government, but finally jumped in last year to take on a role as an election clerk at the Pettis County Clerk’s Office.
“That opened up a lot of doors to meet a lot of people within the party and a lot of great citizens,” Baeza said. “Working at the clerk’s office, we get to deal directly with a lot of citizens and hear a lot of concerns. I’ve always been interested in being a voice for people who maybe think their voice doesn’t count.”
Getting more voices involved, particularly young ones, has been a goal for Baeza – no matter party affiliation.
“I think the biggest thing with Young Republicans was that I wanted to get young people engaged in the political process and, I’ve said it before, but I didn’t really care what side they were on,” Baeza said. “They could have been Democrats, Green Party, Libertarian, anything. Young people are engaged in presidential elections, but not at the local level. So that was the biggest thing, and I’ve seen a lot of support.”
His involvement is expected to increase dramatically after the Pettis County Republican Central Committee nominated Baeza recently to fill the vacant seat of Pettis County Eastern Commissioner. An appointment from the governor’s office is expected after the November elections.
“It was very encouraging to get such large support and when people who see you on a daily basis give you enough trust to represent them on a county level,” Baeza said. “That’s a humbling experience. It makes me want to get to work as soon as I can and continue to work for the people.”
He said his nomination – he’s thought to be the first Hispanic-American to serve as a county commissioner in Missouri – speaks volumes about the “openness” of the Republican party.
“There’s always been a lot of talk. … Negative stigmas, about our party, but it has always opened a lot of doors for me,” Baeza said. “Being a Hispanic-American, I’ve always felt welcomed, and they’ve always given me support, and that talks about the type of community we have where everybody’s welcome. At the end of the day, we’re all just Americans, and I think people (locally) understand we all just want to see our county and state succeed.”
As for the goalkeeper’s box, Baeza hopes that his potential new job won’t keep him from continuing to teach young soccer players in Sedalia.
“I don’t plan to give up coaching,” Baeza said. “It’s something I really enjoy, and a way I can always give back to the community, to a sport that gave so much to me. I know the commission, if I were to get appointed, would take up a lot of time and be my priority, but I’d love to continue coaching. Just working around those kids and teaching them gives me a lot of satisfaction.”