(Last month OI carried an exclusive interview with Missouri House Speaker Elijah Haahr. Now we present the view from the other side of the aisle, courtesy of Democratic House Minority Leader Crystal Quade. The majority of this interview initially aired on Morningline on 560 AM/93.3 FM KWTO.)
OI: We’re going to come out of the gate by asking you the same three questions we asked House Speaker Elijah Haahr. The first question was what was your view of the most recent legislative session?
Crystal Quade: The most recent legislative session was definitely intense. It was a very divisive session politically, unfortunately.
This is the third year I’ve been there, the speaker’s been there much longer than I have, but the sessions I can compare it to…there are always a handful of things that are divisive politically. The majority of what we do is bipartisan, the majority of the votes we take you’ll see green all across the board with the exception of a few Republicans who always vote no.
But this session was a little different in that the politically divisive conversations were a little bit more personal, and very emotional, so it was an intense year.
OI: What would you say for you, either individually or as the minority leader, was your biggest success from the last term?
Quade: That’s a good question. You know, we had a lot of success as a caucus this year. To pinpoint it down to one is like asking a parent to pick the best thing their kid has done!
One of the things we really worked on all year as a caucus was defending the people’s voices. That goes to the ballot initiatives that Missourians either overwhelmingly voted for or against as did voters in Greene County.
Right out of the gate, the Republican majority were going to undo those because “voters were confused” and they “just didn’t understand what they were doing.”
Now, not all of us agreed with what was on the ballot, to be very honest with you, but we believe that we should respect the will of voters. That was a success for us this year. All of the legislation aimed to overturn what voters had done they weren’t able to get done.
There was also a lot of legislation, I believe ten bills filed, to make the initiative petition process more difficult for regular citizens to participate in and we were able to keep those at bay.
A lot of wins proactively as well. The Missouri Black Caucus, which is made up mostly of Democrats, has been working on criminal justice reform. I was super excited at the start of the session when the speaker acknowledged that was something we needed to work on, because it was something our folks have been working on for a very long time.
So we did get some successes there.
Not as much legislation across the finish line as we’d hoped, but the conversations were started, so that was pretty awesome.
Then as for me as floor leader, to start as a sophomore with a whole lot of new members, which because of term limits we had a whole load of new members, we found cohesion really well and by the last day of session, the hot topic abortion bill, we did very well under very difficult circumstances with the 46 members we had.
I’m very proud with how our members were able to use the rules so that we were actually effective. With 46 people we can’t get a lot done but with we can follow the rules. And we can hold the other side accountable to make sure they’re doing that right. Points of order. Using the systems right.
OI: So what you’re telling students out there is when you study Robert’s Rules of Order in school you actually do use them later life!
Quade: You do! I never would have imagined and now it’s a running joke in my office because we carry around a large book with us. But it was a very effective tool for us as a superminority.
OI: This question was a little hard for the speaker, might be for you: What was your biggest failure?
Quade: As minority leader, it’s a huge learning curve. You’re responsible for adding people to committees. Any HR issue that comes up you have to be a part of. But I view part of my job as making sure all my members are supported and be as influential as they can be in our current situation in Jefferson City, and knowing what goals they have and what they want.
I think one of the things I didn’t do well was advocating for my own stuff. I was so busy advocating for the members of my caucus that I didn’t so as well advocating for myself and I need to learn how to balance better for my constituents.
OI: I’m glad you said that because that was going to be my next question. When we did our interview with Speaker Haahr, a reader asked us to ask him why he had not introduced any legislation, because he had made the statement being speaker made it hard to get legislation on the floor and really advocate for it. So I wanted to ask you as minority leader, if you had similar issues, because you have to many other duties. Does it make it hard to bring a bill to the floor and advocate for it?
Quade: I would say yes. First, the speaker, if he wanted to get a bill done, he could get a bill done and move it forward.
But the same thing I ran into is that I don’t want to sit and advocate for my own thing. Because as minority leader, I’m not only the representative of the 132nd and I have to make sure that my folks are taken care of, but I’m also responsible for all of Missouri!
And it’s my job to work to make my member’s legislation get through and to help them with that process. So I think in some ways I understand that frustration and that I need to do better specifically about that! But also in some ways I respect the speaker’s decision on that because he has a whole lot more members than I do and it is a lot.
But he also has the advantage that he can look at all 2,000 bills and say “this is a great idea, I’m gonna move that” and I don’t. So if there’s legislation that I really think needs to get done I need to file it or find some way to push that issue across the finish line.
So it is a lot to juggle so if he made that choice I certainly understand where he’s coming from.
OI: Let’s move into what you called a “hot button” issue, which is a nice way to approach the Missouri Stands for the Unborn Act. When I spoke to Speaker Haahr, I asked his opinion of the bill and then presented a list of objections from those on your side of the aisle had during the debate, and even quoted you, so I’m going to give you the same treatment if you don’t mind.
Quade: That’s fine.
OI: So first, your view of the bill and its passage.
Quade: Across the country we’re seeing legislation like this pass in legislatures and we’re also seeing the opposite legislation passing in our more liberal legislatures. So it’s really interesting as someone who is interested in government watch this orchestrated thing happen all at once.
As for our bill here in Missouri, it is one of the more extreme. I would argue that Mississippi’s is the only one that is more extreme and that’s because of that law’s prison time for physicians who would do this. In our bill it’s 15 years and in Mississippi’s it’s 99 years.
There’s also provisions for mothers to be jailed [in Mississippi’s bill], that is obviously more extreme than ours. But with our bill having no exceptions for rape, incest or human trafficking, being the six weeks, and if Roe v. Wade is overturned the morning after pill, which is not an abortion but rather prevents pregnancy, would also become illegal in the state of Missouri.
Ours is very extreme on the scale of what’s going on around the country.
Obviously I have been very vocal against the bill. I ran as a candidate in 2016, when asked the question, I am a pro-choice person. I believe this decision should be made between a woman, her doctor and her god if she has one, and that’s not something government should be a part of.
When you have this conversation, people fall all over the spectrum. When you say pro-life or pro-choice, it’s not always black and white. “Well, I’m pro-life except in the case of rape” or “I’m pro-choice post-viability.” Everyone has a different line in the sand on this very personal conversation.
This bill, I feel is scary and harmful. Missouri has astronomical maternal mortality rates that are atrocious. They’re third world country level. We’re not doing anything about that when we spent so much time and energy around this bill. When there’s only one abortion clinic in Missouri. We have a 72-hour waiting period. We have all sorts of restrictions on a clinic down to hallway size. You have to have two ultrasounds already.
We were one of the more restrictive states already before this bill.
For me, it goes beyond the bill itself. I would much rather we spend our energy as a legislature talking about these maternal mortality rates. We are up to 68,000 children kicked off Medicaid who should qualify that are not on Medicaid right now in the state of Missouri.
Why aren’t we talking about that? We didn’t have a single hearing in the legislature about that. It’s been happening since last year.
OI: Well, that’s a great question. In your opinion, why aren’t these discussions happening?
Quade: That’s a question for the Speaker.
Honestly. I can tell you with Medicaid specifically I have been bringing up the Medicaid director, Todd Richardson, the former Speaker of the House, multiple times in my office. I’m going to Jeff City every other week to have these conversations to try to figure out what’s going on.
There will be a request for a hearing on this to the Special Committee on Government Oversight that the speaker formed to go after the issues with D.O.R. [Department of Revenue].
I want this conversation to be happening, we’ve been asking for it, we’ve been having conversations with the speaker.
There’s so much going on in the state of Missouri about quote/unquote pro life issues, and I hate to qualify it that way, but dealing with our children. For them to be successful, for their lives to be on the line when it comes to healthcare, and the lives of mothers, and we’re not dealing with that to jump on this national bandwagon when we’re already one of the most restrictive states in the country. Part of this struggle in this debate for me is if you really care about the lives of children in the state of Missouri, we need to really be talking about what’s happening to children in the state of Missouri.
OI: What defines reasonable restrictions on what is considered rights? A comment I heard from someone on the political right, who was obviously mocking a Democratic position in doing this, but they said “we just want common sense abortion restrictions”, mocking the Democratic position on the Second Amendment in calling for “common sense gun restrictions.”
For things that are in the Constitution as rights, how do we find that line between what the Constitution says and having rules in place to keep things from getting out of control?
Quade: I think that lines changes all the time depending on societal norms and where we are. I think the comment of that conservative mocking I actually agree with them! I do!
We need to find where that line is of protecting both the right on either side. Particularly on the issue of guns. The conversation is when does it become a public health issue. When it becomes a public health issue, that’s when government needs to come in and have a discussion about the issue.
I support the right to bear arms but I also agree there can be reasonable restrictions around background checks, making sure people are of a good mental state to have guns. We’ve seen other states have debates about red flag laws regarding things like domestic violence and mental health combined into an issue.
The police being able to remove temporarily for 72 hours or something like that. Those are all reasonable conversations that I know when I have with my NRA card holding father, those are conversations we can have around safety of the public.
It is an epidemic when it comes to deaths around guns.
OI: Would you say it’s not a conflict for someone to advocate for tougher penalties for using a gun in a crime and still be in favor of hunters having weapons. It’s not necessarily a conflict for wanting tougher gun crimes laws and still support the second amendment?
Quade: I totally agree you can do both. And I don’t even think I’m someone that would support tougher penalties.
As someone who really supports the criminal justice system, it’s hard for me to say let’s increase the penalties and add felonies to a deeper degree without reading policies.
I think you can have both views and there are reasonable conversations around this issue that folks who want to utilize their second amendment right and we can also address the epidemic around youth deaths around guns.