Last week we sat down for the first in our Exit Interview series with term limited legislators leaving state government. We expected our conversation with State Senator Jason Crowell to be candid, but he answered every question even more straight forward than even we expected. He was candid on nearly every subject from his relationships with others in the republican party to his biggest public policy mistake.
After reviewing the interview we decided to bring you his remarks basicly unedited in conversation form. In fact some of his more noteworthy comments were off the topic of the question, but frankly too good to leave out. When we were through we broke the interview into three parts.
Enjoy the second of our three part series.
Senator Crowell: “We just have to see who the senators from southeast Missouri are. Rob Mayer helped by redirecting the bills as Pro Tem, but it was really me going on the floor saying ‘over my dead body are you going to take advantage of my constituents.’ It really depends on who wins.”
SEMO TIMES: Again, who do you project is the person who will take up your mantle of speaking truth to power?
Senator Crowell: “Well, Tom Dempsey’s not going to do it. Ron Richard’s not going to do it.”
SEMO TIMES: Can you fill that role while in leadership?
Senator Crowell: “Yeah, yeah- it’s not hard at all.”
SEMO TIMES: You were in leadership in the house, not in the senate. Was that role of speaking out and holding people and special interests to account easier not being in leadership?
Senator Crowell: “I am who I am.”
SEMO TIMES: Many would say it’s harder to fill that role while in leadership.
Senator Crowell: “Maybe you don’t get elected to leadership if you speak your mind. I think ultimately it’s an individual’s character that leads them to do what they believe in. Anyone who says you don’t understand the pressures of the office…that’s crazy. You are responsible for you. It’s ludicrous to say it’s the speaker who made me do it, or the office. It’s your character to put your constituents first, or to put moving up the ladder first. To some people it’s more important to pursue a title. I believe in the senate the Pro Tem and floor leader should mean nothing. Remember, much of the things in the senate that changed began with Peter Kinder, then Charlie Shields. Kinder didn’t get to pick chairmen, J.T. Russell was going to be appropriations chairman whether Kinder or David Klarich was elected Pro Tem. The floor leader could not roll the calendar. The Pro Tem couldn’t pick what bills the chairmen turned in. Pro Tem was basically an administrative job that no one wanted. You wanted to develop expertise to use in committees, it was Kinder and Shields who wanted to implement the House structure of leadership in the Senate. It was a detriment, and has continued to be a detriment today. The beauty of a senate is that I am supposed to be able to stand up and convince my colleagues that not only should a bill get 18 votes, but it deserves to even come to a vote. If you put your faith in leadership, instead of yourself, that never happens.
It kept silly small bills from passing, and helped keep government small. However, as more Republicans become part of the establishment, more of them just wanted to pass a law to pass a law, but in reality it was Jay Nixon’s department head’s bills they were fighting to pass. You know I only passed 3 bills my entire time in the legislature. Now, I passed a lot of amendments, but many of my colleagues abandoned limited government in search of passing a bill. I did more to stop bad bills than anything else. You can still go to the hall of fame for playing great defense.”
SEMO TIMES: You mentioned Peter Kinder, what is your relationship with him?
Senator Crowell: “I have no relationship with him, and haven’t since he recruited people to run against me 4 years ago. He tried to recruit Pat Naeger 8 years ago, and so did Jo Ann Emerson. I was forced to sit on the couch and be told that I would never be permitted to become a state senator, and I said ‘ya…ok’- I ran and was elected. After I ran and won, I tried to make what I felt were taxpayer-first decisions which congealed in the River Campus debate where I was vilified. I did what I felt was right, not what was politically easy. To me, conservatism is not negotiable. I would have gone crazy if any other college would have issued bonds without a revenue stream to pay for them, and said you better bail us out. It was no different than giving a child a bottomless credit card and then trying to make your family budget work.”
SEMO TIMES: Do you regret anything about the River Campus debate?
Senator Crowell: “No it was the right thing to do.”
SEMO TIMES: Back to Kinder, you are his state senator. With that in mind, why did you endorse Brad Lager?
Senator Crowell: “My reason for endorsing Brad Lager is that I believe that after looking at the individuals in the race…look, no candidate is perfect; it’s a choice between the people who are running. Looking at Peter Kinder and Brad Lager, I felt the most conservative, best candidate is Brad Lager in the issues of today. In my mind, you can’t run today on what you did 20 years ago. You can’t say I was a conservative 20 years ago so forgive my decisions today. You can’t say because I led the fight on partial birth abortion I can be for embryonic stem cell research. Or because I led the gun veto I can support endless tax credits and say I’m a conservative.”
SEMO TIMES: Did the scandalous stories of last summer influence your decision?
Senator Crowell: “No, c’mon man everyone already knew that. My decision was based on the philosophy that arguably the person to be the titular head of the Missouri Republican Party share my conservative philosophy. I am a Christian first, a conservative second and Republican third. I would rather have a Brad Lager conservative Republican elected, than a Jack Danforth ‘shame on you all the time’ Republican be elected.”
SEMO TIMES: We asked Senator Rupp, and we’ll ask you here. Do you think Brad Lager, were he to win the primary, should be concerned with the dismal record of the state party in electing members of the executive branch?
Senator Crowell: “Lloyd Smith and Peter Kinder destroyed the Republican Party framework that was there. We used to have one of the best 72-hour programs in the United States that Tom Schulte ran in southeast Missouri. Lloyd Smith should have never been the executive director of the Missouri Republican party. Now, to be fair, to Lloyd Smith he was basically doing the bidding of David Barkledge which personally is an interesting reversal of things from when he was running the Emerson organization. Then his fights with Ron Gladney and Jo Ann forced him to exit the Emerson organization whether they want to admit it or not. Then he lands basically working as a front for David Barkledge. It’s shown that the Republican Party compared to Jay Nixon’s organization- not the democrat party organization- but compared to Jay Nixon’s organization, is completely outmatched.”
SEMO TIMES: Do you think that’s the way that statewide Republicans are being forced to do it because of Smith’s weakness?
Senator Crowell: I think there are some that are already setting that up. If you look at Roy Blunt’s operation it wasn’t because of the Republican Party was this great machine and apparatus that it elected Roy Blunt it was because Team Blunt was this great machine and apparatus. The days of a Republican slate using GOTV and voter vault are over because the party has simply not kept up with technology.
I think, in fairness, that as the money leaves to individual candidates by necessity there is only so much money, so the party is not going to have it. If you were going to give $100,000 would you rather have a relationship with a candidate or give it to the director of the party…you’re going to give it to them directly.
SEMO TIMES: Several state committee people and many elected officials, even some of the ones you have criticized in this interview have whispered criticisms of the head of the Missouri Republican Party, why do you believe they are hesitant to speak up?
Senator Crowell: I don’t know. I guess I’ve never been afraid to speak my mind. I’m never going to be a statewide candidate. The moment I announced I was running there would be Republican snipers with Republican rifles taking shots at me all over the place because I speak my mind, and some people don’t like that.
SEMO TIMES: You leave office along with Steve Tilley as clearly the most influential person in state government; do you feel any obligation to endorse some people currently running?
Senator Crowell: I don’t feel any obligation; I may get involved in my local state senate race. I would be endorsing them, they wouldn’t be endorsing me. I think from an economic standpoint Right to Work is the key issue we are facing today. (Editor’s note: Since our interview Senator Crowell has endorsed Wayne Wallingford.)
SEMO TIMES: Do you think Rob Mayer gets enough credit for actually trying to accomplish such a large piece of legislation?
Senator Crowell: I guess from the standpoint of credit, no politician gets partial credit, you either win or you lose.
SEMO TIMES: I take your point, but if tax credits are someday reformed…..
Senator Crowell: I’m an abject failure right now.
SEMO TIMES: However, if 5 years from now tax credits are reformed, any objective observer would say you would deserve some credit for getting the ball rolling. Do you think history will give Rob Mayer credit for the same?
Senator Crowell: I guess. I know he filed the bill and I know he mentioned it in his speech, but there were other things he had in his ability as Pro Tem when the choices were made what you really want. There is one set of consequences for the speech, another for filing the bill, and another for saying ‘I’m not putting anything else on the calendar until we deal with this’ and finally another when you blink. He blinked, and there are consequences for that. Then the house undercut him on paycheck protection. It was the speaker and Shane Schoellner who killed paycheck protection last session, which is what the whole issue in Wisconsin was about. What the unions know and what we all know is that if the state doesn’t garnish their wages no state worker will sit down and write a check to the union. That is why they fought as hard as they did. If people really believe in the union, if the union actually does its job then people will sit down and physically write a check from their account, don’t make the state the middle man. It passed the senate, I consulted with Shane Schoellner and he told me they would take it up and it would work, and then in an effort to kill it they changed it knowing it would die.
SEMO TIMES: Do you have a prediction for the 8th District Congressional primary?
Senator Crowell: Ya, Emerson will win. I think because of the change in the district Parker’s total will go down. If we would have done what I wanted which was take the 8th district farther into southwestern Missouri where we have more in common with them than the almost 55,000 people who are radically more union and democrat friendly, it may have been a different deal.
SEMO TIMES: What are Jason Crowell’s thoughts on the U.S. Senate race?
Senator Crowell: I believe that when looking at the candidates, Sarah Steelman is head and shoulders above any other candidate in the race. I think she matches up the best against Claire McCaskill. I think she will win the primary and it will be interesting and close, I don’t think she will win with 60% of the vote- no candidate could- it will be more like 40% of the vote. I also think they will have their hands full with Claire McCaskill. I think she will run a campaign of vote for what I say, not what I do. Claire thinks Missourians are stupid, and that she has the ability to go out with her mother to say this is who I am, and then go to DC and vote with Barack Obama. If Claire McCaskill would say your damn right Obamacare is the way to go, your damn right Cap and Trade is the way to go and I’m a liberal then I would have more respect for her. But when she says I’m not the way my votes in DC say I am…hell ya you are. You voted that way, that is who you are, you are a liberal. Either be proud of your record or don’t run, don’t try to convince us you’re not what your record says you are.
SEMO TIMES: Can you explain to our readers a little about the TRC – SEMO fight?
Senator Crowell:Going back to the Carnahan years he spent a lot of money on a program called Mission Enhancement. It set up these centers around the state to bring higher education closer to the public. Centers such as the ones in Perryville, Malden, Kennett, Sikeston were the result. Then SEMO found out it was very profitable to give remedial courses and associate degrees. But SEMO wanted to be moderately selective on one end of the spectrum, and offer lower end classes to get those students and that money on the other. The problem was TRCC could do it more efficiently and for a much lower cost. People voted with their feet and their pocketbook and went to TRCC. After SEMO began losing market
share to TRCC what was the best thing to do…call them a cheater, initiate lawsuits and everything else. You had personalities between Cooper and Dobbins and now between Stephenson and Dobbins the only thing consistent is Dobbins. TRCC had personality turnovers and still the fight remains. Where I side with TRCC is, I want the educational opportunities to be vested to the constituents that I represent. Let them choose, let’s not do protectionism.
The latest fight is that SEMO is preventing TRCC from coming in and offering healthcare degrees. The real reason that Al Spradling and Jimmy Limbaugh were on the SEMO board of regents. Al Spradling was also the chairman of the board of Southeast Hospital and Jimmy Limbaugh is a vice president at Southeast Hospital, and if TRCC comes into Cape county and is able to offer nursing courses, it will be so much cheaper for the students that Southeast Hospital’s program will not be able to function because they will be charging three times higher than TRCC. It’s very infuriating to see how Southeast has denied educational opportunities to students because of a good old boy network associated with Southeast Hospital and the cross representation at SEMO. The fact that I sponsored those individuals to serve and now they are doing this to the students is devastating. I’m here for the taxpayers and the students, not the little clicks that are for SEMO right or wrong, or Southeast Hospital right or wrong. I’m not anti-Southeast Hospital…if I were, I would have never stood by and let the Autism treatment facility partner with Southeast Hospital, but I looked at it and said this is the best scenario for the people to be served. Southeast is a teaching college whether it wants to admit it or not, and it will be great to see those students being able to interact with children with autism. It will help their education and help those kids.
Check back tomorrow night for the conclusion of our series.