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Johnson County Democrats held their annual James Kirkpatrick Dinner in Warrensburg on Saturday evening, this year honoring former Johnson County Collector and former State Representative Deleta Williams for her service to the community. Attorney General Chris Koster (D) was the keynote speaker. There were about two hundred fifty people attending the event.

The transcript of Attorney General Koster’s remarks:

Attorney General Chris Koster (D): ….I’m gonna give a little bit of a nonpartisan talk tonight. Um, even though we’re in a Democratic room, partially because I’ve spoken so many times to all of you before, uh, and there, I’ve so many dear friends in the room, not just friends, but dear friends, and partially because I want to be somewhat informative about what is occurring in our state these days and some of the challenges that we face.

You know, what is the Attorney General’s job? It’s a fairly opaque, uh, title sometimes. And it, I like to think of it as, as something that is different than just a political job. The Attorney General is the general counsel of the corporation that is the State of Missouri. I fell in love with this job and saw the potential of it back when I was about twenty-four years old. I interned there as a law student. Uh, and fell in love with the history of the office. And whether it be on the Democratic side or the, or on the Republican side this, this office had enormous history to it. Tom Eagleton had served in that position from nineteen sixty to sixty-four, Jack Danforth from nineteen sixty-eight to nineteen seventy-six, and now, for sixteen years prior to my tenure there, Jay Nixon occupied the, the highest law enforcement office, uh, in the State of Missouri…

Attorney General Chris Koster (D), the keynote speaker at the annual James Kirkpatrick Dinner in

Warrensburg on March 22, 2014, visiting after the dinner.

…And as general counsel it, it plays an important role in the administration of our state. We don’t think of the State of Missouri as a corporation, but in a sense it has aspects of that. There are twenty-seven billion dollars in state revenues that come in, so Joe [Dandurand] and I serve as general counsel to a corporation that is about as large as Anheuser Busch is in their global revenue structure, twenty-seven billion dollars. State of Missouri has about sixty-five thousand employees, so that puts it on a par just a little bit behind Enterprise Leasing in terms of how many employees they have throughout North America. But we have, rather than, these corporations that do one thing, very well and concentrate on one single topic like selling beer or renting cars, the State of Missouri, our corporation, the corporation that we are all shareholders of, this corporation is involved in every aspect of our human existence. And it is enormously complicated when you compare it to companies that do one thing well.

We insure the lives, for example, of eight hundred thousand citizens and provide them health care. To the other end of the extreme, we incarcerate thirty thousand individuals. We operate thirteen four year universities and twenty community colleges, and five hundred and sixty-five school districts. And we are involved in every other aspect of life, economic development, agricultural policy, banking regulation. It’s an enormously wondrous and complicated task.

And like, you would think that when you have a corporation that is that complicated what you would really like is a board of directors that is very unified and highly educated on the task at hand [laughter] , but we don’t have that. [laughter]  We operate under the General Assembly [laughter] which fights, unfortunately, like cats and dogs from time to time.

And as soon as people these days, unlike when Deleta [Williams], uh, served there, or when, uh, Harold Caskey served there, today we operate under a new rule, which I think is, is very, is a great disservice to the people of our state, that as soon as people really learn the task at hand we make them leave. We have people who are terming out of office in Jefferson City who, who came in at the age of twenty-four, which is the youngest age that you can serve in the State of Missouri. We have people who are terming out at the age of thirty-two. We are throwing them out of office. So it is a, it’s a tragedy that as soon as, basically, as soon as people learn the difference between Medicare and Medicaid [laughter] and a few more other things about state government they have to go back home. And hopefully in the future we will change that.

Joe Dandurand and I have a chance to, uh, work on two kinds of problems, in my mind. We work on hard problems and really, really hard problems. [laughter] The hard problems are the ones that you don’t read a lot about but they are the typical daily grind of government, constitutional officers who are fighting, employment problems within, uh, various parts of the government, lawsuits that, uh, we are involved in of importance against Walgreens, uh, or against a giant landfill company in, in St. Louis. These are the normal routines of politics and of government.

But what we really need to concentrate on, and this is what I have come here tonight to, to speak briefly about, are the ten year problems that face this state and face all of us as a greater community. The ten year problems that we don’t have the answers to today, but over the next decade, are going to change the trajectory of this state for the next fifty years.

Problems like a broken urban education system. We have two failed, two of our largest, two of the largest three school districts in the State of Missouri, which are Kansas City, St. Louis City, and Springfield, three largest school districts, two of those school districts are today in a failed status, are unaccredited. And when we look around the country we know that there is not one failed urban school district anywhere in the country that has ever turned itself around by itself. And so we need to ask ourselves as a state over the next ten years, how are we going to put these school districts back on a path of success.

There are organizations, we can never leave behind the public school system that we cherish and embrace, but there’s no one answer that is going to raise these public school systems up in the future. There are many little answers that are going to solve this problem.

I don’t know how many of you have ever visited the KIPP schools that we have in St. Louis and Kansas City. Remarkable institutions. These KIPP schools, the children at, a, uh, arrive at school at seven thirty in the morning and when other children leave at three thirty in the afternoon, these children stay until five p.m. They go to school from seven thirty to five p.m. and they go to school on Saturdays. And they go to Summer school as a matter of a routine. These success models that we are seeing where these KIPP schools have taken really underprivileged children, children who are either proficient or advanced, only nineteen percent of them are proficient or advanced when they enter these schools. By the time they go from the fifth grade to the eighth grade they’re competing with the very best students and the very best school districts in the entire State of Missouri. And so the question of education, we’ll have to ask ourselves, over the next ten years, whether these single institutions that exist now in Kansas City and St. Louis and educate one percent of children, will over ten years begin to scale up and educate not one percent, but ten percent, and whether their scores can be added back into these districts, and these districts can be saved for the first time in a generation.

We’re gonna look at problems like the problems that face the Missouri Department of Transportation. We passed, um, Proposition 2 about ten years ago. And now all the money that, uh, came into the Missouri Department of Transportation as a result of Proposition 2 is gone. And a budget that used to be one point four billion dollars a year to repave and build new roads in our state has dwindled to a mere three hundred and fifty, four hundred million dollars a year. My friends, we can’t even keep the roads that we have today going at that level. Now the Republican Party in Jefferson City has been so afraid of this issue that they haven’t found any way to begin to fund MoDOT again for the future. They are afraid to look at any revenue plan to save our roads. But our economic development future depends on us, all of us, Democrats and Republicans, finding an answer to this question. And it is a seven hundred million a year problem. And so in the future we’re gonna have to find an answer to the question of how do we get that seven hundred million dollars back into Jefferson City. Our economic development future depends on it. And it will come from some combination of toll roads, gasoline tax, and sales tax. And all of us, Democrats and Republicans, are gonna have to go out there and find compromise and find a solution for the future.

And there are principles that are gonna face us that are in, core to Democratic movement, like standing up against right to work over the next ten years. [applause] Let me tell you a brief story about how critical this issue is to the future of our state. Because what the Republicans are proposing is simply taking the wages of working people and reducing them dramatically. That’s the goal here. The goal is to take working people’s wages and reduce them.

If you go up to Holt County, north of us here, little bit northwest, you come to a Missouri town on Highway One Fifty-nine called Fortescue, Missouri. And Highway One Fifty-nine runs from east to west across the river there, across the Missouri River into a town called Rulo, Nebraska. There’s a bridge that goes across the Missouri River there. It’s an old, the old bridge, the old Rulo Bridge was pull, put up in about nineteen thirty. If you ever saw the movie Paper Moon you’ve seen the Rulo Bridge. Tatum O’Neal and Ryan O’Neal cross it an old car time and time again. The old Rulo Bridge gave out about ten years ago and I think in about two thousand and ten , about six hundred feet to the south of the old Rulo Bridge, a new bridge was put up. It was built by laborers from Missouri and from Nebraska. And the two ends of the bridge started from the two respective states. Missouri, as you know, is not a right to work state and Nebraska is. If you go and look at the wage sheets for the laborers in those two states back during that time, the wage rates that laborers made in each of those two states, you’d find that the laborers who built that bridge out from the Missouri side made thirty-one dollars and fifty cents an hour. But the wage rate in Nebraska for laborers at that time was about eight dollars and fifty-three cents an hour. Now, you can imagine what happens when two communities value the work of a man or a woman’s hands so differently. Two men, two groups of men building that bridge out from two different states, symbolically the meet in the middle, and they look at each other and they know that their lives are very, very different. A thirty-one dollar an hour worker, an eight dollar an hour worker, those are two different pension plans, two different plans for retirement. Those are two very different ideas about health care, how to keep a family together. Those are two different hopes for education for their children. And let’s be honest with one another, those are two different marriages because a thirty-one dollar an hour worker’s gonna have a different marriage than an eight dollar and fifty cent worker. It’s just a tougher life that those in Nebraska have to face.

Missouri has always valued the work of our laborer’s hands throughout the building trades. Our job in Jefferson City is to deliver to the future of this state a Missouri that is as strong and a working life that is as strong as the state that was delivered to us. That’s why Joe [Dandurand] and I go to work every day. That’s why we work hard on these problems, to stand up for the way of life that we have come to know and appreciate, and that we desperately want to pass forward to future generations.

So, these are the principles that we as the Democratic Party stand up for, these are the principles that we intend to hold high, and that we intend to win with in the future.

So I thank you for your friendship, I thank you coming and honoring my friends who so, uh, have richly in, uh, enriched this, this county, and this area of the state, and, and our state as a whole. It’s good to be back in Warrensburg and in, uh, Johnson County with so many friends I hold dear. Thank you everyone. [applause]

A supporter arranged to display a modified 4 x 8 campaign sign at the annual James Kirkpatrick Dinner in Warrensburg.