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Missouri state senator Chris Koster attended a Johnson County Democratic Club event in Warrensburg on Saturday, August 11th. MoDem wrote about attending the event and posted his account on Kos.

In the interest of full disclosure – I am currently a member of and the elected chair of the 31st Senate District Democratic Committee (the district Chris Koster represents). As a party committee we work to elect Democratic candidates in the district – including our state senator. I have spoken at some length with Senator Koster and will do so in the future.

We had a decent size crowd of 50 to 60 people – for a very hot Saturday afternoon in August. Senator Koster made the rounds visiting with groups of individuals sitting at tables. Gary Grigsby, president of the Democratic club introduced office holders who were in attendance.

Koster was introduced to the crowd by Gary Grigsby. He spoke at length on the reasons for his change to the Democratic Party – focusing on continuing republican opposition to stem cell research. He also made reference to his belief in collective bargaining – there were various labor members in attendance.

After his remarks there was an in depth discussion of the Missouri non-partisan court plan. Several members of the bar in attendance contributed to the discussion, as did Senator Koster. I spoke of the exchange of letters between Chief Justice Stith and the Blunt administration.

The crowd responded positively to Chris Koster. People asked him questions and seemed genuinely pleased that he was there and responsive.

Former Senator Harold Caskey, who represented the district for 28 years, was in attendance and visited at length with Senator Koster.

I was also present at Koster’s press conference on August 1st announcing his switch to the Democratic Party. The Kansas City Star has a video of that press conference at the Cass County Justice Center in Harrisonville, Missouri.

Two prominent Democrats in my area have worked with Chris Koster for years in his previous capacity of Cass County Prosecuting Attorney. Both speak very highly of his beliefs (“he’s a Democrat”) and both have told me that they had been talking to him for years about making the switch. This was not an overnight deal – it is my perception that the concerted republican assault on the Missouri judiciary finally pushed him over the edge.

At his press conference Chris Koster stated the following as reasons for his switch (in the context of “extremist” republican orthodoxy): republican opposition to stem cell research, republican opposition to raising the minimum wage, continued republican opposition to workers rights – collective bargaining, continued republican opposition to family planning, and the republican failure to promote economic development, particularly in bio tech and life sciences.

In particular Koster emphasized that the republicans in Missouri were moving to criminalize stem cell research stating, “go to Boston for your Nobel Prize, come to Missouri for your leg irons.”

Koster spent quite a bit of time on the republican assault on the Missouri non-partisan judicial plan, calling the “baby” Blunt administration’s attacks on the Missouri judiciary “vituperative.” When asked by a media reporter if he was blaming Blunt, Koster replied, “The [Blunt] administration could make it stop [go away] if they wanted to.”

Koster stated “republican moderates are all but extinct” and that his decision was “a break with the party that has gone too far to the right.”

In the two public events I have attended I have been impressed by Senator Koster. I believe he is sincere in his reasons for leaving the republican party. I am very much aware of his considerable political talents – especially in reaching out to individuals. He should not be underestimated nor should his change in party affiliation be reduced just to the current circulating republican sound bite “political opportunism”.