Attorney General Chris Koster on the stage for Missouri Boys State in Hendricks Hall on the campus of the University of Central Missouri on Saturday evening.
After his keynote speech on Saturday evening Attorney General Chris Koster took questions from the Boys State audience:
Attorney General Chris Koster (D): …Begin over here?
Question: Um, as you mentioned, newspapers are really important to you, uh, but that, but media has really expanded and has become so prevalent in national politics. Um, how much of a role do you think image plays in appointing officials? And, um, do you think this issue of image affects other issues like experience?
Attorney General Koster : How much does image affect elected officials?
Question: How, like, media has become really prevalent.
Attorney General Koster: Right.
Question: So, the image of a candidate, how he come, appears the public has become really important and do you think that, that has affected other issues like experience?
Attorney General Koster: I think that image became important fifty years ago. Do you want me to go back to the, uh, let me get, I’m gonna go to this, this seems to be a little clearer. I think image became important fifty years ago, uh, as soon as the Kennedy Nixon debates took place. Um, maybe a little bit before that when President Eisenhower started holding, uh, televised press conferences. But I think the biggest change, honestly, has to do with the expansion of cable on networks and the prevalence of television cameras, not just filming brief portions of the political day and putting them on the five thirty news, as they did when Walter Cronkite, uh, broadcast the five thirty news. But, the television cameras that now exist immediately outside of every committee room’s door, so that as soon as the committee chairman and the ranking member of the committee come out of there they are almost expected to say, uh, divergent and politically polarized things. And those things that they are expected to say has created a culture where politicians tend to fall and the back room camaraderie that used to exist, uh, is no longer there, like when Bob Michael was head of the House or Tip O’Neill was there, uh, back in the seventies. That camaraderie is gone and it’s the prevalence, I think, of having the television camera that is stuck in a politician’s face all the time that as much as anything has, has created that unfortunate circumstance.
Question: Thank you. [applause]…
…Question: …You spoke about the health care bill and how it affects our lives and how it’s going to affect us specifically. And, if you would be so kind, could you state your position on that bill and how around the country some states are filing suits with the federal government. Are you planning to do that? And, if you’re not or if you are, why are you going to do that?
Attorney General Koster: Our office has declined to file a, uh, any lawsuit related to the health care bill. And for, you know, there are a lot of political debates that have sprung up over the last twenty or thirty years where there has been a consensus, um, particularly on the, the right side of the political playing field that legislatively, uh, legislatively driven change should not be overturned or created, uh, or laws should not be created by the, the judiciary. Um, my sense is that one of the things that is happening right now is that that argument is being turned on its head by some folks and folks who previously argued in different, uh, political arenas, that the Supreme Court should never be the one to make law or to overturn a legislative act, uh, that the legislature is predominant or dominant, uh, are now advocating exactly the opposite of what they have advocated in the past. The now, that the shoe is on the other foot, that there is a very quick tendency to say we want the legislative, uh, dominance to be overturned and new law to be made by the Supreme Court. And so, in an effort to, uh, stay out of political waves that I think diminish the credibility of the office, and to not find ourselves on both sides of a, an argument where, um, what is, arguments that have been made along one, uh, fashion in the past are now being changed a hundred and eighty degrees, uh, in this situation, we have declined, to stay back and to remain neutral in this.
Question: Thank you. [applause]
Question: …You talked about the party in your last answer. Do you think partisan politics really affects Missouri?
Attorney General Koster: I think that another one of the elements that have affected partisan politics has been the on, uh, the, the incoming of term limits in the state. Again, one of the things that used to happen before we had term limits was that people who worked together for a long period of time and who developed, uh, large bodies of expertise came to the political center and worked together, for example, in the state Senate and the state House. When you have term limits, uh, both in the House and in the Senate, what we’re seeing is people whose legislative careers are almost over as fast as they begin. Uh, there’s an unkind phrasing down in Jefferson City that term limits is four years of I don’t know and four years of I don’t care. What that has done is it has otherwise good politicians who would normally develop over a long period of time an expertise and learn to work together and come to the political center, it has those same, uh, political policy makers moving to the extremes in an effort to climb over one another, too often, uh, to get to the next job because the other option is, is moving home. My personal belief is that eight year term limits has been too short, uh, that it requires more time to develop legislative expertise and that the, the spirit of, uh, polarization that has been fostered since term limits has come in, has actually degraded, uh, the political culture in Jefferson City. I’m not saying that term limits themselves are bad, but I’m saying that eight year term limits are too short, uh, and that something like twelve or sixteen year term limits, uh, would have been better. Just to give you one extreme example, I think that you can go into this, uh, House of Representatives at the age of twenty-four in the State of Missouri. I may be off on that, but I think it’s, uh, twenty-four. It’s thirty to go into the Senate. Um, and so, we have state representatives who are term limited out at the age of thirty-two years old. At thirty-two years old they’re forced into retirement. Uh, and that strikes me as unwise.
Question: Thank you. [applause]
Question: …You spoke against a political science major in college. And I was wondering, in detail, why you would suggest that?
Attorney General Koster: I think that the world, uh, demands, I think, I think the world demands more serious, uh, educational study than political science affords. Um, I, there is nothing, there, there is nothing that I see in my day to day job that either necessitates a political science degree or is particularly, uh, benefitted by a political science degree. Um, the, the type of reading and cultural and education that political science ostensibly is, uh, offers a young man or woman can easily be obtained through, uh, side reading or from reading a newspaper every day. What makes a difference in, uh, professional life, is having a grounding in something that is, uh, real and something that is a cornerstone of your educational mind, educated mind. Like accounting, like e
ngineering, science, mathematics, something, uh, more concrete than, than political science. I actually have a real bias and think it’s a waste of time. Uh, I see a lot of talented young men and women going into political science and it just makes me scratch my head because I don’t think that you get much out of it. Uh, that education can be obtained through reading. And you’re wasting an opportunity, is one man’s opinion, you’re wasting an opportunity to go get an accounting degree or something that will be with you for the rest of your life.
Question: Thank you. [applause]
Question: …When you were seventeen and going into your senior year in high school did you feel that you would go into a career in politics?
Attorney General Koster: No, I did not. Um, I did not really think seriously about it until I was about twenty-five or twenty, twenty-five years old. I was a first year law student at Washington University and I didn’t have a, a summer job and a gentleman that I played summer league basketball with, uh, who also happened to be the general counsel for then, uh, the, for the gentleman who was then Attorney General. The general counsel called me and asked what are you doing for your upcoming summer? And I said I, I guess I’m still looking around for work. It was probably March or April of my first year in law school. And he asked if I wanted to come down and work at the Attorney General’s office. And so I did that for the summer. And watching what the Attorney General’s office did, the good that it, uh, does in the community, the reach that it has into the legal field was what turned the switch on, uh, for better or worse, in my mind. And it was at that point that I first began to think about it. But, I was never involved in, uh, student government or, uh, really had much of a political interest, uh, at that point in time, and when I was seventeen.
Question: Thank you, sir [applause]….
A transcript of the second part of the question and answer session will follow.