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Attorney General Chris Koster at Missouri Boys State

Attorney General Chris Koster at Missouri Boys State: Q and A, part 1

Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster speaking at Boys State on the campus of the University of Central Missouri in Warrensburg.

This is the second and final part of the transcript of the question and answer session at Boys State with Attorney General Chris Koster on Saturday evening:

….Question: …What kind of strategies do you use whenever you’re building a prosecution?

Attorney General Koster: What kind of strategies that, do I use when I’m building a prosecution? Uh, I start, so it’s a legal question, are you planning to go to law school?

Question: …That was one of my plans.

Attorney General Koster: Everybody does it differently. I, uh, learn the case file. Tend to, I want to go see the crime scene. I’ll always go walk the crime scene because I always learn something, uh, by walking a crime scene. And then, actually, I start with my closing argument, so I start with the end. Uh, I don’t write out the closing argument completely, but I want to know what is the goal, where am I gonna to get to in front of the jury.  And so I, I want to know what that story is and how it’s gonna be told and how it impacts, uh, the jury in their ability to decide the issue. Then once I have a sense of what that closing argument is, I work my way backward and try and figure out how am I going to provide the jury with the, uh, the information that they need in order to listen to that story I want to tell them. So I, I work my way backwards.

Question: Thank you. [applause]…

Question: …How would one person go from, after college, to getting to a high office like you have, or how did you go through to reach the Attorney General?

Attorney General Koster: That’s an interesting question, I’ll give you a candid answer. I, uh, I grew up in St. Louis. My dad was a pretty strong father, as a lot of guys, I’m sure, a lot of guys in here have strong fathers.  And my dad was completely against, uh, a political life, or political profession. He thought it was not a wise thing to do. So, coming out of law school I had two job offers, one from a, a St, Louis law firm and one from a Kansas City law firm. And I, five generations , six generations of my family had grown up in St. Louis and my dad, because he was in the media, was relatively well known in town. And so it was just kind of crazy for me to pick up and leave and accept the, the job offer at, uh, in Kansas City. But I, I went over there, I think in part because I, I wanted to try this, but I was probably too afraid to try it under my father’s eye. And I knew that if I went to the western side of the state and I failed then nobody would notice and I could go home. [laughter] Um, but I came over to the western side of the state and, uh, things went well and I, I , and it was a, just by chance,  a terrific thing, uh, for me personally because one of the interesting aspects of Missouri  politics is it’s hard a lot of times for St. Louis government officials to get elected statewide because some to, the stereotype  is that St. Louis politicians tend to concentrate on what happens east of the two-seventy loop and they don’t really think much of the Missouri that’s  outside the two-seventy loop. So, getting my tail outside of St. Louis and representing, uh, a rural portion of the state for four, fourteen years, um, before I became Attorney General was extremely beneficial. Just to kind of get my mindset, uh, closer to the real Missouri than I would have had if stayed in St. Louis. So, I, for me it was a lot of luck and a lot of chance, honestly. Um,  the most traditional way to do it, I suppose, would be to run for state representative. Although I think probably, uh, coming up the prosecutorial ranks, which is what I ended up doing, uh, may be more beneficial.

Question: Thank you. [applause]

Question: …I’d like to know, uh, what part of the newspaper has the biggest impact on your, uh, government job.

Attorney General Koster: Um,  reading the, the political headlines from around the state is sort of a, a mandatory, uh, just a, a daily must.  I, from the Attorney General’s position, since we represent all thirteen , uh, uh, departments of government, the boards, the commissions, the Governor, the statewide officials, the General Assembly, uh, as well as the, essentially, the statutes themselves, um, having a strong sense of what all of the other policy makers on the field are doing at any given point of the day, if I only had one thing I could read, um, every day I suppose it would have to be that. That doesn’t necessarily mean that that’s the most interesting portion. I have a lot, I’ve, uh, had the opportunity to travel a lot in life. Um, and, so reading international, the international section I, uh, find, uh, intellectually gratifying and I, I’d learn a lot about it and I find that, you know, there was a, uh, there was a story. Let me just kind of give you one, a small world story it is. There’s a country in, uh, southern Africa called Malawi and you may have seen, there were two, Malawi’s a country that has had, uh, these extremely punitive laws against the homosexual community that have been in place. And, uh, the, these laws, [inaudible] laws been decried by most every civilized, uh, nation in the world. Uh, and two homosexuals were put in prison for fourteen years. About, uh, I don’t know, two months ago., they, in Malawi. So I’m reading the article and the president of Malawi is a guy named Mutharika, seventy-six year old guy. Rang a bell in my mind, I’ve seen that name before. So I thought, I’ve had Professor Mutharika, it can’t be that my professor is now the president of this African country. Uh, and I, so I quick, google check, turns out that Professor Mutharika who was, uh, one of my professors first year of law school at Washington University, is the younger brother of President Mutharika. And is now taking, has taken a leave of absence from Washington University and is the Minister of Justice, uh, helping his brother run the government.  And the brother, the older brother  just released and furloughed the, uh, the two, and has basically given in to the international  pressure, uh, to change or at least to cut these laws out at their knees. Um, you know it, it’s just amazing how much learning about what’s going on in the rest of the world gives you interesting insights into what is happening here in the United States and, and at times, um, uh, within the state itself. Uh, one other thing it, to answer the question, um, I start every morning with the opinion pages. Um, I usually start with the op-ed, uh, writers, uh, and then go through the editorials. Uh, just because I find the editorials are a really great way to learn what, uh, what issues, even within the front page and the front section of the newspapers, what issues, uh, are really hot in the country. And I, I , so I start with the opinion page, then I go to the front, uh, uh, the front section, the international section, the national section, and then move my way back toward the specific.

Question: Thank you.

Attorney General Koster: Sorry for the long answer. [applause]

Question: Given your readings, your experience, and your education, what do you think are the big issues that affect either the sovereignty or the quality of life for our generation?

Attorney General Koster: Well, probably the budget and how we deal with health care within the budget.
Um, we didn’t have Medicaid, uh, prior to nineteen sixty-seven.  And when Medicaid came into effect, say, in the State of Missouri in nineteen sixty-seven it was just about three and a half percent of the state budget. It was a twenty-seven million dollar line in the nineteen sixty-seven Missouri state budget. You fast forward to, forty years and it’s gone from twenty-seven million to six and a half billion. It’s gone, uh, from three and a half percent of the state budget to thirty percent of the state budget. And so the difference in that, twenty-seven percent, between three and a half percent and thirty percent over that forty years? Everything else in the state budget has had to throw in toward. Higher education, elementary secondary education, Department of Corrections, Department of Agriculture, department of Insurance and Finance, everything has had to give in order to create this, this thirty, uh, percent. That is what is happening in Missouri and every other state in the country. Uh, it’s also happening at the national level with the Medicare budget.  And so, it seems to me that the, the largest, uh, question is how do we deal with controlling health care costs, uh, in the state, uh, and in the country moving forward, That’s the, the biggest question that we’ve got for the rest of my life and for all of your life.

Question: Thank you, sir. [applause]

Attorney General Koster: Okay, last question. They’re telling me.

Question: …This year [at a university], we’ve been asked again and again to increase student fees, which student really can’t do because they can’t afford, but at the same time, the University’s budget is being cut by five point four percent, I believe, but they’re not allowed to increase tuition. How, with the rising cost  of education, does the university continue to run and provide an effective education for our citizenry when we keep getting our budget cut? And what can students do?

Attorney General Koster: Well, that’s the corollary to the answer that the gentleman, uh, that I gave the gentleman over here.  Higher education in the state has sacrificed as much as any department, uh, in state government, any division of state government, over the last decade. In inflation adjusted terms the buying power of the, uh, university system across Missouri has been cut by about forty-five, forty-three, forty-five percent over the last ten years. Um, for the, I think two thousand five or two thousand and six was the first year that student tuition, your individual tuition, when you, you go to one of these state universities, that your individual tuition would, would cover more than half of the total cost of your education. So, we’re moving from a system of public education to a system quasi-private or quasi-public education.  And there is absolutely no evidence in, in the General Assembly or in the state’s budget, that that march is getting close to stopping. My fear is that ten years, fifteen years from now, that your tuition or your, you know, a younger brother’s tuition, is going to have to cover sixty or seventy or seventy-five percent of, uh, the, the total education costs that, that you’re gonna have to bear.  And so one of the things which we’re trying to do is explain what is going on with the state’s budget and to try and figure out how to balance, uh, other entitlement programs with the ongoing costs of things that all of us value. That state budget is nothing but a representation of our values.  And one of your values and one my values is providing a real, true public education. And it’s time that all citizens of Missouri step back and ask themselves whether we are even coming close to accomplishing that.  And I think most fair minded people would say that we’re not.

Thank you very much.  It’s an honor to be here with you tonight. [applause]