Missouri Attorny General Chris Koster was the keynote speaker on Saturday evening for the opening session of Boys State on the campus of the University of Central Missouri in Warrensburg. After his speech Attorney General Koster took questions from the Boys State audience:
…Attorney General Chris Koster (D): Um, there have been bills for, uh, drug testing, uh, that have gone before the legislature. Uh, and I think to some degrees some of them may have passed. Um, but, the, the biggest Medicaid development, of course, is going to be the Affordable Care Act which is, the U.S. Supreme Court is going to decide on in about, uh, seven to ten days. Uh, and it will be the biggest event in the Medicaid world and probably in American politics to occur between now and the election, the biggest single event. And so the smartest people, uh, in the entire country have no idea, I think, how, exactly how this decision is gonna come down. But in terms of, of events that are likely to touch Medicaid, uh, and effect both the things that the people in this room are highly interested in and, and the future of our health care system that decision next week is gonna be huge.
Question: Uh, what is your favorite part about your job?
Attorney General Koster: I am an old prosecutor. Um, how many folks in this room are from Cass County? Can I see some hands? Fair number. Very impressed. Uh, so I used to be Prosecuting Attorney of Cass County from nineteen ninety-four to two thousand and four. And then I went into the state Senate which, so, for the first teen years of my career I was involved in, in the prosecution of the laws of this state, just straight ahead law enforcement. Then, from two thousand four to two thousand and eight I was involved in a much more political arena, which was the Missouri State Senate. Now as Attorney General I think what I like the most is the balance of prosecution on the one hand and policy on the other, because it actually, uh, it seems to be in synch with both sides of my personality. I get to, to go in to court, I was in court about a year ago prosecuting a, a homicide in Kansas City and, so I get to go in and be the prosecutor that I, I wanted to be growing up. But I still get to involve myself in, uh, public policy issues. So I think that the answer to the question is really the balance between policy and prosecution, policy and law enforcement that, uh, makes me enjoy it the most.
Question: Uh, to start off, I’d like to thank you for coming to speak to us today, Attorney General Koster, um [crosstalk]…
Attorney General Koster: It’s my [inaudible] to be here. You actually, you would be, the members of political community in, throughout this state feel very, very strongly about this, uh, organization and its success, past, present, and future. And so when this organization calls and, and you will find this yourself when they call upon you in the future, uh, to contribute back to future generations, uh, you will feel the same pull that all of us feel. Governor [Jay] Nixon will be here tomorrow. Tomorrow is Father’s Day, right. Governor Nixon, who is the father of two young men will be here on Father’s Day because of how strongly he feels about the success of this organization. So, um, I, I appreciate the thanks but, honestly, it’s my thanks to you for getting the invitation and allowing me to be here with you.
Question: [….] I wanted to know, I know you used to be a Republican and then later switched parties to become a Democrat. And I know, I wanted to know, um, what your motivation was behind that, if it was an ideological switch or, um, something different.
Attorney General Koster: It was, when I was in the Missouri Senate there were issues of concern that I had around stem cell research, which was probably the biggest motivating factor. In two thousand and five, which was, so that was six, seven years ago, um, in two thousand and five we had a major debate in this state over the future of stem cell research. Now my dad, uh, was a, who I mentioned in the speech, but what I didn’t mention was that he was a Type I diabetic. Um, he developed diabetes when he was eighteen years old and he died at fifty-seven. And so, when the effort came forward from the Republican Party in this state to criminalize stem cell research, research that would have the ability and the possibility of changing the future for young men and women who are growing up with the same type of disease that my dad had. To criminalize it and to take doctors who we were recruiting to Washington University and to Stowers Institute in Kansas City, to take those doctors from, who were coming here from Harvard, from Paris, from London to do some of the most, in my opinion, the most important research in the world, and we were gonna turn their work into something that violated criminal laws of this state I found myself on the other side of an ideological divide. Now, the question splits the State of Missouri about fifty fifty and I, I don’t begrudge anyone who hold a different opinion on the topic their opinion. But my opinion started to move me in a direction that began to separate me on a, a number of different issues from the, the conservative base of the, the far conservative base of the Republican Party.
Let me explain one other thing about the mechanics of politics in our state. In my opinion, this is just one man’s opinion, and so don’t, I mean, there are Republicans and Democrats and independents in the room, just one man’s opinion. If politics are the, the range of political expression in our state was a football field and it ran from end zone to end zone then I came to the opinion that the party with which I was formerly affiliated was playing a game basically inside the red zone to the goal line of the right side of the field. And so as a policy maker within that party you had to come up with solutions that fit inside the red zone, from the goal line to the twenty yard line.
The Democratic Party is, they call it a big tent party, but what I like about it is that it allows you to come up with a range of solutions that really span from goal line to goal line. So if a truly conservative solution is the right way to go on a given problem the Democratic Party largely gives you the freedom to pursue that. And if a solution that is left of center is the best solution for a particular problem the Democratic Party certainly doesn’t begrudge you that as well.
I changed parties, in addition to the stem cell issue and for a few other reasons that are more, to, uh, detailed, probably, to go into tonight. I changed parties because I wanted to get up every day and use my best judgment from goal line to goal line and not within a certain relatively limited range of, of options. And I just felt that the Democratic Party offered me that.
Question: [….] Obviously a, a great opening, um, telling us, uh, how you got to be where you are today, but, um, my question was to you, was, uh, as district attorney was that all that you, Attorney General, pardon me, uh, was
that your, your goal from, say, high school or grade school, did you always want to be that, or did you have different aspirations?
Attorney General Koster: I grew up the son of a sports writer and I wanted to be a sports announcer when I was real young. In fact, uh, Joe Buck, everybody here knows who Joe Buck is, right? [voices: “Yeah.”] So Joe Buck and I grew up, basically, together and knew each other from the time we were ten or eleven years old. Um, and so he has my chosen career. Um, I became interested in public policy and in government when I interned during law school for the Attorney General’s Office in about nineteen eighty-six eighty-seven. And then from nineteen eighty-nine forward I worked at, as a law student, almost full time, at the Missouri Attorney General’s Office, got a chance to see the incredible work that it does helping the lives of people. I was down in the boot heel earlier today, there’s been a lot of, uh, violence, uh, in certain portions of the boot heel lately, gun violence. We were down meeting with concerned citizens and clergy and law enforcement, uh, in Mississippi County. And when I was in law school I, I, I had a, an opportunity to see what this office was about and what it could do and so I, I think that I, I fell in love with it, uh, at that point in time. The office, let me tell you, tell another story that I think is appropriate for this office. The office also has a great history behind it. I mean, there were from both political parties, there have been extraordinary, uh, bright people who have worked in this office during, uh, previous years. From the Republican Party you had individuals like Jack Danforth and John Ashcroft and Kit Bond who all worked in the Missouri Attorney General’s Office. On the Democratic side of the aisle you had individuals like Senator Tom Eagleton and, for sixteen years, Governor Jay Nixon, who occupied the chair that I am privileged to work in every day. So the office has great history behind it and that was one of the things I think that, um, caught my attention when I was not much older than you are.
Question: [….] As someone who’s run for Attorney General, I was wondering if you had any advice for someone who is also planning on running for Attorney General, the theoretical fifty-first state, uh, Missouri Boys State, and if you, possible to offer an endorsement as well. [laughter]
Attorney General Koster: I’m gonna hold my endorsement for a little longer. Uh, and so it, the advice, you’re asking for advice for running for Attorney General? [question: “Yes, sir.”] Put other people before your own interest. Which is actually the best advice for anybody who is in politics. Um, if you put other, if you put your interests in front of other people’s interests they will, people will see through you and figure you out real quick. And as long as all of you and me, it’s good advice for me, too, uh, keep a sense of service oriented leadership you should, you know, maintain a good straight line to walk and, and people will sense that as well. Uh, so, every day get up and say that this is not about me, it’s for other people, I’m doing this to help make other people’s lives a little better. And that should keep everybody on the straight and narrow.
Question: [….] So you’ve been reading papers for obviously a pretty long time, so you’ve watched, uh, the growth of, you know, Twitter journalism, you know [Attorney General Koster: “Right.”] over the last half decade. And so, I was kind of wondering what you think of that, both as a reader, uh, an avid reader of newspapers and as a subject of, uh, you know, some scrutiny from journalistic sources.
Attorney General Koster: I don’t have a very high opinion of it. Um, I think that it is, it moves too quickly , there is not enough analysis, it tends to focus on gossip rather than policy. But going back to, I think, a more substantive side of the question, and that is, why is a newspaper better, why is reading a single newspaper better than reading news on the Internet. And because, and that is because the, the electronic news that you receive, um, over the Internet is not filtered by a human being in a news department that places a prism or perspective over the world and organizes it with a human mind. Most of the news that you see on the Internet is generated through computer, uh, assimilators. And the most hit on stories become the lead stories and the top stories. And there’s not human interaction that organizes it in an intelligent way. And what makes the Wall Street Journal great and what makes the New York Times great is they’ve got extraordinary editorial boards that every day have a meeting and organize the world’s events before it hits your computer screen. You can read it on your computer, that’s not the issue at all. But the issue is, you don’t have time in your world to organize the mass of information that is out there in front of you. But the editorial board of whatever newspaper you find most relevant to your life does have that time. And that’s what makes the difference. And Twitter, you know, the, Twitter’s I guess a great thing, I, I don’t have a strong opinion on it, uh, but the, the new media does not organize the world in those same, with the same thoughtfulness that a great newspaper staff does. [applause]
Sorry, Michael. [laughter] We’ve got a member of the new media right over here.
Question: [….] I know there’s a lot of controversy over the Affordable Healthcare Act and I have two questions regarding it. First of all, um, how does, how do, what position do you take on this act and, uh, how does Missouri on this act, that’s my first question. And then, uh, I know this is kind of looking at the future a bit, but do you think it’s going to be repealed or, uh, kept?
Attorney General Koster: Well, my opinion happens to coincide with the briefs that we filed in the U.S. Supreme Court, uh, not surprisingly. There were thirty-seven states that have filed, essentially have filed paper work on this issue. Twenty-six of the states in the country have said that the mandate, which is the subject obviously of most of the controversy, that the mandate is unconstitutional and that the mandate is not severable from the rest of the bill. And so when the mandate goes down the entire bill goes down. Twenty-six states of the thirty-seven states have filed briefs and paper work that follow that line of thinking. Ten states took exactly the opposite position. Ten states said that the mandate is constitutional and the entirety of the bill, therefore, is fine and should be upheld. Missouri is the only state in the country of the thirty-seven who have opined on the issue to have filed briefs with the Eleventh Circuit in Atlanta and the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington to state that the mandate is unconstitutional but that the law should be severed, could be, can be severed and should be severed from the rest of the bill. That was the opinion of the Eleventh Circuit. Now, that is not my political opinion. That is my legal opinion. And the, my belief is that the twenty-six state that are to the right of me and the eleven, ten states that are to the left of me, um, have allowed too much politics into their drafting. Um, now that’s my legal analysis. The Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals, which is the case that went up to the U.S. Supreme Court, agrees with the State of Missouri’s general opinion on this topic. Missouri is the only state which has written a brief consistent with the Eleventh Circuit opinion.
It is going to be a very close call, what happens in Washington either next week or the week after that. My belief is that Missouri’s legal analysis is the most likely outcome based on the history of the case law over the l
ast seventy-five years and that the Supreme Court is more likely, than any of the other two possibilities, to strike down the mandate and then to sever the bill, uh, from the, severe the mandate from the rest of the law. Then I would say the second most likely outcome may be that the entire law, uh, is struck by the court. And the third most likely outcome is that the entire law is upheld. But these are very, very close questions. And this, literally, the smartest law professors in the country are speculating, uh, as to what the nine individuals on the court are going to do. And almost all of the analysis is that the decision will be very close, falling five four in one or the other direction.
Question: [….] You talked essentially about having to be informed about national and foreign issues here and just in Missouri and I was wondering as Attorney General of just Missouri you have a special position to influence national, uh, events and news or around the world.
Attorney General Koster: Do, are you asking me do I or…
Question: Yeah, are you given like a position of like influence or like as just, uh, Attorney General of Missouri do you have more of a power, uh, in national news.
Attorney General Koster: Well, it’s, it’s good that this question came on the heels of the other question because there’s probably no better example of attorney generals influencing national policy than has occurred in the Affordable Care Act situation. Uh, the, the litigation began with the twenty-six attorney generals, uh, filing lawsuit, I think the, started with, uh, fewer than that, maybe sixteen or eighteen filed a lawsuit in Florida. Um, so attorney generals really have done more than any other single group in shaping the early understanding of the Affordable Care Act in the federal courts for the, in, in the district courts and then the, and then in the court of appeals and really now in the, in the U.S. Supreme Court as well. So, that’s one very good example and, and I went through the analysis of where the, the thirty-seven states are.
The other arena in which attorney generals have played a leading role is in the mortgage crisis. And earlier this year the fifty attorney generals agreed, uh, with a, entered a settlement with the five largest banks in the country to bring restitution back to our individual states for the, uh, the ills committed during the mortgage meltdown and for the wrongs, uh, that may have been committed as a result of, uh, different mortgage activities and the way that mortgage documents were handled around the country.
So, I would argue that the two biggest, uh, issues of the last four years, which would be the, the recession led by the mortgage meltdown and the Affordable Care Act and the country’s interpretation of that have probably more influenced by the fifty attorney generals in the United States than by any other single group.
Question: [….] I was just curious to what your opinion is on President Obama’s recent quote, the private sector is doing fine.
Attorney General Koster: I think that on his recent quote that the private sector is doing fine, uh, job growth has been anemic, everyone knows that job growth has been anemic. Um, the private sector is not doing fine. Um, I think the President probably would take those words back if he could. And, and reshape them. I think he was, I’m not exactly sure of the larger point he was trying to make but my guess is if he could grab those words and bring them back he would.
Question: [….] I just wanted to ask, kind of referring to your speech, um, what particular connections do you look for when you read the newspaper every morning and how do you apply those connections to what you do during the rest of your day as Attorney General.
Attorney General Koster: Well, the, um, I usually start with the opinion page. And, and I find the opinion page, um, I find the opinion page is incredibly informative. And it helps me put a prism on the day’s news. Then I go back to the front section of the newspaper, uh, in the, in the New York Times what is now, uh, typically referred to, well it used to be the front page but is now typically referred to as top news. So I’ll go, um, I’ll go opinion pages, then to top news, then to world news and then, because I’m almost fifty, I go to the obituaries. [laughter] You’ll understand that some day. Um, it’s a strange transition that happens about the time you’re forty-five, I don’t know, it seems to click. And then all of a sudden you read the obituaries. Uh, and then I go back to the, uh, the national news, um, and then through sports and arts and whatnot. Um, you know, I think that probably what I look for most acutely right now would be economically driven. Um, I, I’m looking for a better level of understanding about the economic crisis that the country faces, about the, about job growth, uh, or the lack thereof, about how the banks are doing. You know, Missouri’s a, um, Missouri has lagged behind the rest of the country in job creation. And it’s been a, a frustrating part of the economy that, uh, that this region of the country has had to face. And, so, I read a lot out of the, the two federal reserve, uh, districts. The one federal reserve district that does a lot of analysis on basically, in the east, that does a lot of analysis on the economy from, say, Jefferson City to Memphis, so it spans states. And then the other that goes from the center of the state west out to Denver. Uh, so, I would say the main thing I’m looking for right now is economic information. And, and informing my job in terms of where we go in the mortgage crisis, uh, how we deal, where, where, uh, blame should or should not be assigned in terms of fault within the banking industry. Sometimes the banking industry is appropriately blamed, sometimes it is not appropriately blamed. And developing a higher level of understanding of that issue so that I can do my job relative to the mortgage crisis, uh, is, has been a big deal.
Question: [….] What is your philosophy on civil liberties and how much intervention do you think the government should have in people’s personal lives?
Attorney General Koster: That is an awfully broad question. [laughter] Um, I would, I mean, as a, I, I give you, I, unfortunately, to give, to a broad question ‘m gonna give you a broad answer. Um, I believe that the Attorney General’s Office is there to protect civil liberties, uh, and like the majority of Missourians I feel that government intrusion into people’s lives, personal and, and, uh, professional, should be as limited as possible. But to still achieve, we still have to come together in some sense and achieve larger goals. Nobody’s gonna rebuild highway [Interstate] seventy, uh, no business is gonna come in and just rebuild highway seventy. Uh, but it desperately needs rebuilding. So, there are goals, education, uh, higher education, uh, infrastructure, that require all of us to come together and so, to that degree, government has to rally the troops, uh, and, and lead us toward larger goals that Missouri has to, uh, accomplish. But shy of that, I think limited, uh, intervention in our lives is, uh, is what this country was founded on.
Question: [….] I have a couple of questions about, um, education, college education, um, because I attend college in Northwest Missouri State University, um, and my tuition is being raised five thousand dollars more than it was. Um, I’ve heard that Governor Nixon cut college, or the money that they’re giving to colleges by twelve percent. So, we’re the future of the state yet you’re cutting our education.
Attorney General Koster: Well, let me ask you a question. Um, do you, what do you think should be done about that problem, then I’m gonna answer, uh, address the issue, but, uh, what do you think should be done ab
out that? Because we, the government in our state, um, is constitutionally directed to have revenues and expenditures basically equal every year. And so we have various needs out there. Uh, health care needs, higher education needs, agricultural needs, um, public safety needs, we’ve got a Department of Corrections that has to be, um, funded every year. We’ve got thirty thousand prisoners that, uh, are housed in the prisons across the state, uh, for crimes that are committed. So, before I answer the question, what would you advise me to do with regard to increasing state revenue, holding the line on state revenue, or reducing state revenue? And remember, you’re gonna be running for office in the next couple days.
Question: That is an excellent question I do have to admit. Um, but I mean, you, we’re the future of the country, so shouldn’t we be treated [crosstalk]…
Attorney General Koster: Are you gonna answer my question with a question? [laughter]
Question: Yes, I am. [applause]
Attorney General Koster: I answered your question with a question. [applause]
Question: I know. Okay.
Attorney General Koster: My, my response on the tax issue is relatively well known. I agree fully with, uh, the, uh, governor that I am privileged to serve alongside, that’s Governor Nixon who will be here tomorrow, we hold the line on taxes in the State of Missouri. I differ with him on one particular tax and one tax alone, uh, and that is the cigarette tax. I think that the cigarette tax, um, should be raised. Uh, but other than that I think all the other taxes in the State of Missouri should be, um, held and that we need to, uh, look for ways to find cost savings within the larger government to do everything we can to make sure that higher education and other needs of this state are provided for. And in doing such, again start to grow this economy, uh, in a way that revenues will increase as our prosperity increases.
You’re not gonna answer the question, I take it. [laughter]
Question: Nah, seeing as you didn’t answer the question either. [laughter]
Attorney General Koster: I did answer the question. [voices: “No.”] I actually said there’s a, one tax out there I would raise. I went out on a limb.
Question: [….] I wanted to know who’s the biggest motivator in your life. Who made you keep going even when you didn’t feel like keeping on going?
Attorney General Koster: Hmm. My brothers. Um, my mom and dad had four boys in five years and I’m the oldest of the four boys. And so we’re very, very close in age and we’re extremely close friends. And so I, I talk to, there’s one brother I talk to probably two or three times a day. Three times, four times a day. There’s one brother, probably every other day, and there’s one brother I talk to, I don’t know, every three or four days. And we, like all, uh, I don’t know, I’m sure that many of you have brothers that are close in age, we fought in the way that brothers fight. And my dad used to say to us when we were kids and my mom as well, that, be careful who you’re fighting with because these guys that you’re fighting with are gonna be your very, very best friends for your entire life. And, um, my folks were right and they are my very best friends and they’re the ones who I rely on when, if, if everything were to go wrong, uh, those would be the three guys, uh, who make all the difference for me.
One more question I’ve been told.
Question: [….] What is your view currently on Eric Holder, the Attorney General of the United States, on the fast and furious issue and the possible vote to… [Attorney General Koster: “On the what issue?”] Fast and furious, and his supposed refusal to cooperate with Congress and their possible vote on holding him in contempt here in the next couple days.
Attorney General Koster: Um, now there was an article this morning that said he was, uh, looking for a compromise on releasing information around fast and furious. And so, you may know more about this than I do, but my understanding is that there have been developments, woo, glad I read the paper this morning [laughter] , that there have been developments in the last twenty-four hours, uh, yesterday perhaps that, uh, indicates that General Holder is trying to provide Congress with, um, the information that they are looking for, at least some information that they are looking for.
You have now exhausted my knowledge of the topic. [laugh]
Thank you everybody and best of luck to you this week. [applause]