Attorney General Chris Koster (D) spoke at the Jackson County Democratic Committee’s Truman Days dinner in Kansas City on Saturday night. He spoke on Senator Jolie Justus (D) and the Missouri Nondiscrimination Act:
Attorney General Chris Koster (D): [on cell phone] Are you there? All right.
So, when I learned that, uh, Senator [Jolie] Justus was not gonna be in attendance tonight because she is on her way to, I think, Turkey, I stepped outside and I called her and I said, Oh my gosh, where are you, my speech is about you. [laughter] And, uh, so with the help of Jeremy LaFaver, uh, we called Jolie and Jolie is right there. The telephone is one, she can hear us. [laughter] So, good evening, it’s, it’s great to be [cheers, applause]…
First of all, it’s great to be back with Kansas City’s Democrats. Uh, where are my Cass County people? [cheers] All right. An unheralded minority. [laughter]
Well, another legislative session is behind us, has come and gone. And it is my ninth, believe it or not, in Jefferson City. And over time you learn the rhythms of the legislative session. First, what happens is that it appears that the world is going to come to an end as we know it. [laughter] Threats and compromises lead to frustration. But occasional victories do occur. And then, mercifully, at six p.m. on the first Friday after the second Monday in May, it all suddenly stops. We’d all shake hands and shake our heads, we’d go home to different town across this great state, and in the days that followed we asked ourselves whether Missouri is a better place for our efforts.
Occasionally there are legislative accomplishments that end with important laws, and front page stories in the Kansas City Star, and bill signings in the Governor’s office, and conversations in barber shops across Missouri about how much better off or worse off we are because of those damn politicians. [laughter] But there are other kinds of legislative accomplishments that go largely unnoticed. They end with no new law being passed, no entry in the statute books, or water cooler debate. And while historically and culturally important, they are, none the less, completely missed by this morning’s [Kansas City] Star and nearly every other news outlet in Missouri. Yet because of these unnoticed accomplishments we ask, when we ask ourselves whether Missouri is a better place for our efforts our answer is a resounding yes.
I swear to you on the twenty years of my life that I have dedicated to this profession one of those largely unnoticed acts that ranks among the most impressive legislative accomplishments that I have ever seen occurred last night just before dinner. And I want to take a minute with you tonight to respect it. Last night at five forty-five p.m. with fifteen minutes left in the legislative, legislative session of two thousand and thirteen Senator Jolie Justus passed the Missouri Nondiscrimination Act. [applause, cheers] It was an attempt to make it illegal to fire someone simply because they are gay, to make it illegal to refuse to rent a hotel room to someone simply because they are gay. She passed it through the floor of the Missouri Senate. Unfortunately there was not time left to pass it through the House floor on the other side of the Capitol and so it did not become law. But the fact that here, in our home of Missouri, such a measure was taken up in an overwhelmingly Republican Senate and passed by a vote of nineteen to eleven is deserving of extraordinary respect and recognition. The vote itself has been years in the making. And the efforts of Senator Joan Bray should not go unrecognized tonight. [applause]
The Missouri Nondiscrimination Act, or MONA as it is called, has been filed every year for over a decade. For many years the legislature would not even give it a committee hearing. Then, about five years ago the Senate and the House began giving the bill committee hearings, but never considered it, passing it, never considered passing it out of committee or bringing it to the floor.
Last night in the Missouri Senate was the first time that MONA was ever given serous floor time in either chamber, the first time it was ever given a recorded vote in either chamber, and the first time it was ever passed in either chamber. Every Democrat in the Senate voted in favor of it. And so to Senators [applause]… And so to Senators Justus, Chappelle-Nadal, Curls, Holsman, Keaveny, LeVota, McKenna, Nasheed, Sifton and Walsh we say thank you. [applause, cheers] And to nine Republicans, Senators Dempsey, Kehoe, Parson, Pearce, Romine, Sater, Schaaf, Silvey and Wallingford we say thank you as well. [applause]
The importance of human relationships in politics never ever ceases to awe me. If you look at the seating chart of the floor of the Missouri Senate you will notice that Republican Senators Sater, Pierce, Wallingford and Dempsey all sit in close proximity to Senator Justus. And as someone who spent four years on that floor I can attest to you that the respect and cooperation that comes from mere proximity is strong.
Other stories of bipartisan relationships are every bit as important but will not ever be found in the recorded vote. Senator Ed Emery, an opponent of the bill who could have ended the bill’s chances with the shortest filibusters allowed the measure to be brought to a vote. Senator Ron Richard, the majority floor leader and an opponent of the bill, twice gave the bill valuable floor time on the last critical day of session. And Senator Brad Lager, another opponent of the bill, allowed his own bill, his own piece of legislation, to be overlaid with Senator Justus’ substitute language so that a measure to grant equality in hiring and housing could be given a chance.
All of these things, seen and unseen, happened because of Senator Jolie Justus and the other members of the Democratic caucus, because of the relationships that they have forged, and ultimately, because of the inherent dignity of their cause.
The Democratic caucus teases me sometimes because as an old timer and an alumnus of the Missouri Senate I place undue emphasis on each of them referring to one another in, at least in formal settings and public settings, by their formal, formal titles. They are Senators. They should refer to one another as such. They represent the hopes and aspirations of hundreds of thousands of people. And yesterday afternoon under the leadership of an extraordinary woman they lived up to the titles we have given them.
About five years ago, I was at Black Tie, which is a gay and lesbian dinner held every year in Springfield, Missouri. And one of the things in my opinion that makes Black Tie sort of a unique event is that, unlike the HRC annual dinner in St. Louis or even the Victory Fund brunch here in Kansas City, which are both LGBT events, the Black Tie dinner has a surprisingly high number of straight attendees every year from the general community, and the business community and even actually from the religious community. Which when you consider that the dinner is held in Springfield, Missouri [laughter], I think actually breaks down stereotypes, certain stereotypes, in a very positive way.
Anyway, here’s what struck me about this dinner five years ago. About half way through the night the master of ceremonies of the event asked everyone who was gay in the room to stand, which is how I knew that there were a lot of straight people in the room. [laughter] And then the MC asked all the people who were standing to give what essentially became a standing ovation to all of the straight allies who were there sharing the dinner with them that night. And it really, it really hit me. And it’s something that I’ve remembered in kind of profound way for the last five years, which is this concept of straight allies and the fact that I, along with all of other people who were there that night, were being thanked for being one of them. First of all, not that’s its really that important, I really appreciated being thanked. Second, this term straight ally made me realize, maybe for the first time, that I was being thanked by the LGBT community for being more than an attendee, more than a sympathizer or a friend, I was being thanked for being something called a straight ally. And that gratitude, that acknowledgement that our effort as straight allies is a critical component to this progress, which was an important moment for me as a person, I suppose also as a political figure too, but more importantly for me as a person.
Jolie Justus has been a Senator on behalf of the State of Missouri for seven years. She is a woman in an institution that is predominantly male. She is gay in a legislative body that is thirty three thirty-fourths straight. [laughter] She is the first openly gay member of the Missouri Senate. What happened last night is evidence that sometimes the most impressive legislative work is the quiet and slow procession of a river that over time can move shorelines of prejudice. What happened last night was the result of woman’s grace and patience and gentle advocacy that was so subtle that few even knew over those seven years that it was occurring. What happened last night was that for the first time straight allies, many of whom were Republicans, came out of their straight ally closets and were counted when they did not have to be. [applause]
As though we needed another example of the bad and unintended consequences of term limits we can add this to the mounting litany, profound social change does not occur on a legislative calendar. Social change is not neatly packaged into four and eight year increments. The fact that, the, the fact that Jolie Justus moved the mountain is proof that mountains can be moved. The fact that term limits may rob this woman of a chance to complete our journey together, that we are more likely to lose our way without her than with her, is just the one hundredth reason why this term limits law should change. [applause]
But that is for another day. For tonight let me just say that Senator Jolie Justus, in her seven years of representing us, has given Democrats and Missourians a reason to believe that our government can work.
Thank you. [applause]
That’s the kind of speech a governor makes.