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How Missouri House Democrats Are Pushing For Progressive Change, Despite Being Outnumbered

Carolina Hidalgo
St. Louis Public Radio file photo
House Minority Leader Crystal Quade (center) gives the Democratic Party response to the governor's State of the State address in January. Quade hopes to revive her party and prepare for the next election.

Democrats might be down, but party leadership says they’re not out in the Missouri House of Representatives — despite being outnumbered more than 2-to-1.

In fact, Republicans hold a trifecta, controlling all three branches of government. Democrats lost control of the House in 2003, and haven't controlled the Senate since 2000. But with U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill losing her seat in November's election, House Minority Leader Crystal Quade said it's time to rebuild the party. 

And the second-term Democrat from Springfield wants to be part of that process.

“We’re really in a stage of rebuilding, rebranding who we are as a party and making sure folks understand what we’re fighting for,” Quade said on a recent episode of KCUR's Up To Date.

Quade and Republican Speaker of the House Elijah Haahr are the first millennials to lead their parties. With a 114-47 majority, House Republicans could essentially ignore Democratic demands entirely, but Quade said Missouri residents are warm to their ideas, and the GOP is turning that way, too.

“Criminal justice reform is a great example of where the Republican majority is finally pushing that issue that our folks have been working on for so very long,” she said.

Another controversial issue looming over the legislature is what the GOP is calling the most restrictive abortion bill in the country. Democrats could try to filibuster, and Quade said that the bill's non-exemption for rape and incest concerns to members on both sides of the aisle. 

“There are a lot of issues that are obviously controversial that we don’t agree on, but there’s a lot of issues we do … it’s again about building those relationships,” she said.

Credit Jim Bowen / Flickr - CC
Flickr - CC
Republicans have controlled Missouri's House and Senate for the last 17 years.

Democrats are frustrated with Republican efforts to undo some of last year's voter-passed initiatives, such as Amendment 1 and the minimum wage increase. Republicans have implied voters didn’t understand the wording of the measures, Quade said, accusations which insult Missourians' intelligence.

“It’s frustrating that so very quickly … they’re trying to undo everything that was done," she said.

When working across the political divide isn’t possible, Quade said Democrats' job is to stand up and be vocal about their opposition.

“Obviously the numbers are not going to be in our favor," she said, "so it’s making sure that not only are we trying our hardest in Jefferson City ... but we’re also making sure that our constituents across the state know what’s happening … and the reasons why we don’t support them or do support them.”

Being so outnumbered is daunting when it comes to progress, Quade said, adding that the party is positive and will continue to work for their constituents.

“While we may not pass bills," she said, "(or) get them on the governor’s desk, (but) we get amendments on, we clean up language, we fund things in the budget,” Quade said.

Credit Don Ipock / File photo
File photo
Mike Parson is serving his first full legislative session as Missouri governor.

Gov. Mike Parson has a part to play, too, and Quade said Democrats have a much better working relationship with him than with his predecessor, Eric Greitens.

"He meets with our members to find ways that we can work together, so I've got to give him that," she said.

Those little successes are important to celebrate, Quade said, and making progress is more important than who receives the credit for it.

Correction: Quade's statement on the Missouri Democratic party has been updated for accuracy.

House Minority Leader Crystal Quade spoke with Steve Kraske on a recent episode of KCUR's Up To Date. Hear their entire conversation here.

Elizabeth Ruiz is an intern for KCUR's Up To Date. Contact her at elizabeth@kcur.org.