Things are tough, but hope is right around the corner.
That is one way of interpreting the message Caleb Rowden, majority leader for the Missouri Senate, in which he serves as senator from District 19, delivered to a receptive audience Thursday, Oct. 15, in Centralia.
Speaking to a 21-member audience at the Centralia Kiwanis Club meeting at the Centralia United Methodist Church Rowden opened by saying the world looks very different in January than it does now.
Elected as majority leader in 2018 Rowden said he held what many considered the most influential, but worst job in the capital. “Everything everybody, wants, 196 senators and representatives, comes to my office for at one point or another,” he said. “And anybody with passion and bladder control can hold it up on the floor of the house or senate with a filibuster… Your priority is given up in favor of what is best for the senate.”
He addressed the CARES Act funding and related delays.
“There’s a lot of struggling going on. Nonprofits, schools, city governments and businesses, we’ve got to get that funding to them. We have sent it to the counties.”
Rowden said approximately $38 million had been sent to Boone County. “They have been dealing with it rather slowly and we’ve started pushing them on that a little. There’s a lot of folks who are struggling, specifically in the small business and non-profit realms. I don’t know how those people are seeing straight.”
He said the next 18 to 24 months look good, “but we’re still figuring things out. We are beginning to understand what the world looks like.”
Which, Rowden said was a problem because, from his perspective there is a lot of long-term planning happening, “most of that is term-limits.”
“We need to be addressing thing in an eight- to 10-year window, but there is not a lot of long-term vision… We need to engage with the people at the grass-roots level, talk about and learn what post-COVID life will look like.”
That, he said included examining the long term impact on schools, and downtown real estate. “Once you had, 1,700, 1,800 in a building and now they are never coming back, because of mobile officing, and a whole host of things, some of them we understand, some of them we don’t yet.”
One of Rowden’s goals, he said, is to “engage with everybody, from the grass-roots to the senate: “Understand where we are and where we need to be and what we need to do to turn the age.”
That brought him back to the concern of what post-COVID life would look life, “largely the same,” Rowden said, “but different. There will be some things, some challenges we can turn into opportunities if we do it right.”
Returning to planning, he said the short term reality for everybody included budget implications.
When calculating this the budget, he said the state predicted an eight percent drop in state revenue. “But as we sit here today we are up about 32 percent and that sounds really, really good. It’s not that good, but it is good. The thing to remember is that we moved the April 15 tax date to July 15. So the tax day that was supposed to be in last fiscal year ended up in this fiscal year. So fiscal year 21 actually has two tax days in it. If you discount that in the state revenue calculation, we are about even, the level of funding, income for the state.”
That, Rowden said, was better than the seven or eight percent decrease the state had projected.
“There’s some caution optimism we can sidestep what we thought was going to be really, really, bad… There’s a lot of wait-and-see, particularly on those underlying thanks how COVID has impacted things, particularly private industry and how that will impact the state budget, maybe in six months, maybe in a year, what that kind of outcome looks like.”
The pandemic he said, has made it a weird time to be in politics. “Jefferson City is a lot different than what peoples’ vision of politics, most of which form from on what they see in DC and DC is stupid and completely messed up.”
Jefferson City’s legislators, he said were all part time and had jobs outside of their house or senate seats.
“Most folks are retired or have some other job they go back to… Generally speaking we get along. The make up in the senate is there are 34 senators, 23 Republicans, 10 Democrats and one vacancy,” Rowden said.
“Generally speaking we get along, most everything, 91 percent of the votes we took in 2019 were bipartisan votes.”
Regarding Washington DC, he said, “I think their mindset is everything is so tribal, militantly right and left, that we’ve just lost track of what normal political discourse looks like.”
Rowden said that it has made it tough to be in his role. “I think everybody’s got to share the blame for it. Our party’s got some blame in it and so does the other party. I think we need to be honest about that.”
He said he could not control what the president tweets, or the opposing candidate says. “But I can control what I do. That’s the one thing I’ve really tried to do.”
One of the things Rowden says drives him now, is worrying what type of world his seven- and two-year-old children are going to grow up in.
“Fiscal realities and all those things, but it is the reality that people don’t understand how you can disagree with someone and not hate them. There are people and that is their world view… It boggles my mind… That’s the part that worries me even more about my kids. What will the political discourse look like 15 years from now… That’s what keeps me going. Is knowing I’ve got a chance to make a difference for my kids, for your kids. If you make
even a little bit of a mark there, it’s worth it.”
He took questions from the audience, which led him to say he was against Amendment 3, in part because it would distort local districts in redrawing them in a way to make them “partisanly fair, were they are drawn to include an equal amount of the other political party.
He said it would hurt the representation of rural districts. “They will look and feel a lot different than they do now,” because, he said contiguous towns will not necessarily be represented by people that live in the area.
“And I honestly don’t think you can find a gerrymandered district in Missouri, I think this is a solution looking for a problem.” He said the drive for the amendment was financed by former attorney general Eric Holder and other out-of-of state interests.
“Nationally the Democratic party has moved away from what it once was,” Rowden said. “The only way you can gain more seats in a red state is to change the way you draw the map.”