JEFFERSON CITY — Moments after taking the oath of office as Speaker of the House Wednesday, Elijah Haahr reminded his chamber of lawmakers who came before them.
Wednesday marked the beginning of the 100th Missouri General Assembly. Haahr, a Springfield Republican, said the day marked almost exactly 100 years since lawmakers were sworn in in the current Capitol building for the first time.
Haahr said criminal justice reform and business-friendly policies would be major priorities this year. Turning to the Democrats in the room, he said while his party and there’s might not always agree on policy, they do agree on goals.
In an unusual twist, Haahr’s Democratic counterpart is from the same town. House minority leader Crystal Quade said her legislative district shares a border with Haahr’s, so they often find themselves attending the same functions. She said she was excited to hear Republicans endorse criminal justice reform, an issue she said Democrats have pushed for many years.
Quade said Democrats would resist any efforts to overturn decisions Missouri voters made on ballot issues in November. Some Republican lawmakers have proposed enacting a right-to-work law that would let individual counties opt into the policy. Missouri voters in August decisively rejected a state wide right-to-work law. Haahr said it’s something his caucus would look at but he did not indicate whether this would be a priority.
Three mid-Missouri state representatives, all Republicans, were among the class sworn in early Wednesday afternoon. Dave Griffith now holds the 60th House District seat that covers Jefferson City, while Rudy Veit has the 59th District, which includes the rest of Cole County. Both men said it was overwhelming to finally take the oath of office to become state lawmakers.
"It was more overwhelming than I thought it would be to sit in there amongst all the people that went before us," Veit said.
Kent Haden, the newly-elected representative for the 43rd District that covers Audrain and northern Callaway counties, expressed similar sentiments.
"It's been a long time since, when you start running in February," he said. "This was a nice day. We enjoyed it, and I'm looking forward to getting started on the real job."
Asked which issues he would like to focus on, Haden said infrastructure is a major concern for him given the failure in November of a ballot issue to raise the state's fuel tax. He said he also wants to take a look at the redistricting language voters approved as part of Amendment 1, the so-called Clean Missouri amendment. Haden said he worries districts drawn to have an equal number of Republicans and Democrats might not be compact enough, particularly in heavily Republican rural areas and heavily Democratic urban areas.
That issue crosses party lines. Some black lawmakers, including Congressman Lacy Clay, have expressed concern the new redistricting rules could disenfranchise black voters. During the Wednesday afternoon news conference, Quade said Democrats would fight any effort to alter ballot measures approved by voters. Missouri Black Caucus Chair Steven Roberts said the Clean Missouri amendment contained a number of needed reforms but he understood some of the redistricting concerns that have been raised. He said his caucus would have to study alterations to the redistricting language carefully before staking out a position.
Missouri Republicans control 116 House seats and 24 Senate seats, giving them veto-proof majorities in both chambers in addition to control of all but one of the state's executive offices.