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Politically Speaking: Sen. Schaefer on state budget, Planned Parenthood and his attorney general bid

Kurt Schaefer
Jason Rosenbaum | St. Louis Public Radio

On the latest edition of Politically Speaking, St. Louis Public Radio’s Jason Rosenbaum and Jo Mannies welcome back Sen. Kurt Schaefer to the program. The Columbia Republican, who usually sports cowboy boots, last was a guest of the show in late 2014.

Schaefer was first elected to his Senate seat in 2008 and re-elected in 2012. He’s the chairman of the powerful Senate Appropriations Committee, which is partly responsible for writing the state’s budget. The General Assembly provided final approval to the multi-bill document last Thursday, more than two weeks before its constitutional deadline.

Schaefer confirmed during the podcast that legislators wanted to force Gov. Jay Nixon to take action, including any line-item vetoes, before the session ends May 13. They want to attempt any veto overrides before leaving town and not have to wait until the September veto session.

Lately, Schaefer has been in the eye of numerous political storms. He heads a special Senate panel, the interim Sanctity of Life Committee, that’s aggressively gone after the St. Louis-based branch of Planned Parenthood, which operates the state's only abortion clinic. Schaefer also led the fight to force the MU hospital to revoke the refer-and-follow privileges it had allowed the physician who had been performing abortions at the Columbia Planned Parenthood clinic, which is operated by the Kansas City-based arm of Planned Parenthood.

Schaefer also has been an outspoken critic of how the University of Missouri System handled student protests last year — and was among the lawmakers demanding the firing of now-former professor Melissa Click.

And as he runs for attorney general, Schaefer has gotten into an increasingly acrimonious war of words with GOP rival Josh Hawley. Hawley, who is on leave as a University of Missouri law professor, has contended that Schaefer’s recent fervor against abortion rights is insincere — especially based on his statements when Schaefer was first running for the Senate in 2008.

Among Schaefer's comments during the show:

  • He faulted "lack of leadership'' and "bone-headed decisions" at the University of Missouri-Columbia for allowing last fall's protests to get out of control, and to ignite legislative anger that led to initially severe budget cuts. Schaefer says the bulk of those cuts have been restored, except for $3.7 million from administration expenses. He was critical of the university's recent cuts in its maintenance and janitorial staffs, which Schaefer said was punishing those who had no role in last fall's unrest.
  • He remains critical of Planned Parenthood and predicts that the courts will back up the General Assembly's decision to bar Planned Parenthood from collecting any money from the Medicaid program, which is funded with state and federal dollars. The agency had been getting paid through the federal portion, but legislators replaced federal dollars with state dollars in the Medicaid allocation for women's health services.
  • He reaffirmed his opposition to any public hospitals granting referral privileges to physicians at clinics that perform abortions, saying that violates the state law barring the use of any state dollars for abortion.
  • He says his stance on abortion has been consistent throughout his tenure, and that his focus has been on "the rule of law." Back in 2008, Schaefer told Rosenbaum (who was working for the Columbia Tribune at the time) that he thought "abortion has been a settled issue in this state." He also said Missouri had reached a point where "we can get past the issue—– and get to the more important issues."
  • He also heads a panel that has been looking at the 2014 events in Ferguson, although it has only held two hearings. One of the Ferguson Commission's recommendations calls for the attorney general to name a special prosecutor when there is a police shooting. Schaefer doesn't entire agree. "I don't believe in every single case out of the box, that the attorney general should get involved."
  • He reaffirmed his belief that his courtroom background and his legal expertise, as a former special assistant U.S. attorney and a former staff on the attorney general's staff, makes him the most qualified among the four major Republican and Democratic contenders for Missouri attorney general.

Follow Jason Rosenbaum on Twitter: @jrosenbaum

Follow Jo Mannies on Twitter: @jmannies

Follow Kurt Schaefer on Twitter: @KurtUSchaefer

Music: "When Doves Cry" by Prince

Jason is the politics correspondent for St. Louis Public Radio.
Jo Mannies is a freelance journalist and former political reporter at St. Louis Public Radio.