Missouri State Representative Crystal Quade: How One Badass Progressive Is Making Trouble in a State Capitol Deep in T***p-land
The recent happenings of Jefferson City, Missouri’s General Assembly have been making national headlines. From Representative Mike Moon who videoed himself beheading a chicken to make a point about abortion to Senate Bill 5 which allows employers to fire employees who use birth control to the dangerous Senate Bill 43 which grants employers the legal protection to discriminate against female employees, LGBTQ+ employees, and people of color, Missouri’s recent legislation is intended to target women and the state’s most vulnerable citizens. Along with her progressive colleagues, State Representative Crystal Quade’s wondrously combative presence continuously counteracts these voices of oppression in a strongly red state.
Out of Missouri’s 163 State representatives, 46 are democrats and only 38 are women. As a freshman legislator, Crystal Quade courageously calls out sexism and ageism on a daily basis while at the same time fighting the constant assaults on women’s healthcare and minorities by the Republican legislature. Despite being in the minority, Quade continues to show up and give voice to Missouri’s most marginalized. In addition to being a brilliant legislator, Quade is also a wife and mother. Recently voted Captain Springfield, Quade’s charisma has made her a local celebrity, a role that she graciously fills by her tireless community service and her recent donation of a bubble machine to one of Springfield’s favorite local breweries.
When you were a kid what did you want to be when you grew up?
How did you decide you wanted to go into politics?
I had never paid attention to politics at all. My parents are not active people in the political world and it really wasn’t until college that I started to pay attention to politics. When George W. Bush was president I very quickly realized that I was a liberal, but it really was when I was studying social work. I took a policy course and really learned about the government and how all of the decisions that are made affect what social workers can and can’t do for their clients––and so I decided to do my practicum in Jefferson City to try to get a real feel for what government is. When I got to Jefferson City I realized that this was what my long term goals were.
This question is kind of for me, but I think a lot of young women could relate to this: coming into your own as a young woman in a male dominated field is so tricky. Do you have any advice for how to be assertive and how to be confident in finding your voice?
It is hard; it is still hard. I waited tables for a really long time and I bartended and that world really prepared me for politics which is weird? Because when you wait tables there is a lot of sexism in that world, too. So that really helped me with learning how to present myself in a way that said, “I’m confident and I’m not going to take your shit, but I’m also not going to be an asshole to you because I rely on your tips.” Politics is very much the same way.
The number one thing that I tell women is to remember that you are just as qualified if not more qualified than everyone else in the room. Society tells us as women that we are supposed to doubt ourselves and we are not supposed to be assertive or bitchy. You’re supposed to smile but don’t smile too much or you’re asking for it. There are all of these grids that we are supposed to fall in and it is remembering to challenge those. You can do all of those things at once. I think too often women say, “Do I want to be assertive or do I want to be the kind girl?” But you can do both of those things at the same time and be effective. One thing I tell people when they come advocate in Jeff City is that no one person is an expert in everything, particularly when it comes to policy, and we have to remember that. Even if we aren’t the most qualified there will be moments throughout our lives when we are and then we have to accept that role even if we don’t feel that we should.
Do you see the landscape changing in the expectations that are placed on women or do you think it’s still pretty bad?
It’s still bad. It’s still really bad. Every day when I am in Jeff City I am asked if I am an intern, I am asked who I work for, when I am on the floor I am winked at, I am called “hon,” hands are put on the small of my back to guide me into rooms. Even though I am their equal and oftentimes got more votes than they did. That said, yes I do think it is changing. The loss of Hilary really put things in the perspective of, “Oh we’re not there yet. We thought we were but we are so far away from there.” But I think that it’s really a good thing in that women are activated and women see what we could have. You see that in the Women’s March and these pop-up groups and the number of women who are getting involved and willing to step up and run for office are just astronomical compared to just two years ago. As women we are in a very unique time. We are going to start seeing some very serious change and women are starting to say yes and accept the challenges that are in front of us because we got complacent in thinking, “Oh, we’re about to have a woman president—everything is fine.” In the state of Missouri right now we are about to go into a second special session that is pulling back more rights for women’s healthcare in a way that we haven’t seen in many many years. So things are not fine. But I’m also seeing women step up and say, “Ok I am done with this” and realizing the situation that we are in and not accepting it.
I think there is an air of mystery surrounding what actually goes on in state legislatures. Could you walk me through a typical day?
There is no typical work day. Every day is different. Each member is assigned to different committees and each committee meets at different times and the committees are what dictate your day. But I can walk you through a week.
Our sessions start Monday at 4pm. I serve on the budget committee so I usually have a budget meeting before session. Also both parties have caucus meetings before session so we all have to be there by 3 o’clock. Because I have budget I have to be there at 1. I drop my daughter off at daycare on Monday and drive to Jeff City and go straight to budget meeting which would go for 1-2 hours. Then we would go to a caucus then go to session.
Every day of session is very different because the speaker gets to determine what bills are heard and how long the debate lasts. We might be in session for 2 hours or we might be in session till 10 or 11 pm.
Part of being in the minority party is that we have no clue what bills are going to come up or what the debate is going to be. We have a general sense of what we are going to debate that day but often we are caught off guard. We have to be ready for any of the bills that are on the calendar and it could be 5 bills or it could be a hundred bills that we hear that day. Fortunately I sit next to some Republicans on the floor so sometimes I get a heads up about what we’re doing before other people do and I spread that knowledge. They have this amazing spreadsheet of what they’re doing that day but we don’t get that. Session is frustrating in that way.
On a regular day we will break for dinner and sometimes have to go back to committee hearings after session and sometimes we don’t.
Tuesdays are my busiest days because I have several committee meetings. The longest day I ever had was from 8am to 1am. Throughout Tuesdays you have constituents who stop by and want to talk to you, and interest groups will come for their activist days so you step out of wherever you are and have 3-5 minutes with someone and then go back to your meeting.
Wednesdays, same thing on a lesser scale.
Thursdays are much better because everyone wants to go home so session is usually done around 2 but it just depends.
It’s just really difficult finding time to pee and to eat.
What is it like to exist as a woman in such a male dominated field? Can you talk a little about your experience as a woman in Jefferson City?
You have to think about how much lipstick you wear and what effect that is going to have for you. I know that what I wear determines how much say I get in a conversation which is terrible. It truly makes a difference. If I have makeup on and am dressed more professionally and wear heels, I get more respect than I do if I wear flats and dress down. Men just have to decide what tie to wear that day.
I am fortunate because I serve in a caucus that is led by women. Our two highest leadership positions in the democratic caucus are women which definitely changes the dynamic of how our party functions. I am never told how to vote. I am never told what to say or whether I can talk or can’t talk. On the other side I see women who are told how to vote. I see women who are punished for their votes. Who are talked over in committee. Who present bills that men then receive the credit for. I have had candid conversations with women from the other side who have cried to me and said that if they didn’t vote a certain way then their bills would never get heard. It’s super frustrating to witness that. It’s like, “Come to our side!” Where everyone’s opinions are give equal value regardless of gender. Now I don’t want to make generalizations about parties because not every one on the other side functions like this and also they are a majority party and have more members which changes the power structure.
During a debate on the floor, a man told a woman to, “Calm down.” And we all were like, “Are you fucking serious right now?” Because the men knock down, drag out yell at each other--but when a woman does it, she’s told to calm down. And that is ridiculous. It happened to a woman who is well-established and served here for many years and was told this by a thirty something male representative to calm down. That stuff happens all the time. Constantly.
One of my male colleagues told a female colleague to, “Smile more.” And I was standing there and said, “You don’t get to tell a woman that.” And he was like, “What?” He legitimately didn’t understand that this was not OK. And then I explained to him why that was inappropriate and he was like, “Oh I really did not understand that.” and he apologized. That woman came up to me later in private and said, “Thank you so much for saying that because I was not in a position where I could say anything. I had to laugh and smile.” And that is true. There was nothing that she could have done in that scenario. We, as women legislators, on both sides of the aisle have to be there for each other. It is really incumbent on us as women to remind each other that it’s OK to fight back and it’s OK to fight for something.
I heard you say recently that often the Dems don’t even have to show up and the Republicans can still pass legislation. How do you stay motivated to keep fighting when this is the case? How difficult is it being in a state capitol that is so saturated with far-right conservatives and straight white males?
Part of it is simply because we have to. If we don’t show up who knows what could happen. This session was really great though because on average we pass about 175 bills and they only passed 59 bills this year. And I say they because they [Republicans] control both chambers and every facet of government except for auditor and one US senate seat. And they only passed 59 bills which is huge for us. So that gives me great motivation going into next session. What we did was effective.
I think part of staying motivated is finding your team of people. We have a small group that we jokingly call the Justice League of newly elected legislators. And part of it is encouraging each other. Going into each other’s offices like, “No. Get up! We’re going to go fight on this issue!” But also we were very relevant. Even though we were a minority party, every time I spoke on the floor people listened. And part of that was strategy but a lot of it was building relationships with the other side. There was not a night that went by in Jeff City when I did not have dinner or a drink with somebody from the other side. It’s realizing that these are people and although I vehemently disagree with them it is about trying to see where they’re coming from.
We also had a big wave of newly electeds this year. We have 19 freshman out of 46 and with brand new people comes a lot of motivation and not being jaded. First day, it was right after the election and everyone was heartbroken. They told us, “We’re not going to get anything. Just prepare. Play defense.” And the new electeds looked around and we said, “No.” I didn’t just get elected and go through that to be told I’m not going to get anything done. We remind each other of that constantly. We worked so hard to get here and we’re not going to just roll over. We’re going to fight, and we’re going to play offense.
How do you feel about the fact that Missouri has been making national news lately for the despicable pieces of legislation that have been passing (SB 43, SB 5)? And what do you want the country to know about what is happening currently in this state? Do you see the headlines as an accurate representation of what’s going on or do you think a different narrative needs to emerge about what’s actually happening here?
I think it’s both. SB 43 is exactly what people think it is. It was sponsored by a senator who is currently being sued for violations of the Human Rights Act. We are allowing a senator to sponsor legislation that he is currently being sued for and it is in insanity. That’s why for SB 43, there were 34 of us who decided not to vote. In the state of Missouri, if you are in the chamber, you are required to vote and if you choose to stand and not vote you could be arrested. Because the way the bill came about was so negligent, we decided to not participate and so we stood there and stared at the speaker. To my knowledge that had never been done before. And that came from freshmen legislators. That bill passed and it’s going to be pocket signed by the governor which means that he doesn’t have the guts to sign it into law.
We tried during the special session on abortion to make the conversation about healthcare. But unfortunately those bills were not heard.
In terms of what the dialogue has been—we allow the other side to control the narrative. When Governor Greitens called the special session on abortion and talked about pro-life, pro-life, pro-life, the first bill was not even about being pro life. And that’s why Representative Mike Moon, as much as I disagree with him, I respect him so much because he abstained from his vote because the bill was not about being pro-life. That’s one of the biggest takeaways from my first session is that people like Mike Moon who I may disagree with whole heartedly can be people of honor.
How important do you think it is for the nation to know that the many anti-women bills are not being passed uncontested and that there are progressives on the floor constantly fighting against these bills?
For too long we have let the other side control the narrative. And this is the perfect example. The governor has been getting all of this national attention for being pro-life but if you actually read the bills it isn’t about any of that. What’s important to know that we spent 4 hours on the floor talking about Medicaid and maternal mortality and infant death rates and the opioid crisis and things that are tied to healthcare that need to be a part of the larger conversation. For too long we’ve been playing defense, saying abortion is OK if it is legal and rare and safe, when the conversation needs to be, “No, abortion is legal. Period.” We’re not apologizing for that. If your goal is to decrease abortion then we need to talk about access to birth control, increased access to healthcare after the baby is born, continued access to things like food stamps and actually providing for the health and welfare of the mother and child. It needs about access to healthcare and women’s health. I was lucky to never have to take a pregnancy test until I was 29 because I had access to birth control. As progressives we need to change the conversations. We need to stop apologizing. We need to play offense. This is about healthcare.
For us deep in T***p-land, or for those surrounded by far-right radicals in the workplace or in our families how can we be motivated to keep fighting? And as a legislator what is the most effective and important strategy that we in the resistance need to be engaging in?
In terms of staying motivated, I think it is knowing that we can still have wins even if it looks like we’re losing and we do that by having conversations and building relationships. I won in a year that no other Democrat won in my district. Everyone elected that year was a Republican. I did that by not making it about these crazy partisan issues. I won by talking about the real issues. I grew up in a very conservative family and my parents and I will never agree about gay rights but we will always agree that parents should be able to feed their kids. Staying motivated is finding a way to have a conversation with your neighbors. When you do have those conversations and you see progress, that’s the stuff that keeps you going. It’s when Mike Moon moves two million dollars on the floor for me for a childcare subsidy program that I was trying to create. We had a conversation about poverty, he had never seen it that way before, and he said, “Ok let’s fund your program.” It’s these conversations with people outside of our party that will motivate you because we are not as different as the media wants us to think we are.
In terms of what’s effective in the legislature, there are a lot of different things—and that’s what I like about what’s happening right now—every facet is being hit and I’ve never seen that before. It’s always been just activism via protest or activism via letters to the editors. But we’re starting to see it hit in every way which is really important.
There are two things that are effective. One, when we’re not in session, come talk to us, have us come tour your facility, have coffee with us. I have coffee several times a week with people who just live in my district and want to talk to me about something. Not every legislator will do that but ask because when we’re home that’s our job.
The second thing is to come and testify in the legislature. That’s a hard thing to ask because people are intimidated and people think they’re not experts. We had over 2000 bills filed this year. There is no way as a legislator you can read every bill let alone be an expert about every bill. We rely so heavily on experts in the field who come to us and say, “I work in nursing homes and this bill is going to do X, Y, and Z to us and I don’t support it.” That is by far the most influential thing you can do. If you want to influence policy then go testify. Remember if you are an advocate for an issue, you will 100% know more than those legislators. And when you go into committee [to testify] the legislators are generally very kind to citizens who come in.
Who are your girl crushes?
Elizabeth Warren. She just doesn’t care and I love it. As a woman, you are constantly thinking about how you are perceived and I’m sure she feels it too but to the outside world it seems like she doesn’t care who gets in her way. She’s going to do what she’s there to do. Also I have a really great group of core women in my life here in Springfield—professional women who are up against a lot of the same things that I am. I would definitely say they are my crushes and my motivation to realize that whatever profession we are in, women are up against the same things everywhere, (some might be more intense than others—like the legislature) but we’re all dealing with the same stuff.
What is your go-to anthem?
I don’t know that I have one. One band that I really like is Rise Against. They are a very political band that over the course of time have been very eff-you to the establishment which is awesome. There are many times on my drive to Jefferson City that I just turn that on to get ready to fight. Then there are the regular fallbacks like Beyonce. There is actually a group of us women legislators who share songs on a Snapchat group.