Rep. Hunter prepares for final session in State House: Part II

John Hacker

Editor’s note: This is part two of a two-part interview by Carthage Press staff writer John Hacker with State Rep. Steve Hunter.

This year marks the eighth and final year Steve Hunter can represent the 127th Missouri House District in Jefferson City.

Due to term limits, Hunter will be leaving the House, although he could still run for and serve up to two terms in the State Senate.

Yesterday, Hunter reminisced about the past seven years and some of his accomplishments. Today, Hunter talks about his work on the Workforce Development and Workplace Safety Committee and looks forward to the coming session.

Q. As chairman of the Workforce Development and Workplace Safety Committee, what significant legislation has been passed out of your committee?

A. "In 2006, we made some changes to the unemployment bill that came through in 2004, and we got that through. That had to do with drugs and alcohol testing and different things like that. That was pretty significant. We snuck that through, we outfoxed a whole lot of people to get that through. So those two, the workers comp bill and the unemployment bill, probably are the biggest things I've done. Those are just major bills that directly result in job creation and bringing in new jobs to the state of Missouri."

Q. What are the hot issues that will be brought up in the legislature this year?

A. "The second injury fund will be a real hot issue for Republicans. In fact, I've got a meeting with the governor's office later this month to talk about this and how big an issue this is. Their people are missing this, they're missing the bouncing ball."

Q. You had a special committee on the Second Injury fund this summer, what came out of that?

A. "We're going to crank those hearings back up. I decided that due to that, and other things, I just decided that we're going to start those hearings in January, and they're going to go all the way through session. We're going to find out why that thing went bankrupt. We're not just going to fix it, we're going to find out whose fault it was, why it went bankrupt the second time. We know why it went bankrupt the first time, I want to find out why it happened the second time, and the press will all be there, all the legislators will be there, everybody will be paying attention. That's why I put it off, everything will be magnified."

Q. What about illegal immigration, will that be a big thing?

A. "I think what the governor has basically done is stepped up enforcement on a lot of these sites, construction sites and different things like that. I tell you what though, what are you going to do for a work force? They're filling in a lot of places where there aren't any workers. To me, what needs to be done is there needs to be a work visa, where they're here for a specific amount of time and then they return, and we can keep track of them. If they don't have a work visa, they're out of here.

"But if you just take the protein industry, take beef, turkey, chicken, anything where they process protein, that's who works there. The argument is, well if you would pay a union wage . . . does anyone realize what we'll be paying for a steak? Look at how high it is now. That's not exactly a job where you have to go to school and learn how to do it, so paying a living wage; they're making a living wage. They may not be making $22 an hour, but that right there would shut that whole industry down, and there's not the workforce to do it.

"In the building industry, we don't have enough people who are trained in that industry without the Hispanics. We just don't have enough people who want to get into the industry. They're looked down on in that industry, well you've got to live in a house, you've got to work in an office. Those two industries alone are huge.

"I look at it from the aspect that these people are coming in and working. Now I don't want illegal aliens in here, but I tell you what, we ought to have a process where they can become naturalized and become citizens, or get work visas. That's pretty simple to me."

Q. Is it something we should even be worried about at the state level?

A. "I think the reason the state's are stepping in is that the Feds have washed their hands of it? The fed doesn't want to deal with it. Anything that's important, the Feds don't want to deal with. That's why it's coming down to the state level that we're going to do something about it. But you have to be real careful with what you craft that you don't kill your economy and force a workforce to leave that you need.

Q. What other issues do you see coming up?

A. "Another problem that's not being addressed right now is how are we going to pay for this highway deal. I think in 2011, we lose a billion dollars in funding, what are we going to do then? How are you going to take care of the highways, what are we going to do?

"I think we ought to be looking at it now. What I've found up there is nobody wants to fix anything ahead. I just put a new roof on my house. Guess what, I didn't wait until it started leaking. That's what we do; government waits until you have a catastrophe. The only time they want to fix anything is when you have a catastrophe and to me, you can't craft the best legislation when you have a catastrophe.

Q. What are your short-term or long-term plans after the legislature?

A. Short term, of course I want to finish this session out. Long term, I have had numerous people encourage me to run for the Senate. I'd have to lay out for two years, but I'm considering it. After this, I've got an opportunity to go up and work in Jefferson City. I'm going to take advantage of that and see what happens.

Q. Are you going to miss not being a part of the legislature?

A. "Oh, I'm going to miss being in the legislature. I'm going to be up there in another capacity, but I will miss that. The thing is I enjoy this job. I've done a lot of things in my life, I've been a teacher, I've been a junior college coach, I've sold pharmaceuticals for 20 years, I've had my own small business, I've done this, and this is probably the most gratifying thing that I have done. The problem with this job is you don't make any money. You make a lot of financial sacrifices and personal sacrifices, being gone from your family, and that I won't miss, but I will miss representing the people of the 127th District."

Carthage Press