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Missouri House District 161: Republican Lane Roberts

Republican candidate for Missouri House District 161 (and incumbent) Lane Roberts.
Photo submitted by Lane Roberts.
Republican candidate for Missouri House District 161 (and incumbent) Lane Roberts.

Incumbent Lane Roberts is running against Republican Thomas Ross for District 161, which encompasses part of Jasper and Newton Counties, in the August 6 Primary Election. The Democrat in the race for the 161st seat is Shawna Ackerson.

Welcome, Mr. Roberts, and thanks for joining us.

"It's my pleasure."

Tell us about yourself and why you feel you're a good candidate for the Missouri House of Representatives.

"Well, it goes back a long way. My public service started all the way back in 1966 when I joined the Air Force. I spent a couple of years in the Philippines, in Vietnam, came back, and when I was at Edwards Air Force Base, I was assigned as an air police augmentee, which is like an Air Force police reserve. I got discharged in 1970, became a police officer in 1971. I served in that capacity for 43 years. I retired as the chief of Joplin, having gone through the tornado. I spent a couple of years as the state director of public safety, and this is actually — I'm running for my third term in the legislature. I currently chair the Public Safety Crime Prevention Committee. I work on mostly public safety type legislation, which fortunately tends to bridge the aisle. It's really not a partisan question. Some of the provisions occasionally will develop some debate on both sides. But the concept of public safety is pretty much nonpartisan. I have had a significant amount of success. I've passed numerous pieces of legislation, almost all of it public safety related. I passed a fairly comprehensive bill this year dealing with crime prevention and public safety. And then a couple of years ago, I passed the lifetime protection order for victims of domestic violence, which may be the most important thing I expect to ever do in the legislature. So, just based on work history and my experience in legislature, I think I'm by far the most qualified of the two candidates.


Which issues are most important to you and why?

"Well, my focus is and will probably always be on victims. You know, it's one thing to go out and arrest people and put them in jail who've committed crimes. And certainly holding people accountable for their conduct is important. But we get lost sometimes in our efforts to correct their conduct, rehabilitate them, do the things that we need to do to help them avoid re-offending. And in that process, the victim sometimes gets sort of faded into the background. And I intend to be the person that doesn't lose sight of the victim first. The consequences of that conduct has an effect on their lives that, in many cases, will go on for the balance of their lives. So when we're talking about any public safety related legislation or anything that affects law enforcement adversely or has an implication for victims, those are always going to be my priority. And I think right now I'm pretty much recognized as the person most interested in the legislature, at least on the House side, with those concerns."


Why are you running for reelection?

"Well, you know, I'm at the, probably at the end of my public service. Next year, if I'm re-elected, I would be probably the oldest person on the floor. And I bring a lot of life experience to that. I will also be a senior legislator with a fairly effective history. And you don't pass legislation usually in the first effort. You file a bill and may not get past the first year. You have to do the second year, sometimes the third, fourth or even fifth year before a piece of legislation matures to the point that everybody will support it. So I've got a number of pieces of legislation that I've been working on for the past six years. Some of that is very important. It's work that needs to be completed, and I want to complete it. I want to make sure that whatever I do when I leave public service, that I've done the most I can for my state and for the people that I work for."


What do you think makes your district unique, and how are you representing that and will continue to, if you are reelected, in Jefferson City?

"Well, my district is completely unique in the state. I was the police chief here in Joplin when the tornado struck in 2011. That tornado zone is completely encompassed by my district. And so I'm serving a district with whom I have a very unique relationship. It's almost a kind of a poetry. 161 people died in that event. It's the 161st district. And so I have a unique relationship with this district. I think there's some confusion at times. I know that there have been accusations of, 'well, why aren't you doing something about Joplin's crime?' Well, I do that indirectly through passing state laws the police department work with. But as a Republican, I don't think it's our role to be telling communities how to deal with their various issues. Our role is to facilitate for them and help them where we can. And that's going to continue to be my interest."


Running for office as a state lawmaker opens you up to a lot of scrutiny and criticism. Do you feel that the personal costs for you and your family are worth it and why?

"Well, in my case, it absolutely is. My entire life has been involved in a form of government, one way or another, that is subject to a lot of criticism. When people are unhappy at the government, police officers are the closest representatives — we didn't dress like anybody else. We're easy to identify. And so I've spent my lifetime dealing with that criticism. I try to take it seriously because not all criticism is just criticism. Sometimes it has a basis in fact, and there's an obligation to try to address it. It's no different with this. I have no expectation that I will please everybody. It is certainly my intention to satisfy everybody. But realistically, I can't do that. I'm going to do the very best I can, and I have the benefit of a lot of life experience and understanding the unintended consequence when you are trying to please everybody."


How productive do you think Missouri legislative sessions have been in recent years, and what would improve the legislature's productivity and effectiveness?

"Well, I don't think anybody who lives in Missouri and is paying attention at all believes that we've had a particularly effective session, this one or the last. Now, I do think this session was more productive than people would give credit for. But as you know, there's been a lot of conflict in the Senate, and it takes both chambers to be able to pass legislation. I'm feeling pretty fortunate that I was one of the few who got some legislation passed this year, but it's complicated. In the Senate, they have the filibuster where in the House we have time limited debate. What happens then is you wind up passing omnibus bills that may have numerous elements. That's not my favorite way to pass legislation. I prefer stand alone legislation. But when you have a limited amount of time, because so much time got wasted in the Senate, you're stuck with doing what you can to pass the most effective package you can. I think that we will do better in the future. Some of those hot button issues have been resolved and some of the people who felt most strongly termed out."


What's something you'd like to share with voters that most people might not know about you?

"Well, actually, I don't know if there's a whole lot people don't know about me. Most of my life has been spent in the public arena, standing in the spotlight. I've been a chief a couple of times, and, as the state director of public safety, I inherited that job right after Ferguson, and was tasked with rewriting all of the training standards for police officers. So I think my life is pretty open. My conduct is more a public record than most people. My voting record — obviously, people get to interpret that however they want to, but it is there for anyone to see and ask questions about. So I don't think there's a whole lot people don't know except that I'm incredibly happily married. Got three children, seven grandchildren and three great grandchildren. It just gets better and better, and that piece pleases me deeply."


Thank you for taking the time to talk with me today.

"It was my pleasure."


Michele Skalicky has worked at KSMU since the station occupied the old white house at National and Grand. She enjoys working on both the announcing side and in news and has been the recipient of statewide and national awards for news reporting. She likes to tell stories that make a difference. Michele enjoys outdoor activities, including hiking, camping and leisurely kayaking.