MR. CAPEHART: Good afternoon, and welcome to the ‘Capehart’ podcast and Washington Post Live. I am Jonathan Capehart, associate editor of The Washington Post.
Joining me now is Mayor Quinton Lucas, the 55th mayor of Kansas City, Missouri. Mayor Lucas, welcome to Washington Post Live.
MAYOR LUCAS: It is great to be with you.
MR. CAPEHART: So let's start with abortion. Kansas voters resoundingly rejected a proposal to change that state's constitution in order to ban abortion or access to abortion. Ahead of Tuesday's primary, you crossed the state line to urge Kansas residents to protect abortion rights. Why?
MAYOR LUCAS: Well, a few different reasons. First of all, I do think that access to productive justice is a core human rights issue. This is something where anyone who has an opportunity to make a difference, I think, should. For some people, that's donating money from New York City to Washington. For others of us, we have a chance to go knock doors, and as you saw from the outcome in Kansas, the doors were pretty receptive, even when I was there and when many of the volunteers and advocates were there. So that's one key reason. It's an issue that I've known about and cared about for some time, learned that from my mother years ago.
But then there's a second truly impactful point, which is that in Kansas City, because we are on the state line and because we have dealt with draconian laws that I think have led reproductive care to be in question for women in the state of Missouri, for some years now, most abortion services that are provided in this region are provided in the Kansas City suburbs on the Kansas side of the line. Indeed, I think roughly almost half the abortions in the state of Kansas are from Missourian patients, and so a lot of that is in our area. So it mattered from a pragmatic health care standard. It also mattered, of course, from a human rights standard, and I think more importantly, it will, long term, matter for what we are showing to other states.
I know Michigan has a referendum coming up. I hope my home state of Missouri does, and I think that we will see abortion policy changing in a lot of red and purple states over the months and years ahead because folks are activated. They don't want state control of their bodies and their choices, and I'm proud of Kansans for doing that and was happy to play even a very small role in knocking on some doors to make sure that message was shared.
MR. CAPEHART: I want to talk a little bit more about Kansas, but as you're talking about‑‑because you are the mayor of Kansas City, Missouri and Missouri's abortion ban went into effect the moment Roe v. Wade was overturned, but there's something odd about Missouri law. So abortions are‑‑abortions are banned, but if you're a pregnant‑‑if you're a pregnant woman, if you're a pregnant person and you're trying to get a divorce, because you're‑‑because you're pregnant, you can't get the divorce until‑‑until the baby is born. On one hand, in the pregnancy case, the fetus is not considered a person, but when in matters of abortion, the fetus is considered a person.
MAYOR LUCAS: Right.
MR. CAPEHART: Is there any way or is there any effort underway to get that glaring dissonance in Missouri law evened out or settled?
MAYOR LUCAS: Yes. Yeah. And right now, there are certainly folks, and I want to give a shout‑out to my Democratic friends in the state legislature who I think have tried to change that type of policy year after year. But the problem of this legislature and many others is that they have become the laboratories of bad ideas and represent the extreme edges of political viewpoints in our state.
Look no further than the Kansas example where it seems as if the legislature would have tried to do, frankly, what Missouri has done, banning abortions in any number of cases and making it a question of what's legal or not for doctors who find themselves in emergency situations rather than actually having a real robust discussion on abortion.
And I think you see that same thing in purely punitive legislation like the type you just described. In legislation like that, the Missouri legislature in previous years‑‑and I know they would do it again‑‑are playing with people's lives and playing with people's lives' choices, and what you see in a number of red states‑‑and that's how we saw these trigger laws in states like Missouri and so many others‑‑was the fact that for years and years, they were passing all these bills, knowing that they were unconstitutional until the Supreme Court in I think a terrible decision early this year‑‑and I think you see that in polls from the American people‑‑decided what the heck, we'll send it all back to them. And there's where you have this great confusion.
Right now, frankly, if you were somebody in the middle of Missouri who doesn't have access to getting to Kansas City or doesn't have access to get to St. Louis which gets you close to Illinois and Kansas and you find yourself in a married situation, this is a very tough time. This is a tough time to exist, to know what your rights are, and more importantly to hear from anyone what your rights are because you have bills in a number of states where they're trying to propose what types of information can be shared, whether people can travel. All of these items will end up in the courts once more, but I'm glad at least we're taking democratic steps in all of these states to try to make some, some modicum of change.
But I won't pretend that this is not a challenge. There are 6.5 million people in Missouri, and a lot of them who don't find themselves on the edges are finding themselves in a very tough position if they're looking for regular reproductive care.
And one other point to that. This isn't just the provision of abortion services. There's been a debate as to whether Plan B can be prescribed in the state of Missouri‑‑
MR. CAPEHART: Right.
MAYOR LUCAS: ‑‑and debates about what people can do. I mean, it is insanity right now, and it's insanity in a big swath of our country.
MR. CAPEHART: So then, Mayor Lucas, well, one, were you as surprised as most people were by the overwhelming rejection of that ballot initiative in Kansas? And two, do those results really have national implications? Will they have implications for your state of Missouri, or are the results specific to Kansas, do you think?
MAYOR LUCAS: They will have huge repercussions in the rest of the country. So not only have I lived next to Kansas most of my life, I went to school on the state line of Kansas in Missouri. I have lived some of my life in a smaller town in Kansas by the name of Hutchinson in the center of the state. It is a conservative state, certainly has a libertarian streak, but this is not Vermont on the plains. It is instead a state where a number of Republicans, people who voted, right, people who voted, by the way, for Republicans in other‑‑in other positions for an attorney general candidate like Kris Kobach, who is a pure extreme person. I don't need to build his name ID on this call, but nonetheless, people who voted for someone like that were also people who voted no on the abortion question. What that tells you is that conservatives, lots of conservatives are even saying they've gone too far. State legislatures have gone too far. The Supreme Court viewpoint, Sam Alito joking about the abortion decision in Rome a few weeks ago, they've gone too far. And I think this is something that needs to be shared and needs to be part of every November campaign.
I think that any candidate, a Democrat mainly, although there may be a few Republicans who are still reasonable on this issue, should make this a centerpiece of what their discussion will be because to me it is a very clear, very core human rights issue. Do you stand for the rights of women and families to make their own decisions? And I think Kansas showed that most people‑‑conservatives, liberals, what have you‑‑do.
MR. CAPEHART: Let me get your reaction to something, because the Johnson County Republican Party in Kansas criticized you saying‑‑you know where I'm going‑‑criticized you saying that your time, quote, "would be better spent canvassing the streets of Kansas City to help find the violent criminals that are preying on the people of Kansas City." Your response to that?
MAYOR LUCAS: Well, you know, I mean, they just got their butts kicked in an election. They are not really a credible force, and what they have presided over is actually seeing an ongoing loss of influence in the suburbs for the Republican Party. And so, you know, maybe they should actually spend time trying to get back to winning elections, which is something they are not showing a great ability to do so when you've looked at recent presidential elections in their country and certainly in the last gubernatorial and congressional elections.
So, I mean, here's what I would say. First of all, we do a lot of things every day as mayors, and you can care about crime and care about rights to health care and care about actually taking care of our children and any number of things. It's called actually doing your job, right, instead of just being demagogues who are paid talking points from Breitbart or Fox News, and so I look forward to engaging on important issues of any type in this region. I look forward to making sure that we're making a difference for access to health care, for women in Kansas City, anywhere around here, and I'm proud that I have the chance to and I'm proud that a lot of people did. And I'm proud that in their state of‑‑what was it?‑‑about 75, 70 percent margin of voters agreed with the position that I shared and the position of most reasonable people, while the county Republican Party was busy, I think, still wondering if the January 6th issue was a challenge and if Joe Biden is the valid president. I mean, they've just become totally extreme, totally divorced from issues, and I think this will be a true turning point in American politics.
MR. CAPEHART: Well, let's keep talking about guns. Your city saw 157 deaths in 2021, the second deadliest year for Kansas City.
MAYOR LUCAS: Yep.
MR. CAPEHART: The deadliest year was the year before in 2020 when 182 people were killed, and I bring those numbers up because your goal had been to get the number of homicides under 100.
MAYOR LUCAS: Right.
MR. CAPEHART: Instead, the murder rate is climbing. Why is that, and how much of it has‑‑how much of the gun violence in Kansas City has to do with Missouri's gun laws?
MAYOR LUCAS: Well, you know, here's the deal, and here's what I always ask for from people, because I will chat with conservatives, the types of which I was just discussing, who will sometimes say, "Well, what gun laws are you even looking for? What extreme things are you trying to do?" I'm not looking for extremes, actually.
So I lived in Missouri in the 1990s when we actually required people who were carrying concealed weapons‑‑first of all, we didn't allow people for some time to have concealed weapons, but then when they could, they had to get a permit, right? They had to do something as simple as getting basic permitting, so they knew how to use the firearm, so that they knew how to lock up the firearm, so that we could actually make sure that folks were just walking around the streets with guns actually have some reason or qualification to have it.
But in this state and so many others, you've seen this expansion of what they like to call "constitutional carry," which to me is just absolutely reckless Wild Wild West style living, where we have gun battles in the streets, gun battles against police officers.
I mean, I have said this any number of times. If you actually back the blue, if you support police, then you support responsible gun control, responsible gun legislation. That's the sort of thing that we need, but in terms of the criminal results, anyone can just look at the data, right? Most of the offenses that are occurring are occurring largely because of people who are getting in fights and disputes. This isn't the drug wars of the 1980s. This isn't even, in many cases, gangland violence that we might remember from the 1990s. These are beefs, beefs that can be easily resolved because people have guns, people have high‑capacity firearms, and there is no way to stop them from carrying them when you have laws like the types you have in Missouri and throughout much of the Midwest and the American South.
MR. CAPEHART: So then it is because of Missouri's lax gun laws, just the availability and ability for anybody to get a gun that is‑‑
MAYOR LUCAS: Yep
MR. CAPEHART: ‑‑fueling the violence on Kansas City streets.
MAYOR LUCAS: Yes. I mean, yes, I absolutely believe that. I mean, I think, Jonathan, if you flew into Kansas City today, spent a little time, you could probably figure out in less than an hour where you can get a gun, right, and where you can get a gun avoiding any type of federal regulation, where you can get a gun of any type that your heart may desire. It can be a high‑capacity firearm, an assault weapon, a handgun, anything of the sort. That to me is a huge problem, right?
We have fluctuated over the years in terms of how many police officers we have. Economies have fluctuated over the years, but there has been a consistency as we have seen this loosening of gun laws in this state, which is that our murders have increased again and again.
So for those who try to say, oh, on, it's just because 2020 was tough and everybody is mad, right, then why did we have almost this many murders actually in the years before? Why did we have a lot of murders in the 1990s? It's because we have continued to have and prioritize access to firearms over prioritizing the safety of our communities, safety of our children, and the safety of our families.
MR. CAPEHART: You know, according to an analysis by the Kansas City Police Department, more than 70 percent of guns connected to violent crime in the city in 2021 were produced by 15 gun manufacturers, and Kansas City became the first city in more than a decade to sue a gun manufacturer. Why is it important to try to hold them accountable?
MAYOR LUCAS: I think it's just fundamentally important that we do this because we need to make a difference. I'm not one who is comfortable just saying, oh, well, the legislature won't do anything and maybe a lot of smart people may move out of this area, so let's do nothing. Instead, I have a true concern for the people getting killed in our city each and every day, right? A city of our size having about 165, 170 murders a year means that the impact each year is on thousands of people and their families who have known them and their schools.
We recently had a superintendent who left Kansas City. He talked to me about how during his tenure, 75 kids, 75 of the students in his district were murdered. I mean, that's abhorrent, and that is awful for us.
So, for me, I think it is important that we take every step we can. We saw that the courts give us a path, and for anybody who remembers the litigation against tobacco companies of the 1990s and the 2000s, where we saw that through false advertising, through marketing, through a lack of any control as to whom they were giving the product to, including a number of young people who started smoking in their teenage years and then their youth, right, we saw that ultimately courts said and juries were saying this was wrong. This was bad. You were hiding material information. And I believe that is the exact same situation we're seeing both with gun manufacturers and gun distributors.
In a case that we filed against a Nevada firearms manufacturer, they were not checking registration. They weren't checking where the guns were going, and they were getting those guns to an illegal gun trafficker in Kansas City. And those guns were used in murders on the streets of my city. I am proud of the fact that we led in that. I enjoyed spending time with the mayor of New York, mayor of Baltimore, and others a few weeks ago. Both of those cities are pursuing litigation as well, and we will continue to.
And you may ask what's my ultimately goal. My ultimate goal is that we have transparency, that we have truth, and that we make sure the gun manufacturers actually follow the laws. That's the biggest issue, right? You can't just produce a whole bunch of defective equipment or working equipment, candidly, and then not see that it's actually going to be regulated thereafter. You can't just flood the market and not check to make sure that they're going to responsible gun sellers, that they're going to people that are following federal law. In the event that you're avoiding that, then I think you should be held liable for it. So we will continue to try to push those steps and make sure that we're suing there, that we're working with social media companies to make sure that where there are beefs or where people are selling guns on Facebook Marketplace or any other types of items that we curtail those types of activities, because this is the sort of thing that is killing so many in our communities.
And I think that all of us as mayors, Democratic mayors, Republican ones, big city, small ones, right, we don't want to have a continuation of this. We don't want to have gun massacres and just say, oh, well, you know, the cost of doing business nowadays in America. And I think this is an important thing that mayors can do, and I've been proud to lead on it.
MR. CAPEHART: So I'm listening to you, and I'm reminding myself that you‑‑you're a Democrat.
MAYOR LUCAS: Yes.
MR. CAPEHART: And you're a big‑city mayor, which is a big‑city mayor‑‑
MAYOR LUCAS: Yes.
MR. CAPEHART: ‑‑of a blue city in a red state. So how are state authorities from the governor, the legislature, attorney general‑‑how are they reacting to your efforts that you were just talking about in terms of suing gun manufacturers but also your efforts to curb gun violence in your city?
MAYOR LUCAS: Well, you know, I wish I could say that usually the reactions are productive. I mean, I think we try to find common ground where we can, but there are some who are not interested in common ground. We have an attorney general in this state who is now our Republican candidate for the United States Senate, who I think likes to speak more often in tweets and press releases, threats of litigation against myself and the mayor of St. Louis, Tishaura Jones, rather than actually trying to do what is his actual job, which is to make the people of Missouri safer.
Missouri leads the country‑‑and not by a close measure‑‑in the number of gun‑related‑‑actually just homicides writ large of Blacks. It is incredibly unsafe if you are a Black person to be in this state. That's astonishing, and that's something where you would hope somebody would say, "What's wrong with us?" We have these great American cities. We're competing with places like Minneapolis and Denver for businesses to come here, but we can't keep people safe. And you would think that that would mean people would work across the aisle in connection with, but typically, the response we get is you're a bunch of city liberals, you don't understand gun cultures or gun rights. And I say I do. I don't care if anybody watching this today has a gun. Good for them, you know? That's great. What I want to make sure you do is that you lock it up, right, and that you actually have a permit if you're going to carry it around at the shopping mall or at the sporting event or anything of that sort.
And I'll say one other thing, right? As a father, I don't want to show up to a school one day, my kid's school one day, and say, oh, my God, it's just a gun massacre, but thank God that we kept Jonathan's gun rights so he can keep an AR‑15 unsecured in his truck, and it's not even a crime. I mean, this makes no sense, and I think much like we just talked about with the abortion issue, there is reasonableness here. Nobody wants kids slaughtered. Nobody wants to continue to see the types of things we have on the streets of Kansas City and throughout America each and every day, and that's why we'll keep talking reasonably, particularly to my peers who in suburban communities, just like the ones that in Kansas just voted no on the abortion question, right? I think we can continue to do that with gun legislation, and I think, eventually, it will be a winning position.
MR. CAPEHART: Tell me about the Safer Communities Act that you've been working on.
MAYOR LUCAS: Yeah. So, you know, in terms of the Safer Communities Act, that's the Biden administration, I think, actually trying to come to solutions rather than actually just being demagogues on the issue like some of our friends on the right. Under the Safer Communities Act, you're seeing more investment in police departments making sure that there's funding to actually help recruit them because the biggest challenge right now in recruiting police is not rhetoric from one or two Congress people. It's actually the fact that, A, it's a tough job, and B, it doesn't pay enough in most places, not unlike teaching, not unlike nursing, not unlike many others. So the Safer Communities Act allows us to have more funding to help support, first of all, retention of law enforcement. It helps us invest in community violence interruption, and in case you don't know what that means, it's just very simply this. Often in violence, there is a cycle of violence, right? Somebody shot at me. So, once I get bandaged up, I'm going to go out and settle the score.
What if we had somebody who said, look, we know you're angry, we know you might be at risk, but if the issue is you need to make sure that you stay safe, let us help you find a way? If the issue is you need money to help take care of your family, instead of selling dope in the streets, we can help you find a way. That's the sort of responsible policy that you're seeing both in the Biden administration‑‑and by the way, no matter what the national polls say anything like that, the president has been probably the best president for mayors, and this White House has been the best White House for mayors of cities of any number or sizes that I can even remember.
And so I think the Safer Communities Act is really looking at the multipronged challenges that we face in violent crime. We do need law enforcement. We do need to fund the police, and this is helping us do that. But we also need to make sure we're funding violence interruption and mental health in every American city, and this is a proposal that helps us do it.
MR. CAPEHART: Mm‑hmm. So, since you invoke the president's name, let's talk some national‑‑some national politics of a sort. Let's talk about the future of the Democratic Party. You will be 38 years old in 15 days. I know when your birthday is.
MR. CAPEHART: President Biden will be 80 this November. By one count, the median age for Democrats in the House is 71.
MAYOR LUCAS: Yeah.
MR. CAPEHART: When will the next generation of leaders step up in the Democratic Party? When will Mayor Lucas become Congressman Lucas, Senator Lucas, Governor Lucas, or Secretary Lucas? In short, should the older generation and the generation that's prevalent in the Democratic Party now give way to younger Democrats?
MAYOR LUCAS: I think that the administration has already done a strong job. First of all, we have Cabinet officials that are actually pretty close in age to me, which makes me feel like a bum, but you certainly have some who are making, I think, great strides in changing transportation policy, for example, in our country with Secretary Buttigieg and a number of folks whom I respect who work in the White House who each day are speaking to young people, are listening to young people, are making sure that those voices are incorporated in everything that they do.
In terms of, you know, making way for new leaders, I think you are seeing that organically in any number of Democratic primaries, and I think not unlike the Republican side, you have a bit of it, right? It's‑‑institutional knowledge is a good thing still. I think President Biden's decades of knowledge are very helpful, making him a very good president. Whereas, if I were president today, I would not be so good. I think life experience is actually a good thing.
And so, for me, the answer really is you need a mix of both, right? I followed a mayor who's probably about 30 years my senior, also a Democrat. I was happy to follow him and happy to still talk to him sometimes. I have a congressperson who is several years my senior. I think that there is a good balance here, and importantly, what you see on the Democratic side is diversity not just in age, which is very important. As we go through Congress, yes, the average age is 71. Part of it is how you get there, but you have staffers and so many others that represent age diversity, ethnic diversity, sexual orientation, any number of things. Whereas, on the right, I don't think you see in any way, any interest in representing America writ large. And so it's not so much that there's a problem with Democrats. I think there's a problem with the other side in terms of why can't they actually start to look more like America and allow us to have real conversations about policies rather than just culture‑war fights, which is largely what I've seen the Republican Party do for the last few years.
MR. CAPEHART: But, Mayor Lucas, you and I both know that those culture‑war fights, those are fights based on emotion, based on raw emotion, and they're successful. So how do‑‑how do‑‑how does the Democratic Party, especially with these midterm elections coming up, fight evenly with folks on the right who are going for the jugular, who are going for‑‑
MAYOR LUCAS: Yep.
MR. CAPEHART: ‑‑and messing with the most base emotions of the American electorate?
MAYOR LUCAS: You know, I think, first, you have to speak with some level of emotion, and I hope I've done some of that today, right? We need to make sure that we're sharing what our passions are.
I think that the Dobbs decision reversing Roe v. Wade was one of the biggest legal calamities that we have seen in probably the last 50 years in this country, and so we need to actually make sure that we're making clear that we are fighting for reproductive justice in every part of this country. It doesn't matter if you are watching from New York City or wherever else in the country. I mean, that to me is a big step one.
I think the other thing that you need to do, though, is make sure that we are clearly communicating what we are about. Too often, right, you can get bogged down by a lot of issues because there are a lot of things that happen each day, but compare that to the former president, President Trump, who basically spends a lot of time talking about how the election was stolen, is now on a revenge tour trying to take out every Republican congressman who didn't vote his way on any number of issues, and can still largely lead the conversation. What we need to do is say, all right, yeah, you know, you do your distraction. I'm going to try to save kids' lives, right? We're going to try to make sure they don't get gunned down in a school. We'll make sure that we don't have college buddies, as happened for me, who sent me a message and said, "Yeah, I lived in Highland Park, and me and my four‑year‑old were hiding from bullets." That's the type of clear passion that I think we need to express, and then the next step to that is just coming up with solutions for it, right?
But we can't‑‑what we can't do is be a bit mealymouthed about it. We can't spend too much time saying, oh, okay, I respect gun rights, and we don't want to do too much, but we'll maybe compromise on this. I think that's where we've made mistakes in the past.
I am a Missouri Democrat. I am from a state where people have guns. They like them. I've got family with them, family in the military, so many others, but I don't want my kid getting killed. And you know what? I think my uncle in the Air Force, now retired, would have agreed with that. That's the sort of thing that I think you continue to push each and every day, and that's where I hope candidates find clarity, something that I'm impressed about so far.
There's a new Republican nominee for governor in Michigan who's crazy, Tudor Dixon, and there was a wonderful attack ad out that was just using her own words about how there should be no exceptions on abortions, even in cases of rape and incest. It is a crazy position, and I appreciate those who are supporting Governor Whitmer for making sure that's clear. I think you give it a good kind of black and white assessment. Who do you trust? Is it somebody who's talking reasonably about issues that impact you, or is it somebody who's actually just trying to rehash whatever Tucker Carlton said last night?
MR. CAPEHART: We just have a couple minutes left and can't have you here and not ask you the question that everybody seems to be asking elected officials, particularly elected officials in the Democratic Party, and that is back to the age issue.
MAYOR LUCAS: Sure.
MR. CAPEHART: Should President Biden run for reelection in 2024?
MAYOR LUCAS: He absolutely should. He has accomplished a lot, a lot more than I think any of us could have imagined back in 2020 when we were dealing with an absolute dumpster fire in the White House, and so I do think that he should run again. I'd support him. I visit with a lot of other young elected officials who continue to as well, and so I think he should. And I think that a lot of the successes we've seen particularly in the last several weeks are a sign of just how productive this administration is.
MR. CAPEHART: And then what would you say‑‑what would you say to those in the Democratic Party who are continuing the tradition within the Democratic Party‑‑
MAYOR LUCAS: Sure.
MR. CAPEHART: ‑‑of hand‑wringing or, if you want to be mean about it, bed‑wetting when it comes to whether the president should or shouldn't run? What's your message to them about the president and the party?
MAYOR LUCAS: I love being a Democrat. There is nothing in some ways harder in this country perhaps than being president, but certainly, being mayor is not simple because you have a lot of people who seemingly vote your way. But we have a broad assortment of viewpoints. I think that we need to try to be successful on policy. I think success breeds success, and so, no, there is not a magical candidate that hits everything that you may ever want or everything you may ever need. There's not Superman waiting at the wings.
I think what we have right now is a very competent administration, a president that's doing great work, that trusts and respects and speaks to people of a number of different ages, myself included having the chance to talk to him about gun violence just a few months ago at the White House where he talked to me and mayors of major cities. And this is the type of person we want, and so what I say to them is, all right, instead of looking at his age, instead of looking at any other issues, what do you want to get done, and who's getting it done? And I think they'll see that this president is getting it done, that this Congress is working hard to get it done, and I hope that means that we keep pushing that message through our midterm elections and through the next presidential election.
MR. CAPEHART: Quinton Lucas, literally an--I feel like I've been talking to an old soul and a soon‑to‑be 38‑year‑old 55th mayor of Kansas City, Missouri. Thank you so much for coming to "Capehart" on Washington Post Live.
MAYOR LUCAS: Thank you so much, and go Chiefs.
MR. CAPEHART: All right. And thank you for joining us. To check out what interviews we have coming up, go to WashingtonPostLive.com.
Once again, I'm Jonathan Capehart, associate editor of The Washington Post. Thank you for watching 'Capehart' on Washington Post Live.
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