Q&A with Rachelle Aud Crowe, D-Edwardsville, state senator, 56th District
IBJ: You’ve hit the ground running in what’s going to be one of the busiest Senate terms in quite a while. What’s been your reaction to the first few weeks?
Crowe: I actually hit the ground running before I even got sworn in (in January). One of the biggest things everybody is looking toward is a new capital bill. Last year, I began meeting with all the mayors, the community college and the university to talk about priorities. That way, I was able to concentrate on what was in front of me the minute I walked in the door, and that turned out to be a lot. It’s been a great pace. It is high energy, a good atmosphere to be in. Everybody’s hopeful we are going to get a lot of things accomplished.
IBJ: And the last four years have been marked with a lot of inactivity, unfortunately.
Crowe: Yeah, but there is a good feeling on both sides of the aisle.
IBJ: On some specific votes so far, you’ve largely gone with the Democratic majority so far. How about the marijuana topic?
Crowe: I have not yet seen a bill, so I don’t know how I’ll feel about it. What I can tell you is I’ve been meeting with our local law enforcement. I came from a background as a prosecutor (in Madison County). I definitely have concerns about legalizing recreational marijuana use. I think medical marijuana is a positive thing for our area, especially making it available for more illness in the hopes of curbing opioid abuse.
IBJ: Do you think that debate is going to be some weeks away?
Crowe: I do. There are so many other things going on right now.
IBJ: How about SIU and possibly splitting the two campuses. What are your thoughts?
Crowe: First and foremost, I want to see the institution as a whole to succeed. I don’t want one part to lose out over the other, or the demise of any part of the SIU system. But the bottom line is SIUE really is an economic driver in my district — and really doing well. The numbers are up in enrollment and they really aren’t treated fairly. We’ve got to really work toward fair funding of SIUE.
IBJ: It’s ironic that you’re a former prosecutor following a former prosecutor (Bill Haine) into that office.
Crowe: It was actually Sen. Haine who first hired me into the state’s attorney’s office in 1999 as an intern. I left there for a while, came out with a lot of student debt from law school and went back there in 2006. I had the opportunity to work with law enforcement all over the district.
IBJ: What do you think is the greatest need right now in the law enforcement community?
Crowe: I think we’ve got to deal with the opioid crisis for certain. Not only the number of people becoming addicted and the trickle-down effect that it has but also the exposure that it opens our law enforcement up to.
I worked the drug court program for a number of years, and it’s truly an eye-opening experience to see that there is no one immune. It affects every walk of life. One of the things we’ve got to do is educate and we’re going to have to start young, with the kids.
IBJ: I see you supported the minimum wage increase. What are your thoughts there?
Crowe: That was a particularly hard vote for me. I certainly believe that all people should have a living wage and support their families. But I don’t think that should be done on the backs of our small businesses. Or on education, for that matter. I think it’s something we have to continue to work on to make sure our small businesses aren’t harmed.
IBJ: What’s been the biggest eye-opener for you so far?
Crowe: I’ve been asked that question a lot, and I really don’t have an answer for it. I’m very much a realist. I’ve seen a lot of things over the years as a prosecutor and it takes a lot to fluster me. It’s pretty much what I expected. I’ve felt very welcomed by colleagues on both sides of the aisle. There are plenty of Democrats who come from very different areas than I do. Everybody’s very respectful of each other’s differences.
IBJ: You’ve proven yourself to be pretty politically savvy, too. You won a race that was not a guaranteed win.
Crowe: I worked hard, I can tell you that much. I didn’t take any of it for granted. I tried to reach out in every area that I could and also not make it so much about party lines. In our district, there are a lot of people who don’t necessarily vote party lines.
IBJ: Have you got your staff and offices all locked in place now?
Crowe: Pretty much. I’m very fortunate to have Sen. Haine’s staff with me. (District office official) Tracy Cook was with Sen. Evelyn (Bowles) before she was with Sen. Haine. I’m fortunate to have that experience with me.
We are housed in the Wood River City Hall. I grew up in Wood River and it was important to me to have a hometown presence.
At the Capital Building, I’ve hired a man from Wood River who has moved to Springfield to be my legislative assistant, Bradley Gaines. I am in 311B in the Capital Building. I also want to make sure I’m accessible all over the district, so I’m setting up satellite office hours. I’ll be in Granite City, Collinsville and Alton certain days of the month. At the city halls or, in Alton, at (state Rep.) Monica Bristow’s office.
IBJ: Your district is in both Madison and St. Clair County, right?
Crowe: It includes most of Madison, but not the east end. And the only thing I have in St. Clair County is Caseyville Township. I also have Elsah, in Jersey County.
IBJ: What kind of goals do you have in your first term? That is, in addition to simply learning the system.
Crowe: Well, that is first and foremost. But I think overarching is to make sure Downstate is a priority. We’re very different than Chicago. While I was out campaigning so many people were concerned about being lumped in with the rest of the state.
IBJ: You’re not the only freshman senator from this area. You’ve also got Jason Plummer (R-Edwardsville, 54th) and Christopher Belt (D-Cahokia, 57th). You’ll be working with them to some degree, and I remember Bill Haine telling me some of the hardest stuff he had to do was reach across the aisle, but he was always glad he did it.
Crowe: I’m actually looking forward to that. As a matter of fact, I picked my seat on the Senate floor on the Republican half of the Senate for that very reason. I’m willing and ready to work any time they are.
IBJ: What are you going to be involved with from a committee perspective?
Crowe: I’ve very pleased with my committee appointments. I’m the vice chair of Judiciary, and I’m on criminal law. Obviously, they made a lot of sense given my background. I’ve also got the Veterans Affairs Committee and Labor. Both of my parents at one time or another belonged to a labor union.
IBJ: What about topics you’ll focus on?
Crowe: Coming from the state’s attorney’s office, there are definitely some laws I’m wanting to update, particularly when it comes to sentencing. I’ve been working with my former colleagues to identify those.
Another is I’m wanting to create a statewide task force on elder abuse. I think with our growing, aging population, we need to be able to identify abuse. There is much more of it than we recognize, be it physical or financial. There’s a lot of research to be done there and we’ll do what we can to catch up.
IBJ: In terms of sentencing what did you have in mind?
Crowe: One is child pornography. We need to increase the sentencing. As it stands now people convicted are eligible for day-for-day (prison) credit while many other Class X felonies are not. It needs to be caught up.
IBJ: Where did you go to school?
Crowe: Roxana High. Then, I went to Lewis and Clark, University of Missouri St. Louis and SLU Law. I met my husband in law school; he’s an attorney, too. We’ve got two little ones, a 6-year-old and a 12-year-old.
IBJ: Why did you want to be a legislator, knowing how much time it would take?
Crowe: It was not on my radar at all. When Sen. Haine decided to step down was about the same time we starting seeing the effects of the budget impasse. I was seeing it in court when it came to social service-type issues. But also our schools. I couldn’t believe we would have schools in our district that were looking at not opening or not staying open. It really motivated me to get involved. Before you know it, I was knocking on doors.