Photo: House Rep. Joe Runions in his final days of the legislative session in Jefferson City. Runions, who represents Grandview and parts of south KC, is recovering from the coronovirus. Photo courtesy Tim Bommel, Photojournalist Missouri State Capital
Runions eyes finish line following recovery
By Tyler Schneider
In an age of sly politicking, where even a health crisis has in part become more or less of a series of policy positions, District 37 State Representative Joe Runions and his fight with COVID-19 stood as one of few narratives Missouri Governor Mike Parson couldn’t simply explain away in his quest to reopen the Show Me State’s economy by May 4.
Hospitalized on March 16 and diagnosed with the virus four days later, Runions would spend eight days total in the ER/ICU units at St. Joseph Medical Center in Kansas City.
“It seemed to be happening so fast. The nurses and the respiratory people were so caring. They made sure I was comfortable from the time I hit the [ER] to when they put me in the car to go home,” Runions said.
Despite being isolated from family, Runions — now in his eighth and final year of service due to term limits — had one key item at his disposal: a cell phone charger that his family had dropped off for him.
With it, Runions, 79, got to work to fight for those who had been caring for him, crafting a March 22 letter, addressed to Parson, in which he highlighted issues with St. Joseph’s supply of medical equipment.
“I have witnessed first-hand how much of these supplies are being used up treating COVID-19, and I am just one patient,” Runions wrote. “I’d say they are using 20 sets of supplies on me every day. The process of getting these supplies directly to hospitals must be greatly speeded up.”
Runions received a phone call from Parson later that day, but the talk was, in effect, a formality. They haven’t spoken since. On April 27, Parson announced the “Show Me Strong Recovery Plan,” confirming the May 4 reopening.
“The healthcare system is not overwhelmed. We are winning the battle,” Parson said at the time.
Runions was asked if he believed this statement to be true.
“No, I don’t think it is. They still have enough (equipment) at this time, but they could get overwhelmed in a couple of days and be back where they were before,” Runions said. At best, “there were never more than two or three days worth of supplies. [SJMC] had what they needed on a weekly basis, but that’s it.”
Now that the economy is firing on most cylinders again, the possibility of a second wave is particularly alarming to Runions. He fears it could overwhelm a system that has decided to no longer be entirely prepared for it.
“I had spoken to a CEO of one of the hospitals in the area, and he said right now they have a plan in which all hospitals are involved. But, if it hits one hospital real hard they may have to shift materials from another hospital. They’re not overstocked like the Governor says. It could get bad real quick,” Runions explained.
Runions was back in Jefferson City just last week for the second regular session of the 100th General Assembly. He sponsored three bills at the session: a restriction on handheld wireless communications devices by motorist operators, a modification to safety belt enforcement and an update to state motor fuel tax.
Despite some modest victories, Runions – a self described “old line, Truman Democrat” was not entirely satisfied with the way the session played out.
“It was not good. We got a revised version of absentee balloting, but it’s still not really good legislation. Mail-in balloting needs to be available anywhere, anytime — especially right now,” Runions said. “Missouri, on the Republican side, they’re so opposed to anything that makes it easy to vote. Plain and simple, they want to limit the votes, not increase them.”
Runions attributes much of this disconnect to the opposing party’s perennial vice grip on its members, despite the fact that he actually agrees with them on more (he is pro-life, for example) than most left-leaning metropolitan area representatives.
“For all of the eight years I’ve been down there I’ve seen the Republican party do it time and time again, they tell them to ‘fall in line’. You cannot tell me that 116 men and women have all got the same philosophy and vote the same way. They do, because their leadership told them to,” Runions said.
“They vote in lockstep. Our side doesn’t. I vote differently than my colleagues in the 36th District, the 25th and others in St. Louis. We vote for what’s best for our district. You can’t get good legislation when either party has total supermajority. I don’t care what party it is, it doesn’t work,” he added.
While politics will always be a game of majorities and strategic pandering, Runions doesn’t intend to sit out of the game even when his final turn runs out this coming fall. He has already picked a successor in current sitting Grandview aldermen Annette M. Turnbaugh, who will explore that possibility after first seeking reelection to her current position.