JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. – Rich AuBuchon’s career in Missouri politics is, quite simply, one that almost didn’t happen. After graduating from college, the Jefferson City native left Missouri for the wilderness of Wyoming, representing farmers and ranchers as a lawyer. He was spending time fishing, hunting, and enjoying life, which he still does to this day.
“But 9/11 happened, and life changed,” he said. “I moved back to Missouri, hoping to join the Guard and fly helicopters.”
AuBuchon’s vision presented a problem. He had Lasik surgery to correct it, and following some complications which required a second surgery, he found himself waiting to be eligible.
“By then, almost a year had gone by,” he said. “During that year, we had a kid, and life changed again.”
So AuBuchon took a job in the Attorney General’s office, taking the Missouri Bar, and eventually decided it was time to go another route.
He landed an interview with Mike Keathley, and two days later, was given the job as Deputy Commissioner for the Missouri Office of Administration.
During his career, he served as senior staff to Gov. Matt Blunt and chief of staff to Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder. AuBuchon has also served as counsel to the Missouri Chamber of Commerce and Polsinelli, P.C. After serving in those capacities, he started his own firm in 2014 after leaving Polsinelli, P.C.
It’s a stellar resume, made even more impressive by the fact that he accomplished all of it before the age of 40.
Lawyer and Lobbyist
AuBuchon says that his experiences in those roles have led him to where he is now, giving him tools and insight that could only be garnered through the scope of each position. His time inside the capitol gave him a firsthand account of how things work in Jefferson City, while the Missouri Chamber opened his eyes to the world of business in the Show-Me State.
But where he really excels is in what he does now: serving as a lawyer and lobbyist. It may sound like an odd combination to some, but AuBuchon says that it’s that combination of roles in particular that keeps him informed of issues in Missouri.
“It’s no different being an advocate here than it is in court; it’s just a different place. I still practice law quite a bit, and I think it makes me more effective in what I’m able to do here,” he said. “It keeps me fresh on these issues, so I can speak with some authority.”
He says he still can get nervous about bills going through votes but says it’s still a labor of love and dedication. He admits to being an adrenaline junkie, loving the rush that comes with success and hard work paying off.
But some things have changed since his days of working in the Capitol. He says that with the term limits, it makes it harder to develop and build the relationships with lawmakers, but that just means a stronger challenge to overcome.
AuBuchon says he still walks around the Capitol, seeing things he wished he would’ve fixed when he had the chance. But he still counts himself fortunate to be able to work in the capacity that he does.
One of the key issues he has always had his eye on is tort reform, something he has been a strong advocate for.
AuBuchon says that his real work on those issues began while working for the Missouri Chamber and that throughout his career, he’s spent time on both sides of the issue in court, both as counsel to the plaintiff and the defendant.
“I want to see these reforms, and fair access to the courts is important,” he said. “I also believe that setting up one side in favor of the plaintiffs is not good four our state either. It doesn’t mean that I think they should be one sided. We find this pent-up demand because for the last eight years because they have not been a major priority of the governor’s office. Now we see that.”
This year seems primed to be the year for major tort reform in Missouri. Speaker Todd Richardson said earlier this session that fixing these issues was about giving fair access to the courts, for the defense and plaintiffs as well. In his State of the State address, Gov. Eric Greitens named tort reform as one of the top priorities.
“It would be foolhardy not to mention and recognize that Gov. Greitens becoming the governor changed the landscape,” AuBuchon said. “I think that with Gov. Greitens taking the initiative, and a strong position in the House and Senate on these types of measures… This is the time when I think we’re going to see multiple pieces of tort reform pass.”
AuBuchon says that, especially with a large number of bills filed in regards to tort reforms in the 2017 legislative session, there is always some concern about pushing too much too quickly.
“But that’s it – if leaders in the state want to make a real impact on the future, making a splash is a need,” he said. “I think that if you look at what other states have done to attract businesses, it wasn’t by making a tweak here and there, it was opening the door for businesses and making sure that people had the opportunities to expand.”
A Coalition of Comrades
One of the things AuBuchon has done to help in the efforts of bringing tort reform to Missouri is by helping to create a group of interested parties, including companies and lobbyists and helping them organize. And by creating that network, the resources at their disposal has increased by a large number, as well as decreasing the amount of time it takes to find the information needed. The group is constantly in contact with each other, developing a single message in order to engage everyone as a single unit.
Anyone who has been to one of the hearings this session has been witness to crowded rooms, full of witnesses seeking to testify. That, in part, is due to the strong planning and operations led by AuBuchon and the other members of the group. But if you know anything AuBuchon, it’s that he’ll shun the spotlight, and instead talk about the efforts of others.
“I don’t personalize these issues,” he said. “That doesn’t mean I’m alone, there are a lot of people working hard on this. To take credit for any one thing would be wrong on my part. This is not just one person’s job, and I’m glad to play a role.”
In the end, when it comes to tort reform issues, AuBuchon views it simply as work to be done, the next mission to be completed, and chooses to focus his efforts on doing what he can to aid the process. He says that, in the long run, these are steps that Missouri has to take to keep moving forward.
“The success rates of tort reform legislation has been slow because they are tough issues,” he said. “They involve people, and that’s why it’s so hard. Whether you like it or not, they have a face to them, and that can’t be lost on the people that work on them. We’ve seen these things play out over the years, and companies have decided not to come here, in large part because of our litigation environment, and we can’t have that. If we’re going to compete, we need to set the table.”
Why He Got Involved
AuBuchon is married with four kids, and with a wife serving as the clerk of the Missouri Supreme Court, it can be a real challenge to balance the work life and family life.
“I wish there was a normal day,” AuBuchon said. Typically, he starts the day at 5 a.m., getting kids ready for school before getting to work, and ends with late nights at home. But he still works hard to find the time to spend with his family, saying he tries very hard to turn the phones off on the weekends.
But why does he put so much of himself into his work?
“I love doing it because it’s real,” he said.
“It’s a really tough thing to do, to take on other people’s issue, to work them to the point where you’ve surpassed their issue and made them better, leaving them in a better position. There’s a lot of good lobbyists here, and I hope that in time I’m considered one of them,” he continued. “I operate on the policy of always trying to show respect, be kind and tell the truth. And ultimately, that shines through, but always to stand up for what you think is right.”
AuBuchon’s hard work has helped build his way up the ladder, but he says that none of it is possible without building and maintaining strong relationships.
“Without good friends in the Capitol, you can’t do this,” he said.
Benjamin Peters was a reporter for The Missouri Times and Missouri Times Magazine and also produced the #MoLeg Podcast. He joined The Missouri Times in 2016 after working as a sports editor and TV news producer in mid-Missouri. Benjamin is a graduate of Missouri State University in Springfield.