JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. – As the Missouri House of Representatives returned to session on Monday afternoon, one member of the body was noticeably absent from the ranks: Speaker Pro Tem Elijah Haahr.
That’s because the Speaker-elect had flown to Washington, D.C. on Sunday, after receiving a call late last week from the White House, inviting him to attend the President’s rollout of his infrastructure package as one of 25 or so elected officials from several states.
President Donald Trump’s 53-page plan seeks to turn $200 billion in federal money into $1.5 trillion to repair and upgrade the country’s infrastructure by leveraging local and state tax dollars as well as private investments.
For Haahr, it was an experience that trumps most others.
He headed to the White House at 10 a.m. on Monday, where he joined a roundtable consisting of the governors from Louisiana and Mississippi, Virginia, New Mexico, and Wisconsin, as well as mayors of several major cities and House Speakers from Utah, Georgia, and Iowa, along with several Cabinet members.
“Ryan Zinke from the Secretary of the Interior was there, Scott Pruitt from the EPA, Elaine Chao, Gary Cohn, and Ivanka Trump was there,” Haahr said. “We had about a 45-minute informal discussion prior to the President’s arrival where we went around and introduced ourselves and put a spotlight on one or two state-centered projects that we wanted to discuss, that we thought was important to our states and needed help in the infrastructure plan.”
For Haahr, his emphasis was placed on I-49 – the Missouri/Arkansas Connector – and I-270.
“I-49 runs all the way from New Orleans to Kansas City, but there’s a 19-mile stretch, a little bit on the Arkansas side and a little on Missouri’s side, where 49 ends and the roads don’t meet highway standards,” Haahr said. “It’s very beneficial to southwest Missouri because it would connect the Bentonville area with Joplin, but also in general, it would help with trucking. It’s a huge deal for southwest Missouri and really Missouri in general.”
He also highlighted the need to address the roads and traffic for I-270 and noted that the Show-Me State serves as the crossroads of the nation, with I-44, I-70, and I-49 all cutting across the state.
“The infrastructure plan will probably affect our state more than others,” he said. “But there was a lot of discussion about the problems others were having with right-of-ways, length of time it takes to get permits, regulations, and some EPA issues.”
After that, the President came in and spoke for about 15 minutes, took some Q&A from around the table, and took about 30 minutes to discuss the projects of each state before wrapping up.
Everyone received an opportunity to introduce themselves to the President, including Haahr, who shook the commander-in-chief’s hand for the first time.
“It was pointed out while I was with the President and shaking his hand, I was actually the youngest person that was at the table, which I’ll wear as a badge of honor,” Haahr said.
— Elijah Haahr (@elijahhaahr) February 12, 2018
Haahr says he did take the opportunity to look around, being his first time in the White House.
“For someone who has grown up interested in policy and politics, this is my equivalent to the Super Bowl,” he said with a laugh. “It was a very unique and special opportunity.”
He also said it was nice to see some familiar faces during his visit, as he ran into the former state senator and current Missouri Public Service Commissioner Ryan Silvey and State Treasurer Eric Schmitt, who was delivering some addresses at the time.
“When I went to the White House, I got out of the Uber at 9:40 a.m, they told me it had been delayed, and that I should come back at 10,” Haahr said. “So I was sort of jogging to a gift store to get out of the rain, and I ran into Treasurer Schmitt. I told him we apparently have to travel a thousand miles to run into each other.”
Haahr also said it was great to meet the Speaker of the House from Iowa, Linda Upmeyer. Interestingly enough, Upmeyer’s father was Speaker of the House during 1982, the year in which Haahr was born in Iowa, which he said was a fun connection to share.
Haahr said it was an overwhelming experience, and looks forward to the next time he can return to D.C. and potentially take in some more sights and sounds.
“It’s overwhelming, and just an exciting place to be for anyone who has an interest in history, politics, and policy,” 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.