Crabtree leaves filming for political scene

Tuesday, October 24, 2006 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 2:44 a.m. CDT, Monday, July 21, 2008

What's the job?

There are 163 members of the Missouri House of Representatives, which works in conjunction with the Missouri Senate to pass legislation and craft annual state budgets, subject to the approval of the governor.

The General Assembly convenes in early January and continues its session through May. It occasionally reconvenes in September to reconsider either vetoed bills or bills strongly advocated by the governor but not passed in regular session.

Representatives earn $31,351 per year and receive daily expense allowances and reimbursements for mileage to and from the Capitol.

In 1996, Patrick Crabtree directed a straight-to-video martial arts movie about a divorce attorney who is kidnapped and tortured. Filmed in two weeks in St. Louis, “Death Kick” had a $75,000 budget.

Now, 10 years later, Crabtree is trying to stretch a fraction of that amount — $1,712 — into a victory in November’s 23rd District state House race. All signs point to an uphill battle versus his opponent, House Minority Leader Jeff Harris, D-Columbia, who has won back-to-back landslide victories and has amassed tens of thousands of dollars in his campaign war chest.

“I don’t care about spending more money than him,” said the 41-year-old Republican. “The whole key is to get the message to the voters.”

And to get his message out to the voters, Crabtree is walking the streets of the district. On a recent brisk Saturday morning, he got help from his 10-year-old son, Connor, his 8-year-old daughter, MacKenzie, and her friend as they went door-to-door and handed out fliers.

One of the rules? Stay clear of homes with Democratic candidates’ signs in their yards.

“Don’t go there,” Crabtree told MacKenzie as she was about to walk up to a house with two Claire McCaskill signs.

At one house on Broadway near Clinkscales Road, a woman using a walker told Crabtree that she’d been recently cut from Medicaid because she owns her house.

“I just want the representatives to listen to the people,” said the woman, who would not give her name.

While the Medicaid cuts were an initiative driven primarily by Republicans, Crabtree stuck to his guns.

“My opponent is well, well known, and what has he done for you? Nothing,” Crabtree responded. “I want to fight for you.”


Crabtree grew up in north St. Louis County in a blue-collar household. His father, William Crabtree, worked 16 hour days as a co-founder of Automatic Climate Control, an air conditioning and heater dealer. From age 8, Crabtree and his older brother helped their father install units after school and during summers.

“I wouldn’t say that our father was really hard on us,” he said. “But he expected us to work.”

On Saturdays as a child, Crabtree would watch World War II and John Wayne movies. The experience drove home two key ideas: that freedom is important, and that he wanted to be an actor.

His desire to act changed in eighth grade, when he got the chance to direct a play.

“I thought, ‘Wow, directing is really where it’s at, because now you’re the guy telling the story,’” he said.

Crabtree was president of the photography club at Hazelwood West High School and had his eyes on attending the prestigious School of Cinematic Arts at the University of Southern California.

Because of the setup of USC’s film school, Crabtree first attended the University of Missouri-St. Louis and planned to transfer after his sophomore year. That never happened. Midway through his sophomore year, he met his future wife, Laurie, in the school cafeteria.

Wanting to stay closer to Laurie, Crabtree transferred to the film school at Southern Illinois University-Carbondale and commuted home every weekend.

Crabtree and his wife were married in 1990 and followed some friends to Columbia years later.

“My friends were trying to get me to come and telling me how good the area was,” said Crabtree, owner of the vending company Crystal Cos., a provider of private pay-phone service. “And really, Columbia is just like where I grew up in North County.”

Involved in politics

Crabtree decided to enter the race for state representative a few months ago and filed his paperwork on the last possible day, after clearing all potential conflicts.

Crabtree developed the desire to be a politician when he became a father and his concern shifted “to making sure my kids and my family were taken care of,” he said.

“I have always been very passionate about us retaining our freedoms,” Crabtree said. “It actually has been a huge passion of mine, more than even my passion for film.”

If elected, Crabtree wants to build a stronger economy in Missouri through keeping taxes low and granting research and development tax incentives. He is also a supporter of the sale of assets from the Missouri Higher Education Loan Authority. He accuses Harris, who has repeatedly offered public support for the sale, of trying to kill the deal in the background. When told of Crabtree’s accusations, Harris dismissed the allegation.

A major concern for Crabtree is Columbia’s elementary math program, TERC’s Investigations in Number, Data and Space. His son Connor, a fifth-grader in the gifted program at Russell Elementary School, said he enjoys math and is minoring in math in his gifted-education program.

But Crabtree fears the homework and the way the course is taught will cause his son to lose his appreciation for math. Connor isn’t taught how to use multiplication tables, how to do long division or how to multiply numbers by stacking them atop each other, his father said.

On a sheet of paper, Crabtree showed how the math problem “42 x 37” is answered by tediously breaking each number down into its smallest components.

“It’s extremely ridiculous,” said Crabtree, after taking nearly two minutes to get the problem’s answer: 1,554.

Crabtree said he is also inspired to fix the education system because of his father, who he said had only a ninth-grade education but was more prepared to enter the work force than Crabtree felt he was, even with a college degree. And the education system has only worsened since he graduated, he said.

At home, it didn’t take much to persuade his wife, Laurie, and his children to support his decision to enter the race.

“The kids wanted me to run,” Crabtree said.

That seemed clear after Connor spent two hours handing out fliers on a Saturday morning.

“I want my dad to win,” he said.

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