Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Response from Ben Murray, State Representative Candidate (Dist. 80)

1. What do you view as the key role, and/or attributes needed for this position? What experience/attributes do you have that qualify you for this position?

I have over 13 years’ experience in campaign finance, government, and grassroots organizing for progressive candidates and causes. I have a BA in Political Science and a Master’s in Public Administration from the University Missouri. While in high school and college, I worked at Schnucks and was a member of UFCW Local 655, which solidified my commitment to unions and raising the minimum wage. I worked on many of Congressman Russ Carnahan’s early campaigns and also served in government as his Special Assistant on Capitol Hill. Since then, I have managed campaigns for a number of progressive candidates and ballot initiatives, and was the Organizing Director for Missouri Progressive Vote Coalition.

Through my education and experiences, I understand how government works, its deficiencies, and best practices for making it work better. Working so closely in campaign finance makes me uniquely positioned to tackle the issues of campaign finance and ethics reform.

2. Why do you think you are the best person for this position? What differentiates you from your opponent(s)?

I never thought that I would find myself running for public office. I’ve been pretty lucky over the years to work to help get other good progressives elected, and have always been happy to be behind the scenes.

Nonetheless, when this seat came open, and the field started to come together I became concerned. The 80th is one of the most diverse, progressive districts in the state. We deserve a representative who reflects that. “Progressive” is an easy word to throw around, but to me it’s more than just a slogan or a Twitter hashtag. My opponent’s willingness to label himself a progressive, while racking up campaign contributions and endorsements from the same conservative, business friendly interests who always seem to get their way in both City Hall and in Jefferson City is deeply distressing. I have pledged not accept any lobbyist gifts, meals, or trips and I do not accept campaign contributions or seek endorsements from people who are working against real progressive ideals.

In addition, I am an outspoken advocate for a women’s right to choose. Women are under attack in Jefferson City on a daily basis. We cannot afford to have Democrats who are unable or unwilling to clearly articulate their views on abortion and strongly protect women’s rights to make their own decisions about their bodies.

Finally, I think that I bring some specific experience to the table, in terms of rebuilding the Democratic caucus. I spent an election cycle as the Legislative Director for Eastern Missouri for the State Party. I know Democrats can win, even in rural parts of the state without sacrificing our values. I will be a full time State Representative and look forward to working year round to help grow our party. To this end, I am actively working with candidates for committee positions in the 80th district to help build the future of the party while I myself run for office.

3. What do you feel are the most pressing issues currently facing this office and what plans do you have to address these issues? (please be specific)

More specific points follow, buy generally the most pressing issue is the pervasive influence of special interests in Jefferson City. People I talk to, knocking on doors in this district are pretty distrustful of the state legislature, and they are right to be. For too long the big money has ruled at the State Capitol, while regular people find themselves working harder to earn less and less.

4. What three issues are your main priorities and how will you guide them?

  • Ethics Reform and more broadly changing the culture in Jefferson City: The legislature passed a handful of watered down ethics proposals this year. We must do better. I am also particularly troubled by the climate of sexual harassment that still pervades the state capitol. We need representatives who will not look the other way in the face of rampant sexism. Additionally, we need representatives who practice what they preach by not accepting any gifts, meals or trips from lobbyists and being conscientious about who we take money from. I will lead by example while working to push for real ethics reform, including campaign contribution limits, closing the revolving door, and establishing a code of ethics that supports and values women in government.
  • Protecting women’s reproductive rights: Every year we think that the attacks on women’s health cannot get worse and every year anti-choice extremists find new ways to disappoint us. I’m proud to be a part of the campaign to stop Senator Kurt Schaefer’s bid for statewide office and look forward to fighting for abortion rights on the House floor.
  • Racial Equity: The Ferguson Commission has approved over 200 calls for action to improving citizen-law enforcement relations, municipal court and governance reform, child well-being and education equity, and economic inequity and opportunity. In 2015, the Missouri General Assembly only passed one Ferguson related reform. As a member of the General Assembly, I will fight to implement these calls to action. Specifically, I will support the Fair and Impartial Policing Act, fight for the establishment of a statewide database on Use of Force Statistics, and support state-wide legislation requiring the use of police body cameras while also protecting the civil liberties of the general public and victims of crimes. I support municipal consolidation as an effort to take reliance of communities off of tickets and fines to meet their budgets, and also recognize that we must develop systems to allow the African American leadership of these areas to still have a voice in government should these municipalities’ cease to exist. Additionally, I will seek alternatives to incarceration, especially for the 60% of people who are in prison for non-violent drug offences, and fight to ensure that our laws are not selectively applied harder to low-income minority communities.

5. How do you plan to address the schism between Republicans and Democrats in Jefferson City? How will you accomplish things as a member of the minority party?

Democrats face a huge challenge dealing with the Tea Party supermajority in Jefferson City. Frankly, I’m fairly suspicious of any Democrat who think that they can “accomplish things” with a majority who’s stated goal is to roll back LGBT rights, workers’ rights and to effectively end access to abortion. Standing on principle and advocating for the voiceless is an end unto itself. I applaud the efforts of our Democratic Senators this year to filibuster numerous anti-worker, anti-women, and anti-minority legislation. As the minority party, we must be ready to stand up and fight every battle, with equal effort, in order to protect women, minority, immigrants, and the LGBT community from Republican extremism. In the meantime, we have to be rebuilding the party, and running Democrats in every race, so we can have the numbers necessary to fight for progressive policies, rather than always be fighting against right-wing extremism.

6. How do you plan to increase available jobs in the area and state?

Beyond the self-evident moral imperative, expanding Medicaid would be a huge economic stimulus for the state. Failing to expand Medicaid will cost Missouri hospitals $6.8 billion over the next ten years. This will almost certainly lead job losses in places like St. Louis but will also likely lead to hospital closures in rural areas.

Furthermore, I will support legislation that creates long term and sustainable economic opportunities for the region. I was strongly opposed to the proposed new football stadium that would have burdened the taxpayers with a billion dollar boondoggle and would have created zero new long-term sustainable jobs. While I support major infrastructure projects and have high hopes for the union construction jobs that one-off projects like the NGA West will provide, these “silver bullet” marquee projects are by no means a long term solution to the region’s economic woes.

Finally, no discussion of job creation and economic development can happen without discussing education. The public school system in St. Louis City has been too broken for too long. The current leadership at City Hall and Jefferson City has proven time and again only one thing: “It’s time for new leadership.”

7. How do you plan to address the tension between rural and urban areas of the state?

I have done candidate work in Jefferson County and Franklin County, as well as outside Hannibal, Missouri. My experience knocking on doors, talking to real people in these communities has been that our differences are not as great as we might imagine.

People in rural areas want jobs that pay a living wage and to send their children to good schools. I look forward to working toward these goals in the legislature.

8. What broad-based, stable source of revenue would you recommend to fund quality, public services if both individual and corporate taxes were cut?

Further cutting corporate and individual taxes at this point would be a catastrophic mistake. Nonetheless, if the legislature is determined to do so, we might be able to recoup some lost revenue either by taxing the legal sale of marijuana or by imposing a carbon tax, as Illinois is doing this now.

9. How can the legislators from the St. Louis metropolitan area work together despite party differences to support and protect the interests of the entire area? (please be specific)

There are likely some suburban Republicans who share City residents’ concern over the easy availability of guns to felons and the violently mentally ill. I have some hope that we may be able to find common ground on this important issue.

10. Describe how you work with, or will work with, others to address your priorities.

I will first and foremost work to engage the people of the 80th District to guide my agenda. Beyond that I will work with fellow Democrats, labor unions and progressive organizations to advocate for change as I have done throughout my career.

11. Who are your 3 largest campaign contributors? Do you have a policy on accepting lobbyist gifts? Are there donors from whom you will not accept campaign contributions?

My largest donations have all come from family, specifically, my mother who is a retired nurse and my father who is a retired teacher.

I will never accept gifts, meals, trips or tickets from lobbyists. I have refused both in my campaign and in my professional dealings to accept contributions from Rex Sinquefield and his affiliate groups. I do not accept contributions from anyone who profits from exploiting workers, the environment or mass incarceration.

12. The Ferguson Commission has over 100 calls to action as a result of its year long community engagement process. Many of its recommendations fall on the Missouri General Assembly to implement. Your election will be a couple of days before the two year anniversary of the shooting of Michael Brown, yet very few of the commission’s recommendations have been taken up by the General Assembly. If elected, what will you do to ensure that racial justice receive the attention needed at a state level?

The fight for racial equity, and to implement the recommendations of the Ferguson Commission, must be led by my African American counterparts whose communities have been over policed, over incarcerated, and suffered from far too much disinvestment for far too long. As State Representative, I will follow their lead, and support the efforts of the Legislative Black Caucus on legislation that promotes racial equity in Missouri. The failure to implement the recommendations of the Ferguson Commission is an injustice. We cannot lose focus or become complacent on racial equity issues. I pledge to fight to keep this in the forefront until the legislature takes meaningful action. Additionally, I support the utilization of a racial equity framework in the decision-making of the General Assembly so that we are more aware of how the policies we pass promote or discourage racial disparities in Missouri.

13. Increasingly, women’s reproductive rights, workers’ rights, and LGBTQ rights have been under attack in Jefferson City. If elected, what will you do to protect and advocate for these classes?

I have a long history of fighting for workers, women, and the LGBTQ community. As the Organizing Director for the Missouri Progressive Vote Coalition we worked every day to mobilize voters on these issues. I welcome the chance to continue this work in Jefferson City.

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