Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Response from Peter Merideth, 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 believe my key role as state representative is to be a passionate advocate and coalition builder for progressive causes. Though we are a party in the minority, there is much we can do – from proactive goals like Medicaid expansion, MONA and criminal justice reform to defensive positions like protecting a woman’s right to choose, aid to poor communities and workers’ rights to organize and fight for higher wages, benefits and protections. These are issues that are winnable for Democrats even statewide. However, it will take coalition building with members of the majority to do so. 

I have experience as both a community leader and a lawyer. My experience as a community leader has been rooted in finding common ground between both sides of the problem at hand, working to build trust, and moving forward together to solve problems. This is critical in being able to achieve goals and affect real change. I’ve also found as a community leader the importance of approaching problems and new ideas with a lens of racial, social and economic equity. As a leader, you must always give special attention and voice to those communities and interests that are often least heard.

As a lawyer, I’ve studied what makes for good or bad policy, and worked with clients navigating law in the real world, especially in our troubled municipal and criminal systems. I’ve also learned that when litigating, you have to be a strong advocate in the courtroom, fighting for your clients 150%. At the same time, however, you have to be able to effectively work with opposing counsel behind the scenes toward settlements that will benefit everyone. I believe this is a difficult and necessary skill for accomplishing real progress in the Missouri House.

I am passionate and committed. I truly believe that by serving in this role, I can make a difference in my community and the state. I believe in the power of listening, and I focus on building relationships with everyone (regardless of their viewpoint) in order to find common ground and mutual understanding.

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

This district is my home and has been since I was born. My entire family lives here and is committed to this place. My parents instilled a commitment to our community in me from a very early age with their active leadership in community organizations and belief that cooperation and community could fight against difficult challenges of crime and poverty. Their leadership taught me that to seek change, you must listen to but also persuade people of diverse backgrounds and viewpoints to build that change. 

After college, I decided to study law with the intention of understanding policy more deeply and serving as a ‘for the people’ attorney. I’ve served in leadership roles in the Shaw Neighborhood Improvement Association, Garden District, and 8th Ward Democrats. I currently focus my neighborhood practice on estate planning and municipal infractions, most of which I handle pro bono. I believe my community involvement and experience working with the real-world impact of laws make me uniquely qualified to be this community’s state rep.

I also believe I am the candidate most prepared to work with people representing various sides of debates to reach common ground. For example, I have regularly joined (and strongly support) the protests in my neighborhood and have attended events hosted by Forward Through Ferguson, Decarcerate STL and other groups working for criminal justice reform and racial equity. At the same time, however, I have a working relationship with the St. Louis police and the support of the St. Louis Police Officers’ Association. I believe in order to create real change we need to build bridges between these groups as opposed to simply picking sides and placing blame.

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)

I think the primary obstacle faced by whomever works in this office will be the supermajority of Republicans controlling the house. For this reason, I will work to improve this balance -- fighting to change how we draw our district boundaries neutrally, creating systems that enable greater voter engagement and involvement in the process, and working with our caucus to recruit strong democratic candidates across the state and help get them elected. I also will fight for real campaign finance reform that includes campaign contribution limits like most every other state has, in order to create a more level playing field in elections.

4. What three issues are your main priorities and how will you guide them?
  1. Medicaid Expansion -- I believe this is the clearest single piece of legislation that will immediately benefit the most Missourians. I have already met with various traditionally conservative leaders, as well as new candidates and current electeds that are prepared to make this a priority next year, and I believe we will be able to build a strong coalition to finally get this passed.
  2. Criminal Justice Reform -- Our punitive approach to public safety and the disparate enforcement against minority communities is one of the problems that drove me to go to law school and get into politics. I believe my experience with the municipal and criminal court systems as an attorney give me a strong understanding of the problems and an ability to identify creative solutions. My strong relationships with both the police and many leaders of the protesting communities make me uniquely qualified to build coalitions on this issue, as well.
  3. Economic Justice - The other issue that drives me is our severe achievement and opportunity gap in education and economics. This issue will require work on many different fronts, including a higher minimum wage, assistance programs for the poor and working class, equitable funding and integration of our schools, and progressive revisions of our revenue sources. In general, I will work to incorporate a lens of racial and economic equity to all of my votes and decisions in the legislature.

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?

Building coalitions and seeking allies has been my approach when working to resolve neighborhood issues and legal issues, and it is how I will approach working as a member of the minority party in Jefferson City. Though I’ll likely disagree with (and stand strong against) Republican members’ policy positions 99 percent of the time, I will work to build relationships with them, so we can work together on the one percent we do agree on. 

I also recognize that the role of a minority member of the house is sometimes simply to give a strong voice to progressive values. Sometimes that will require impassioned statements on the floor in opposition to a bill, and other times it will require proposing legislation intended to make a point. I will not compromise these values even while I look for common causes with our opposition.

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

Medicaid expansion is imperative to our state’s economy. By expanding, we can sustain or create about 24,000 jobs. I will immediately go to work with our party in moving the ball forward on this. I also believe we need to invest in our crumbling infrastructure, utilizing historic and low income tax credits to rebuild deteriorating buildings, raising our gas tax and other revenue to rebuild our roads and bridges, and building new long-term investments like a north-south metro line and other public transit infrastructure that will enable more working families to get to and from good jobs. 

We also need to cooperate as a region and stop competing with ourselves for the newest retail developments, and focus more on developments that grow the region as a whole. This includes efforts to retain large strong employers and to grow new industries in this region. I will work to encourage and incentivize our strong startup and entrepreneurship programs like those associated with the Cortex, and work to capitalize on our regional assets to keep graduates of our good schools in our city.

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

This goes back to building coalitions and seeking out allies. For the most part, rural members of the legislature are Republicans. I believe there is room to work with them on issues like Medicaid expansion. Though Republicans have largely opposed expansion, failure to adopt expansion disproportionately affects our rural areas with the highest share of residents who fall below the poverty line in our state. At the same time, rural hospitals are closing their doors at an alarming rate. We can work together on this issue and others, if not because of the moral imperative, then by economic appeal. Moreover, if Republican leaders in rural districts fail to get on board with this and similar issues, we can use these issues to recruit strong Democrats and reclaim those seats.

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

Our state cannot fund quality public services if we cut taxes on our wealthiest individuals and corporations. Recovering losses in income tax revenue with higher sales taxes would disproportionately impact our low and working class residents. I will support increases to our gas and tobacco taxes, which are currently among the lowest in the nation, but will fight to maintain or increase our more progressive revenue sources as opposed to general sales tax increases.

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)

Legislators from the St. Louis metro area need to focus on how we can leverage state funds to improve quality of life issues in our region. Crime, poverty, education and transportation do not just affect the urban core but impact the entire state. St. Louis area legislators need to be a united front fighting to protect our city’s primary source of revenue (the earnings tax), and working to increase funding for public transit, education and other major area investments. We need to see ourselves not merely as representing our own corners of St. Louis, but the region as a whole.

A specific example would be working to fund a north-south metro line and to increase overall funding of the Metrolink -- a system that benefits the entire region. In most cities with a rail system, their states fund over a third of the budget for that system. In Missouri, the state funds only half a percent. Increasing the state’s share of this system should be an issue all representatives of the St. Louis area can support, regardless of party affiliation.

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

Every person is an ally on at least some cause. For that reason, I will aim to disagree without being disagreeable and to fight without burning bridges. When a common cause comes around I want to ensure that I can build coalitions that include folks that aren’t always in agreement in order to reach majorities to get things done. 

I also believe the strongest force for change is an organized and engaged community. For that reason I will strive to improve the ability of this community to engage in the legislative process and to join me in our fights in Jefferson City. I will also work with labor groups and progressive organizations to build strong campaigns for the causes we believe in.

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?

I have been very fortunate to receive 411 monetary contributions, with an average of $133. Of those, 54 percent of contributions are from in district. My three largest contributors are: my parents, Safer Families for Missouri, the PAC that represents Missouri Association of Trial Attorneys, and my friend David Steward Jr, owner of Lion Forge Comics. Lion Forge is a local company and is a platform for African-American comic creators.

We need strong ethics reform legislation that would establish reasonable limits on lobbyist gifts. Until we pass clear rules, it's important in this political climate of extreme lobbyist influence not to accept any gifts whatsoever. I will proudly make that promise, and will work hard to establish rules that make sense.

Much more importantly, we need campaign contribution limits in Missouri. Big donors and corporate interests have far too much influence over legislators, and contributions of hundreds of thousands of dollars are unacceptable and prevent any sort of level playing field. I would strongly support limits that match those of federal campaigns.

I do not presently have a list of specific donors I would not accept contributions from. Contributions I receive are from people that support my positions, not that expect to change them with their dollars. My support cannot be bought.

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 Ferguson Commission Report is one of the strongest resources we have with specific recommendations for how to improve our criminal justice system and strive for equitable outcomes in economics, healthcare, education, and many other areas. I’ve been an active supporter of the Shaw Conversations discussing racial equity, the protests bringing attention to this cause, and the sessions hosted by groups like Forward Through Ferguson, Decarcerate STL, MORE, and others seeking to keep the Report’s agenda active.

As a legislator, I will work closely with these groups to implement the Report’s recommendations wherever possible, and I will utilize my legal experience in municipal and criminal courts to bring a practical perspective of why these changes are so necessary. I refuse to let the Ferguson Commission Report be one more community driven report that goes ignored by actual policy makers.

In approaching policy in Jefferson City, I will always ensure that a lens of racial equity is applied when considering the impacts of laws.

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 look forward to working with strong progressive organizations like Planned Parenthood, NARAL, Jobs with Justice, labor unions and PROMO to fight to protect the rights of women, workers and the LGBTQ community in Missouri. I will work with fellow Democrats and moderate Republicans to build popular support for these groups, and to defend against regular attack by the extreme Republicans in control of the House.

I am proud to be the only candidate with the support of numerous unions and labor organizations, and I will stand strong against so-called Right to Work, Paycheck Deception and other attacks on organized labor. I’ll also work for proactive measures like paid family leave and a livable minimum wage in Missouri.

I am also proud to have the support of the Missouri Trial Attorneys’ Association, and I will stand strong with them in fighting efforts to undermine rights of workers to sue employers for discrimination or to seek compensation for work-related injuries.

I firmly believe that the government has no business interfering with women’s reproductive health or medical decisions, and will fight to protect the right of women to choose abortions or other medical procedures. I will also work for equal pay for women in Missouri, as our society should never tolerate women being paid less than men for the same work.

I stand strong with the LGBTQ community, as well, against efforts to legalize discrimination such as SJR39 and proposals to restrict bathroom usage. I believe these efforts are offensive, ignorant and harmful to our state. I will instead work for proactive efforts like passing MONA and extending legal protections to the LGBTQ community. Discrimination based on sexual or gender identity or preferences can not be tolerated in our state.

Thank you for your time in reading all of these responses, and I ask for your support in this campaign. I look forward to working with you all going forward! -- Peter

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