Wednesday, June 06, 2018

Response from Peter Merideth, Candidate for Missouri State Representative (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?

In my first term in the House I’ve had a steep learning curve about how best to use my position to make an impact. In my own successes and failures, and in watching other reps, I’ve found a few things to be most important thus far. First - communication is key. As a progressive, often the most valuable thing we can do as a legislator is communicate with our constituents about what is actually happening in Jeff City. I believe I’ve proven quite effective at doing this in some places, like detailed updates and analysis on facebook and in email newsletters, and by showing up to Ward meetings as much as possible to answer questions and give updates in person. There are only so many hours in the day, but I’ve done my best to engage my constituents and keep them informed.

Second, working in Jeff City requires constant attention and engagement. We debate new issues at a moment’s notice and need to be prepared to think critically, ask questions, and articulate concerns about legislation. I believe this is one of my real strengths - analyzing policy quickly, seeking information from stakeholders, and evaluating real world impacts on people. Then being ready to debate and improve that legislation. That’s the primary job of a legislator.

Third, relationships in Jeff City (and across the state) are key. It can be tough to be a vocal advocate (and critic) while also maintaining relationships with folks on the other side of each fight. I’ve tried hard to achieve this balance, and believe I am improving every day on this front. Sometimes, we have to be willing to compromise in order to make legislation better, while also remaining vocal about concerns with the final product. And we have to be willing to go shake hands with people, even after fighting hard with them on the floor, in committees or on social media.

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

I would say my experience is proving extremely valuable already in Jeff City. With term limits, not many reps understand how to use the process to get things done quietly. I’m quickly learning how to do that. I’ve also managed to learn a whole lot about a lot of different complicated issues - from energy policy to liquor laws to more traditional fights like tort reform and labor issues. We all need to be ready on the hot button social fights, but these complicated areas are often where the most work can be done - but it requires attention to detail and a willingness to delve into complex policy problems.

I would add that the relationships I’ve built have proven extremely valuable, and my efforts to build support across the state for Democrats to regain seats in the House is extremely valuable. This may the most important aspect of the job in the long run for actually moving the state in a more progressive direction. I hope to be able to continue that work.

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)
Our toughest struggles in this state right now seem to revolve around finding funding for the various essential services the state provides, and to do so in the most equitable way possible. As a member of the budget committee, I’ve learned a lot about the state’s budget - where to find potential new revenue, where cuts are possible, and where we need to invest more. In a state that keeps looking to cut taxes on corporations and wealthier Missourians, this is a tough but necessary fight if we want to start sufficiently investing again in Healthcare, Education, Infrastructure and programs that help bring people out of poverty, to name just a few areas.

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

Healthcare, Education and Criminal Justice Reform. The budget committee has proven to be a place where real bipartisan work can happen, and I’ve worked hard to be a real player in that process. Building relationships with other budget members is key, as is identifying places for compromise in order to find funding for the places that need it most.

As for criminal justice issues - I’ve stood on the floor and spoken loudly on behalf of folks whose voices are underrepresented, and helped to support other members that sometimes better represent those voices than I can. I support protests seeking change, while also working with many Republican reps that support some changes to help get small reforms accomplished.

But of course, as with most issues we care about, we need more Democrats in office. So the most significant efforts I’ve put in have been to help rebuild infrastructure and take a leadership role in recruiting candidates and helping support them toward victory.

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?

This is sometimes an impossible task. I’ve learned a lot of good policy can be passed from the minority party with relationships with individual Republicans, and with amendments onto related bills. This is key. And relationships are built with time largely spent outside of session - getting to know other reps and their families, and working to ensure that our only interactions aren’t just fighting over the more divisive issues we debate.

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

First, we need to be investing in labor and the workforce. The unemployment rate is low right now, but many workers are still dramatically underemployed or have given up on the job hunt. I believe that the best way to grow our economy is making sure that our workers have enough money to pay the bills and to spend back into the economy. That’s what drives growth. That means fighting to preserve labor rights, and to raise the minimum wage, among other areas. We also need to invest in educating our workforce so that our workers have the skills for tomorrow’s economy. Skilled workers and a strong consumer base are also the best way to bring new employers to our state and to enable our own entrepeneurs to grow here. I also support programs like the Missouri Technology Corp, historic tax credits, Missouri Arts Council, Youth Summer Jobs, and other programs that invest in our workforce here at home.

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

Again, communication is key. I’ve been traveling the state quite a bit working with candidates and visiting rural communities to hear about their needs and to let them know that Democrats have their backs. So often, rural and urban needs are truly the same, but cultural differences have people often voting against their interests. Being present in their communities, listening and conversing with people is the best way to change this.

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

First and foremost, we need to stop cutting taxes. We also need to update our tax code to establish a progressive rate structure as our current “top” margin of $9,000/yr is dramatically outdated. But aside from these taxes, there is room to reform a number of tax credit programs that give away our revenue to corporate welfare. We can also look to fix certain loopholes like the 3% deduction we give to businesses for filing their taxes on time (the highest such benefit in the country), we can legalize and tax marijuana, we can tax internet sales the same way as our local brick and mortars, and we can raise our gas and cigarette taxes to no longer being the lowest in the nation.

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)

First, again, communication is key. We need to strengthen regional bipartisan groups like the St. Louis regional caucus to meet more regularly and develop concrete policy goals on which we can all agree. We also simply need to spend more time in individual meetings with each other to build relationships and find places of common interest to our region.

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

Again, time outside of session is important to building relationships. I visit with other reps outside of session regularly over coffee or beers, strategizing and also just getting to know each other. In session, finding specific members to carry legislation that they may be best suited to accomplish is important -- delegating and diversifying our efforts based on skill sets. I’m willing to sit down and work with even my most staunch political opponents anytime there is an opportunity to work on a shared goal.

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 do not accept any lobbyist gifts, and reimburse any that are inadvertently accepted. My largest contributors remain my parents, and a few key Democratic donors and personal friends that are willing to give max contributions to support my efforts. With limits, there will likely be more than three that give the max this year, particularly because of my campaign investing in Democratic efforts across the state. I do not currently have a specific policy against any donors, because if you want to support the work I do, knowing where I stand on issues and that I will not beholden to any donor, I appreciate the support, and will welcome opportunities to work with you on shared causes. I believe most anyone can find shared causes, even if we are on opposite sides on a vast majority of fights.

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. 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?

This is one area on which I have been particularly vocal as a legislator, and have also sought to work with a variety of other voices to help get them accomplished. This year, we had a number of small victories in criminal justice reform of which I am proud, and which took Republican support to get done. However, not nearly enough has been done, and I will continue to fight for these much-needed reforms.

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 do not hesitate to be a loud supporter of all of the individual rights regularly under attack in Jeff City. I’ve stood strong on the floor on behalf of women’s rights and workers’ rights regularly, and am proud to have earned strong relationships with groups like Planned Parenthood, NARAL and labor groups across the state. I will continue to be a voice for these groups to the extent I am capable, and to listen to their needs and advice on how best to help their causes.

14. If you could ask your opponent one question, what would it be?

If you win, will you commit to helping support other Democrats get elected across the state, and if so, how will you go about this?

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