Mitch Richards Interview
COLUMBIA - Republican Mitch Richards is running in the 47th district for a seat in the Missouri House of Representatives.
Richards lives in Columbia and co-hosts a local radio show on KOPN. Richards grew up in Montana and graduated from the University of Montana with a degree in history. He then went on to study East European Studies at the University of Bologna in Italy. Richards served on Columbia's Citizens Police Review Board and ran and lost for Columbia's first ward city council seat. He is the owner of "Show Me Language Services," a company that provides English courses and language consulting services in Columbia.
KOMU 8 News sat down with Richards as a part of the Smart Decision 2012 series.
Can you tell me what legislation is important to you and what do you plan to do when you first arrive at the state house?
There's a lot of stuff out there. I think that the number one priority right now needs to be job creation. And so practically speaking we need to look at ways to bring that about. Specifically, down in Jeff City if elected I am going to work to cut personal income taxes, cut business taxes, do all we can to ease regulations on businesses both at the state level and also to stand up to the federal government when they are exacting some of the regulations that they are on small businesses, livestock producers and our farmers. I also believe that Missouri should be a right to work state.
What taxes specifically would you want to cut?
Specifically, like I said, income taxes, personal income taxes. If we look to Kansas, next door, under Governor Sam Brownback out there they have recently cut, drastically cut to their personal income taxes on individuals, to different levels and then they have gotten rid of income taxes on businesses so I think that Missouri needs to do that, given that we are 49th out of 50th in job creation since 2008, we cannot afford to continue to do what we have been doing. It's not working. And one of the ways that we can do that is do as Kansas has done, cut taxes and business income taxes. We need to do that as a matter of business but also as a matter of practicality. Kansas is a boarder state and we are going to lose even more jobs to Kansas and other boarder states around us because our policies are not business friendly enough at this time.
How would you improve job opportunities?
I think that's the principal thing when you cut income taxes and particularly if you make Missouri a right to work state, the available empirical data demonstrates that those two things together states that do that have something like 2 to 1 job creation over states that do not and I believe every state that boarders Missouri except for Illinois is a right to work state and they are all out performing us in a number of economic indices.
Last session education was often discussed. How do you plan on improving education in Missouri?
I think the most important thing we can do at the higher education level is to do all we can to maintain the budget that we have. Obviously, the University of Missouri is very important for Mid-Missouri and if elected and I go down there I'm going to work real hard to make sure that that continues to be the case. In the last session, Governor Nixon attempted to cut Mizzou's budget in order to short Medicaid and at the last moment that didn't happen. That's sort of the tendency. The only room in the budget to pay for further Medicaid is to take away from education and given the ACA that is Obamacare seeks to expand Medicaid from a hundred to 133 percent of poverty. That money is either going to come from our University budget or it is going to come in the form of a tax increase and I oppose both of those measures.
I know also unaccredited schools in St. Louis were brought up. Is there anything that you would want to do for that?
This is something that I think contrasts greatly with my opponent who advocates 0-4 education, expanding the school year and school day and nutrition courses, non-traditional education approaches. I don't think that is the right approach. I think it's really important that we have education, k-12 education that is based specifically on, according with the needs of parents first and then teachers and it needs to be local and we need to look at decentralizing, we need to look at forms of choice to help our families have the opportunities that they need in education. I think that the last thing that we should do is leave the underlying conditions in place and those conditions are generational joblessness, parents who have to work 2 and 3 jobs and can't be home to parent their children and we are going to leave that in place and instead simply try to deal with the symptoms and the symptoms are kids who don't have parents and that we are trying to get our schools to become parents and that is the trend across the country. I think that is something that my opponent proposes which is 0-4 education. I don't think that is right. Parents should be allowed to be parents and teachers should be allowed to be teachers. And the more that we allow, we ask our teachers to essentially become babysitters, I think that we are getting away from what education should be. If we look at the trend across the country, we have schools abandoning the teaching of rhetoric and grammar and cursive writing for that matter and now teaching things like nutrition and manners and things like that and if we don't do anything about that, I think that is a wrong trend. The way that we confront the problem is not just deal with the symptoms, we need to look at the underlying problems which again is job creation, opportunity and the fact that our parents are not allowed to be parents anymore out of economic necessity.
What about the state? What role should the state play in funding for public schools, specifically schools who might be failing or don't have enough money?
We need to look at, I am very open to any and all new ideas for education. It's very clear that our schools aren't performing despite the fact that Missouri and the country at large spend more per student than any other western country and yet we get much worse results. First we need to look at the money that we are spending now. We need to look at how we are spending it. Like I said, we need to keep it more local, we need to allow local communities, teachers, parents to determine and dictate education policy. We need to look at some of the salaries we are paying to administrators, particularly in ST Louis and Kansas City. That's what we need to look at. Obviously the state has a role in that, the state of Missouri that is, and I would very much work to make sure that role is a positive one but not one that is simply trying to throw money at the problem.
In terms of the economy, what do you see yourself doing to improve Missouri's economy, just overall?
Again this goes back to the job creation. We need to do all we can to make Missouri a business-friendly state. That's what is going to bring jobs, that's what's going to increase business filings, bring companies here and spur on economic development. We need to get back to the principal of free markets and Missourians driving economic growth because Missourians will create jobs if they are simply allowed to do so. And the way that we can do that is to make sure we are not overburdening them with taxes and regulations and unnecessary regulatory regimes of one kind or another. We need to look at getting back to the free market and over time looking at ways to get away from tax credits and getting more toward macroeconomic policies like tax cuts and right to work.
Missouri has the potential for a lot of renewable energy and nuclear and wind energy. What is your stance on that? Would you encourage using those resources?
I am very open to them of course. I think wind energy has some potential, more so than some of the other renewable energies. We've done that to some extent here in this state and I am open to that but at the same time I do support, not as the only solution, but as one of the solutions, I am open to also expanding coal, coal electricity plants. Some of the new coal technologies are much cleaner than the past. Coal is not only an affordable source of energy for working families in the state, it's also a form of energy security because we have it here. We don't have to but it from another state, we don't have to ship it overseas and so I think that we absolutely need to be open to coal as well and that's sort of where I stand on that.
I know also that South Callaway has potential for nuclear energy. What is your stance on that?
I'm open to it. I would like to hear more about the actual numbers and what it is going to cost as far as how much of the federal money is required and the tax credits and the actual final offer that would be on the table. I'm certainly not completely opposed to it, like I said we need to be open to all possibilities and options. That probably isn't my first choice but I can't say that I'm completely against it either.
Last year I-70 was proposed to be a toll road. What do you think about that? Do you support it?
No I've stated publicly on a number of occasions, I oppose tolling I-70 and also increasing fuel taxes. I just don't think that's the way to do it. We need to look at other ways to raise revenue. Of course we need to engage in a public discussion of that. I think that right now we shouldn't be raising taxes on working families. We are already overtaxed and overburdened enough and if we want to fix I-70 I am very much in favor of that but we need to do that in a way that is not going to hit the most vulnerable among us.
Last session there was a struggle to pass the budget. How would you improve the budget and help get it under control again?
We have a constitutional amendment in this state that mandates that we have a balanced budget. So we always have a balanced budget essentially. The question though with a balanced budget is there's sort of two ways to do that. You can either cut spending or cut government in one way to balance it or of course you can simply raise taxes so even though we have that amendment, it doesn't always mean that the tax payer is going to be in a winning position when all is said and done. Absolutely we need to stay within our means and furthermore we need to consider ways of cutting government. I've always been a huge opponent of tax increases, particularly now but more in general. I'm also a proponent of limited government. We need to stop looking to the tax payer to solve our budget problems and we often hear the argument that we should do X tax because other states of similar size have also instituted, levy that particular tax at that particular level and I just don't find that to be a just argument. Just because someone else's taxes have been raised doesn't mean we need to raise taxes here as well. Absolutely we need to balance our budget but we ended to do it in a way that is going to live within our means and isn't going to adversely impact our state's taxpayers.
If you were to decrease taxes, where else would the money come from?
I'm looking at this from a macroeconomic perspective. If we are going to cut personal income taxes, that's going to bring more jobs here, it's going to bring more businesses here. All the empirical data that that will likely increase revenue coming in to state tax coffers. So that's one way to increase revenue without actually raising taxes. Those sort of issues. Obviously you are not going to do it with one thing but if it's part of a general package of economic reform, looking at tax credits that are unnecessary, cutting taxes and making Missouri a right to work state. That will unquestionably bring more money, more opportunity, more jobs to the people of Missouri.
Are there any changes that you would like to make to Missouri health care laws?
Not so much. I am an outspoken opponent of the implication of Obamacare. I'm opposed to it for a number of reasons, a constitutional perspective. I think it's clearly a federal overreach despite the Supreme Court decision in favor of it. I think that health care. We need to look at free market health care moving forward. That's what's actually going to provide more opportunity and the level of care that people demand and deserve. As I said earlier, implementing Obamacare in this state will lead us further to bankruptcy. We simply don't have the money. If we do do it here we are going to have to raise taxes or cut from our higher education budget and I just don't think that that's right so moving forward like I said I oppose the Affordable Care Act and I think we need to look to free market ideas and solutions. We need to experiment. We need to try new things. We can do it but we need to be willing to do it.
This past year we have experienced some very harsh drought conditions. In what ways would you help agriculture in Missouri?
Just what was done. We need to make sure we have the emergency funds available to help farmers in the difficult time and help them in that way. Obviously this was a very difficult harvest season for a lot of folks and hopefully we won't have that again next year. I think that the most important thing is to make sure that we help folks get through this difficult time and hopefully next season things will improve. For the most part, I would stand by what was done.
Can you comment on the alleged bribe from Still and Wright to Copenhaver to drop out of the election?
Look I went public with it for a good reason. I don't believe in levying false accusations against people. It's wrong. I would never do it if I didn't think it was true. That's why I didn't say something after I just read an article about it. I asked Mrs. Copenhaver if it was true and she said that it was and that's why I went public in the way that I did. There are clearly legal and election questions as far as offering that money. But even if it turns out to somehow not be a legal matter, it's unquestionably an ethical matter. The idea that Mr. Wright would offer this money to his primary opponent could only be for a couple of reasons. Most likely because it is a primary and as a democrat who obviously has some progressive leanings he doesn't want to be public about that because he would like to act as a centrist. When he had a primary, he would be forced to come out with where he stands on the issues, which he should do. All candidates should do that. I think that what he was trying to do was get Nancy Copenhaver to run in another district because that would make it much easier for him in the primary then he can model and fashion himself as a centrist in the general election. I think that's the question and it leads to questions of his character. We do not need more politicians and elected officials who will say just one thing to one crowd and one thing to another crowd. We need people who are open about where they are on the issues, who are honest and who are consistent. MR Wright has shown that he is not that and I submit to the voters of the 47th district that I am just that, honest and consistent.
How did you find out about the bribe?
Well initially I found out about it the same way that most other folks did. In Mike Martin's blog, he initially reported it and then it was picked up by the Tribune and I spoke to Nancy Copenhaver and then I made the statement that I did at the League of Women's Voters for it.
Your campaign website says you believe in government openness and accountability. What does that mean to you?
Particularly it means we need to stand by and support the Missouri state sunshine law. I think that's an important tool for the people of Missouri to exact accountability in their government. It requires the state of Missouri to make available information upon request of public proceedings, budgets, numbers, spending, all of those kinds of things and I think that's really important. And sometimes there are those who want to weaken that or make it apply in only certain situations and I don't think that's right. Like I said, on the website, I support government accountability and openness and I think that the sunshine law is one way of maintaining that.