Ozarks Independent sent a questionnaire to area candidates for the Missouri House of Representatives. Below are the answers provided by candidates for the 134th House District: Democratic candidate Derrick Nowlin and Republican candidate Alex Riley.
OI: Please give the us a little information about your background (where you were born, education, etc.)
Derrick Nowlin (D): Springfield is where I am from and where I have lived most of my life. I went to school at MSU, (at the time SMSU), and started a family here in Springfield. I have worked in the engineering and construction field for over 20 years. I have worked on large-complex infrastructure projects that have made the area better for commuting. I ran in 2018, with the goal of representing the people of our community. I love this area of Springfield and have lived in this district since 2011.
I know firsthand the struggles that many of our neighbors face daily. I was married to someone who became fully-disabled, so we both had to quit school and I had to go to work full-time. It was a very difficult time for both of us. Understanding the difficulty of trying to get her qualified for disability benefits, the lack of access to healthcare, and trying to keep a roof over our heads and food on the table with one income was incredibly difficult. This is why I’m running, as the people in our community are dealing with many of the same struggles and they need a voice in the capitol speaking for them. I will be that voice.
Alex Riley (R): I was born and raised in Springfield and have lived here my entire life other than a few semesters away for law school. Both of my parents are nurses. My mom homeschooled my siblings and me from kindergarten all the way through high school and taught us the values of faith, family, freedom, and hard work. I earned my bachelor’s degree at age 19 through a combination of testing out of 3/4 of my college classes and completing the remaining courses online. After working as a paralegal at a local law firm, I went on to graduate from Southern Illinois University School of Law. I am a business defense attorney here in Springfield and protect our working class and businesses of all shapes and sizes in courtrooms across our state when they get sued. I have been married for over 6 years to my beautiful wife and high school sweetheart, Ellen. We have a one and a half year old son named Mitchell, a daughter due in early December, and a 100 lb. Great Pyrenees named Teddy.
OI: What compels you to want to serve / serve another term in the legislature?
Nowlin: I am compelled to serve because I know that there are too many people struggling right now. Far too many people looking out for big donors instead of helping the people they serve. I’m running because the people in my district deserve a real representative. In Springfield, before the current crisis, we had a poverty rate above 25%. Now, we have thousands more facing eviction, utilities shut off, and losing their jobs. We need real leadership and understanding at this moment. We cannot sit idly by and watch our neighbors struggle, because our elected officials don’t have the courage to do what is necessary. I am running because those people need someone to amplify their voices in Jefferson City and get things done to help them.
Riley: Growing up, I always knew I wanted to serve my city, state, and country in some way. Throughout my childhood and teen years, my plan was to serve in the military. Unfortunately, when I was 17, I was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma — a form of cancer. Because of this, I was unable to meet the military’s physical requirements and ultimately had to change my plans as to how I could serve my community. With calling Springfield home for my entire life, and now raising my own family here, I want to make this city and state the best place possible to live and raise a family. To do that, we need to ensure that Missouri has a strong economy that provides more family-supporting jobs. We must reduce our high poverty and crime rates. Through my work as an attorney, I have seen first hand the way our entrepreneurs, job creators, innovators, and businesses suffer because of government red tape and poorly written laws. Additionally, we have seen a steady move toward socialism and less freedom across the United States and even in some corners of Missouri. This must be stopped. As Ronald Reagan once noted, freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction. I am passionate about protecting our hard-earned freedom and fighting for the traditional values upon which our state and nation were built. That is why I am running to serve in the Missouri House.
OI: What would be your legislative priorities if elected/re-elected?
Nowlin: Dealing with the COVID crisis must be our first priority. We must focus on relief for the unemployed and small businesses. We need eviction and utility bill relief. We need to restore funding for public education and eliminate charter schools. Part of improving public education, especially in the age of COVID, is providing broadband internet to everyone. The Internet is no longer just a luxury it is a necessity. We need to get money out of politics and end the influence of large donors, so that the only elected officials are working for you.
Riley: Broadly speaking, my three primary legislative priorities are to protect life, defend liberty, and foster prosperity in Missouri. In regard to protecting life, I am 100% Pro-Life. I will fight to protect the unborn, work to make healthcare more affordable, and stand up for the rights and dignity of our senior citizens. I know our law enforcement officers are essential to preserving life and that’s why I will stand with them and oppose any effort to defund our police. In regard to defending liberty, I will utilize my legal background to defend our constitutional rights, including our Second Amendment right to bear arms, our freedom of speech, and our religious liberty. In regard to fostering prosperity, I believe the foundations of a strong economy are a vibrant economic climate and a great education system. To rebuild and strengthen our economy, I will push to lower taxes for our working families, fight to eliminate harmful government regulations, and work to establish a healthy economic climate that promotes job creation and reduces poverty. To improve our education system, I will work to empower our teachers, parents, and schools to meet the needs of each individual student instead of applying a “one size fits all” approach.
OI: The state has suffered a significant financial blow because of the COVID-19 situation. What places in the state budget do you believe should be either not cut or cut the least amount in the next state budget?
Nowlin: Honestly, looking at the bigger picture, there is nowhere we should continue to cut. We have a crumbling infrastructure, our schools barely have enough money to successfully educate our students, and we have already cut money from veterans, the elderly, and children’s benefit programs. We should implement the Wayfair tax and ask those at the very top to pay more to ensure that our state doesn’t have to slash more funding from programs that just simply cannot afford the cuts.
Riley: The key to avoiding budget cuts is to get our economy growing again. A growing economy will result in increased revenue coming into the state government. However, while we are making progress in getting our economy growing again, budget challenges still exist. I do expect some cuts will be necessary in the coming months to balance our state budget. A couple of areas that I think should be cut the least (if further cuts are necessary) are infrastructure and the portion of the education budget that is spent educating our students in the classroom. These are two items which are essential to building the future of our state.
OI: This summer saw the Black Lives Matter movement and calls to defund police. Where do you stand on defunding police, and what criminal justice reform measures do you think the legislature needs to take?
Nowlin: I fully believe that we need to listen to communities of color when making any changes to our criminal justice system, and that there are a couple really important areas that we need to address when it comes to reform. First, I do believe that police need more training in de-escalation and I think sending social workers with police to help in situations where a social worker may have better training to handle a situation is a good idea. Law-enforcement should not be forced to face situations they are not properly trained or equipt for. Another area we need to reform is the Public Defenders System. Unfortunately, for years our budget for public defenders has been too small. This shortfall has led to our state not having enough time, workers, and resources to thoroughly defend clients. In Springfield’s own court system, these issues have led to people having to wait up to six months before getting an attorney, leading to overcrowding in jails. It also means that many public defenders don’t have the time to sufficiently plan a defense for their client. Basically, we are overburdening our criminal justice system and making it difficult for every citizen to receive a fair trial.
Riley: Certain reforms to the criminal justice system are justified. First and foremost, however, I absolutely support our local law enforcement officers and am completely opposed to defunding the police. I support doing more to improve accountability and to make sure bad apples are not on our police forces. After all, no one hates bad cops more than good cops since they have to deal with the ramifications of bad cops’ actions. I believe police body cameras are a good starting place and protect both our officers and the public they serve. In regard to other criminal justice reform measures, I would support rolling back mandatory minimum sentencing requirements and considering alternative forms of punishment/rehabilitation depending on the crime. I would also like to see more of a focus in our correctional institutions on preparing those currently incarcerated to succeed and become contributing members of society upon their release.
OI: What is your view of Governor Parson’s response to the COVID outbreak?
Nowlin: Governor Parson’s response has been abysmal. We needed a statewide mask mandate from the very beginning. Additionally, he needed to lead by asking the legislature to make the COVID response a priority instead of focusing on criminalizing children. The Republicans have a supermajority in Jefferson City, and as their de facto leader, he has failed to ask them to support our working families, our students, and our small businesses. His failures to provide more direct help for the unemployed, and small businesses owners, including a moratorium on evictions and utility shut-offs has made the crisis worse for Missourians. He has also failed to lead in regards to providing our public schools the resources they need to deal with the pandemic. Our public schools were already severely underfunded before COVID, and their budget is being cut even further as a direct result of the pandemic. We are in a “All Hands on Deck” moment, and he has not provided the strong leadership we need.
Riley: I appreciate Governor Parson’s work in partnering with our local communities to expand hospital capacity, obtain necessary medical equipment like ventilators and PPE, and to expand testing as quickly as possible. I agree with Governor Parson’s work to reopen our economy as safely and quickly as possible so our residents can get back to work and provide for their families. His work is a major contributing factor to Missouri’s position as one of the leading states for job recovery. Missouri is an incredibly diverse state and applying a “one size fits all” government solution to every COVID-related problem will not eradicate the disease.
OI: What would you say is your biggest strength and your biggest weakness?
Nowlin: I would say my biggest strength is simply that I can relate to so many of the people in my district. I have faced many of the same issues that many of my neighbors have faced in their daily lives. Additionally, I am working tirelessly to reach out to the people in my district, to hear what issues are important to them, this is how I will be as their representative. If I have a weakness, it is simply that I wish I had even more time and energy to devote to the people of the 134th, they already have my all, I wish I had even more to give.
Riley: My biggest strength is my strong lifelong work ethic. I started mowing lawns to earn extra money at 9 years old and have been working ever since. I completed my bachelor’s degree with a 4.0 GPA at age 19 debt-free while working through college, held multiple jobs throughout law school, and ultimately graduated 4th in my law school class. I have continued to exhibit that same work ethic as an attorney defending our state’s businesses at trial and in the Missouri courts of appeals. I never shy away from hard projects or tackling the difficult issues and I won’t start as a State Representative. My wife would tell you my biggest weakness is that I take on too many projects. Also, I’m terrible at parallel parking.
OI: Give a final statement to voters on why they should choose you.
Nowlin: I can see that the government doesn’t work for the majority of my neighbors and I am fighting for real representation in our district. I have many of the same concerns and hopes for our community that you do. I am tired of seeing so many good people out here being ignored. You deserve better. It is your government, it belongs to every Missourian and I want to help take it back for you. I will support our community through this crisis. I want to help you recover from this, by providing help for struggling families and small businesses. I want to ensure you have access to affordable healthcare. I want to fully fund our schools because our future depends on our childrens’ success.You deserve a government that works for you, it is yours after all. This is a job interview, I want you to hold me accountable when I am in Jefferson City.
If you would like to know more about my campaign, please visit my website at Nowlinforthe134th.com. I want to work for you, hopefully I have earned your vote on November 3rd. Thank you.
Riley: Missouri needs strong conservatives who will stand up for what is right. That is what I will do. The sanctity of all human life, protecting our constitutional liberties, and improving economic opportunity so everyone has the chance to thrive are keys to a free and prosperous society. As the only candidate endorsed by the Missouri Fraternal Order of Police, Missouri Chamber of Commerce, NRA, Missouri Right to Life, and the National Federation of Independent Business, I will fight to protect the values we share as a community. Springfield currently has an over 25% poverty rate and urgently needs solutions for improved job growth and crime reduction. I will work with our local business community to cut government red tape to increase job opportunities and I will oppose all efforts to defund our law enforcement agencies. Calling Springfield home my whole life has given me the drive and desire to see our community and state flourish. My experience as an attorney has given me the skills to further that cause. I look forward to bringing your voice to Jefferson City as your State Representative.