MISSOURI -- Missouri State Representative Keith English recently cut ties with the Democratic Party to become the Show Me State’s only independent legislator. In line with the state’s nickname (which describes the character of Missourians, who are not gullible), he wants to see more transparency in both state and federal politics.
While English is certainly worried that his non-party allegiance will hurt him in his 2016 re-election bid, he is more concerned over the level of hyper-partisanship and the influence of money in politics, and believes that the problems work in tandem with one another. He believes money is the main reason why partisanship has gotten so bad, and it is one of the biggest advantages the Democratic and Republican parties have in elections.
“If you don’t belong to the two-party system, you won’t get elected...You need money to run and both of those parties are putting up millions of dollars every year,” he said.
English fears that the mainstream political parties of the United States no longer accurately represent the interests of their constituents, in both his home state and the nation.
“The lack of leadership in representing the majority of the people has failed,” he said. “As I’ve gotten older and have gotten to see both sides of the spectrum, I believe that the majority of the people in the state, and across the U.S., are more independently-minded; whether they are pro-life or pro-choice, they see both sides."
After he was “shunned” by the Democratic Party of Missouri for voting against a controversial tax bill in 2014, English decided that he couldn't take anymore abuse, and cut ties with the party.
“I couldn’t stand to be punished anymore for voting with my conscience,” he said.
English, who is a retired MMA fighter and former Florissant City Council member, won handily as a Democrat in a red district in both 2012 (78.5%) and in 2014 (66.3%). He attests his continued electoral success to his personal governing strategy, which is to serve his constituents’ interests. What used to be the norm in politics has sadly become a minor concern in the minds of most politicians who worry more about their campaign coffers and party's interests.
“I believe that everyone runs on a format and I just wish that most people would stick [...] to serving the people. Representatives come into the Legislature and either get their pockets fat by lobbyists or from special interests groups,” he said. “I had the largest margin of victory between a Democrat and a Republican in St. Louis County, twice in a row, because I work for my constituents.”
English hopes that his continued commitment to his district will earn him a spot back in the State House in 2016, and plans to introduce a plethora of legislation this year in regards to a myriad of issues. He will submit bills on medical marijuana, state infrastructure, and an increased gas tax, but ultimately aims to do what he believes is most important -- put money back in the pockets of taxpayers.
Right now, English is focused on combating plans for a new football stadium that is scheduled to be built for the St. Louis Rams through a proposal by Governor Jay Nixon (D), and to the tune of roughly $500-800 million in taxpayer money. English would probably face a showdown with his old party if he were to rally against the stadium, and would realistically have to caucus with Republicans to make any kind of headway.
“I don’t believe that the people want that,” he said in regards to the stadium proposal. “Although there will be jobs for a period of time, we’ve seen with every baseball stadium that they (eventually) end up being outsourced...[The stadium] is something that the governor came out with to get us away from the [Ferguson-related] drama...But what’s the cost? We need to talk about infrastructure--roads, bridges, that kind of stuff. Building a stadium at the cost of taxpayers is not a solution. ”
If English decides to take on the governor over the stadium, he faces further alienation from his previous party, which might ultimately dampen his chances for re-election even more. He expressed concerns that even with a solid approval rating and support from his constituents, money could ultimately beat him out, as it has with many adored politicians in the post-Citizens United era.
“The two parties are definitely going to throw a lot of money at my district to try and take over that seat,” he said. “I’ve been in the political arena since 2007 and I’m still standing... so we’ll see. I’ve seen a lot of politicians fall since then but I’m still here.”