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Politically Speaking: Rep. Pierson on navigating the Missouri House and seeking lieutenant governor

Tommie Pierson
Jason Rosenbaum | St. Louis Public Radio
Tommie Pierson

On this week’s episode of the Politically Speaking podcast, St. Louis Public Radio’s Jason Rosenbaum and Jo Mannies are pleased to welcome state Rep. Tommie Pierson to the program for the very first time.

A Democrat from Bellefontaine Neighbors, Pierson was first elected to the Missouri House in 2010. After redistricting, his Pierson’s district now includes parts of St. Louis and a chunk of north St. Louis County. For a time, Pierson served as the chairman of the Missouri Legislative Black Caucus.

A graduate of Beaumont High School, Pierson worked at a General Motors plant as an assembly worker for more than 30 years. He also serves as pastor for Greater St. Mark’s Family Church, which became a major staging ground during the unrest in Ferguson.

Earlier this summer, Pierson told St. Louis Public Radio that he planned to forgo a run for a final term in the Missouri House to run for lieutenant governor. For now, he faces lawyer/surgeon Brad Bradshaw in next August's Democratic primary. And if he prevails, Pierson would square off next November against either attorney Bev Randles or state Sen. Mike Parson, so far the two Republican candidates.

Pierson, Randles and Democratic secretary of state aspirant Robin Smith are angling to be Missouri’s first black statewide officeholder.

Here’s what Pierson had to say during the show:

  • House Democrats have had trouble getting legislation passed through that chamber's GOP supermajority. “We can’t get meaningful legislation passed,” he said. “And not only can we not get them passed, we can’t get a hearing on many of them. Or if you get a hearing, it’ll just be cut up to pieces. You won’t recognize your bill.”
  • Pierson was “shocked” by how a news conference by Gov. Jay Nixon in his church soon after the August 2014 shooting of Michael Brown got so raucous. “They asked the governor questions – but wouldn’t let him answer,” Pierson said. “Actually they were bailing the governor out, because the governor probably didn’t have an answer.”
  • While Pierson would like to restrict traffic-fine revenue at the same percentage for all Missouri cities, he supported a municipal governance overhaul that was signed into law earlier this year. That bill imposes a lower percentage for communities in St. Louis County than elsewhere in the state. “I voted for the citizens,” he said. “And citizens were packing courtrooms" because they can't pay fines and end up in jail.
  • He decided to run for lieutenant governor because “my message during the Ferguson unrest was that demonstrating and marching bring attention to the problem – but it doesn’t solve the problem.” To solve problems, Pierson said people “have to get elected and become a policymaker.”
  • Pierson believes likely Democratic gubernatorial nominee Chris Koster will need him on the ticket. That’s especially the case if Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder is the GOP nominee, because he says the Republican statewide official could get a larger percent of the African-American vote than most Republicans. "The only way [Koster] is going to win is if I keep those votes at home," said Pierson, referring to African-American voters staying with the Democratic Party. "(Democratic leaders are) going to have to embrace me whether they want to or not."

Follow Jason Rosenbaum on Twitter: @jrosenbaum

Follow Jo Mannies on Twitter: @jmannies

Follow Tommie Pierson on Twitter: @TommiePierson

Music: “m.A.A.d. City” by Kendrick Lamar

Jason is the politics correspondent for St. Louis Public Radio.
Jo Mannies is a freelance journalist and former political reporter at St. Louis Public Radio.