After the excitement of his July 4th announcement to run for the United States Senate, Austin Petersen took a few moments to answer some questions regarding his party switch, his campaign, and his goals.
First on everyone’s mind who know anything at all about Petersen was why the switch to the Republican Party? Having run as a Libertarian for the last presidential election (losing the primary to Garry Johnson), his move to the Republican party is viewed as a sell out by some. Petersen says that it was not an easy decision and not one he made all alone. He talked with thousands of supporters and the vast majority of them urged him to run on the Republican ticket in an effort to replace Claire McCaskill in the 2018 Senate race. One thing he did want to make clear was that his platform would not change no matter what ticket he ran on. “Claire McCaskill is vulnerable and this would be a great opportunity in this race to put someone who believes in the principles of liberty in the US Senate.”
Petersen expects there to be a “crowded primary with many difficult challengers,” but right now it is a fairly open field which gives him plenty of opportunity to get his name out there in front of the constituents of Missouri. Having gained invaluable experience on the political trail in the past election, he is putting that hard earned knowledge to work for him in this campaign. “You learn about the public policy process. You learn about what people expect of their candidates. You learn how to communicate with people and how to talk to them about the issues that they care about,” said Petersen. He still believes that public office is not a career, but a service. Having that as a starting block he says that being a good listener is the next step to running a successful campaign. “A lot of people never had a politician call them on the phone or look them in the face and listen to them and their problems. I think that is going to be a key focus of this campaign – to listen to the people and hear what they have to say and be a good representative of the people of Missouri in the United States Senate.”
To be a viable candidate, Petersen will have to keep his Libertarian base while drawing in traditional Republicans and Independents. “I have actually been working on building libertarian and conservative coalitions for the last 10 years. I’ve always believed that the libertarian and conservative causes have a lot of the same goals. I think I can unite them. I actually get a lot more support from conservatives simply because of being a pro-life Libertarian.” He believes that he will draw in the voters who can see that he is not “owned by the Washington machine.”
Petersen also understands that many conservatives, while supporting his pro-life stance, will have a harder time finding common ground on his view on gay marriage and the war on drugs. “I like to say that I’m fiscally conservative and that socially it’s none of the government’s business.” Historically, he points to the government once declaring that marriage between African Americans and whites was illegal. Petersen supports the idea that marriage should be a private contract and that the government should stay out of it entirely. “Government should be neutral on the marriage issue.” His issue with the war on drugs is an issue of federalism. While he personally believes that the war on drugs has been a massive failure, he also believes that it should be up to the people of each state to legislate what they see fit for their own areas. “Drugs are dangerous and we need to be honest with our children about the dangers of drugs, but I think we’ve been dishonest to our kids with some of these programs. Right now marijuana is a schedule one drug which is the same classification as drugs like cocaine and heroin. That is dishonest. For me if we can get some reform on the marijuana issue, I’d be happy to compromise in such a way.” Having recently lost a friend to a drug related death, he certainly recognizes her personal responsibility for her decision to take a known dangerous drug, but he wonders if regulations overseeing the contents of the drugs might be a better route than creating a dangerous black market where anything goes. Petersen points out the extreme dangers that prohibition caused in alcohol production where things like bathtub gin caused blindness or worse. “I think we should take a medical approach and not a criminal approach. I’m willing to stand back as long as we can get some substantive reforms that are honest that will stop hollowing out our inner cities.”
The biggest things that Petersen sees so far for the people of Missouri are issues that “affect their pocket books.” He wants to keep more jobs in the state and reduce the tax burden on people. “They think the government is spending too much and that taxes are too high and I happen to agree.” He wants to promote the American Dream of owning a small business but does not see the government promoting that. “We should make it easier for entrepreneurs to get into the market place. But you have to pay a self employment tax of 15% just for the privilege of not working for someone else. That is ridiculous.” He is pro-union, but recognizes the right to work as well. With Missouri now being a Right to Work state, Petersen said, “I understand why the unions would be upset because they fought so hard for many of these benefits and then these people come in and can have jobs. But I cannot justify forcing people to pay a union fee because that to me is a violation of their individual liberty.”
Related to that topic is the healthcare issue as it has real financial consequences for people. Petersen says that big corporations support the current healthcare system because it gives them power and security of a workforce that is afraid to become entrepreneurs because of the outrageous cost of healthcare in the private markets. “Freedom really means that people should be free to seek health insurance on the private market. We should legalize inexpensive insurance.”
When it comes to the Democratic candidate, Clair McCaskill, Petersen sees several major differences on key issues. Criminal justice reform, specifically doing away with mandatory minimum sentences, and decriminalizing marijuana are some of those issues. Petersen says that by legislating mandatory minimums, the legislative branch took away some of the checks and balances of the separation of powers among the branches of government. “There is a disconnect in the minority communities with the judicial system and they feel abused, I think rightly so. Those are issues that I agree with, that Claire McCaskill’s base agrees with me on, and she is out of step with her own party.” Another is foreign policy. She supported sending troops into Iraq. “I agree with our President. Going into Iraq was a mistake.” Petersen believes that he can be competitive in districts where traditional Republicans have had problems garnering support because these issues will resonate with traditionally blue voters.
Petersen offers one key promise to the people of Missouri if he is elected to go to Washington DC as their representative. “If I would not send my own blood to fight in a war, then I would not send theirs.” He recognizes that national security is a major responsibility that the Legislative and Executive branches share but believes that “Congress should declare war.” He explains further saying, “There should at least be a debate and a vote before we engage in military action, unless our national security is under threat.”
Though Petersen will be campaigning throughout the state, the population centers of Kansas City, St. Louis, and Springfield will require a lot of time and attention. He has a strategy to reach as many voters as possible with his message that includes a cultural understanding of where they live. “I’m a farm boy who has lived in the cities, so I understand the cultural differences between them. I think that you can speak to policy issues that will be the cultural touchstones in Missouri. In the rural areas we will talk about taxes and spending and jobs and in the cities we will talk about criminal justice reform and foreign policy and the like.”
What Austin Petersen wants the people of Missouri to know is that he does indeed have a special interest for running for the Senate seat from the Show-Me State. “That interest is liberty. I’m doing this out of patriotism, out of love for my country and out of a hope that I can make a better future for our families and our children. I’m deeply sincere about what I believe in. I may be young, but I’ve been tried and I’ve been tested. I’ve been harassed. I’ve been bribed. I’ve been pressured and I’ve stood up to it and said, ‘No.’ In the end if you want to beat [McCaskill], and you want somebody who is going to agree with you 75%, 85%, perhaps 90% of the time, a Liberty Republican is the guy to do it. You may not agree with me on everything, but you will probably agree with me on most things. And know that when I go to Washington DC, I will stand up for Missouri citizens’ rights and I won’t back down.”
For more information about Austin Petersen and his run for the Senate in 2018 go to www.austinpetersen.com or find him on Twitter @AP4Liberty or on Facebook.