State Rep. Tommie Pierson is keenly aware that Missouri has never elected a black statewide officeholder in its history. And he’s decided to do something about it.
The Bellefontaine Neighbors Democrat and senior pastor at Greater St. Mark Family Church told St. Louis Public Radio Tuesday he would forgo another term in the Missouri House and run for lieutenant governor next year. He said he’s making his run with history in mind.
“I think the time is right and I think I’m the right guy,” said Pierson during an interview for a story about his church. “Our state has never elected an African American statewide in its history. And I think the state realizes that and will make that change next year.”
A graduate of Beaumont High School in St. Louis, Pierson is former General Motors autoworker who’s served as a Baptist pastor around the region for decades. He first won election to the Missouri House in 2010, and later became the chairman of state’s Legislative Black Caucus.
Pierson’s church became a major gathering point during the Ferguson unrest. It hosted a raucous August press conference for Gov. Jay Nixon, and also served as a sanctuary for protesters after a grand jury declined to charge former Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson with a crime.
Missouri hasn’t nominated an African American to a statewide office since 1994, the year then-U.S. Rep. Alan Wheat ran an unsuccessful campaign for U.S. Senate. Pierson said he’s built up “a lot of relationships across the state” that would help him avoid Wheat’s electoral fate.
“A lot of people know me – they see me as a guy that you can work with,” Pierson said. “I reach across the aisle in the House of Representatives. And so, most people will see me as a change agent – but one who would not be overbearing with some strict policy.”
Pierson isn’t the only Democratic candidate in the race for lieutenant governor. Springfield attorney and doctor Brad Bradshaw entered the contest earlier this year and has taken in more than $400,000 of donations of $5,000 or more. Some of that tally was the result of Bradshaw’s self-funding.
But Pierson said he isn’t intimidated by Bradshaw’s war chest.
“I think I’d stack up very well against him,” Pierson said. “I won’t match him in money. But I will match up with him with boots on the grounds and running a real strong campaign. I think I can put an army out there across this state that will nullify all of his money.”
The race for lieutenant governor is somewhat in flux, primarily because incumbent Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder may not run for a fourth term. The Republican official is mulling jumping into what’s turning into a crowded GOP primary for governor.
Kinder has won some tough elections in the past – most recently a bruising 2012 primary and general election. But Pierson said he thinks he would do well against Kinder if he runs for another term.
“I don’t have issues with Peter. I talked to him the other day. He comes by the church from time to time,” Pierson said. “So I feel I can have a good relationship with him. But he said he was going to run for governor and that opened the door for me. And if he changes his mind, we’ll have to face each other.”
Randles makes it official
Pierson won't be the only lieutenant governor candidates seeking to become Missouri's first African-American statewide officeholder.
Kansas City area attorney Bev Randles officially jumped into the lieutenant governor's contest on Wednesday, ending her "exploratory phase." Randles previously served as the chairman of Missouri Club for Growth, a group that became heavily involved in a unsuccessful push to pass a 2013 tax cut. She was also the public face of a successful effort to give the legislature more power to override gubernatorial withholds.
"My goal is to continue working on issues that will have a positive impact on the lives of all Missourians, which is why I am running to be Missouri’s next lieutenant governor,” Randles said in a video announcement. “My belief is that every Missouri citizen should have the same opportunities to succeed that I have had, no matter what part of the state they are from, no matter what their economic circumstances are, and no matter the color of their skin.”
Randles' husband -- Bill Randles -- ran unsuccessfully for governor in 2012.
When she was still exploring a statewide run, Randles received a $1 million donation from retired financer Rex Sinquefield. She also nabbed the support of former House Speaker Tim Jones, a Eureka Republican who is now affiliated with Missouri Club for growth.