A blonde teenager balanced a stack of papers in his hand as he spoke with his Honors Humanities professor. He had something to announce to the class.
His name is Greg Pierson and he is running for City Council.
In order to officially announce his candidacy, Pierson needed at least 50 signatures on his petition. To earn even more signatures, he also carried with him a stack of voter registration forms since only Missouri voters’ signatures on the petition would be valid.
Eventually Pierson earned 54 valid signatures and registered 49 voters. He filed for candidacy on Nov. 21 and was approved the next day.
Pierson grew up in Missouri and is currently a freshman at MU. He’s majoring in political science and business and involved in a myriad of activities and organizations on campus.
“It wasn’t on the agenda when I was looking at college towns where there’s an open council seat in 2020,” the 18-year-old said. “But I knew I was going to be involved in politics wherever I went.”
He’s a Missouri Students Association senator and member of the leadership program for the business school, a founding member of Sigma Phi Epsilon fraternity and works on the election engagement team to encourage student voter registration.
That’s the main reason why he involved himself in politics to begin with. Pierson talked about how in the last two elections for the First Ward, the winner won by less than 500 votes. He said the apathy among voters is one of the biggest problems not only in the First Ward, but also in the country.
Pierson says his school commitments won’t get in his way and he’s confident he can balance school, extracurriculars and city council responsibilities if he wins.
But Pierson knows the competition can be stiff.
“If it’s not going to be me, I’m going to make sure that these issues are heard by the city government and by everybody involved in this process,” he said.
The seat Pierson is running for, First Ward Council Member of Columbia, is currently held by Clyde Ruffin. Ruffin has not filed for another term. The deadline for other candidates to turn in their petition is Jan. 14 Pierson was the second to turn in his petition after Pat Fowler.
After citing the recent death of a Columbia College student, Pierson said his number one focus is gun safety, followed by other topics. He also lists affordable housing, infrastructure and public transportation as campaign foci.
The First Ward candidate says he’s ready to face some criticism for being such a young politician. “What I think I’m going to be willing to do and sometimes probably more than other local politicians is listen to everybody,” Pierson said. He cited his student life as a strength because he’s ready to learn about the position as well as the issues people bring up.
If he does win, Pierson said there wouldn’t be time to celebrate. “It’s time to get to work,” Pierson said while smiling.
Host: Welcome to Exam on KBIA where we talk everything education all across Missouri. I’m Kassidy Arena and this week I spoke with Greg Pierson, an 18-year-old MU freshman running for City Council in the First Ward.
Arena: What made you decide to do this?
Pierson: That's a great question. And it's probably the most common one I get, especially as an 18-year-old college freshmen. A few months ago, I was sort of tossing this idea around and I really…We started taking it a little bit more seriously when I realized that we really had an opportunity to get students involved and make student voices heard. Students aren't very engaged, especially at this very local level. So I wanted to figure out something that I could do to get more students involved, get students to go out and vote. And that for me has looked like registering voters. I've registered about 50 so far, just trying to get people to get engaged, give them a reason to get involved.
Arena: So there will be other people running against you for this position, you're an 18-year-old student, what are you going to say to those voters to convince them: Hey, I really am best for you, best for your students, best for your ward?
Pierson: I think there's a number of candidates that have declared interest or have already filed. None of them are students. They're all adults and people out in the community. What I think I'm going to be willing to do and sometimes probably more than other local politicians is listen to everybody. This is as much a learning experience for me as it is for anything else. It's a chance for me to hear about the problems going on in this ward and hear what people think and hear what needs to get done. And I'm going to be very intentional about doing that. I think it's important to the people of the First Ward that their voices are heard, especially students in my case and I'm going to make that happen.
Arena: So you're taking this really big step: as a young person trying to run for city council. What's your biggest fear right now?
Pierson: I think my biggest fear would just be that I'm unable to have that impact that I'd like to have. I think that's definitely something that is possible. It's possible that my message… just people don't respond to it. But I think I've already had an impact. Like I said, I've registered 50 students, and I think just that action in itself was worth my time and definitely something that I wanted to do. So I'm looking forward to having whatever kind of impact I can have. But I hope that it won't fall short.
Arena: So one of your biggest platforms you've been telling me is just getting people involved in politics. Right now. It's a really polarizing situation in the country's politics. What do you do when you're faced with apathy from people who don't care about voting?
Pierson: I think one really important thing to note is that this ward in particular is very low turnout. The last two elections, were one with the winner getting less than 500 votes in a ward, a district that should probably have more people involved in that. So I think apathy is probably our biggest hurdle here. And I think that apathy from students is something that everybody understands, but apathy from people in the community is very real as well, and I'm going to work to fight that as much as I can.
Host: That was MU freshman Greg Pierson talking about his campaign for City Council and how his number one goal is encouraging more voter participation and involvement. I’m Kassidy Arena and thanks for listening to Exam on KBIA.