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Joe Volpe (D) is challenging incumbent Will Kraus (r) in the 48th Legislative District which includes the city of Raytown and other parts of Jackson County.

Show Me Progress took a look at the race in 48th Legislative District – first quarter campaign finance reports last month. This morning I had an opportunity to sit down at a corporate chain coffee shop in Lee’s Summit and speak with Joe Volpe:

MB: Joe, you’re running in the 48th…

Joe Volpe: Yes sir.

MB: …What made you decide to run for the General Assembly?

Joe Volpe: What brought me to call, huh?

MB: Yeah…

…Joe Volpe: [laughter] Well, it was a mixture of several things. And teaching political science I always try to get my students to get involved. I’m always harpin’ at ’em about becoming an election judge, working a campaign, so forth. So a number of them did. And then one day, they took me to lunch and said, “Okay, you’ve been harpin’ at us for months, now it’s your turn. Put your money where your mouth is.” So we did some research. And I’d been thinking about running for a couple years, sort of in the back of the mind, you know, that kind of thing. And we took a trip to Jefferson City. And I saw the current state representative [Will Kraus] in action and, to be honest with you, I was extremely under whelmed. And I decided at that point I didn’t want him to be our state representative. I thought I could do a lot better job.

MB: So, this is a matter of issues?

Joe Volpe: It’s a matter of issues. It’s a matter of style. I kind…I see it as like there’s two kinds of people that run for office. There’s people that want to be public servants and then there’s people that want to make a name for themselves. He may be one of those, the latter. I want to actually go there to help people. Because we’ve got a lot of problems in this state and this nation that need to be solved. And I don’t think we’re moving in those directions.

MB: What do you see…are the pressing issues that are facing Missouri and the Missouri General Assembly? What does the General Assembly have to deal with?

Joe Volpe: The General Assembly has to deal with a lot of things and most of which they’re either putting off, or not dealing with at all. Or they’re using fluff without substance. Just to give you a couple of examples. Health care – the one that everybody mentions. There are a hundred thousand kids in this state without healthy insurance. That is obscene. You’ve got…if you include all the people in Missouri, including the ones that nobody ever counts, there’s probably three quarters of a million people that do not have health insurance. We need to get to a point where everybody in this state and this nation, eventually, is taken care of…

…but, other problems. Something people don’t talk about very often, our infrastructure. Missouri ranks forty eight out of fifty in our infrastructure. Roads, bridges, highways. The only two states that are worse were hit by a hurricane. Yeah, what’s, what is the Blunt administration and Will Kraus and these people, what are they doing about it? Nothing. What is it going to take? A bridge collapse like in Minneapolis and a lot of people get killed before somebody does something? That’s ridiculous. These people are put there by the voters to actually take care of the voters. That’s what I want to do. Because I don’t think the current people are doing it. And the Republican Party has, over the last few years, sat on its laurels. Supposedly they had a mandate. But if they did, they sure let it go out the window real quick. You know, it’s, they’re more interested in power politics and who’s on top and that kind of stuff. I mean it’s time to get back to helping your average guy on the street. I mean, the state in March lost ten thousand jobs. What is Matt Blunt doing about it? Nothing. Except talking about his wife seeing ghosts in the governor’s mansion and stuff like that. I mean, come on.

MB: I hadn’t heard that one.

Joe Volpe: Yeah, it’s incredible. The stuff they talk about. That they feel is important. The average guy on the street, he doesn’t care about that stuff. He wants something done about these problems. And I’ve told people that whenever I meet them out on the street or in coffee shops or wherever, gas stations, there’s a good place to meet people who are really upset. You know, I tell them I’m running to actually help solve problems. I use the word change. You know I started using it even before Obama got on to that. I’m not going to get on him about it. He can use it, too. But I think we need real fundamental change in this country and in this state. I mean when you get to the economy, jobs, education – me being an educator, that’s a pet peeve with me – you know the funding cuts in this state at all levels have been incredible. Missouri ranks forty seventh in teacher salaries. Who thought that up? I mean if you don’t pay your teachers how are people going to learn? And it’s not just kids. I mean you’ve got older Americans going back. I have a, in my classes I have a lot of older students…

MB: Non-traditional students.

Joe Volpe: Yeah, exactly. I’ve had students as old as eighty, ninety years old. You know, that want to go back to learn. How are they gonna do it if you don’t have qualified people in the classrooms to teach ’em? It’s, this is one thing I really get fired up about. And when I get to Jefferson City I’m gonna change that.

MB: One of the things that various people talk about is that there is very little discretionary money left in the state budget.

Joe Volpe: Yeah.

MB. So, you know, then it becomes a matter of  where do you find the money to deal with these, these various problems?

Joe Volpe: Yeah, Matt Blunt has, was bragging that he had got a surplus, which now has turned into a deficit. I think through better planning, through streamlining, and through using taxpayer’s money wisely, instead of just wasteful, we can find a lot of extra discretionary money without raising taxes. I am not a big tax person. I mean, I have to live on my salary. I know everybody else has to live on theirs. I’ve seen rises in property taxes that have been obscene. You know, I think through better management of government and using the legislature as a watchdog on the executive branch so they don’t get carried away, we can find some extra money. We just gotta use our heads, not our back sides.

MB: In the general kind of campaign mechanics, this is nothing new to you. But you’re obviously at a point where you’re having to apply it for your own campaign…

Joe Volpe: Well, I’ll interrupt you at this point. I teach political science.

MB. Right.

Joe Volpe: And my specialty happens to be campaigns and elections. But, teaching it and actually being in it is two very different things. I mean, as the candidate it’s like a whole different universe out there. You get stuff that they don’t learn in class. You know, and you have to deal with the big shots in Jefferson City and that kind of stuff. That’s not stuff you learn in a book. It’s just stuff you have to pick up as you go. And hopefully you do it well then you get elected. But, you know, sometimes you screw up and make mistakes. I mean, we’re only human.

MB: I know that story. I know that story very well.

Joe Volpe: [laughter]

MB: Have there been any surprises for you in this process?

Joe Volpe: Well, actually there have been. Usually there’s a lot of apathy out there. But this year things are quite a bit different. People are fired up. Especially on the Democratic side. They see this as an opportunity to fundamentally change what’s going on in Jefferson City, Washington, maybe even throughout the world. You know, and I’m not just pinning that all on Obama. I mean that goes through many different candidates, through different issu
es – Iraq, the economy, everything. It, It’s, It’s finally I think hitting home with a lot of people. I think it’s awesome. That people for the first time maybe in years are coming out and saying, “Whoa, maybe we need to do something about this.” My vote does count. My participation in a campaign counts. Maybe me being as an election judge counts. Maybe voting for a certain candidate because of what he believes in, not just because he looks good in a suit or whatever, you know, that sort of thing.

MB. In talking to voters what are you finding to be their main concern or main concerns?

Joe Volpe: Well, the usual top three. Jobs and the economy. Health care. Education. Ad then there’s certain areas where immigration may be important, honesty in government, a lot of people are upset now that they’ve taken the caps off campaign contributions. And people are afraid that maybe some of the rich and powerful are gonna start buying elections in Missouri.

MB. That’s interesting. So, you, you’re, in your conversations with average voters they’re bringing up the…

Joe Volpe: Average voters bring up the most unusual stuff you will believe. Most of them, like I say, they concentrate on the main issues. They’re losing their house through foreclosure, they just lost their job at Sprint, or they’re kid’s college tuition increased thirty per cent. You know, those are the main ones. But every once in a while you get a, someone that knows a little bit more than your average voter and he knows about those limits and it’s scary. He’s afraid that maybe his influence is going to be diminished because his check book isn’t as big as somebody else’s.

MB: Your, your opponent in the general election is generally been well funded.

Joe Volpe: Yes. Still is.

MB: Still is. Are you finding that people are stepping up to support you?

Joe Volpe: I am getting a lot of small donations right now. Twenty bucks, twenty five dollars, that sort of thing. People know that on the other side there’s a lot of PACs and corporate organizations that are funneling money into his campaign. So they are helping out. I’m reaching out to as many people as I can, because as everybody knows, it takes money to run a campaign. I mean, it may not be the most fun thing in the world, but unfortunately, it does take money. It’s doubtful if I’ll be able to out raise him because he’s got so much corporate support. But, we’re gonna out work him. We’re going the old fashioned grassroots politics stuff. Door to door. Making phone calls. All that kind of good stuff. And I have a very good feeling based on just talking to your average voter – they’re, they see good in our campaign and they’re tired of what’s been going on….

….That’s the feeling I’m getting going door to door talking to people. They’re tired of it. They want people in there that’s gonna do something.

MB: And these are average people that really, it’s just, it’s about how politics, the intersection of politics with their lives, it’s only because it affects their lives. They’re not the kind of people that, that you know, play the game, picks somebody…

Joe Volpe: Right.

MB…root for them. Everything. They’re just…

Joe Volpe: And know it’s like affecting everybody. I mean when gas is close to four dollars a gallon, or they’re losing their home to foreclosures. I mean, they’re affected. They’re angry.

MB: …you see, even in other polls, the right direction/wrong track numbers. They’re like…

Joe Volpe: It’s incredible.

MB: I’ve never seen numbers like…

Joe Volpe: Eighty one per cent of the American people think we’re going in the wrong direction now.

MB: Yeah, that’s like…

Joe Volpe: …those are like great depression numbers. It’s incredible. I mean, if that doesn’t give the big shots on high some indication what’s going on then they shouldn’t be there. They need to pay attention to the guy on the street. And he’s saying “Wrong direction, change the sign. It goes that way now…”      

You know what to do. Help Joe Volpe out.