State Treasurer Clint Zweifel (D) was the keynote speaker for Missouri Boys State on Monday evening. He addressed the audience in prepared remarks and then took questions.
State Treasurer Clint Zweifel (D): All right. So, Hazelwood West [High School] in the house? There he is. Hey, Hazelwood West can make more noise than that. [voice: “St. Louis!”]
It is, it is so exciting to be with you tonight at Boys State. Thank you Mike, for the, for the kind introduction. And I also want to tell you it is just a wonderful honor to be able serve as your State Treasurer. Uh, you know, I’ve been through twelve years of election cycles, uh, and I still come to work every day with the same sense of excitement that I did after my first election in two thousand two. I feel so fortunate to be able to serve my fellow Missourians each day.
And I love coming to Boys State specifically because I always walk away with some optimism about our future. You usually send me away, not just with that stylish, fashion forward, Boys State t-shirt, but with also, uh, a heck of a lot of energy and enthusiasm that I can take back, uh, with me. You know something that I agree with, that together we can make a difference in our State and we can make a difference in the world at large. And one impressive thing that you’re doing by spending this week here at Boys State, you’re translating that energy and that enthusiasm into a real sense of purpose. One indication of the value of this is the alumni who have made it their priority to make Boys State happen for you just as it has happened for them. We have a hundred volunteers that are committed to providing you the same moving experience that they had many years before. This is a [applause], this is an important investment that you’re making and they’re making just by being present in the moment here this week.
You know, we think, we think a lot about job training as being or training as being job specific or skill specific, related to some area of study, whether you’re a carpenter, engineer, banking, teaching. Those all are examples of jobs and professions that require specialized training and obviously they’re all very important. But there’s another type of training, regardless of your profession, your area of interest, that helps you grow, builds your community and makes our state stronger. And that is training to be a good citizen. You’re already showing your belief of the importance of civic responsibility. And as you know, maintaining our nation’s leadership position requires us to be to good citizens. It requires us all to give back a little more than we receive. And all the institutions that we often take for granted, whether they be universities like this here today, school boards, city, county governments, public libraries, fires districts, political party committees even, these institutions help build and they help create the civic life that embraces progress, that makes us part of communities, not just a gathering of individuals that are out there acting alone by ourselves.
So, citizenship for me is this wonderful mix of personal responsibility, but also being part of a team. It’s built on the idea that we all have responsibilities to ourselves, both to family and to friends, work and school, but that we’re part of a larger community. And being part of that larger community requires us to see beyond our front door. Trying to understand how things work. Showing intellectual curiosity. Figuring out ways that you can add value, figuring out ways that you can make a difference. And once you get in the habit of thinking like this, it becomes part of who you are. And it shapes nearly every decision that you make going forward in your lives.
So tonight I want to visit with you just a bit about that civic responsibility and leadership, my job as State Treasurer, while also sharing with you the path that I’ve sort of created for myself in bringing me here today.
Now, as Mike said, I grew up in Florissant, uh, in the northern part of St. Louis County. My dad’s a retired carpenter, my mom’s a retired hairdresser. And I learned so much about hard work from both of them. They set a standard and an example for me in so many ways. Now they weren’t involved in politics, but they voted, they read the newspaper, they volunteered their time coaching at our school, helping out at school. And like each of you, my community and my neighborhood that I grew up, it shaped me and gave me a point of reference to the larger world. And one of those defining characteristics was hard work.
You know, most of my neighbors, they worked with their hands, they used their physical strength whether they were garbage collectors, electricians, laborers, auto workers. It taught me a special appreciation for those who build, who work with their hands on a day to day basis, and how all of us depend upon them. That’s something I take with me every day as a public servant – importance of respect and dignity in the workplace, the importance of good jobs and ultimately what those good jobs can mean for a family and for a community.
Another defining moment for me, that Mike talked about, was growing up I was the first person in my family to walk on to a college campus and to graduate from college. It, it was [applause], that experience was a transformational experience for me. I still remember walking onto that campus for the first time. And my world suddenly got a lot larger, seeing the choices that I had before me, professors to interact with, diversity among the student body. That opportunity of higher education is a big part of who I am today as a person, but also as a public servant.
And I grew a lot in college. I was interested in journalism. It took me a few months to get the courage, uh, to actually contact the student newspaper, but I finally did. I knocked on their door and I asked if I could volunteer as a, as a news reporter. They said yes and two years later I was managing editor of the paper, running the editorial section and writing weekly opinion columns. And I really loved every minute of it. And I spent a lot of time on campus writing about campus politics, writing about news and feel, and started feeling a pull about running for office someday. And I made the decision to run for student government vice president. Now, not only did I win that election with more votes than my presidential running mate, but I actually met my wife on campus. Now, I didn’t get her vote, but I did finally get a date. [applause]
Now, so, in so many ways my, my experience in those two area, my parents’ work and the opportunity that I had to attend college, shaped my philosophical view on government and society as a whole. And I really, truly believe this, so, no matter what your political philosophy is government does play an important role. It sets a foundation for all of us to work from. It sures, it ensures that opportunity is present and that progress for society is within reach. I see it first hand as I travel to every corner of our state. At its best I’ve seen automobile jobs being retained and grown here in Missouri, I’ve seen a school get rebuilt in Pemiscot County after a devastating tornado, I’ve seen veterans get trained and rehired for jobs here in, and I’ve seen children who don’t have a mom and dad in their lives at least have a fighting chance of making it. And I, whose grandfather stopped going to school after eighth grade and started working, had the opportunity to attend college and become a statewide leader. Folks, our investments in others matter. They matter because I see it every day in every part of Missouri.
I worked after graduating from college and went back to school got an MBA. I had a little bit of political experience at this point, but not a lot. And I had made a decision to run in two thousand two for election against a state representative who had been in office for ten years at that point. Now, I was really confident of victory. I knocked on seventy-five doors a day every day beginning in June first. And as I got toward the end of August, a few days of knocking I was getting the same constant comment, come back. Folks were saying somebody just called about your election. They wanted to know how we’re gonna vote. So I called the Democratic Party and asked if they were conducting a poll. They said yes. I said, well, I want to know the results, I feel great about my prospects for victory. I know everybody in the district. We’re gonna win this thing.
There was dead silence on the other end of the phone.
They said, Clint, you just can’t pull off this election. Our polling only has your name identification at eighteen percent and of that eighteen percent forty-eight percent are voting against you and only eighteen percent are voting for you. You’re not going to win this election. And I thought of the individuals in my life who had invested in me along the way, my parents, my wife Janice, neighbors walking down the street who were encouraging me, saying they were praying for me, volunteers who had spent so many hours canvassing, calling and mailing on my behalf. They had all taken a leap of faith with that campaign that I had run in two thousand two. I talked with Janice and realized that we had to keep going. So I kept knocking on doors through a cold election day in November. And the first election results came in early that evening, we were losing by three hundred votes. So we waited and we waited. And at the, at midnight we won that election by sixty-seven votes out of fourteen thousand cast. [applause] Now, six years later I’m serving as your State Treasurer.
And I’m a little biased, but on your first election night when you’re down by three hundred votes for most of the evening and you come up and you end up with sixty-seven ahead at midnight, you develop an immense appreciation for the difference one person can make, you develop an immense appreciation for the power of small investments and understanding how to climb toward your goals. Each of you in this room has that same power and ability in your own lives and in the world around you. Giving to charity, competing in small active, in, in school activities, working hard, finding ways to help others, gives you that foundation to grow. It’s about being the best person that you can be here and now.
I’ve worked to implement that same approach in my administration on a day to day basis, that basic idea that we can make a difference in society. And I’m so proud of what we’ve accomplished. You know, we had two basic goals. The number one job was to do all of our core competencies with excellence every single day. But the second one was to have a larger impact on public policy in our state, to use the power of my administration to shape policy to change people’s lives.
That core function first meant protecting taxpayer dollars, keeping them safe and sound during a very uncertain period. I protected our three point six billion dollar portfolio, updated our investment policy to protect taxpayers in a new world of finance, and we retooled how we think about and manage risk. We actually strengthened Missouri’s fiscal position during difficult times.
But those core functions also meant modernizing my administration, using technology, doing more with less, developing partnerships to help Missourians afford college. We’ve helped Missourians save now more than two billion dollars through our college savings program, touching Missourians in every corner of the state. And for the first time ever we have a matching grant program that set aside a half a million dollars to help parents save for college along the way.
But it’s also my belief that as elected officials we should do more than the basics. That’s why we’re elected. So we’ve found ways to help children and families throughout this state. I developed an economic development strategy that paired the assets that we invest in Missouri banks with small businesses that were trying to borrow during a very difficult environment. When we took office there were only hundred lenders across the state of Missouri using the Missouri Linked Deposit Program. I rededicated staff, we passed sweeping legislation, we reached out to community lenders and within two years we now have three hundred community banks using that program on a day to day basis. We’ve leant out one billion dollars in small business and farm loans, touching every corner of Missouri. [applause]
That, that responsibility also means caring for our most vulnerable in society, our veterans, our children in foster care, and our fellow citizens that suffer from mental illness. We’ve now built seven hundred units of housing that pairs supportive services with bricks and mortar housing, giving individuals an opportunity for growth, recovery and one day, independence. And we did this by making government work smarter and work better. And it didn’t cost an extra penny of taxpayer dollars. [applause]
But the reason I’m here tonight is because I know that a long term investment in getting young people thinking about public service is one of the most important investments that we can make as a society. It’s going to take young leaders from both parties to help us turn, turn the corner in this country and in our state to develop consensus and bring citizens together.
You know, the gamesmanship that we often see, governing without any sense of responsibility, both Democrats and Republicans do it, it takes away from the real conversations we have, not just as a party, but as a state. How do we make our elementary and secondary educational system to make as dynamic as possible, developing new ways to approach learning, training and recruiting teachers, rewarding them to help our kids compete in a global economy? How do we lead on transportation, whether it be air, rail, public systems or highways, so that a state in a middle of the United States can develop a lasting, competitive advantage? How do we achieve excellence in public higher education through research and teaching and economic development, but also insure that a new generation of first generation college students have opportunity to attend college, too? And how do we think creatively about entrepreneurialism in Missouri, developing ideas that don’t just to react to current needs but drive a culture in this state of capital and risk taking that positions Missouri as a leader for people and growth, investment, and ultimately jobs.
The opportunity cost of that status quo debate, the gamesmanship, is huge because we miss the issues that matter the most.
You know, I work a great deal with numbers on a day to day, day to day basis as your State Treasurer. I can’t predict though with certainty where the stock market will be tomorrow, what interest rates will be, or a variety of other economic and jobs data, but I can tell you this with absolute certainty, Missouri’s ability to grow its population, grow its state product, increase its relevance in the world, create jobs and opportunity for all, is based on education, transportation, and entrepreneurialism. And we cannot be locked into a box doing things the same old way on those issues. It’s not enough. We have to be challenge, willing to challenge orthodoxy and try new ways of approaching things. This is how all of our political involvement should be judged. What are we doing to transform and compete for the long term? And not just scoring the victory here or there, but truly moving the needle. We have to work with the same sense of energy, urgency, and focus that Missourians do every day.
In April I toured my home town after a tornado ran through my old district and met with the owner of an optical shop, a business owner there, who in a few minutes time lost much of what he had built up over the previous two decades. But he was remarkably calm, even after being up most of that night, and was actually telling me stories about the first weekend that they opened that optical shop. His daughter, who was now close to being my age, was out in the street with a sign that was encouraging people driving down the street to come by her dad’s new optical shop, that they were staring a business for the first time. And he was smiling big as he was telling that story. And it was remarkable, that in the midst of losing his business in just a few minutes he is quietly putting one foot in front of the other, telling me how he was going to rebuild, finding a pathway forward. They deserve no less from us. [applause]
Thank you for allowing me to be here tonight with you. Have a great week.