ST. LOUIS — For West St. Louis County native Brian Millner, lobbying — or politics in general — wasn’t what he anticipated making his career when he was in college.
After a few years doing fundraising for St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay, Millner touched base with John Bardgett who offered him the opportunity to take his citywide political experience to the state level.
“St. Louis politics is a different beast from statewide politics,” Millner said. “Not necessarily better or worse, just different.”
Millner has worked for Bardgett for four years and says he hopes for many more ahead as he has grown very passionate for what he does. That passion and knowledge, Millner said, comes from the help Bardgett has given him these last few years.
“I’ve never had the opportunity to work for someone who I admire more than I do Bardgett,” Millner said. “His name alone is well respected throughout Jefferson City and Missouri. I’ve been able to, in my four sessions with him, learn so many valuable lessons about what goes on inside the building and learn more about the activities that happen outside.”
Before he started lobbying, Millner said he didn’t know much about the law-making process, but that he always found the intricacies of policy development to be fascinating and wanted to better understand how it all impacted different industries.
Bardgett & Associates houses more than 35 clients, giving Millner the exposure to more than a handful of policy issues — something he said he especially loves about his job. He said every day, and sometimes every hour, can bring a different problem to solve or issue to discuss, giving the firm’s lobbyists the chance to have a hand in quite a few areas of thought.
This past session, Millner said he worked closely with the Missouri Community College Association on the performance funding formula for higher education, which traveled from an issue in the Joint Committee on Higher Education to an actual piece of legislation — Senate Bill 437 — which never made it to the governor’s desk.
“From a closer-to-home standpoint, I serve as the Executive Director or Administrative Assistant, for the Missouri Association of Marriage and Family Therapists,” Millner said, adding that the Association had been a Bargett client for years and Millner was essentially assigned to help lead them a few years ago. “They had an issue dealing with accreditation of marriage and family therapists. It was a much smaller bill, a consent bill actually, Senate Bill 234, and it was signed during session so it was successful.”
A challenge during session that Millner found, he said, deals with the up-and-coming competition with social media and other communicative means to get information to clients as quickly as possible.
“Our clients rely on us for accurate information that’s up to date, and we relay that information to them as quickly as possible,” he said. “In the age of digital media, we are, to some degree, in competition with the media and Twitter and even the House and Senate websites posting information online almost up to the minute. We have to be able to get reliable information to clients and stay ahead of the game. It’s competition, but not in a negative way.”
With the session over, Millner said there is a lot of planning with clients for the future session. He said there are many health-related clients interested in what is next on the Medicaid expansion front. Also, for the Missouri Association of Marriage and Family Therapists, he said there’s an ongoing effort to become a provider under Missouri HealthNet, and they’ve been unsuccessful because of cost, so continuing those efforts is also on the coming agenda.
“I really like what I’m doing so it’s hard to say what the future holds,” Millner said about possible next steps. “I certainly continue to learn a lot from John [Bardgett] and I think that I still have a lot to learn from him down the road.”
Millner lives with his wife in Columbia and they’re expecting their first baby this November, something that he said they’re “really, really looking forward to.” Outside of work and family, he also coaches high school soccer at Southern Bend High School in Ashland, Mo. This week, he said he and 15 players are heading to Europe for an international soccer tournament where the team will play against other teams from Spain and France.