The Missouri Times is speaking to new lawmakers this session. Get to know more of the “Freshmen to Watch” here.
JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — Rep. Alex Riley, a Republican, wasn’t planning on running for office. At least not just yet.
“Growing up, I always had this really strong interest in politics … but more importantly the policymaking side of things,” Riley told The Missouri Times. “While I was very interested in politics, it was … because of the opportunity it provides to enact positive policy.”
Although he’s been involved in local politics since he was very young — he remembers wanting to knock doors for Jim Talent’s U.S. Senate run against Jean Carnahan as an 11-year-old — it wasn’t until early 2019, when abortion bills passed in New York and Virginia, that Riley’s wheels began to turn, and he considered a real run for office.
“The night I found out about what New York was doing,” Riley said. “I was sitting next to my wife on the couch, had my hand sitting on her pregnant tummy like a lot of new dads do, and I was watching the news and watching Gov. Cuomo talk about this new bill that they passed in New York. The thought that you could terminate a pregnancy at that stage I just found completely unacceptable.”
Missouri, on the other hand, passed one of the most restrictive abortion bills in the nation in 2019. The law has been tied up in court since its passage. But there’s no guarantee that Missouri will remain conservative, Riley said.
“It wasn’t that long ago Virginia was a pretty conservative state, but there’s been a rapid transformation there in just a few years,” Riley said. “A lot of it had to do with people like me — Christian conservative people — just getting complacent and not continuing to stand up and fight for the things we believe in.”
The first bill that Riley filed as a legislator was HB 575, the “Missouri Religious Freedom Protection Act”.
“Broadly speaking, what that bill seeks to do is ensure that no government entity within the state … can close a place of worship. So that’s obviously in response to some of the things that we saw come about because of COVID,” Riley said of the bill.
Riley grew up in HD 134, the district he now represents, which encompasses parts of central and south Springfield. He lives there with his wife, Ellen, who he met in high school, and their two children. He only ever really left the district to attend law school at Southern Illinois University, and for a few years when he first returned to Springfield after receiving his Juris Doctorate. He completed his bachelor’s degree at Thomas Edison State University online.
“It has basically every economic demographic you can think of, from extremely poor neighborhoods to probably some of the wealthiest parts of Springfield, and then everywhere in between,” Riley said of his district.
That may be why his real legislative focus is economic issues.
“Springfield as a whole has a poverty rate in excess of 25 percent, and that was pre-COVID,” Riley said. “It’s always been a real passion of mine and a real focus to do things to improve the overall economic climate of the state.”
This story has been updated.