The Missouri Times is speaking to new lawmakers this session. Get to know more of the “Freshmen to Watch” here.
JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — Rep. Darrell Atchison walked into his first legislative session in Jefferson City with one priority in mind: serving the people of HD 153.
Atchison, who represents Ripley, Carter, and parts of Wayne and Butler counties, said he was used to a more orderly process than what he found in the House; he retired from the Missouri National Guard after 23 years of service and continues to work as a financial advisor with Modern Woodmen of America. Atchison said he was content to listen and learn through his first legislative session while bringing a more laid-back presence to the chamber.
“I feel like I can spend quite a bit of time coming to Jefferson City telling people our story and keeping a listening ear out for the good ideas that I can bring back home and the not-so-good ideas I can fight,” Atchison told The Missouri Times. “I’m always listening for good things going on in other large districts where we don’t have a dog in the hunt so I support them because they may come to us at some point. That’s been my strategy so far.”
Having lived on the same gravel road since he was 12, the Republican freshman didn’t have ambitions for a political career until constituents in the district encouraged him to make a bid when his predecessor opted out of another term.
“I didn’t grow up thinking I wanted to run for office or that I wanted to be a politician someday, but the opportunity presented itself a couple of years ago, and I started exploring the idea,” he said. “My thoughts of being a state representative key on the idea of representing the district at the state level. I’m looking out for the citizens of the state also, but I figure what’s good for the 153rd is good for the rest of the state. I don’t want to say I don’t have an ambitious agenda toward passing more rules and laws, but I come from an area that feels like things aren’t that bad for the district.”
Atchison filed one bill for his first session that would designate the Veterans Memorial Bridge in Ripley County; it passed out of committee earlier this month and has yet to make it to the House floor. He said he was happy to help constituents with their requests, even if it’s through a single piece of legislation.
“It came from the district — I have filed every bill that the district has requested of me,” he said. “The one bill names a bridge in my district, and so far it looks like it’s moving along through the process. I pay attention to what’s going on and always keep an eye on education, rural broadband, and tourism, but my constituents haven’t come to me with any other bills they want to see.”
Atchison’s 80-mile district is largely rural, with a plethora of rivers and lakes — including Ozark National Scenic Riverways, which sees thousands of visitors each year — drawing tourism dollars into the community and agriculture accounting for much of its economy. He proudly touts the diversity of the area while at the statehouse.
Despite the chaos that can come from the legislative process, Atchison brought a sense of calm and patience built up over a long career back home.
“There’s a lot of good people here in Jefferson City coming from their hometowns that are trying to do the right thing by their districts and by their state, I really believe that,” he said. “You’ve got to be patient and flexible, but those are two traits that I had before I came here.”