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Freshmen to Watch: Richard West

The Missouri Times is speaking to new lawmakers this session. Get to know more of the “Freshmen to Watch” here.

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — Rep. Richard West found himself in a unique position this year — serving his first term as a state representative and his fourth as mayor of New Melle simultaneously.

West’s initial career was in law enforcement, a passion he began pursuing right out of high school. He retired after 21 years, with a 28-month stint as an international police advisor in Iraq under his belt as well, before running for mayor to address policing and budgetary concerns. While he plans to pass the torch on when his term expires, he said the experience of operating in two different governments at once provided an interesting challenge. 

“There are great benefits to both branches; each form of government has different responsibilities,” West told The Missouri Times. “As a mayor, your job is to do as much as you can for the people in your town — you get money, get services, and support the people. Here, you’re trying to find some of that funding. Sometimes there’s a tug-of-war to decide what’s the state’s responsibility and what’s up to the city.”

West’s first-year legislation addressed issues raised by members of his community, including proposals on working animals, homeowner restrictions, and credit transfers for colleges. Another bill he sponsored would establish an optional license plate sticker for drivers who are hard of hearing or deaf to allow law enforcement to handle stops accordingly. West said the bill was requested by a constituent and would benefit both officers and drivers. 

A member of the House Budget Committee, West said balancing the financial needs of the state and individual communities was a delicate process; despite the different priorities that come with his new role, his experience back home and connections with other mayors lent him insight into the challenges the committee faced through the process. 

“It’s harder than you would imagine. I’ve got a lot of friends running these big cities that consume a lot of funding, and they consume a lot of energy. You have to be really careful with what you do here because you don’t want to take away their ability to provide for their people,” he said. “I believe in local control, but sometimes that local control gets out of hand. It’s a balancing act, but I enjoy the experience so far.”

West said he had observed the legislative process before taking office, but his first few months were still a learning experience. With one session under his belt, he hoped to continue working to help his constituents and focus on his work with the budget. 

“I like watching the people’s money — I think that we sometimes spend too much money too frivolously, and my purpose is to come up here for that,” he said. “I don’t have any huge agendas, I’m not here to change the world, but if I can protect and help the people of Missouri, that’s what I want to do.”