A freshman legislator in the super minority party, Rep. Peter Merideth knew to get any change he would have to be as effective and able as possible.
Not one to shy away from an uphill battle, the Representative from St. Louis hit the ground running. He has proved to be a thorn in Republicans sides, an adept budget mind, and is arguably one of the more eloquent debaters on the House floor.
Part of what makes Merideth effective when it comes to debating the issues is that he doesn’t approach everything in a one size fits all method. His strategy is different for every debate depending on the goal and the issue at hand.
“My approach depends on the debate and the goal,” said Merideth.
Sometimes Merideth goes all in, using his voice to make strong points and being very assertive when he speaks, being aggressive in his approach. If he thinks there is no stopping a bill that he is completely opposed to, Merideth believes one of the more effective ways in that scenario seems to be being a loud voice for the opposition and vigorously calling out the issues with the bill.
On the flip side, he is not afraid to take a back seat in the debate noting that sometimes it is more beneficial for him to stay out the discussion completely. If Merideth thinks a bill has a reasonable shot at not passing, then he will take a more inquisitive approach being less aggressive. It also means a lot of behind the scenes talks with Republicans.
And success for Merideth isn’t measured on how many bills be passes.
“Sometimes [success] is killing a bill, sometimes it is getting an important change to a bill, and sometimes it is funding a priority,” Merideth said.
As a member of the House Budget Committee, Merideth gets the opportunity to work with members of both parties to decide where the state funds go. He went into the committee expecting it to be pretty one-sided, with Republicans saying what they wanted to happen and it happening, but that turned out not to be the case.
Merideth calls the bipartisanship in the budget committee, how much input even minority members have in that process, his biggest surprise in the legislature.
“I’ve been really surprised at how much people on both sides of the aisle work together on the budget process, trying to fund the priorities,” said Merideth. “Once we get in that room and in that committee, it seems that we are all under the same limitations of revenue constraints and all largely agree we need to fund certain things. When we get together, it’s just a question of how we want to prioritize and balance the different needs of the people in the state.”
As a member of the Democratic Party, his approach to the General Assembly is different than it would be as a member of the majority party.
When most of the bills come from the majority side — in this case, the Republicans — it can be difficult for people on the same team to be critical of each other. Thus, as Merideth sees it, it becomes the role of the minority to ask the tough questions and to spend a lot of time picking apart the problems.
He also sees it important for Democrats to play the role of accountability in being very vocal, even on social media, when things aren’t happening in the best ways.
“Because there is not a lot we can do in parts of the process, sometimes the most influence we can do is with our voice, and on social media,” said Merideth.
Which, coming from one of the most progressive districts in the state can be a bit of a balancing act. Merideth wants to be a loud, strong voice for the progressives but still wants the capability of sitting down with members across the aisle to get work down.
Forming relationships with Republicans outside of his “progressive bubble” is something Merideth didn’t hesitate to do.
This appeared in the fall 2018 edition of the Missouri Times Magazine, available in Jefferson City at the Capitol, Tolson’s, Cork, and J. Pfenny’s, and online here.
Alisha Shurr was a reporter for The Missouri Times and The Missouri Times Magazine. She joined The Missouri Times in January 2018 after working as a copy editor for her hometown newspaper in Southern Oregon. Alisha is a graduate of Kansas State University.