One MU freshman hopes to improve student voter turnout in city elections and, along the way, win a seat on the Columbia City Council.
Greg Pierson has only been on campus for four months but already feels like he could make a difference for students.
“I think that there are certain issues that I believe need to be addressed by the person serving the seat,” Pierson said. “Whether that's me because they're the issues I care most about or if it's somebody else. Just by my presence in the race, I think those issues are going to become important.”
Prior to arriving in Columbia, Pierson grew up in Clayton, Missouri, which is a suburb of St. Louis. He attended Clayton High School, where he played varsity soccer for three seasons.
Since coming to MU, Pierson has become highly involved on campus. He’s a Missouri Students Association senator and a member of the Sigma Phi Epsilon fraternity, which is currently rebuilding after being shut down by the fraternity’s national chapter in 2017 for not living by the Sigma Phi Epsilon values. No member from that 2017 class is still with the chapter.
“I have a really hard time turning down leadership opportunities and Sig Ep was a fantastic leadership opportunity,” he said. “It was really a chance to jump right in on campus and just really have an impact from day one. I'm currently holding an executive officer position for the chapter.”
As unprecedented as a student running for a seat on the Columbia City Council may seem, Pierson says it’s been done before.
“I think what makes me unique is that I'm really quite new here on campus,” he said. “I've been here just a couple months, and I really haven't spent very much time in Columbia”
But Pierson understands that he has a long way to go before he could represent the Columbia community effectively.
One issue Pierson will be heavily focused on is student involvement in the election.
“I like to emphasize as much as I can my intentionality about getting students involved in this process,” Pierson said. "That's something that I've been passionate about for years now, but [especially] in the process of collecting signatures to petition to run. You need 50 of those and in order to do that, I registered 49 students to vote in about six days.”
In 2015, Clyde Ruffin won the First Ward seat with a total of 327 votes. In 2017, he won with 475 votes. Less than 1,500 people voted in both of those years. Pierson doesn’t know the exact number of residents in Columbia’s First Ward, but he believes there are at least 10,000 students alone.
“I think that, honestly, in my mobilization efforts just with students alone I might be able to come up with that many votes,” he said. “So I think that is something that makes this a winnable district for anybody. If you can really turn out students in large numbers, because there's a large number of students here, then you can win this election.”
Pierson hopes to gain the support of students by offering solutions to issues they want solved.
He wants to improve the overall quality of life for students in Columbia and believes a big part of that lies within their wallets. Affordable housing is one of several issues he hopes to pursue as a city councilman.
He also hopes to gain the support of local residents of Columbia. He understands this group of people will be more difficult for him to reach, but hopes to focus his campaign on some issues they want dealt with as well.
“A lot of this is a learning experience for me,” he said. “What do I need to learn about this community and what things does the community want me to work on. Things like food security and gun safety have been really big issues in the last few years and I think those are things I'll absolutely address as soon as possible.”
Currently, Pierson has only one opponent. Pat Fowler, the current chair of Columbia’s Historic Preservation Commission, filed to run just days before Pierson.
“She's been a tremendous public servant for Columbia for a long time now, and I think she's done some really great things in this community,” Pierson said.
She was a vocal supporter of the election of current Mayor Brian Treece and will most likely receive the same support from him in this election.
Pierson will have a lot of ground to make up with the permanent residents of Columbia’s First Ward, but a high student turnout could make some of it up.
Edited by Ben Scott | firstname.lastname@example.org