Basically, Mike Carter is a man without a party.
He's running for lieutenant governor again, this time as a Republican. His ideas sometimes fall outside the paradigm of most serious candidates. His stances on controversial issues are seemingly inconsistent by today's rigidly dichotomic ideological expectations. He says things that would make most political operatives cringe. In an era of increasing political polarization and spin-room calculation, Carter is a staunch outlier.
He's a heavy underdog in the GOP primary, a former one-term Wentzville municipal judge facing off against a capable incumbent, Peter Kinder, and a prominent state Senator, Brad Lager. But with voters growing more and more frustrated with today's fierce partisanship, Carter hopes to emerge as a viable alternative to his political-establishment opponents.
Perhaps the most emblematic idea of Carter's platform: lieutenant governor is a part-time job and should be paid like it.
"They say the truth shall set you free," he says. "I've been researching the lieutenant governor's office for some time. It is part-time and they're making nearly $100,000 to do that. To me the lieutenant governorship is overpaid and it's something that can be done, with the right management in place, for half the salary."
The lieutenant governor, who made around $86,000 in 2010, sits on around a dozen commissions and places the deciding vote if there is a tie in the state Senate. Beyond this, though, Carter views the post as a valuable megaphone to promote state issues, which is what motivated him to run in the first place. We've heard candidates vow to take a pay cut if elected. The true rarity is a candidate who openly belittles the power and significance of the of the office for which he is running.
"Even though it's ceremonial at best-- it doesn't have a lot of impact in a meaningful way on the state's political processes-- it does offer a good mouth piece from a P.R. standpoint," he says. "The press, if you're in that position, typically will listen to some of your ideas for the state. It does afford an opportunity for someone who has a couple of ideas that are dear to him or her to trumpet them throughout the state."
The idea Carter, who is an attorney, most fervently champions is the elimination of red light cameras. Ostensibly, this is a minor goal. But philosophically, it is a goal that embodies a variety of Carter's core beliefs. For one, he argues, the cameras are a dangerous encroachment upon civil liberties-- a point that nods toward his admiration for Congressman Ron Paul, whom he voted for president in 2008.
"You get a little bit of a desensitization of those type of things, kinda creeping up, and the next thing you know you have one on every street light, every street corner," he says.
But he doesn't consider himself a libertarian, "not by any stretch." Indeed, Carter posits that red light cameras also illustrate how privatization of government duties can benefit corporations and hurt the public-- the companies that make the cameras control their function and gain profits the more widely they are used.
"There's a lot of stipulations that a private company puts in place that are the providence of the aldermanic council or some other legislative authority, or the executive branch combined with that-- they should be making those decisions and not a private company that says we'll make a bunch of money if you do things our way," he says.
Furthermore, he asserts, the cameras serve as a devious means for local governments to increase revenues without having to raise taxes, which is more politically risky.
He came to this conclusion, in part, from first hand experience. In 2009, he was elected municipal judge in Wentzville, for which he served two years. During his tenure, he took criticism for being lenient on defendants. Carter, though, contends that his methods on the bench sought to counterbalance a punitive judicial paradigm in need of reform.
"When defendants come through for a speeding ticket, or a stop sign ticket, most of them are not murderers, they're not wife or husband beaters, they're not child molesters, they're regular people with regular problems who are missing work," he says. "And so I tried to change the mindset of the courts to treat these people with respect. The judicial system, it's not supposed to be friendly and comfy, but it doesn't have to be demeaning and disrespectful."
Carter lost re-election in April. His reputation had been tarnished by a DWI charge from a December 2009 traffic stop. He had maintained his innocent and fought the charges. But the case didn't go to trial until a week after the election. A jury acquitted him after just fifteen minutes of deliberation.
In addition to practicing law, Carter lectures on business and marketing at the University of Missouri-St Louis. He has also dabbled in real estate for nearly twenty yeas and is a director on the St. Louis Board of Realtors. He made a failed bid for St. Charles County prosecutor in 2010. In his 2008 run for lieutenant governor, he finished a distant second to Sam Page in the Democratic primary, picking up sixteen percent of the vote.
He switched parties between his 2008 and 2012 statewide campaigns not because of any shift in his beliefs, but in order to try to undermine the rule of the two-party system.
"All elections should be non partisan," he says. "A lot of the human notion is that we stereotype things for a reason, and it helps us categorize and make decisions on a given day based on lumping things into big block groups. But in politics it's unfortunate that that does occur. Really I wish there were no parties whatsoever and everybody ran on name and reputation or whatever it is that they can do to communicate with the voting public."
His stances on various local and national issues reflects this aversion to partisanship. He says that the Aerotropolis proposal was based on "lots of hope and prayer." He supports local control of the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department. He believes the version of Prop B, the dog breeding regulation initiative, that passed in a ballot initiative should not have been watered down by the state legislature. He thinks that housing development and historic preservation tax cuts-- which stirred contentious debate in the recent special session-- should have expiration dates or be capped. He thinks elected officials should be able to serve on the Missouri Housing Development Commission, which Kinder has fought against. He is against much of the Affordable Care Act, especially the individual mandate (Kinder created a limited liability company to file a lawsuit to stop the health care reform). And Carter declares that the Occupy protesters "have genuine gripes" and that "they represent a very disgruntled sub-set, maybe a large set."
Then he adds, "I do not agree in any way with the Newt Gingrich crap he said on the debate. About how they're dirty and don't shower. It's disrespectful."