COLUMBIA — Mitch Richards doesn’t like other people messing with his liberties.
The First Ward City Council candidate describes himself as a man of principles who’s not afraid to voice an opinion of what he thinks is right.
“People might not always like my answer, but I’ll always give it to them,” Richards said.
A student of history, Richards believes in absolute adherence to the Constitution.
“Don’t touch my Bill of Rights,” he said. “Don’t mess with them.”
Richards said he is by no means an anarchist but does believe in the need for individual sovereignty and the rights of citizens to regulate themselves rather than the government.
“What we should do is have the government completely out,” he said. “Government has no business in regulating our personal lives, what we do with our bodies, with our individual autonomy.”
So why would Richards want to get involved in government when he thinks it should have less control over its constituents?
“I don’t have an attachment to a political party or ideology,” he said. “I have some anti-establishment views, but I think we need some anti-establishment views in this town. I think the city would very much benefit from a little young blood.”
One of Richards' primary planks in his platform is opposition to the militarization of police operations and drug enforcement, issues he said need to be addressed.
“People don’t want to deal with problems that don’t directly affect them,” he said. “Life is difficult enough as it is to make a living, to support your family, to try to be a moral person. But then having to face what the government is doing to other people in the community that it’s not doing to you — that’s uncomfortable.”
What the government is doing, he said, is militarizing the police and waging a useless and misguided drug campaign.
"Drug addiction should be treated as a public health problem, which it is, not a criminal matter," he said. "I'm not saying we need to decriminalize all drugs, but the emphasis should absolutely be on helping drug addicts, not imprisoning them."
Richards, 29, is most outspoken on the role of police and drug enforcement, but he said he’s not a one-issue candidate.
“I want to make it easier for people to work, I want to look at ways to free up food production and commerce,” he said. “I obviously have civil liberties issues. I’m outspoken on surveillance technology. I’m outspoken on civilian oversight of police and the realities of drug enforcement.”
Richards, who is 23 years younger than the next youngest First Ward candidate, thinks his youth gives him an advantage.
“I think I represent the new approach to a lot of things, which I think involves disillusionment and lack of party loyalty,” he said. “We want issues, we want change, we don’t want to live in a completely bankrupt, debt-ridden society.”
Richards' approach stems from a middle-class background and education.
“I had a father and mother who really instilled some good, old-fashioned values in me,” he said, such as “love of this country — but not blind love. Not a love that is blind attachment to flag and government, but to the values and principles that came out in 1776 and more importantly 1787" — the year the Constitution was adopted.
Richards received a bachelor’s degree in history at the University of Montana and later moved on to earn a master’s degree in European studies from the University of Bologna.
His experiences abroad engendered a world view that left him troubled with some of the problems and trends in American society.
“You go abroad and learn about other countries and cultures, but the biggest thing is you find out about yourself and the way you see the world.”
Richards views the world through what he calls a classical political lens, in a world of infinite cultures, capacities and contributions. Yet one thing he noticed was similar trends in countries with drastically different histories — problems, such as political corruption and dehumanization.
“I think here we’ve held them off to some extent because of the institutional strength of our system of government,” he said. “There’s a rule of law, for the most part,an established judicial system. It’s amazing how many countries don’t have that.”
In 2008 when Richards settled in Columbia, he immediately became active in the community.
He fought against the ballot issue voters who approved to install surveillance cameras in the downtown area, is a designated speaker for the Fully Informed Jury Association, co-hosted a radio show on KOPN, and was the treasurer of Keep Columbia Free, a group formed to oppose the downtown cameras. He also gathered signatures to petition to amend the state constitution to limit the use of eminent domain.
Richards hopes they are just the beginning of his political life in Columbia.