COLUMBIA — Caleb Rowden believes one of his best qualities as a candidate for state representative is his lack of political experience.
Rowden, a Columbia Republican, is running against Democrat Ken Jacob for the new 44th District seat in the Missouri House of Representatives. He said the fact that he's a newcomer to politics is a positive because people have become frustrated with the status quo in Jefferson City, and people begin to see things differently once they've been immersed in the political world for too long.
Rowden, 29, brings a unique background to the Boone County political scene. He spent several years as a Christian rock musician touring the country. His youth and messy reddish-blond hair set him apart from most candidates.
Rowden grew up in Columbia in a conservative family. He attended Mill Creek Elementary School, Ann Hawkins Gentry Middle School and Jefferson Junior High before graduating from Rock Bridge High School in 2001.
Rowden has always had a talent for music. Growing up, he taught himself to play drums, the piano and guitar. In high school, he began writing music and formed his first band. He enrolled in MU, but music began to take over. He and his band toured 40 states, sold thousands of records and had two top-20 radio singles, according to his website.
"It wasn't physically possible to do both," he said, referring to music and college.
Rowden's first band was all local guys, but he later began playing with people he met through the music industry. Rowden and his band were on the road for six or seven years. Eventually, though, Rowden realized he didn't want to be away from his home and his wife, Aubrey Rowden.
"It was a very fun season of life," Rowden said. "I had the chance to do something lots of people want to do but don't have the chance, but I'd rather be with my wife."
When his time on the road ended, Rowden realized he wanted to be more rooted and involved in his community, as well. He said his music career helped prepare him to run for office.
At a recent candidate forum held in Centralia, Rowden spoke confidently to the small crowd gathered in Centralia City Hall. His experience as a performer emerged as he enthusiastically greeted the crowd like an artist greeting an audience.
From 2007 to 2012, Rowden worked as a worship and creative arts pastor at Christian Chapel. His job was to oversee the music and all the creative aspects of church services, and he helped the church establish relationships and work with local nonprofits. Rowden said he enjoyed playing music for his church because he was able to build a relationship with the audience.
"The thing about the road is that you fly in and fly out, and you can't build relationships with the people you're singing to," he said.
Rowden left his job at the church when he decided to run for political office. Although the campaign doesn't leave him much free time, he likes to play golf when he can. Aside from music, it's his favorite pastime. He mostly plays at Columbia Country Club, but he has been playing other courses while its course is being renovated.
"I played golf once in the last month, which is sad" Rowden said. He and his wife are expecting a baby in February, which doesn't bode well for his golf time.
Rowden is a big fan of Missouri basketball. "My wife buys me season tickets every year for my birthday," he said. "I'm very excited about that."
Rowden also runs a media company, Clarius Interactive. Although the idea for the business had been in his head for a while, it emerged while he was talking with his future business partners during a round of golf. He finally found the motivation to start it up.
Rowden's company offers customizable email marketing systems and a video production studio. It also consults with other companies on social media strategies. The Clarius Interactive slogan is "helping businesses tell their story."
"It can't just be a transfer of knowledge," he said. "We help them see the bigger picture of how they can market."
"It's been fun," Rowden said. "I love sitting down with people and hearing about their businesses."
Rowden said his priority, if elected, would be to become a strong voice for entrepreneurs in Missouri. He said he believes the government's responsibility is not to create jobs but to establish a strong foundation for small businesses to develop. There are two ways to accomplish that, he said. The first is to have the right tax structure, and the second is to have an attractive workforce.
Rowden said he believes his experience as a small business owner gives him an advantage.
"The perspective that I have is a good one," he said. "I see the world through the eyes of someone who will work hard. ... Missouri needs people with real world common sense and a get-things-done mentality. That's what I bring to the table."
Rowden said one of his goals is to establish a job training incentive program, similar to one that's been implemented in Louisiana. Although it would be a huge undertaking, he said it would allow both new and existing businesses to hire local workers and provide resources to train them.
Rowden said that when IBM came to Columbia, it brought a lot of people from out of state to work here. Rowden said his incentive program would encourage employers to hire from within Missouri.
Hallsville Mayor Cheri Reisch, whose town is part of the 44th District, said she believes most voters in northern Boone County will side with Rowden's conservative ideals.
"Caleb's life speaks for itself," she said, adding that his fresh perspective and new solutions also are attractive.
Rowden said his motivation for running is simply that he loves the area and thinks it deserves a legislator who will represent residents' values. He said he has spent seven months talking to people both in Columbia and in rural areas of the county to learn what they're passionate about.
"People want to know they can trust their representatives," Rowden said. "They may not always agree with them, but they like to know they are looking out for the people."
"If I can get people to trust me," he said, "I can get people to vote for me."
Supervising editor is Scott Swafford.