10 Questions with Aaron Willard, GrowMO

The Missouri Times: You are considered a fairly seasoned political operative, but how has your past experience and campaign work influenced what you’re currently working on?

Well, I’m actually kind of a nerd and didn’t come from a really heavy political background. In college, I started out as an engineering student and then switched over to economics because it seemed like a hybrid of merging an analytical approach to social issues that was really interesting to me. It wasn’t until I was studying economics that I got more interested in public policy and, eventually, politics. I think having more of a technical background is very helpful in politics because it allows me to approach issues as solving problems and that is really how I view a lot of my work these days.

Aaron Willard

TMT: You’ve been with GrowMo for a little while now. What have you learned from past successes and failures?

For me, I think what I have learned is that success and failure are part of an ongoing process. I’ve been fortunate to be a part of a lot of successful ventures, but really going back and looking at what we didn’t do well has often times been more helpful than focusing on what we did right because techniques and technology will change your tactics, but if you don’t take the time to understand your failures, you will slow your own professional growth and development.

TMT: Can you point to an area you feel GrowMO has been effective and explain why you think there has been success?

I think the most notable success was the passage of SB 509 because in less than a year after Grow Missouri was formed, Missourians got an income tax cut and we have a proposal that will limit government spending. One of the reasons I believe it was successful is because we worked with so many other groups and leaders and then leveraged our combined strength and reach. When combined, all of the partners involved represented thousands and thousands of Missourians and we spent a lot of time working with, educating, and activating them.

TMT: Conversely, are there areas that GrowMO hasn’t been as effective as it could be, and how do you plan to change that?

Often times, just like everyday citizens, we get frustrated with how long the process of change takes to occur. We sometimes want to see things occur much faster, but we have to be more patient with the process even if it frustrates us. I would say a specific area we want to improve is through mass communication, and we want to create an extensive network of coalition members and partners so we can readily update and educate them on issues.

TMT: For the 2014 election cycle, what messages do you think Missouri voters are responding to the most? Are there messages that appear to be ineffective with voters?

A couple things that I hear a lot is just a general frustration with the economy, concern about the direction of the country and disappointment in some of our leaders. I think overall a lot of it could be described as a sense of uncertainty that is really troubling people. One of the things I don’ think has gone over well in some places is candidates talking about their “experience” as a politician. People are frustrated and they attribute part of that problem to current politicians.

TMT: GrowMo recently took a lot of heat when a company that was contracted through a vendor, Skyword, offered to compensate a few local reporters in exchange for producing content about GrowMO’s mission. To what extent does this damage the public and/or the media’s trust in your organization?

What happened was completely indefensible on their part and we took the necessary action to end the relationship. However, from our perspective it was more regrettable that our character and integrity were brought into question, things we have always prided ourselves, because we have worked hard to overcome a lot of doubt and pessimism. Personally, we know a lot of the reporters and have a lot of respect for them. Our hope is they know us well enough to know that’s not how we would ever operate.

TMT: Between GrowMO’s acquisition of a blimp, the Skyword scandal, and a constant stream of hefty donations to candidates, GrowMo is in the news a lot. What are some things the organization is doing that you haven’t seen covered in the news?

One of the things that we are doing is a truly grassroots person-to-person effort where we gather ideas from people all over the state. We have an advance team that travels across the state and they literally catch people on the street and ask them for ideas to help make Missouri a better place. It has been a lot of fun and the feedback from people is awesome. I haven’t ever seen anything like it at the scale we’re conducting them and I’m really proud to be a part of it.

TMT: Grow Missouri largely exists because of conservative mega-donor Rex Sinquefield, who has a fairly clearly stated political agenda. How do you respond to criticisms that “one man” shouldn’t have so much power to influence elections and campaigns?

Foremost, we’re incredibly proud to have his backing and we support the letter of the law, which recognizes political contributions made by anyone as freedom of speech — a way to have your voice heard.  Extrapolating upon that, there are many ways to have your voice heard.  Some folks show their support by donating money, some by volunteering at the grassroots level, knocking on doors, and putting up yard signs.  Others donate their talents and professional expertise.  The point is, there are a myriad of ways for anybody to get involved and make a difference in the political process.  But at the end of the day, on any given election day, individuals like Mr. Sinquefield have one vote, just like the rest of us.  The people decide elections, which is as it should be.

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Source: Missouri Times