Democrat Ryan Dillon is running to become the next state senator from Missouri's 16th Senatorial District on Nov. 6, 2018.

 

From Rolla High School and Westminster College to Congressional aid and an appointment to the State Department, Dillon is the embodiment of his grandfather's philosophy that it's every Missourian's duty to give back to their community through public service.

 

#Boom recently interviewed Dillon as part of our "OUT on the Trail" series profiling Missouri and Illinois’ LGBTQ+ candidates in 2018.

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Tell us about your district; where is it, what does it include?

 

From the Mark Twain National Forest to the Lake of the Ozarks, Missouri's 16th Senatorial District is the most beautiful in the state. The district includes five counties in central Missouri - Camden, Crawford, Dent, Phelps, and Pulaski. My district is home to Ft. Leonard Wood, Missouri University of Science & Technology, multiple state parks, and many small towns. We are farmers, we are teachers, we are veterans, we are nurses, and we are working families. As I travel across this district, I continue to be inspired by the stories I hear and the people I meet.

 

What was the catalyst for you getting into this race?

 

My decision to run for the Missouri State Senate came down to a conversation I had on March 25, 2010. I was standing in the House Armed Services Committee hearing room with my boss at the time, Congressman Ike Skelton, when my cell phone rang. It was the call I had dreaded my entire life, but I answered it. On the phone was my Grandma Jan and she said, "Ryan, I love you. I want you to remember three things: never stop believing in yourself, always fight for what is right, and always find the good in everyone and everything around you." She would pass away four minutes later. This campaign has been one hell of a fight, but it is a fight worth fighting and one I am ready for.

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There are a record breaking six openly LGBTQ candidates running for the state legislature in Missouri in November. State Sen. Jolie Justus famously said, "If you don't have a seat at the table - you're probably on the menu." What are your thoughts on having out representation in Jefferson City and how do you plan to use that platform?

 

I have lived a privileged and fortunate life, but I always knew I was different. The first 24 years of my life were difficult. I didn't understand or accept myself. Today, I ask myself tough questions, I have high expectations for myself, I self-reflect, and I love life. Most importantly, I love myself for who I am. In the Missouri State Senate, I will be my true, genuine self. I will find the good in everyone and everything around me. Every Missourian deserves the same opportunities I have had in life and they deserve a government that loves them for who they are. Love will always conquer hate. In the Missouri State Senate, I will stand up against discrimination of any kind. There is no place in our communities for discrimination. We must build people up, not tear them down.

 

Women's rights, voting rights, and of course, LGBTQ rights have been under attack in Missouri for some years now. We all know this is an uphill fight. But where do we start?

 

Everyone has a story and change starts when more women, minorities, and LGBTQ people step up to tell their story and run for office. When they do make the courageous decision to run, we must do everything we can to get them elected. This needs to happen at all levels of government and it needs to happen now. There is too much at stake.

 

You support the Missouri Nondiscrimination Act, which would protect LGBTQ Missourians from discrimination in housing, employment and public accommodation. What's your approach or argument to bring opponents around on the issue.

 

My approach is simple and can be summed up in one word: conversations. In the Missouri State Senate, my first priority would be to meet, one-on-one, with my thirty-three colleagues to share my story and life experiences; I hope they would be willing to do the same. I want to build working, professional relationships with them and it starts with a hand shake and a conversation.

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Let's talk about some other issues of importance to our readers. These are in no particular order. Student Loan debt?

 

What happens in our classrooms today, impacts our communities tomorrow. As tuition for higher education has increased over the years, so to has student debt. We should not punish students for pursuing higher education. We must remain competitive in a global market by investing more in public education and empowering our young people to pursue lives of purpose.

 

Access to healthcare for Missourians?

 

In the Missouri State Senate, I will stand with rural hospitals to ensure our families, friends, and neighbors have access to quality, patient-centered healthcare. I will work to pass Medicaid Expansion and introduce legislation that addresses prevention efforts and the treatment of Missourians living with mental illnesses and developmental disabilities. Our state must do more to make sure getting sick or injured is not synonymous to becoming broke. As someone that was diagnosed with a pre-existing condition at the age of fourteen, I know the challenges of our current healthcare system.

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Increasing the minimum wage to a living wage?

 

In November, I will support Proposition B because I believe we must increase the minimum wage to a livable wage. We have the opportunity to raise the minimum wage in Missouri to $12 an hour by 2023. Throughout its implementation, the increase will reflect economic trends. Far too often, parents are working multiple jobs to support their families, yet still struggle to make ends meet. That has to change.

 

Equality advocates in Missouri find themselves playing more and more defense when it comes to LGBTQ rights. What are your thoughts on the Religious Freedom legislation allowing discrimination based on religious objections that is being introduced around the country?

 

In the Missouri State Senate, I would oppose “religious freedom” legislation that would legalize discrimination in our communities. A business cannot discriminate based on one’s race and it should not be able to discriminate against someone based on their sexual orientation. We as a country, and a state, are better than that.

 

I read that you worked under Secretary of State Hillary Clinton for a time. What was that experience like?

 

I am a firm believer that when one door closes, one opens. In this case, my boss lost his bid for re-election to Congress in 2010, but I had the opportunity to continue my career in public service as I was offered a presidential appointment in the Obama administration at the U.S. Department of State. I worked closely with the Under Secretary of State for Arms Control and International Security to develop and implement national security protocols. To have the experience of serving my country in this role was incredibly humbling and rewarding; I served as a liaison for the State Department, working with foreign embassies and international organizations around the world. It was my tenure at the State Department that inspired me to pursue a master's degree in U.S. foreign policy and global security from American University's School of International Service.

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So I have to admit - I'm super jealous that you know Sally Field. How did that fundraising event come about?

 

Sally Field is a dear friend who I admire a great deal. I asked her to come to Missouri to campaign with me and she happily agreed.

 

When speaking to voters in your district, what are the top issues they want to talk to you about?

 

For the last 22 months, I have criss-crossed this district and visited every community, many times over. There are serious challenges facing these communities and I believe good ideas transcend partisanship. We must come together to reach the solutions we all know are possible. Today, I see friends and neighbors who are working hard and still not getting ahead. I see senior citizens being forced out of their homes, veterans not receiving their benefits, parents struggling to cover rising health care costs and children not getting the education they deserve. And, the first step to solving a problem is recognizing we have one; when a teen dies of an overdose every ten minutes, we have a problem. When the United States is 5% of the world’s population and we consume 80% of the world’s opioids, we have a problem.These are the issues that are on the minds of voters.

 

Voter turnout will be key for a Dillon victory. Talk to our readers, especially the younger readers, about the importance of one person, one vote.

 

Our democracy is stronger when more people participate. One person, one vote is at the heart of what makes this country so great. We all have the opportunity to affect profound change in our government when we exercise our right to vote. Every time one of us does not vote, we sacrifice our voice to someone else. We give our power to someone else.

 

Any final thoughts?

 

My grandfather, Anthony “Tony” Viessman, often reminded me that it is every Missourian’s duty to give back to their community. Through my personal and professional experiences, the values of integrity, respect, fairness, and responsibility have been instilled in me. These values are the foundation of my everyday life and would guide my work as a State Senator. I am running for the Missouri State Senate because I believe in progress, that tomorrow should be better than today. This campaign is about bringing people together to compromise and reach the solutions that we all know are possible. Good ideas transcend partisanship. I’m working to build people up, strengthen communities, and make Missouri a better place to live and work for everybody. I believe in the people who live in Missouri’s 16th Senatorial District and the opportunities we can create when we work together. It is this belief that inspired me to walk the sixty-three miles from my hometown of Rolla to Jefferson City to officially file to run for the Missouri State Senate. Along the way, I dedicated each mile to a constituent story that I have heard during this campaign. Far too often, our elected officials listen to respond, not to understand. As a State Senator, I would be accessible, transparent, and accountable. If we are going to change Jefferson City, we have to change who we send there.

 

"OUT on the Trail" is an ongoing series of profiles on out LGBTQ candidates in 2018. Check out our interviews with Kathy EllisTom HanneganMitch WeberIan MackeyPatrice BillingsGreg Razer , Ryan DillonMaggie TrevorGreg HarrisKelly Cassidy and Lamont Robinson.   

 

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