Alumnus Interview: Richard Smith

Richard Smith attended the College Student Congress in 2010 and is now running for a seat in the Georgia State Senate. We sat down with Richard for a digital interview to learn more about his motivation to run for elected office and the lessons he’s learned along the way.

Why have you decided to run for State Senate?

I’ve always thought that my calling was is public office. I wanted to serve my country but joining the military always scared me, so public office seemed the next best route. Focusing on the State Senate was mainly brought on by a desire to see civility in deeply divisive local politics. Our divisiveness at the national level had trickled down into state politics when it didn’t necessarily have to happen that way. I was sick of seeing gridlock based on one or two issues when so much needed to be done at a state level.

How has COVID-19 impacted your campaign?

It has definitely made fundraising extremely hard/nearly impossible. Not being able to go door-to-door to convince voters to support the campaign has definitely hurt. On a personal note, I have a 6 month old son and a wife that’s a nurse at a pretty large hospital so the mental toll of all of this can’t be understated. It’s hard to focus on a political campaign when it’s easy and sometimes necessary to distract yourself from the day-to-day stress that this situation has created.

What issues are most important to you in state government?

Most of my policy goals are guided by two themes: Saving Georgia taxpayers’ money and increasing state revenue. The others are either common sense or data-driven. To that end, my main goals are fixing the broken process for Independent candidates, implementing ranked-choice voting, and legalizing marijuana statewide.

Why are you passionate about public service?

People clearly crave politicians that they can trust, but also seem to trust very few. I’m passionate about this because I think I can be that trusted voice in Georgia, regardless of party affiliation. A lot of our politicians are content with blaming and finger-pointing instead of trying to bring the communities together. I’m passionate because I think my type of politics is desperately needed in this moment.

What is one thing you wish you could tell your college-junior self?

Don’t transfer schools in the middle of a degree.

Tell us about your experience at the College Student Congress.

It was fantastic! The students were awesome and just being around 49 people from every other state was really cool. The variety of things we were being taught was wonderful. Being around the world renowned horses, meeting Richard Dreyfuss, the RBG recording just for us – incredible! Just an all around fantastic and unforgettable experience.

What advice would you give to students who would like to run for local, state, or federal office?

Think very carefully about any thoughts and views that you make public. Politics can get very emotional so be careful about letting your emotions take control instead of using them in a controlled way to keep you motivated and passionate.

Have you faced any unique or specific challenges in your public service journey?

I never finished my bachelor’s degree in Political Science, and it’s hindered me from taking a more traditional route to public office. I couldn’t do internships because I wasn’t in college anymore, and most political jobs that aren’t completely volunteer jobs required a degree. I was stuck in limbo, but eventually I made the decision to run for office with the hope that people would get behind smart policy goals and not care too much about what degrees the person pushing for them has.

What book are you reading right now?

Uzumaki, a horror manga (Japanese comic/graphic novel) about a town plagued by a supernatural curse involving spirals.

How do you relax and de-stress?

A good tv show or documentary. Even if the subject is stressful, it usually does a great job of distracting me from whatever real world stress I was dealing with. Occasionally, I play some video games. I love being outside and connecting with nature during cooler times of the year, but I’m not a fan of pollen season or Georgia’s hot and humid summers.

Where’s your favorite place to eat in your city?

There’s a Longhorn very close to home, and it’s hard to compete against a great steak. If I’m near downtown Atlanta, a burger from The Vortex is always satisfying.