Statesman Staff Writer
State Representative Dennis Fowler (R) completed his first full week as representative of the 151st District last week. He spent the week getting settled and meeting the people with whom he will be working in the coming legislative session. He was one of 34 new Republican state representatives to take the oath of office at the beginning of the year.
"It was pretty humbling to top that hill and see the capitol, knowing that you are going to have an office there," says Fowler of his first trip to Jefferson City after being elected last November.
Fowler is not a stranger to Jefferson City. As a former law enforcement official and administrator of the Stoddard County Juvenile Detention Center, he made trips to the capitol to speak with legislators about issues affecting his office. This time he is on the other side of the desk, and it is different.
Fowler recently learned of his legislative appointments. He will serve on the Appropriations for Transportation Committee, the Corrections Committee, the Natural Resources Committee and the newly created Emerging Issues in Agriculture Committee, which combined two of the former agriculture committees. He says he submitted a list of committees on which he wanted to serve. He notes that he has experience in corrections and is involved in energy policy. He has served as a member of the board of directors of SEMO Electric for five years.
He said the hottest issue, based on the number of emails he has received, has been second amendment rights. He said people in his district fear proposed federal legislation to restrict guns sales will erode their rights under the second amendment. The sentiment of Missourians has been solidly against such restrictions to the point that proposed House legislation would make it a state crime for any federal agent or agent of the state, counties or cities to enforce or attempt to enforce new gun control laws.
"They don't have to worry about me," says Fowler. "I'm for the second amendment."
Fowler represents all of Stoddard County and a small portion of northwest Scott County.
Fowler says being a new representative presents a "steep learning curve." He said staff at the capitol have been very good to help incoming representatives, and he has hired a woman who has 28 years experience at the capitol as his legislative aide. He says she formerly worked for Rep. Shane Schoeller and has been very instrumental in helping him with the day-to-day operations in the House.
Another issue on which Fowler hopes to focus is establishing affordable sustainable energy.
"Any kind of energy source that will help keep our rates cheap is something we need to be pursuing," he says.
He disagrees with President Barack Obama's efforts to eliminate coal as a fuel for power plants. He says coal is the cheapest fuel to use to produce electricity. Other fuels would be costly, and that would impact consumers. He notes that natural gas is one alternative that is inexpensive at this time, but if power plants all start converting to it, the price will go up.
"We would see serious rate increases if plants switched to natural gas," Fowler adds.
One avenue that is being explored is the construction of smaller modular nuclear power plants. He supports this idea, saying it is a better alternative to the construction of large nuclear plants such as the one in Calloway County, Mo. He says these smaller plants could provide nuclear power to generate electricity to smaller areas and districts.
"They've had small nuclear reactors on Navy ships since the late 1950s," says Fowler.
Another thing being looked into by Westinghouse, in conjunction with Ameren, is manufacturing these modular nuclear reactors in Missouri. He says not only would it be good for providing cheaper energy, but it would provide jobs and help the state economy.
Fowler says that agriculture is a vital part of the county's economy, and that it why he wanted to be on the agriculture committee.
"I'm not a farmer, but I realize how important it is in our area."
He will be attending the committee meeting on Tuesday to discuss issues important to farmers. He says he hopes that farmers will contact him about issues that they feel need to be addressed.
"The idea of the new committee is to get ahead of important agriculture issues before they have a negative effect on farmers," he says.
Fowler already has an apartment in Jefferson City. He credits former Rep. Billy Pat Wright for helping him find a place to live when not at home in Advance. He says he is living in the same building where Wright lived while serving in the legislature.
One of his first activities after being sworn in was attending the inaugural ball. He and his wife, Ava, met a lot of the new legislators and their spouses.
"It's been interesting," says Fowler. "It's different than anything I've been involved in before."
The transition is going well, as there are several legislators he knows with local roots. He is acquainted with Rep. Todd Richardson from Poplar Bluff (District 152) and knows Rep. Steve Cookson (District 153) and Rep. Shelley White Keeny (District 145) because they are both from Advance. There are many new faces at the House, so he is not alone.
"We are all in the same boat," says Fowler, " so we make friends pretty quickly."