The Fighting 25th: A Conversation with Doug Libla
We sat down with republican senate candidate Doug Libla to discuss his campaign as part of our ongoing series The Fighting 25th. He was his typically candid self and revealed a great deal behind his mindset in running and what he plans to do should he arrive in the State Senate.
Semo Times: So I think one question people had when they heard you were running for office was, here is a successful guy who seems to live a pretty good life, why would you want to get involved in that mess?
Libla: Why run?
Semo Times: Yeah, why did you get involved?
Libla: Well actually I feel kinda compelled to do it. I’ve been involved in business for 41 years but I don’t know for the last 25-30 years I just felt like our country and state is going in a direction that I was feeling like the American dream is being taken away from young folks and opportunities for families. So I thought about it for a year before I actually decided to run. I about ran myself crazy along with everyone else that kept asking me I hear you’re thinking about running for State Senate. So I did a lot of deliberation and thought about for a year did my due diligence and visited with other people that had been in this spot that I’m running for in the Senate and went and got their thoughts about what possess them to get into it and first thing I also wanted to make sure there was some business people that was going to be up there. Anyway once I got done with my due diligence I decided to do it because I’m at a point in my life now that I’m retired and got the time to do it and I’m going to make it a full time job so that’s my reason.
Semo Times: I think there’s some voters of a certain age or that don’t know your story that sees you as a very successful person of the community. I understand that’s not always been the case. That you started from pretty humble beginnings. Could you give some people that know the Doug Libla of the last 5-10 years about yourself when you started your business?
Libla: I grew up in Greenville that’s where I went to school. My mom and dad worked very hard at that time I had two older brothers and a younger sister. I was 19, and back then it was really hard to find a job and I needed a job really bad. I actually rode a motorcycle all over because I didn’t have a car. It was a little 2-cyclinder Yamaha, well actually one cylinder, most of the time every once in a while the other cylinder would kick in you know when I was going uphill and needed it or passing somebody. But I kept coming to Poplar Bluff trying to find a job. My dad had a little story up in Greenville and you know in a family business you only work for room and board. So I got out of High School and things were pretty tough back then and people really appreciated their jobs back then and it was pretty hard to find a job so I migrated to Poplar Bluff and kept trying to find a job and actually ended up unbelievably blessed with this particular visit I made. It was this gentleman by the name of J.A. Parker, you know of Parker Oil Co. at that time and I kept trying to get a job there and he had some people that was going to be retiring there at his gas station up on Main and Davis St. there across from Bluff Lanes there I think there where JD’s Quick Stop is now that’s where my first business was back in 1971. Anyways he said hey can you work on cars and you know anything about fixing flats and wash and wax all that kind of stuff and I said yeah I’m actually pretty good at that kind of stuff so he gave me the opportunity to go up there and these folks were wanting to retire and he helped me out to get me started. Actually I sold gasoline up there for 19.9 cents a gallon and when you talk about young people wanting to know what I used to do that was full service we didn’t have self service then. We tell young people say people under 40 probably when you talk about running a gas station you think about your selling pizza, and hot dogs, and all that but it was an old fashion you had the bell little hole was out there and the bell went off and someone pulled up and someone was inside fixing a flat or someone was under a car putting breaks on and someone would pull up and you would have to get out and pump someone’s gas. Back then most people just got a dollar or two dollars at a time because back then gas was 19.9 and that was the cheapest I ever pumped gas but that was actually my first business it was a lot of hard work a lot of hard hours and I learned a lot there.
Semo Times: While you have obviously been successful, I don’t think it’s any secret that a lot of people have lost their jobs in the last few years in this industrial park, and may be may be like you looking for a job an opportunity. Is there any short piece of advise you could give somebody that’s looking to start their own business that you’ve learned from your own experience?
Libla: Well it takes a lot of hard work a lot of people sometimes when they think of starting their own business they visualize leaving on Thursday at noon to go fishing or something and I’m here to tell you back when I had my gas station you work 6-7 days a week 12-14 hours a day and all my buddies would come in on Saturday morning they were all headed to Lake Wappapello and every once in a while I would think about how smart I was being in business if I worked somewhere else I could be going fishing with them. So it’s a lot of hard work but I do want to encourage people to go into business for themselves cause small business is the roots of our country and provides the most jobs and the most economic impact and I say get some training get some job skills there’s a lot of opportunities around there’s a lot companies like Mid Continent. I mean we train a lot of people here and we depend on and so do a lot of other folk in the industrial park depending on job skills training sometimes Three Rivers will help and you might want to do a HBAC or an electrical class or welding. There are a lot of opportunities here for people if they really search them out. You mentioned a lot of people have lost their jobs here in Poplar Bluff’s industrial park and not just here in Poplar Bluff Industrial park, but I’m happy to report that since I’ve retired full time here in February that this company has actually added 102 jobs and it’s probably more than that it’s just the last number I’ve heard here just a few weeks ago so we’ve actually added a few jobs here in the industrial park.
Semo Times: Here at Mid Continent?
Libla: That’s correct.
Semo Times: Are you aware of other places in the industrial park that have added jobs?
Libla: There’s been some seasonal layoffs that I understand and sometimes you really don’t know if those are temporary people that they just brought in for a little while. So to be honest with you I’ve probably got about the same information as you have on that probably it seems like you know we’ve been in the hiring mode for a long time here at Mid Continent.
Semo Times: On the politics. I think it’s pretty well established that you’re pro 2nd amendment I see a shot gun in your case here in the office and you are anti abortion, but so is your opponent Terry Swinger and he has been endorsed by the leading groups. What’s the difference between you and Rep. Swinger?
Libla: Well on that matter I mean I’m prolife 100%. He’ll just have to live with the votes and how he’s made it in his time in Jefferson City.
Semo Times: Have you studied much about Representative Swinger?
Libla: In what manner?
Semo Times: Have you looked at his voting record?
Libla: I have I have looked at them.
Semo Times: What are some things that you would have done differently?
Libla: Well there’s several and we’ll be pointing those out real soon.
Semo Times: Any foreshadowing you can give our readers?
Libla: Not right now other than the fact that what we will be pointing out is just facts and his votes that he cast.
Semo Times: One thing it seems like is would hurt his chances against yours is President Obama. I will ask you the same question we asked him, what your opinion of the President?
Libla: My opinion of the President? Not real high to be honest with you. I think that he has made statements like the one that small business people didn’t make their own business someone else did. A lot of people are offended by that stuff. A lot of people have worked hard. You asked me a while ago about would I encourage people who have lost their jobs to maybe start their own business or to look for other avenues of business. Well I think we need to encourage people to do that. A lot of his policies and a lot of folks in the Senate on his side of the party have just done a lot of stuff to kill jobs and regulations and just you know we’ve got high fuel cost we don’t even have a energy policy really that I’m aware of. So it’s just not a good atmosphere to expect good economic development and good returns back to stock holder.
Semo Times: Do you think the leader of the party should matter? When you’re voting for state senate do you think the leader of the party should matter? Like Obama being the leader of the democrat party and Mitt Romney being the leader of the republican party. Do you take that into consideration when you are choosing which party to join?
Libla: Oh absolutely I do yeah that’s correct. I mean they are perceived to be the leader of the party.
Semo Times: In light of that, I understand you’ve been a supporter of the Haven House at different times. What was your reaction to the comments made by the person who’s next on the ballot from your party, Todd Akin about cases of illegitimate rape resulting in pregnancies? What was your reaction to his comments?
Libla: You know I can’t be responsible with what he or anybody else says and I think it just an unfortunate statement he made so let’s kind of leave it at that.
Semo Times: Back to your business career. What was the one thing or was there something the government done that had made it harder on you to start Mid Continent? Was there something in your mind that was a real challenge that the government had put in your way that you had to overcome?
Libla: Well you had a lot of people that tried to micro manage business now you know through regulations and worker’s compensation issues and tort reform. It’s kind of like some of the atmosphere out there business’ don’t know how to treat their employees there’s always going to be someone else telling you how to treat your employees. I always like to use the old adage here at the Poplar Bluff Industrial park if people don’t like where they work at all they have to do is walk across the grass and get another job. So I think in this day in time people wanna work for companies that appreciate them and appreciate the effort that they do. And I think they wanna know that their families are going to be fed and their gonna be able to make mortgage payment and car payments and have a good atmosphere to work at a clean environment to work at.
Semo Times: Lets say Senator Dempsey looked over to Senator Libla and said what’s the one thing we can do to help make it easier to help create jobs or start their own business what would you tell Senator Dempsey?
Libla: We need to work on what I just mentioned we need to work on a lot of the regulations that are affecting theses business’ that are holding us back on creation of jobs. We need to make sure and take care of the companies that are already in Missouri. We need to attract other businesses to come in. We need to cut the red tape that it takes to get permits.
Semo Times: What red tape have you ran into that was a problem from the state?
Libla: Well there are lots of them I mean I don’t want to just single out one there’s a litany of things. Let’s just say over baring regulations and the high cost of insurance just a litany of things.
Semo Times: Could the state do something to lower those rates? Would liability laws be what you’re talking about?
Libla: Well tort reforms you know we need some of that. Missouri is one of the easiest places to get sued in you know so a lot of things like that.
Semo Times: So is it your opinion as a job creator and as a potential Senator that if you did tort reform and lowered the insurance rates that would create more jobs? That would lead businessmen like you to create more jobs?
Libla: Absolutely I think that would help a lot. We need to have what I like to call it an atmosphere of being business friendly here in the state.
Semo Times: And you feel like Missouri is not business friendly? You have done business in several states where would you put Missouri as far as being friendly to business?
Libla: There’s a whole litany of things that people look at when they think about expanding or to starting new or whatever. You got you electrical rates, and your energy cost. There’s a whole merit of things, I don’t think there’s a silver bullet we just need to work on all of those. Again we just got to have an atmosphere where the red tapes cut you know the government can be helpful to business and that’s what we need to be doing. We to have a state government that spends within its means and we need to make sure we have a good education system because you haven’t’ mentioned education yet and I’m here to tell you economic development in my opinion is very dependent on getting good educated kids out of schools and having technical training and job skills training and kids that learn how to do math and writing and English, you know and making sure our teachers have the assets to make sure we get the kids educated. If you have poor schools there’s not anybody going to come into your area because they’re going to check out the educational systems that you have there and what’s available to the students and to the adults, also for retraining and job skills training so you know there’s a whole host of things there that we can do better.
Semo Times: Is that something there that the state is doing right or at least locally being done right?
Libla: I think Three Rivers is making a big impact on that and the Poplar Bluff School systems and other school systems in southeast Missouri are doing some things to help kids to go get technical training like going out to learn to work on a car like auto mechanics and over at Dexter Three Rivers has a diesel mechanics class over there that they started a couple years ago. They went from zero students to over 400 students in a matter of 2 years and the building. Have you been over there yourself?
Semo Times: Yeah absolutely.
Libla: So you see what they did with an old factory that had closed they used to make caps there. I suspect that China had probably put them out of business like they’ve done a lot of other companies here in the United States. But at any rate they took that old wore out building and made some really nice classrooms out of it and gave opportunities not just to not just somebody that just graduated high school but adults to that’s been misplaced or displaced in their jobs. So going back to the diesel training that’s just one aspect of it but they had 3 students in their first diesel class then it went to 16 and 17 students in their next class and everyone of them came out of there with a good job making real good money and I understand now that they have 40 something people in their green diesel program over there. So that’s what I’m interested in is keeping family sustaining jobs right here in southeast Missouri you know that my I’m district 25th so obviously I wanna make sure we have jobs in all of Missouri but 25th district is what I’m going to be focusing on and I wanna do the things it takes to give our students and young people opportunities.
Semo Times: Would you agree with the old Mel Carnahan quote that economic development begins in kindergarten?
Libla: Absolutely, I believe it begins way down there I sure do.
Semo Times: Do you support making Missouri a right to work state?
Libla: I do, I do.
Semo Times: Your potential predecessor Rob Mayer has been vocal on that issue. What are your thoughts what is your relationship with the current Senator?
Libla: Oh I think it’s good. He’s a busy guy to be in that President Pro tem position. I didn’t get to see him that much being that president pro tem I can tell you that and now he’s running for judge over in that district he is busy but you know good.
Semo Times: A little closer to home. Obviously tax credits are a heatedly discussed issue in Jefferson City and are potentially here in Poplar Bluff. There’s an effort Tony Messenger talked about in an interview in the Semo Times that he feels as Senator Crowell does that they should go through the budget process. Do you support tax credits being off budget or bringing them into the budgetary process?
Libla: Boy there are so many tax credits out there I think I would just have to look at it and make my decisions as it comes about. It’s hard for me to look out into that crystal ball somewhere and see what else their going to have. I think I would just have to see. I like to look at them at on own merit, every one of them.
Semo Times: Speaking of tax abatement and credits. Are you pleased with the progress of the 8 Points development that obviously our community has heavily invested in here in Poplar Bluff?
Libla: I really pleased to see that the hospital is being built up there and I know that 8 Points is in the same area. I know it’s probably 2 different subjects but I think it all kind of came together a little bit to get that property up there. You know to be honest with you I haven’t had a whole lot of time to study it. When you asked me if I’m happy with it I don’t know in what manor you’re talking about. I’m happy with economic development that brings businesses and jobs. I mean that’s pretty much one of my number one issues is jobs and opportunities for our people here. So I mean I don’t manage 8 Points and I don’t have any positions on any boards that manage 8 Points so I would just say I am hoping that its plays out to be really big so that we have a lot of expansion on that side of town but not just on that side of town but everywhere in our town and our area.
Semo Times: Well obviously the school gave tens of millions of dollars to the hospital in property tax abatements, then there was a mutli-million dollar TIF granted to the developers, and now there’s a TDD up for vote, and a the rules that govern a TDD as explained by Judge Pritchett is you vote by acre. The public at large doesn’t get to vote, people get to vote based on how much land they own as they did in the 1700’s and that’s the only way in state statue to do it. Do you agree with that or is that something you would look at as a Senator?
Libla: You know when I get to Jefferson City I’m going to be looking at everything to be honest with you.
Semo Times: Do you agree with the concept with that the public should vote that lives there or by the property owners that own the property?
Libla: You know I didn’t have anything to do with setting that up so I don’t want to expand on that much more other than it is what it is as you said it’s by statute so we’re just going to have to let that play out.
Semo Times: But that’s something that you would be looking at and reviewing upon arrival.
Libla: Oh absolutely. On my arrival I’m going to be looking at everything that kills jobs and opportunities for people.
Semo Times: How will people know you have had a successful term as State Senator?
Libla: At what I get accomplished or what we get accomplished I never like to use the I word there it’s what we get accomplished cause its definitely team work and I don’t necessarily mean myself or my staff I’m talking about our other representatives we have in our area and our mayors and councilors and commissioners of all our counties everybody’s gotta be working together and working together as a region to make things happen.
Semo Times: What are some things the state has done right to help you succeed in your business? I know it’ easy to discuss some of the things the state is doing to hinder job growth, but what is the state doing right?
Libla: Look at that infrastructure, look at the highways we’ve got now 67 or 60 you go to places safely and that’s another thing that companies and businesses that are looking into coming into Missouri more specifically come into 25th district we have got to continue to work on that. We have to have good waterways like the Mississippi River, and we have to have access to ports. We got to have good farm to market roads in good shape so farmers can get their trucks in and out. We recently got the Poplar Bluff bypass finally hooked up with the park here as you know we have several hundred trucks in here each day you know it’s a big economic issue but it’s also a big safety issue we had big trucks coming down residential areas over here with kids playing with soccer balls you know 10 feet from them, I don’t know if you’ve ever been down here when people are getting off work but it takes a while to get out of here but it doesn’t any more since we got the Poplar Bluff Industrial Bypass opened up.
Libla: I’m very proud of that road and I’m here to tell you there were a lot of teamwork that was involved in that.
Semo Times: Did you learn some things working on that project that you think will help you in the State Senate?
Libla: Oh absolutely I think you need to have everybody pushing the same way and I think that’s one of the things that’s helped our area here a lot. I think that people don’t worry about who gets the credit anymore. We try to work together as a team. You know people not worrying about getting the credit it’s amazing on what you can get accomplished when you get a team of people together. I mean it’s taken a lot of folks to get that road out there for several thousand people to come to work every day out here in that industrial park. I mean just think about the employees that’s what I like to think about. You know when they come to work in the morning they don’t want to think about being stuck in a line somewhere for 20-30 minutes they wanna get to work and after work they wanna be able to get home safely and quickly to their families right? So now with this road out here, it really relieves the congestion we have downtown you know with trucks and cars and I don’t know that actually traffic count right now but every once in a while I run into someone from the city and they say man there’s a few thousand vehicles on that road out there and I think it’s met everybody’s expectations. So that’s the infrastructure I talking about. You want to know their doing right they are doing a tremendous about a things right. You know I’m not the kind of guy that likes to sit back and look at everything they’ve done wrong but I like to learn from that and move forward. I like to move forward with some really good ideas I like to hang out with people that have vision I don’t like to hang out with people that look in the rear view mirror a whole lot I’m not saying it’s not important to know where you’ve been don’t get me wrong but we need to me looking out the windshield. I think that’s what our areas done a lot in the last few years is to bring Poplar Bluff up to the vibrancy it is. I was told the other day there are approximately 60,000 vehicles in and out of Poplar Bluff every day. Did you know that number?
Semo Times: No I did not. Wow.
Libla: Isn’t that amazing.
Semo Times: That is amazing.
Libla: Where would we be at if we didn’t have this good infrastructure we’ve been talking about. It’s just great going to Dexter anymore or to Sikeston. You know we’ve got a lot of improvements going on down 53, we’ve actually got shoulders going down through there. I used to go to Blytheville, AR a lot because we have a facility down there. And I tell you about twice a week I would get my windshield broke because there’s no paved shoulders dangerous going down through there for the people. A little narrow ole road you remember 53 when it used to be that narrow?
Semo Times: Oh yeah absolutely.
Libla: I have to be careful talking to young guys like you guys.
Semo Times: Oh yeah I went to Neelyville so I would come up that way a lot.
Libla: There you go. So your original question in this segment is what are we doing right, man we’re doing tremendous amount of things right. You know we can’t spend anymore than what we get here in Missouri so but that’s important but it seems like sometimes they may not spend it on the right things sometimes, but at least Missouri’s in pretty good shape in that aspect.
Semo Times: What’s your impression of Governor Nixon?
Libla: My impression of him is I wish he would be more in tune to helping business climate here in Missouri, for some of the reason I mentioned previously we need to improve on workman’s comp, tort reform just a better business environment.
Semo Times: Have there been any Senators that you’ve been able to observe and look at that you look forward to working with or that you think share some of your views? Is there any of the current Senators or retired Senators that you think a lot of?
Libla: That was part of the due diligence that I did. I used to go up to Jeff City and just kind of observe you know how people are doing it in the house what’s going on over there and what’s going on over in the Senate just trying to get a feel for the people that I would be if I’m successful that I would be serving with and that was part of my due diligence that I decided before I through my hat in the ring and that was in August of 2011. I didn’t do this hap hazardly. It’s a sacrifice for yourself and your family but also it’s an awesome responsibility for all the constituents that depend on you to ultimately to go up there and do the things that’s going to make their lives better and easier and give them opportunities. I don’t really want to start singling out Senators or anything. Let me just say that I ran into several people up there that I feel like has a good business experience behind them and knows what it’s like to create jobs and not just talk about it.
Semo Times: I would say you’re more candid than most people in politics.
Libla: I am that’s probably true.
Semo Times: I mean that’s as a compliment.
Libla: Well thank you that could be a fault in some circles. Some people don’t like to hear the truth sometimes, but anyway. In my comings and goings up there I just feel like that we’ve got to stay focused on what we are trying to get accomplished here in our area and in Missouri for better opportunities. We’ve mentioned a whole host of things here and I feel really good. I want to go back here to what I just mentioned previously that there is a lot of people in politics they always talk about job creation you hear that a lot right?
Semo Times: Always
Libla: If you really take a look at someone’s background that’s never created a job before maybe a minuscule number or something but there’s a lot of difference in creating jobs and running business where you put everything you own up down at the bank for collateral to get business loans and worry about making those payrolls every week and to make sure your words good to all your workers out here. So it’s a little bit different when you’ve got a little skin in the game and when you’re responsible for all these folks that depend on you to make sure that the business that they’ve invested their livelihoods in is going to be successful. I know that’s I’ve spent many of my nights in my past background up worrying. You asked me what it was like to be Doug Libla back in the 70’s or something right?
Semo Times: Yeah.
Libla: Well I can just tell you that it’s not much different then than it is now, we just worked hard. You know we’ve just worked hard at what we’ve accomplished and I’m telling you its team work. You mentioned my brother, he and I have been partners for many many years you know 30 something years, a long time. We’ve worked hard, but the thing that I think was a silver bullet for success for us was attracting and depending on quality employees. And I tell you that’s what has taken us to the top it’s like we are the coaches, we’re like the Gene Bess of Three Rivers or something I mean I can’t compare myself to someone like him but you know how successful a guy like him is, but he’s a coach right so we are like the coach. And put together a really good team.
Semo Times: Well thank you for your time I’m sure we will visit with you again before Election Day.
Libla: Your welcome thanks for coming down we appreciate your time.