Lane Roberts, a former Joplin police chief who served during 2011 tornado, announced Wednesday he will seek election as the state representative for the 161st House District, a seat that Rep. Bill White will vacate when his term ends in 2018.
Roberts, 69, said he is running as a Republican, though he was appointed by former Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon as the state's Department of Public Safety director in 2015. He retired from that position this year, making way for the new governor's appointee.
Roberts said he's been asked before why he would accept a role in a Democrat governor's cabinet if he was "really Republican."
"The answer is that public safety is not about party," Roberts said. "I was given a chance to do something positive about something I viewed as unjust."
Roberts spoke about seeing law enforcement being vilified and blamed for the nation's faults before he took the post, he said. He served as the police chief in Joplin from 2007 to 2014.
Before Roberts' retirement from the state Department of Public Safety, it had come under fire from victims' advocate groups and shelters for not appropriately distributing about $40 million in Victims of Crime Act federal grants. In the last legislative session, the lawmakers voted to move the VOCA granting authority from the Department of Public Safety to the Department of Social Services.
Roberts called the VOCA grants fiasco "a hard lesson." He said the department had been using the same formula from the year before, when it only had $6 million in VOCA grants to hand out.
"I'd love to tell you it was somebody else's fault," Roberts said. "We just jacked it up. It wasn't delivered."
Surrounded by supporters Wednesday at the Mercy Park shelter, Roberts, who grew up in Hillsboro, Oregon, said he has made Joplin his home.
"When you've been under fire together and survived, it creates a relationship that can only come one way, and that's how I feel about Joplin," Roberts said.
Though he enjoyed the values he grew up with in 1950s, he said that the nation and the state couldn't lose the progress they have made on social issues.
"It was a wonderful time in our history unless you were a person of color, a woman with a vision, or you had a disability," Roberts said. "As wonderful as that time was, we still have flaws we need to work on."
No other candidates have come forward publicly yet. By announcing early, Roberts said he hoped that those who were considering would see his experience and motivation as that of a decisive candidate.
With much talk of "dark money," or contributions made by entities that don't have to disclose their donors, in the last campaign cycle, Roberts said he would take a look at each donation on a case-by-case basis.
"I'm not foolish enough to say no," Roberts said. "But I don't envision myself taking a lot (of dark money)."
He said he wouldn't want to do anything that would make constituents question whether he was "on the up and up."
Lane Roberts said he is anti-abortion, would defend the Second Amendment and is a fiscal conservative. His priorities would include supporting infrastructure, public safety, economic health and fiscal responsibility.