3RD DISTRICT RACE: Keith St.John Hopes Fresh Ideas Connect with Young Voters
LOWELL -- Compared to the rest of the 3rd Congressional District race, Keith St.John’s qualifications and policies are unconventional.
The owner and sole employee of an online company that imports and sells compression socks from Portugal, St. John has degrees in economics and finance but has never worked in politics. He plans to collect the 2,000 signatures needed to get onto the ballot before he hires any paid staff. In a one-hour interview that touched on numerous topics, St.John made a point to mention the benefits of industrial hemp on three separate occasions.
St.John, 32, believes his different perspective can be what voters want, though, particularly younger ones who have felt overlooked by politicians. Even if he does not win, he hopes to influence the race.
“My odds are lower, perhaps, but I think I have a chance to convince people to vote for me and I think I have a chance to win,” St.John said. “At the end of the day, if I change somebody’s idea or position or a couple of different topics, if somebody includes burying electrical lines in their infrastructure plan or somebody adopts industrial hemp that didn’t previously or indexed minimum wage as opposed to a flat minimum wage nationwide, then I’d be happy and consider that to be a successful bid.”
St.John spent his early years in Hudson before moving with his family to Bethlehem, New Hampshire, a rural community in the northern part of the state. After college, he settled down in Marlboro with his wife, where he currently lives.
On a trip to Portugal several years ago, St.John ended up at a sock factory, where he acquired a pair of compression socks to wear on the flight home. He enjoyed them so much that, back in Marlboro, he launched an online company to sell the socks to American customers. St.John owns and runs the company, Ogbo, which imports the socks directly from the Portuguese factory where they are manufactured.
During a Thursday interview with editors of The Sun, St.John admitted that he had not always planned to run for office. The “tone and tenor” of national politics over the past two years, though, motivated him to take a chance.
St.John wants to see Congress restore its constitutional authority and cease “abdicating” that power to the executive branch, and he also called for money to play less of a role in politics. He hopes his campaign can resonate with younger voters who have been left behind by the system.
“Quite frankly, the baby boomers had their day in the sun,” he said. “They inherited the world’s greatest infrastructure and let it fall apart. They inherited the world’s greatest educational system and let it fall apart. They inherited a lot of the world’s greatest economy and it fell apart, came back and fell apart.”
On several policy issues, St.John’s stances ranged from progressive to more center-left. He expressed respect for House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi’s accomplishments, but said he believes it is time for someone younger to become the party’s leader in that chamber. Although he called for the minimum wage to be increased, he said that should be done with a regional index that acknowledges $15 an hour in Boston does not provide the same circumstances as $15 an hour in a small town.
St.John said he believes the tax bill passed last year by Republicans was a “mistaken deal” because of the disproportionate benefits, but he saw value in the idea at its core.
“What they did was eviscerate taxes for the wealthy and give a little bit to lower socioeconomic groups,” St.John said.
He also suggested moving the country toward a single-payer system of health care, although he stopped short of fulling embracing something like Medicare for all. Instead, he suggested short-term changes such as allowing federal providers to negotiate down drug prices and capping the profit margins of health companies.
“We need to take the profit motive out of the health care industry,” St.John said.
If he was posed with a deal that President Donald Trump proposed months ago, restoring protected status for young undocumented immigrants in exchange for approval of a wall along the southern border, St.John would have said no, calling the wall “a giant waste of money.”
The 3rd District candidate stressed that the administration should not break up families of undocumented immigrants who are already here and should instead find a pathway to citizenship, perhaps one that involves paying back any unpaid federal taxes.
Growing up in northern New Hampshire, St.John is familiar with environments in which guns play a larger cultural and economic role than they do in the 3rd District. But he said the laws in place in Massachusetts requiring letters of recommendation to purchase a gun and outlawing assault weapons are reasonable and intelligent.
“Anyone who argues they need an assault-style weapon or a military-style weapon to go hunting needs more time at the range,” he said.
And, of course, St.John spoke about hemp, a close relative of the cannabis plant that does not contain the same psychoactive properties but similarly had been strictly regulated. On several occasions in his interview with The Sun, St.John called for increased production of hemp for use as a textile, as biofuel and more.
“I first found out about it in 2006,” he said. “The last 12 years, I’ve been like, ‘why don’t we do more hemp?’ ... It’s a great crop and it will create thousands of jobs.”
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