Phil Tate knew there was a four-letter word that people in Northwest Missouri didn’t mind hearing from time to time.
That word was “jobs.”
Tate, a lifelong resident of Gallatin who served six terms in the Missouri House of Representatives, died Dec. 22 at the age of 73. In the 1990s, he made job creation a primary focus for his district in rural Northwest Missouri, including efforts to bring Premium Standard Farms to the region. It was a controversial move, one that is still fought over today in debate involving large farm regulations, but it was something that helped bring much-needed development, investment and employment to northern Missouri.
Today, PSF operates as Smithfield Foods, with facilities mainly in Gentry, Daviess, Grundy and Mercer counties.
After leaving elected office, Tate became director of expansion attraction for the Missouri Department of Economic Development, bringing a statewide focus to his job-creation efforts. In recent years, he played a role in helping save the former Conagra factory that was a major employer in Trenton. Nestlè announced the purchase of that facility in 2018, bringing relief to the Grundy County city of 6,000.
“Phil was a good and caring man, a dedicated public servant, and my friend. He will be greatly missed,” former state Department of Economic Development Director Joe Driskill wrote on Twitter.
In Missouri, the political landscape has certainly shifted since Tate held office. He was a Democrat who served under Democratic administrations and held office in a legislature that was controlled by Democrats. His commitment to job creation, however, benefited all Missourians. This is especially true for those in rural areas who have seen job opportunities dwindle and populations decline for decades.
We’re not so naive as to believe that Tate held office at a more innocent time when there was no political rancor. Just look at the political fall of Speaker Bob Griffin, a Democrat who also held office during that era.
Tate’s political strength, though, was derived from the understanding that a good job is a primary goal of all Missourians, regardless of political ideology or ZIP code. Throughout his career, he displayed a willingness to remain committed on this essential element of every Missourians’ well-being.
The disagreements, then and now, arise on how to reach that goal of good-paying jobs that lead to strong families and strong communities.
Those of us who remain in Northwest Missouri understand the disagreements are inevitable, but we are appreciative of leaders like Tate who were able to keep their eyes on the prize.
Today’s Missouri lawmakers should take note.