A wise politician knows the path to election begins by knocking on every door in a district at least twice.
St. Clair County Board member Kyle McCarter, a north O'Fallon resident bidding for his third election in November, knows that it also makes good business sense.
McCarter nabbed the biggest customer for his product development and manufacturing business Custom Product Innovations, Inc. by doing just that years ago when he ran for office in Collinsville.
And only three months ago, a United Parcel Service driver hooked him up with a magic products developer who lives in St. Clair County's 15th District.
"The UPS driver told them about me," McCarter said. "They're distributing nationwide. I found them walking door-to-door."
As one of only eight Republican board members in a county divided into 29 districts, the campaign trail is paved with pitfalls as well as fortune for McCarter.
While seeking re-election two years ago, McCarter stepped on a political land mine in his district, where home values are in the county's upper strata. Ever since, he has learned that the explosive issue – rising property taxes – has to be defused not only to maintain public servant status, but for the long-term sake of property values.
"In the summer of '06 that's all I was hearing out there, 'You can't believe what my taxes are,'" he said. "I started digging into it."
While conducting property tax forums he forewarned that an increase in the county multiplier would shock property owners who had been "lulled to sleep" over the issue.
After all, he said, "nobody knows how to read their tax bills."
The prediction came to be last month when tax bills arrived and waves of angry residents erupted throughout the county. In some cases, bills shot up 10 to more than 30 percent from the previous year.
Even though the June 30 protest deadline has passed, McCarter says the process for tax relief "is never over." He encourages citizens to get involved in levy hearings that begin in December and end the following September when county budgets are set.
"We have to practice democracy if we want to keep it," McCarter said.
His prescription for restoring fairness to property tax levies may be hard to swallow because he said it might mean challenging a neighbor with a different mindset or being accused of not loving kids because you're for lowering taxes.
McCarter's tax fighting advocacy includes a Web site, www.ourtaxmoney.org, which advises how to confront "out of control" government spending. He and former county board member Joe Behnken of O'Fallon created the site.
"People actually say we don't love kids," he said. "It's so far from the truth."
Pay to Play
McCarter said that his initial first-hand experience with the politics of "pay to play" came many years ago while he sought a board seat in Collinsville.
He said that while walking door-to-door a resident confronted him and said, "Don't mess with my taxes, I bought my tickets."
The reference, McCarter said, was to a $100 or so ticket to a St. Clair County Democratic Party fundraising event.
"We have to restore integrity to the assessor's office and we have to eliminate pay to play politics," McCarter said.
But he cautioned, "Once we get fairness in the assessor's office we still have problems. We have to go after the setting of rates."
In Enough Trouble
McCarter does not fear retaliation for his opposition to the status quo.
"How bold can we be to stand up for what is right?" he asked. "I'm in enough trouble. I wouldn't care if they tried to retaliate. Local democracy is tough."
That's not to say his opinions have not exacted a personal cost, he said.
"We're already paying a high price," he said. "That's okay. We feel okay. All I do is speak my voice. It's up to them (voters) to change leadership."
He said he is simply using "God's gifts" to stand up for what he believes is right.
"I'm not intimidated," he said.
At the wrong end of a machete and with poison arrows aimed at his torso, McCarter knows how it feels when someone wants to kill you for your beliefs.
A woman and her sons threatened his life while he and Victoria were missionaries in Kenya more than 15 years ago.
That was when his daughter Amber was 4 and son Zachary was 1. Their third child Austin came along later stateside.
Zachary, class president and 2006 graduate of O'Fallon Township High School, is about to enter his third year at the Air Force Academy. Austin is entering his senior year at OTHS.
But it was two years ago that Amber at age 21 tragically lost her life to drugs.
"We've endured a lot and we've lost a lot," McCarter said. "We put things in perspective."
The McCarters have since become involved with Mercy Ministries (www.mercyministries.org), a group which provides healing to desperate young women suffering from drug and alcohol addiction, depression, eating disorders, unplanned pregnancies, physical and sexual abuse and self-harm.
Together Kyle and Victoria personally help afflicted young women get the help they need to overcome destructive self-loathing behaviors. From time to time they house program graduates who need shelter until they find a stable environment.
"A lot of these girls don't have great families to go back to," he said.
Victoria also leads a small group ministry at their church, Faith Family Church in Shiloh.
Kyle said it's hard for some parents to believe that kids would cut themselves, "and who dares starve in the land of plenty?" He recommends that parents who are dealing with these kinds of issues get help from an objective source on the "outside."
"You want the best for your children and you want to think the best of them," he said.
"It's really a matter of, do you want your kid to live or die," he said.
"If we can save or deliver a child back to the parents transformed then that's a great thing Amber has done."