BENTON — A Benton man is challenging Mike Bost for the Republican nomination in the race to represent the 12th Congressional District.

Preston Nelson, a former model and missionary, is hoping to take Bost’s seat in the 12th District, and to use the position to start conversations that he said are not being had within the established political system in Washington.

Nelson wants to walk back what he sees as a heavy-handed military, reduce spending in order to reduce the national debt — which includes eliminating the Federal Reserve — as well as preserve and return the freedoms he sees as indelible to American citizens.

The rhetoric on Nelson’s website and media materials is staunchly anti-establishment.

An avowed Libertarian at heart, Nelson said he sees deregulation as a primary way to both boost liberty and corporate revenue. A way to achieve part of this goal, Nelson said, would be to eliminate or make a voluntary agency of the Food and Drug Administration. He pointed to the hypocrisy of an agency that approves both cigarettes and unhealthy food, both of which he said kill people yearly. He also said the FDA often makes products more expensive to the consumer.

Instead of creating barriers to the public through regulation, Nelson said consumers should be the barometer of success. He said should a product harm someone, then a lawsuit would hold the company accountable.

“We need to hold people accountable,” he said, adding that the legal system was a form of free-market accountability.

“If there are good contract laws and good laws supporting the rights of people then companies aren’t going to knowingly poison us,” Nelson said.

In his biography on his website, Nelson said he began work teaching English in Brazil — he later became a model there, as well — while on a missionary trip. He said this experience working as an “undocumented worker” gave him sympathy for undocumented workers here. He said he believes immigration has historically been a good thing for the U.S. economy, but said an open border is also not the answer.

“It should be more simple. That said, we definitely need controls on who is coming in,” he said. Nelson said as for those already here, he sees aggressive deportation as acceptable for those who have broken U.S. laws while in the country.

“Definitely felons but anyone who has had trouble with the law or gotten in trouble, they should probably go home,” Nelson said.

Nelson is also passionate about criminal justice, which he said disproportionately targets minorities and the poor. He said much of the problems facing law enforcement now stem from their enforcement of laws that are meaningless.

“I think the police should be more concerned with violence than with traffic violations,” Nelson said. Responding to recent protests over deaths of minorities at the hands of police officers, Nelson said he thought less lethal force and more nonlethal options would be a good idea.

When speaking about his opponent, Nelson said he is not against Bost specifically, though he does see an opportunity, citing what he sees as Bost’s poor reception in the district.

“He’s not the worst person. He’s not a liberal trying to socialize our lives,” Nelson said. However, Nelson did criticize Bost for not speaking out against war.

When asked if there was anyone on Capitol Hill he admired, he couldn’t come up with a solid answer. Some policies of Rand Paul were attractive, but beyond that, he didn’t land on anyone wholesale.

“It’s kind of hard to say … it’s hard to know people’s hearts,” he said.

He had similar things to say about President Donald Trump.

“You can’t know his heart. You don’t know if he’s just kind of phony, lying about things or if he’s sincere about what he says,” Nelson said, adding that he certainly disagrees with Trump’s early troop surge in the Middle East and his decision to make his first foreign trip to Saudi Arabia.

At 27 years old, Nelson would be one of the youngest congressmen in Washington. As for his campaign, he said he will begin in earnest next month.

Nelson said he looks forward to hosting town halls in the district and to hopefully debating Bost next year.

Voters will head to the polls in the general primary on March 20. The 12th District includes the counties of Alexander, Franklin, Jackson, Jefferson, Monroe, Perry, Pulaski, Randolph, St. Clair, Union and Williamson, and part of Madison County.

isaac.smith@thesouthern.com

618-351-5823

On Twitter: @ismithreports

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Isaac Smith is a reporter covering Franklin, Perry and Saline counties.

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