Jason Smith touts record, district needs

Wednesday, February 13, 2013
Jason Smith speaks after his nomination by the Republican 8th District Congressional Committee Saturday, Feb. 9, 2013 in Van Buren, Mo. (Fred Lynch)

EDITOR'S NOTE: A reference to Missouri campaign finance law has been removed because this race is subject to federal election law.

Until Jo Ann Emerson's December announcement of her intent to leave the U.S. House of Representatives, it is likely only those who closely follow state-level politics were familiar with Jason Smith.

Recognition of Smith is on a fast-track now that the Republican state representative from Salem, Mo., could be poised to represent Missouri's 8th Congressional District. Saturday's selection of Smith -- by a Republican committee -- to be his party's candidate in a June 4 special election has Smith, who is speaker pro tem in the Missouri House of Representatives, working two jobs.

Smith has wasted no time launching his short campaign. By Monday, he had hired a campaign manager, Josh Haynes, who until Emerson's final resignation date Jan. 22, served as her in-state chief of staff. Smith reported raising more than $40,000 on Monday, the first day he attempted to gather any money for his campaign.

During a phone interview Tuesday with the Southeast Missourian, Smith said fundraising is going well; his goal is between $800,000 and $1 million.

"We've hit the ground running," Smith said. "I think we've started off great."

In Smith's most recent campaign for the Missouri House, his largest financial contributors included Rex Sinquefield, a retired financial executive who gave millions to political campaigns in 2012 and heads the Missouri-based conservative think tank Show Me Institute; and health-care political action committees and utility service and manufacturing businesses.

Smith spent Tuesday with members of the Missouri House, which was in session, and saw a constitutional amendment he proposed that would, if voters approve, affirm the rights of farmers and ranchers to engage in modern practices. It passed through a committee on a 15-0 vote. Smith also met with retired teachers visiting Jefferson City, Mo.

"I am actually meeting people from Southeast Missouri while I am doing my current job, but when I can leave the building, that's when I can make phone calls and raise money for the campaign. So, I'm multi-tasking, exactly like I said I would do," Smith said.

But what does he tell the people he meets? Who is Jason Smith, and if elected, how would he represent the 8th District?

Eddy Justice, chairman of the congressional committee that chose Smith over nine other potential nominees, including several with statewide name recognition, said Smith was the committee's choice because of the spot he puts Republicans in for the election.

Jason Smith mingles at the Republican 8th District Congressional Committee meeting Saturday, Feb. 9, 2013 in Van Buren, Mo. (Fred Lynch)

"He's young, and he has a proven voting record already, and he is willing to listen, as well as go to Washington with some fresh ideas that are representative of our district," Justice said. "And I also think he is different from what the general direction of Washington is right now."

Smith, 32, was among the youngest in the large field of Republicans to seek the committee's nomination and one of the youngest legislators to serve as House speaker pro tem. He entered the Missouri House, after a 2005 special election, with two bachelor of science degrees earned in three years from the University of Missouri in agricultural economics and business administration, as well as a law degree from the Oklahoma City University School of Law.

Justice said Smith is well-known for constituent services in the western part of the 8th District and is a good communicator, which helped secure support among the committee from those who don't live in or near the 120th House District covering the parts of Crawford and Phelps counties where Smith currently serves.

On Tuesday afternoon, Smith voiced his opinion on issues he anticipated would be mentioned by President Barack Obama during his State of the Union address.

"Some of my biggest concerns are if he is going to try to push climate change again through the rule-making process, through the EPA," Smith said. "A lot of the early reports look like he is heading in a direction toward that through Congress, and that causes great concern to me for everyone in Southeast Missouri."

Smith said local reliance on coal power was a key reason for his concern.

"If [federal lawmakers] try to push forward some kind of burdensome regulation, it could result in Noranda [Aluminum in New Madrid County] closing down, it could result in every consumer having an increase in their utility bills, I mean, it's outrageous. Even thinking about that is just ridiculous," Smith said.

Noranda employs about 900 people and is one of the state's largest consumers of electrical power.

Smith also discussed his position on how to handle poverty in the 8th District, which has the largest population in the state living below the poverty line and the smallest number of people with bachelor's degrees.

He sees breaking the "generational reliance on welfare" and deregulating to help small businesses and farms create jobs as keys to turning around the district's economic fortunes.

Smith described himself as a legislator who has brought forth "good policy ideas" at the state level, which he said he believes can be taken to the federal level. Last year he passed House Bill 1135, which created a systematic review process of all rules and regulations in state agencies.

Smith reiterated his stance on cooperation between legislators. "I've said all along that you cooperate, but you don't compromise on your core values," he said. "There have been numerous times I've been able to work with legislators from the other side to get something done about what we believe in, whether it's drug testing for welfare recipients, or eminent domain reform, or increase penalties for child sex offenders. It's not about Republicans vs. Democrats, it's about doing what is right for the people you are serving."



Pertinent address:

Salem, M

Map of pertinent addresses

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