On the trail: 15 facts about Jason Smith, 8th District GOP standard-bearer
When Republicans picked House Speaker Pro Tem Jason Smith to be the GOP nominee in the U.S. 8th congressional district special election, the most common reaction was surprise at the Salem native’s age.
One prime example came from Chris Cillizza of the Washington Post’s popular blog The Fix. The 36-year-old reporter tweeted after Smith captured the GOP nomination that “the next congressman from Missouri's 8th district is four years younger than me.”
Smith – who, of course, must win a June 4 special election actually to become the 8th District’s congressman – is young even by congressional standards. But he’s hardly a novice in Missouri politics, having first won elective office in 2005.
In the House, Smith methodically climbed the leadership ladder – eventually winning election this year as the second-highest GOP member of the Missouri House. And even though his selection won plaudits from some Democrats, he hasn’t been shy about going on the attack.
After combing through news articles and Missouri House records, here are some notable facts about the man who will carry the GOP’s mantle in June:
1. After three years in school, Smith graduated from the University of Missouri-Columbia in 2001: He received two bachelor's degrees in agricultural economics and business administration.
2. If elected, Smith would be the only U.S. House member from Missouri with a law degree: He received his juris doctorate from Oklahoma City University School of Law in 2004. During his time in law school, Smith spent a summer abroad at Trinity College in Cambridge, England.
U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., is currently the only member of Congress from Missouri with a law degree. The last U.S. House member with one was former U.S. Rep. Russ Carnahan, D-St. Louis.
3. Smith, a solo practice attorney, is also a farmer, licensed real estate agent and a licensed insurance agent: Smith told The Missouri Times “the more education we get, the more we know about, the better we do.”
4. Smith was first elected to the Missouri House in 2005 when he was 25: The seat Smith ran for – which took in part of Dent, Crawford, Phelps and Reynolds counties – was vacated after Democrat Frank Barnitz won a special election to the Missouri Senate. Despite never running for office before, Smith bested Dent County Commissioner Bobby Simpson, a Democrat, by 600 votes.
The victory was considered an upset because Barnitz had won re-election to the seat handily in 2002 and 2004.
5. Smith wouldn’t have been able to run for re-election in 2012 had he been sworn into office sooner: Smith won his special election on Nov. 22, 2005. Had he been sworn into office immediately, he would have been ineligible to run for re-election in 2012 because of the state’s term limit regulations.
An Associated Press article from 2005 explains: The Missouri Constitution limits lawmakers to eight years in the Missouri House and eight years in the Missouri Senate. But it exempts from that limit partial terms of less than a year in the House and less than two years in the Senate.
Smith was sworn into office on Jan. 4, 2006 – one day less than the full year left on Barnitz’s partial term. As a result, Smith was able to run for another term in 2012 – which almost certainly helped his cause to capture the 8th District nomination.
6. The first bill Smith sponsored in the Missouri House changed real estate licensing: The bill passed the House in 2006, but was eventually transformed into a wide-ranging bill altering various boards and commissions. It did not make it to then-Gov. Matt Blunt’s desk.
7. The first bill Smith sponsored to be signed into law expanded the rule-making authority of the Missouri Board of Nursing Home Administrators: That bill passed 104-44 in the Missouri House and 34-0 in the Missouri Senate. Blunt signed into law on July 13, 2007.
Since 2006, eight of Smith's bills have been signed into law, including legislation related to real estate regulations, pharmacies and scrap metal. Last year, he handled legislation prompting periodic reviews of state rules. Gov. Jay Nixon signed it into law.
8. Back in 2007, Smith sponsored legislation to make it illegal for somebody to require another person to have a microchip implanted: The measure would have fined any offender $10,000 “for each day a violation occurs.”
The bill was referred to committee on the last day of the 2007 legislative session, a sign that it wasn’t getting any traction in the Missouri General Assembly.
9. One of Smith's most high-profile legislative goals was requiring statewide vacancies to be filled with a special election: Smith filed different versions of this idea since 2009. Nixon vetoed a wide-ranging elections bill in 2011 when Smith's bill was incorporated.
Interestingly, Smith’s bill started to receive traction this year when Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder began running for the 8th congressional district seat. Even though he, too, was contending for that seat, Smith handled the bill as it passed the Missouri House. It’s unclear how much traction the bill will receive now that Kinder is not the GOP's 8th District nominee this year.
10. Smith got attention in 2011 on dog breeding hearings: Smith attracted the media when he grilled witnesses during a legislative hearing to overturn Proposition B, a successful ballot initiative to regulate dog breeding.
As majority whip, he could ask questions in any committee. Smith's questioning received attention because his parents operated a dog breeding facility depicted negatively by the Humane Society of the United States.
Some proponents of Prop B said Smith’s opposition to the bill amounted to a conflict of interest. He told the Kansas City Star that “it’s no different than myself being a taxpayer. I pay taxes so I get to help with the appropriations process.”
Smith’s Democratic opponent -- state Rep. Steve Hodges, D-East Prarie -- voted for legislation to change Proposition B. And while that initiative passed statewide, it fared very poorly in some rural areas -- such as counties in the 8th congressional district.
11. Smith supported former Treasurer Sarah Steelman in her 2012 campaign for the U.S. Senate: Smith often sparred on Twitter with surrogates of Republican contender John Brunner.
Michelle Colbert – who worked on Steelman's 2012 Senate campaign – was a prominent supporter of Smith’s congressional candidacy. Steelman sought the 8th District nomination but withdrew.
12. Smith hasn’t had a general election opponent since 2008: That year, he received 70 percent of the vote against Democratic rival James Ellis.
13. Smith easily won his first full term to the Missouri House against Democrat Jim O’Donnell and Libertarian Chief Wana Dubie: No, that’s not a typo.
Smith did indeed face off against a man named Chief Wana Dubie, a Salem resident who has crusaded for years to legalize marijuana. Dubie received 556 votes compared to the 8,119 votes Smith received.
Dubie attempted to run for governor in 2008. But a hilarious-sounding match-up with Blunt never materialized, as the Republican incumbent declined to run for another term and the state’s Libertarian Party disowned him.
14. Smith would be one of the youngest members of the U.S. House of Representatives if he's elected: Only five sitting congressmen – U.S. Reps. Joe Kennedy, D-Mass., Eric Swalwell, D-Calif., Tulsi Gabbard, D-Hawaii, Aaron Schock, R-Ill., and Patrick Murphy, D-Fla. – would be younger.
15. Smith would be the first person with the first name “Jason” to represent Missouri in Congress: That this made the list had absolutely nothing to do with the fact that this writer’s first name is also Jason.
On the Trail, a weekly column, weaves together some of the intriguing threads from the world of Missouri politics. An upcoming On the Trail will provide 15 facts about Hodges.