Rep. Roy Blunt (R)
Missouri 7th District
One of the biggest tourist destinations in America today is Branson, Mo.—something almost no one would have predicted 30 years ago. Branson has only 7,010 residents, is served by two-lane roads, and is nowhere near a major airport, but it thrives thanks to the surging popularity of country and western music. The town has two dozen theaters with 56,000 seats—more than Broadway—and has become a hub for nonstop, low-cost, family-friendly entertainment. Nearby are fishing and boating and plenty of shopping. These diversions have made southwest Missouri the fastest-growing part of the state in the past 20 years, generating new businesses and attracting retirees as well as vacationers. A 1907 novel by Harold Bell Wright put Branson on the map early in the 20th century. The Shepherd of the Hills acquainted readers with the hardy people of the mountains, hills, and meadows of southwest Missouri, just north of Arkansas. When completion of the Ozark Beach Dam created Bull Shoals Lake in 1913, even more tourists came, lured by the native bass and stocked trout. In the 1960s, more man-made lakes were added, and entertainers—notably the four Mabe brothers, who as “The Baldknobbers” entertained audiences with comedy and country music, and Boxcar Willie from the Grand Ole Opry—started performing. Today, Branson is constantly undergoing new construction and hosts more than 7 million visitors a year, 80% of whom have been there before.
2008 Presidential Vote
|Cook Partisan Voting Index|
Springfield is the biggest city in southwest Missouri and the self-styled “buckle of the Bible Belt.” It is home to more than 200 churches, including the headquarters of the Assemblies of God, one of the nation’s largest and fastest-growing Protestant denominations. It is also the headquarters of such Middle American institutions as the Bass Pro Shops Outdoor World, perhaps the nation’s largest fishing equipment store. Southwest Missouri is also dairy country and home to a growing poultry industry. Latinos have been moving into McDonald County to work in chicken-processing plants.
The 7th Congressional District of Missouri includes Branson and Springfield. Historically, this area has been Republican territory since 1861, when it opposed secession. Pro-Union Springfield changed hands several times as Missouri staged its own civil war. Its conservative response to the big-spending government of the 1960s and cultural liberalism of the 1970s reinforced its allegiance to the GOP, and now it is the most Republican part of Missouri. In the 2008 presidential election, Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., won all of the counties here, many by 2-to-1.
Rep. Roy Blunt (R)
Elected: 1996, 7th term.
Born: Jan. 10, 1950, Niangua .
Education: SW Baptist U., B.A. 1970, SW MO St. U., M.A. 1972.
Family: Married (Abigail Perlman); 4 children.
Elected office: MO secy. of state, 1984–93.
Professional Career: H.S. teacher, 1970–73; Greene Cnty. clerk, 1973–85; Adjunct instructor, Drury Col., 1976–82; Pres., SW Baptist U., 1993–96.
The congressman from the 7th District is Roy Blunt, a Republican first elected in 1996 and formerly the House GOP whip. Blunt grew up on a dairy farm near Springfield, in a political family. His father was a state representative, who won election in 1978 by defeating Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill’s mother. In 1970, Blunt graduated from Southwest Baptist University, 25 miles north of Springfield; he later taught history and government at the high school and college levels. He got his start in politics in 1972, when he volunteered for Republican John Ashcroft’s unsuccessful campaign for Congress. The story goes that he showed up at campaign headquarters in his pickup truck and Ashcroft asked, “Have you got gas in this truck?” When Blunt said that he did, he became Ashcroft’s driver. In 1973, the 33-year-old governor, Christopher Bond, named the 23-year-old Blunt to be Greene County clerk. In 1980, GOP Sen. John Danforth asked him to run for lieutenant governor; he did and he lost. In 1984, at age 34, Blunt was elected Missouri secretary of state, the first Republican to win that office in half a century; he was re-elected with 60% of the vote in 1988. In 1992, he ran for governor and lost the Republican primary to William Webster, 44%-39%. Blunt then became president of Southwest Baptist University, his alma mater. In 1996, Republican Rep. Mel Hancock kept his pledge to serve only four terms and retired. Blunt ran in the subsequent primary, facing Gary Nodler, a businessman and onetime staffer to Republican Rep. Gene Taylor of Missouri, and won 56%-44%. In the general election, Blunt won 65%-32%, carrying every county. He has been re-elected easily ever since.
|Roy Blunt (R)||219,016||(68%)||($2,597,311)|
|Richard Monroe (D)||91,010||(28%)||($55,453)|
|Kevin Craig (Lib)||6,971||(2%)|
|Roy Blunt (R)||Unopposed|
Prior Winning Percentages: 2006 (67%), 2004 (70%), 2002 (75%), 2000 (74%), 1998 (73%), 1996 (65%)
Blunt’s voting record has been solidly conservative, with intermittent moves toward the center on social issues. He has on occasion pursued a bipartisan approach, usually on relatively minor legislation, as he did with his proposal to encourage Americans to increase their charitable giving. In 2006, he won passage of his Combat Meth Act, the first comprehensive approach to fighting the supply of methamphetamines. With then-Sen. Barack Obama, an Illinois Democrat, he sponsored a measure creating an Internet database of federal spending. Blunt’s greater impact has been in his leadership roles in the House, which gave him a say in shaping a lot of the major legislation produced in the period that Republicans controlled Congress. For much of that time, Blunt had senior jobs in the whip operation, and from 2003 to 2008, he was the Republican whip. In 1999, Blunt was one of the 10 original members of then-Texas Gov. George W. Bush’s presidential exploratory committee. Bush has called him “a leader who knows how to raise his sights and lower his voice.”
Blunt’s considerable political skills were apparent from his earliest days in the House. At the suggestion of then-Majority Whip Tom DeLay, R-Texas, he ran for and won the freshman spot on the Republican Steering Committee, a leadership-driven panel where he worked to get good committee assignments for freshmen. Then, in January 1999, DeLay plucked him from the ranks of 48 deputy whips and appointed him his chief deputy whip, the position that Dennis Hastert of Illinois held until his astonishing elevation to speaker. On a number of issues, Blunt’s job was to make certain that bills the leadership hoped to pass were palatable to Republican conservatives, who often objected to compromises aimed at giving legislation broader appeal.
As chief deputy whip, Blunt spent a good deal of time meeting with lobbyists and organizing groups that were interested in various issues, including trade, taxes, and energy. He developed a reputation as a good listener with a soft touch, and he paid attention to party moderates. He mediated disputes between Republicans and went after votes on critical issues. In 2000, Blunt began keeping a list of members who would back him for a higher leadership position. He headed the Battleground 2002 operation, which contributed $5.6 million to Republican House candidates. When Majority Leader Dick Armey announced that he would retire in 2002, DeLay moved up to replace him, which left the post of whip available for Blunt. Ray LaHood of Illinois, a moderate Republican, announced that he, too, was running for whip. Within weeks, however, he bowed out after concluding that Blunt had locked up support not only from most conservatives but from many moderates as well. In November 2002, DeLay and Blunt were elected to their new positions without opposition.
For the most part, Blunt was successful as whip. He met his toughest challenge in passing the 2003 bill to create a prescription drug benefit as part of the Medicare program. He assembled a solid Republican bloc of support for the bill and brought along a few Democrats, as well. Still, in November, when GOP leaders took the final version to the floor, they were still short of the necessary 218 votes. The roll call started at 3 a.m. and lasted a record two hours and 53 minutes. Finally, two conservative Republicans who had opposed the legislation because of its cost were persuaded to switch their votes, and the bill passed, 220-215, just before dawn. Blunt and his vote-whipping operation could claim a significant victory. He ran into a couple of low points in this tenure as well. In 2002, the leadership was embarrassed by disclosures that Blunt had quietly inserted into a homeland security bill a provision benefiting Philip Morris, a tobacco giant with strong political ties to the whip. Still, Blunt’s name often surfaced on lists of potential speakers of the House.
His star dimmed over time, in part because of his overweening ambition and in part because of events outside his control, mainly the political immolation of his old mentor, DeLay. On September 28, 2005, a Texas grand jury indicted DeLay and he was forced to step down as majority leader. Blunt persuaded Speaker Hastert to let him keep his post as whip while also assuming the majority leader’s job temporarily. It was too heavy a burden, especially because the House was dealing with the devastating impact of Hurricane Katrina in the South. During the next three months, Republicans struggled to pass bills in the House. In January 2006, after DeLay announced that he would permanently give up his post as leader, Blunt positioned himself to take over and, after a week of lobbying his colleagues, claimed that he had the votes to win. His assertion proved to be a bluff. John Boehner of Ohio was aggressively campaigning against him, and the multiple DeLay controversies involving well-heeled lobbyists had indirectly hurt Blunt, who was viewed as being too cozy with Washington’s vaunted K Street crowd. In a dramatic showdown, Boehner prevailed, 122-109, over Blunt, who suffered the double indignity of losing his bid and looking like a whip who couldn’t count his votes.
Blunt remained in the leadership as whip and developed a smooth working relationship with Boehner. When House Republicans lost their majority in November 2006, he faced a new test. Republican Rep. John Shadegg of Arizona challenged him for the downsized post of minority whip. Blunt prevailed by an unexpectedly wide margin, winning 137-57. In the minority, he became more outspoken when criticizing the Democrats’ management of the House and, with Boehner, fought the new majority on most issues. One exception was extension of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act; for months, Blunt worked closely with Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., on a compromise bill. In September 2008, Boehner gave him the thankless job of negotiating the $700 billion financial bailout bill, which proved to be wildly unpopular with his fellow Republicans.
In the 2008 elections, Republicans lost seats for a second consecutive time and the rank and file was itching for change. Boehner kept his job, but Eric Cantor of Virginia, Blunt’s deputy, announced he would challenge Blunt for whip. Blunt quietly stepped down to avoid a likely defeat. “Ten years of asking people to do some things they don’t want to do is a long time,” he said in his valedictory. Hoyer praised Blunt’s willingness “to achieving principled, bipartisan compromise.”
Blunt’s focus in the 111th Congress (2009-10) is his work on the Energy and Commerce Committee. In February 2009, Blunt announced he would be a candidate for Senate in 2010 when Republican Christopher (Kit) Bond retires.