Missouri: Seventh District|
Rep. Roy Blunt (R)
Last Updated June 4, 1999
The second biggest tourist destination in America today, after Orlando, Florida, is Branson, Missouri--a fact almost no one predicted 20 years ago. Even today Branson has only 4,400 residents, is served by two-lane roads, is nowhere near a major airport; but it thrives, paralleling the surging popularity of Country and Western music. Branson was put on the map early in the century by Harold Bell Wright's novel, The Shepherd of the Hills, about the hardy people of the mountains, hills and meadows of southwest Missouri, just north of Arkansas. More tourists came in with completion of the Ozark Beach Dam which created Bull Shoals Lake in 1913, lured by the native bass and stocked trout. Then in the 1960s, new lakes were formed, a Shepherd of the Hills pageant and Silver Dollar City were started, and entertainers--the five Maybe brothers performing as ''The Baldknobbers'' and Box Car Willie from the Grand Ole Opry--started performing. They were followed by others--Roy Clark, Glen Campbell, Charlie Pride, Mel Tillis, Louise Mandrell and the violinist Shoji Tabuchi. Today Branson has 6 million visitors a year and more than two dozen theaters with 55,000 seats--more than Broadway. Workers come in from as far away as Springfield, the biggest city in southwest Missouri, and headquarters of such middle American institutions as the Mid-America Dairymen, the nation's largest milk producers' cooperative; the Bass Pro Shops Outdoor World, probably the nation's largest fishing equipment store; and the Assemblies of God, one of the nation's largest and fastest-growing Protestant denominations. What do people like about Branson? The nonstop entertainment and fishing and boating; country music and family style entertainment; plenty of shopping and a safe atmosphere. These are also things that have made southwest Missouri the fastest growing part of the state in the last 20 years, generating new businesses and attracting retirees as well as vacationers.
The 7th Congressional District includes Branson and Springfield and most of southwest Missouri. Historically, southwestern Missouri has been Republican--against secession in 1861: pro-Union Springfield changed hands several times during Missouri's own civil war. Its conservative response to the big-spending government of the 1960s and cultural liberalism of the 1970s reinforced its allegiance, and now this is the most Republican part of Missouri.
The congressman from the 7th District is Roy Blunt, a Republican first elected in 1996. Blunt grew up in southwest Missouri, in a political family; his father was a state representative from a district near Springfield. He taught high school and college history and government, and in 1973, at 23, became Greene County (Springfield) clerk. In 1984, at 34, he was elected Missouri secretary of State and was re-elected with 60% in 1988. In 1992 he ran for governor, and lost the Republican primary to William Webster, 44%-39%. (Webster was defeated and disgraced, sent to jail because of his improper administration of the Second Injury Fund.) Blunt became president of his alma mater, Southwest Baptist University in Bolivar. In 1996 Congressman Mel Hancock, author of Missouri ballot initiatives requiring voter approval of tax increases, kept his pledge to serve only four terms and retired. In the primary Blunt faced Gary Nodler, businessman and one-time staffer to Congressman Gene Taylor. Nodler carried his (and Webster's) home area around Joplin and Carthage, but Blunt carried everything else and won 56%-44%. There were 75,000 votes cast in the Republican primary and only 16,000 in the Democratic primary: a harbinger of the general election, which Blunt won 65%-32%, running ahead of the Republican ticket and carrying every county with at least 62% of the vote.
Blunt has a solidly conservative voting record. His political adeptness was apparent in his committee assignments: Agriculture, International Relations, Transportation and Infrastructure. On Agriculture he supported the Clinton Administration's proposal to reduce the number of federal milk marketing orders from 31 to 11 and to include southern Missouri in the southeast region--a position also supported by Mid-America Dairymen--and he opposed food embargoes. On International Relations, he supported the bill to penalize countries that practice or allow religious persecution--a concern of denominations like the Assemblies of God, which has more members abroad than in the United States. He was on Transportation in time for the 1998 transportation bill, which increased Missouri's funding $213 million. He and Asa Hutchinson from the adjoining Arkansas district made U.S. 71 from Kansas City to Shreveport a ''high priority corridor,'' a step on the way to upgrading it to interstate status.
Blunt also took up important conservative causes. He co-sponsored the bill to zero out the tax code by December 2000. He opposed normal trade relations status with China (''America should place her political principles above commerce''). When tobacco became a headline issue, he proposed to yank teenagers' driver's licenses for 60 days if they were caught with tobacco, and with Hutchinson he moved to earmark tobacco settlement funds not used for anti-smoking programs for debt reduction and tax cuts. He was part of Majority Whip Tom DeLay's ''free speech'' team proposing bills to undermine the Shays-Meehan campaign finance bill. He was not inattentive to his fellow members. He supported a cost-of-living pay increase for House members in 1997, despite local flak. With Bob Clement of Tennessee, he formed an Education Caucus in May 1997, open to former teachers and administrators in schools and colleges. In the 1998 campaign cycle he raised and contributed $250,000 to other incumbent Republicans.
This record strengthened him at home and brought considerable rewards in the House. His Democratic opponent was an advocate of legalized prostitution and author of works like Nerds' Guide to Better Sex whose Website included pictures of scantily clad women. The Missouri Democratic party wanted nothing to do with him, and Blunt won 73%-24%; the same day his son Matt Blunt was elected to the Missouri House. Three weeks after the election Blunt won a seat on the Commerce Committee. In January 1999 DeLay appointed Blunt chief deputy whip, the position Denny Hastert held until his astonishing elevation to speaker. Blunt promised to try to emulate him: ''Denny did a great job defining the deputy whip job: open door, never overpromise, always try to overperform.'' Some weeks later he became George W. Bush's chief liaison to House Republicans. Blunt, wrote the Weekly Standard's Matthew Rees, ''may be the most influential Republican no one's ever heard of.'' Yet.
Safe. Blunt should have no trouble winning a third term in this strongly Republican district.
- Pop. 1990: 568,017
- 48% rural;
16.3% age 65+;
- 97.3% White,
1.1% Amer. Indian,
0.7% Hispanic origin;
59.9% married couple families;
26.7% married couple fams. w. children;
37.6% college educ.;
median household income: $21,712;
per capita income: $11,029;
median gross rent: $244;
median house value: $48,400.
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