Recently we sat down with Representative John Diehl current chairman of the powerful House Rules Committee, and who is standing for Floor Leader in the next General Assembly.
Semo Times: Representative Diehl, tell us why you decided to get into politics and when?
Diehl: Sure, my first experience was actually back in high school as a senior, and our government teacher at the time made one of our assignments to go up to a local township meeting. This was back in 1983. So I went to, back then it was called Queeny Township in St. Louis County. I went to the township meeting there and was warmly embraced, it was 1983 which was the year before a presidential and gubernatorial year so everything was getting pretty ramped up there and I found it interesting. They invited me to keep coming back and I kept doing so. Also that same government teacher made us watch a news program every Sunday morning it was either taped or videotaped and I’d watch shows like Meet the Press and those types of news shows and we wrote summaries of what was talked about. At the time that got me really interested in politics.
Semo Times: So really it was kind of a media politics connection that first sparked some interest?
Semo Times: So what age are we talking there?
Diehl: I was a senior in high school so I was, wait lets go back a little bit I was a sophomore in high school so I guess I was 16 years old at the time.
Semo Times: So high school in St. Louis?
Semo Times: What part of St. Louis?
Semo Times: Ok
Diehl: It’s got good Jeff City connections, Tom Dempsey and Eric Schmitt are alums.
Semo Times: What was John Diehl like in high school?
Diehl: High school I was pretty quiet.
Semo Times: Really.
Diehl: Not very sure of myself kind of on the nerdy side.
Semo Times: Most people wouldn’t prescribe the label of being unsure of himself onto you today.
Diehl: I didn’t play any sports in high school. I was in the photography club, chess club and just concentrated on grades and that sort of thing.
Semo Times: Really.
Diehl: My first car was 1969 Dodge Dart brown.
Semo Times: And when was high school of you?
Diehl: I graduated high school in 1983. I did have a car in high school right when I graduated. It was a 1969 dodge dart it was brown and black with vinyl interior and the motor blew out about after a month that, and it had no breaks either. So we took that in and then I got to drive my parents Thunderbird and that was a little more interesting.
Semo Times: Tell me about your parents?
Diehl: They are lifelong St. Louisians. My dad spent his entire career in the grocery industry working for Bettendorf Wrap, which was acquired by Schnucks and grew up in the Sunset Hills area. My mom was a stay at home mom and raised 3 kids. So she was a stay at home mom so when she finished raising us she went back to school, went to Maryville University and finished first in her class and now she runs Parkway School Districts English as a second language.
Semo Times: Wow.
Diehl: She’s getting ready to retire though.
Semo Times: Well it’s got to be really interesting you got to be on the forefront of a lot of change in the education industry.
Diehl: Oh absolutely.
Semo Times: So a modest home?
Diehl: Yeah we lived in a city called Manchester grew up with a single income and a fairly modest home. My parents sacrificed a lot to put us in school. My dad passed up some better opportunities to better his career to keep us from having to move around to different cities. You know a lot of his contemporaries would get better job offers in other cities but we stayed here so we wouldn’t have to move around and the family could be intact.
Semo Times: I think a lot of the people that are reading this from Jefferson City or St. Louis would be surprised to classify you as shy and quiet. There’s obviously been some change there from most people’s observation of you today from back then. What do you attribute some of that metamorphosis to?
Diehl: You know it’s hard to say. I would say that probably really it was when I got into law school which was a little bit later into life.
Semo Times: Which was when and where at?
Diehl: I went to St. Louis University and graduated from there in 1991. I started becoming a little more outgoing, and even in college I kind of kept my political activities going. One of the grass roots guys that you know that guy that would knock doors scuff out shoes for candidates and help organize republican clubs around the state.
Semo Times: Let’s slide back a little if you don’t care cause that something we’re interested in.
Semo Times: College for you was where?
Diehl: I Went to University of Missouri in Columbia.
Semo Times: What made you choose Mizzou?
Diehl: Kind of had a choice of living at home and going to school in St. Louis or moving out of my parent’s house and going to Mizzou so I decided ultimately to move out of my parent’s house and I can’t say there’s any particular reason or pull for it. I just felt like going there, and I enjoyed the campus.
Semo Times: What did you study at Mizzou?
Diehl: Political Science.
Semo Times: I think people would be interested to know that John Diehl in college was very politically active?
Diehl: I was.
Semo Times: First of all, why?
Diehl: It sparked an interest and passion to get more involved with public policy and that fascinates me, and actually the mechanics of it and the campaigns and the messaging and the charisma that goes along with it inspires me. You know I hit college at the time that you had the Reagan revolution going on. Unlike what we’ve had the past 4 years back when I was in college students who were politically active were by and large republicans.
Semo Times: Really?
Diehl: Oh absolutely. Well I don’t know about percentages how that turned out but certainly there was a very active and enthusiastic college following for President Reagan.
Semo Times: And that existed when you arrived?
Diehl: Yeah and so I was interested in that so I kind of took on the job of starting to build college republican clubs across the state.
Diehl: There was.
Semo Times: And you got involved in that and rose to lead that group?
Diehl: Yes I was also State Chairman for 2 years also of all the clubs in the state.
Semo Times: How does that work and how does a guy in college move away from his family and you’ve got all the freedom to do whatever why does that guy decide to do it?
Diehl: I don’t know that college guys think about it all that much, probably a good way to meet girls. You kind of get out get yourself a budget travel the state and meet people all over the place. I think I was a fairly decent organizer. I started a state wide political newsletter.
Semo Times: Really.
Diehl: It was callled the Missouri College Republican Review or something like that. At the time it was probably an 80’s style blog.
Semo Times: Sure that makes sense.
Diehl: We would put out a monthly newsletter. We would do interviews with elected officials across the state much like what you’re doing with me right now. We would also write on topics of events on topics like nuclear freeze, the budget, unemployment all those types of things. Then we would write fairly detailed articles on those issues and get those distributed out to college campuses across the state. So we started probably close to 30 Republican Party clubs across the state toward 1984-1985.
Semo Times: And I would assume some of those still function to this day?
Semo Times: Was there a chapter at Southeast (Southeast Missouri State University)?
Diehl: Well sure, I was down here quite a bit actually. Wish I could remember who was running it back then but I don’t.
Semo Times: So you would be a little younger than David Barklage so you probably missed him there by a little bit?
Diehl: Yeah I think he’s about 4-5 years older than I am.
Semo Times: Where you able to accomplish things that you are proud of while you were starting the clubs.
Diehl: Oh yeah we did a lot of good things. I was state youth coordinator for Reagan for his reelection back in ’84. I did a lot of work for John Ashcroft. It’s funny one of our State Rep candidates now, Dave Walker who’s running up in Kirksville actually was running for lieutenant governor that year back in 1984 so I ran into him at one of our candidate schools we were able to get reacquainted from almost 30 years ago. So no it was a terrific experience got to meet people from all over the state and learned a lot of skills on getting organized I guess I was a conservative community organizer back then we did voter registration drives and get out the vote.
Semo Times: So your obviously extremely active in college and helped facilitate a break through decade for state republcians.
Diehl: You know probably what happened as with most things you know in college you tend to lose some perspective of things you should be doing in your life like keeping good grades as you possible could have. So I graduate from Mizzou on a 5 year program only a year behind despite doing all that so my grades weren’t as good as they could have been. Then decided to go to law school did very well on the entrance test and entered law school and kind of dropped out of politics for a couple years to concentrate on studies and just other things in life so lost interest in it for a couple years. I did well in law school I was elected kind of like the student body president of law school during my 3rd year.
Semo Times: Are you excited about the SLU law school move downtown? Do you think it’s a good thing for the schools?
Diehl: I think it’s a good thing for the city. I think getting people living down there will help stabilize the neighborhoods and encourage local business to open restaurants, shops, small shops, and what not. So I think that will continue the trend to people moving back into our downtown St. Louis so that’s good.