Conversation with John Diehl, Part 2
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. Here is part 2, enjoy.
Diehl: I just remember his team being very hard workers, Ashcroft ran a tight focused campaign operation. One thing I remember about their operation was that they show up on time they did what they said they were going to do they were pretty easy to work for.
Semo Times: What else stands out in your memory from those days.
Diehl: I do remember back in the ’84 debates at Washington University we were organizing a protest along the route that Walter Mondale that was coming in. We had these Ghostbusters looking t-shirts changed to Fritzbusters so when he came in the Grand Chapel there we had hundreds of people lined up lining the way. That was pretty funny you know I believe one of his aides on the way out the door gave us a one finger solute. That was pretty entertaining. So I think we got under their skin a little that night. So I’m sure I can think of some other entertaining things.
Semo Times: I think those old stories are neat.
Diehl: Wendell Bailey was always entertaining.
Semo Times: And still is to this day.
Diehl: Yes still is to this day. He was always a favorite among club members because he’s just so entertaining.
Diehl: I came out of law school thinking I was going to perhaps be in environmental law I really enjoyed my environmental law class, and as is typically the case it never really works out. I went to work for a medium sized Clayton Firm. Did small litigations and did some real estate work and eventually I just developed a mainly real estate practice.
Semo Times: So was this the time you settled down?
Diehl: Not quite, after I got out of law school I kind of got back interested in the politicals. Some of the friends I met back in the Queeny Township days were still active and I still stayed in touch with them, and went back to some meetings, but I just wasn’t as active. Back in ’92 some of us started getting involved working for Roy Blunt who was running for Governor that year. So I spent a lot of time and focus in 1992 on trying to get Roy elected Governor that year.
Semo Times: In an official title capacity?
Diehl: I a volunteer capacity you know Curt Odenwald and I were his co St. Louis County coordinators. We worked really hard for him that year it was a tough primary that went down to the very last weekend fighting to win.
Semo Times: Was you particularly disappointed when Webster campaign fell apart?
Diehl: Yeah I was and I think some of us kind of saw it coming a little bit.
Diehl: At the time yeah I think I was. You know you get caught up in the emotions of the campaign so in that year it ends up just being a disaster for the party. We had 3 statewide officials running for Governor in the same year and we couldn’t figure out a good way to organize the talent we had on the bench and ended up picking the wrong guy that year for the top spot and I think everyone suffered for it and I think David Steelman lost his race AG that year don’t know who else was on the ticket that year. I think John Hancock lost his Secretary of State race.
Semo Times: Is there anything you learned by seeing Webster not step aside or seeing how Roy Blunt handled the situation that’s helped you in your career?
Diehl: I think you always have to analyze things. I think the best candidates are the ones who can always analyze their own strengths and weaknesses and be honest about what you own weaknesses and limitations are. The minute you get caught up in where this is the next step in my career I have to have this analyzes of my own weaknesses or problems began is when you start making bad decisions in your career. Probably with the way that year was shaking out it didn’t come out till the campaign was really far down the road. It probably would have been difficult to analyze it that way a year in advance or so but I think some people in the party could have probably done a better job of grabbing hold of the situation and clearing out so we could have had a more organized slate that year. You know we’re still suffering the consequences of that year in the party today.
Diehl: Oh yeah he was smart.
Semo Times: Why did you choose Roy Blunt?
Diehl: I’ve always thought Roy was very confident. You know he’s not the flashiest guy in the world but he’s confident. He ran the Secretary of State’s office very well and ran it honestly and he’s the first guy to hold that office for a long time I think he took it from Kirkpatrick. I’ve just liked him. I’ve always thought he was a decent straightforward confident person, not the flashiest in the world which is what I kind of like.
Semo Times: Did you learn a lot by working with him?
Diehl: Yes, he’s just a machine his focus when he makes up his mind when he’s going to do something is impressive. He’s one of those guys you hand him a call list he’s disciplined he gets through that call list and does the work. He goes to all the events he needs to go to and he’s just a very disciplined hard working person.
Semo Times: So tell us about your wife?
Diehl: Well my wife Callie she works outside the home. She’s got a very challenging and demanding career. She is the chief operating officer of a company that she works for in St. Louis. She’s manages a pretty substantial portfolio of properties, and she also their construction manager.
Semo Times: Oh really.
Diehl: Yeah. She does a lot of construction management and property management and the operations of the company so. We have 3 boys ones a sophomore in college up in West Point in New York. We have a senior at Chaminade who we are now in the process now of looking for schools. And then we have a 4th grader so yeah we have all boys it’s a pretty male dominated household, but my wife holds her own.
Semo Times: Sounds like from her career she can deal with that?
Diehl: Yeah she does just fine.
Semo Times: So what made you choose to get into elected politics?
Diehl: It’s been a journey. By the time that it actually happened this time, it was the third time it had kind of been of my radar screen.
Semo Times: Tell us about the first two?
Diehl: Sure. It was after I believe it was 1994 there was a district that had opened up in St. Louis County that I lived in, that district that was represented by Dewey Crump it was either ’94 or ’96 I don’t really remember.
Semo Times: This is pre-term limits right, when these districts didn’t open up back then.
Diehl: So this seat came open for some reason they came to me from county asking if I would be interested in going and I expressed interest in doing that and it was a day or two before the filing deadline. It was obvious I didn’t have time to do all my due diligence to make sure it was something I could actually do and that it was ok with work and I could line up the financial support cause it was a tough seat it was a 50/50 seat at the time. So they had somebody file to hold the place and I got the clearances through work and family and whoever the candidate was decided they wanted to be the person and stayed in the race and lost to Chris Liese at the time. So that was it and I kind of forgot about it for a while and then the republicans took back the house in the early 2000’s.
So when Catherine left to run for Secretary of State, I represent her old district now but it was something I had thought about running again in 2004 and it was a much different district. It was a pretty solid republican district at the time but there was a 3 way primary already there was Scott Muschany and David Stokes who is over the Show Me Institute now. I knew all three of those people and was thinking about getting in the race and just sat down with the candidates and just thought that one of the three of them would be ok and I wasn’t interested in getting into a 3 way primary. You know 2 way primaries are bad but 3 way are worse and 4 ways are just awful.
Semo Times: Did you endorse any one of them?
Diehl: No I didn’t I stayed out of it. So I didn’t get into it that, and then Governor Blunt appointed me Chairman of the St. Louis County Election Board. At the time I also sat on the board of aldermen in the City of Town and Country. So that was my second go around and then when Scott ran into trouble a couple years back, you know he got out of the race pretty late into the game he didn’t officially get out of it until May or June of 2008 right before November election, and by that time that seat was about a 54% republican seat so the party came to me to run in that seat and I agreed to do it and won in a pulled together campaign in about 5-6 months and won the seat and here I am. So being here wasn’t part of a plan.
Semo Times: What does your wife think of the politics?
Diehl: Well she more conservative than I am and she’s very interested in policy and the role of government plays particularly how she sees it affecting her business. Now I don’t think she’s wild about the mechanics of politics in terms of all the socializing and the networking and the time away from home I don’t think she very keen on but she understands the importance of it and we need people doing it and it’s a sacrifice on her part. I’m blessed to have her as my partner and helping me get through it.
Semo Times: You guys in your community have a church you go to? Is there a city group you’re part of?
Diehl: Yeah sure we attend Our Lady of The Pillar in St. Louis where we are pretty active there. I’ve coached my kid’s soccer teams. I think I’m on my 14th or 15th straight season now. Between the 3 boys I try to make time with them and fall is a little easier time to do that with them you got baseball leagues its a little more challenging to keep up with but I’ve always tried to coach all my boys in their sports and we’re pretty involved.
Semo Times: It appears though that you were tapped for big things in legislature once you arrived. It’s from my understanding that you’re completing your 2nd term?
Diehl: I am. Well I’m half way through already.
Semo Times: You’re the rules chairman. Tell the guy at the grocery story what that means?
Diehl: I was thinking the best to describe that is kind of the last check point before something hits the floor. So every bill in the house or senate can be voted on by the house has to come through the rules committee we review it for substance and consistency with our general governing philosophy and I have to make a decision on whether or not it’s something that after speaking with the speaker and the floor leader whether or not we think it’s something we want to bring to the floor to vote on. A lot of the rules are just technical you know so you read the bills you try to find inconsistencies or issues with them so you know you can either send them back to so they can fix it or find another avenue that you can put that bill on or try to fix it on the floor.
Semo Times: It’s a relatively new mechanism from my understanding. Are there things you’re learning and tweaking about the committee to fit Missouri’s process still?
Diehl: I think it’s a pretty well established process by this point. I know with anything new people wonder what the motives or committee or process is. I think on balance it’s been a pretty good committee for us to have. I’ve had Mike Parsons before me and was Shannon Cooper before me and I wasn’t in the house when Shannon Cooper was in the house but I know I was there when Mike Parsons was there and I think we used it to review bills we didn’t really hold up to many things.
Semo Times: Do you think it’s a positive innovation?
Diehl: It’s pretty positive, it’s a place you can work on bills if there’s significant opposition it’s something that gives you the opportunity to bring all the stakeholders around the table before you move it out to see if you can smooth out some of the rough edges of it before it hits the floor. I think it’s ultimately lets the floor run smoother.
Semo Times: Obviously you’ve had some very interesting things that you’ve been on the fore front of one being the economic development bill in the special section. We did an interview with former speaker Tilley and he mentioned a dinner and some of the people there and you being one of them. Where you all come to an agreement of the format of the bill and how you would proceed. Is there anything you want to tell us want to share with our readers?
Diehl: Well I’m just disappointed we couldn’t get passed the issue. I know personally me and our economic development chair that we worked a lot of hours trying to come up with consensus within our own body and you know with members of the Senate and all that and when you reach a resolution of something I think you expect that we could at least bring it to a vote and try to get it through.
Semo Times: Is it accurate that there was an agreement made that the Senate would take it up and then the House?
Diehl: I don’t remember the very specifics on who was going to go first it was a year and a half ago but I thought the intent was that both bodies were going to try and get it through. I think story that’s not told on this enough because I think people want to just want to point a conflict between the House and Senate is the fact that the Governor waited almost six weeks to call a special session.
Semo Times: Was the Governor a factor in your negotiations with the Senate?
Semo Times: He was involved?
Diehl: Well I wouldn’t say he was very involved but we certainly advised of what the topics and the subjects were and I think ultimately there were some things as with any compromise, there’s some things people don’t like in a bill and there’s something people do like. But you have to take what you don’t like with what you do like if there’s going to be a compromise if that’s the nature of it. I think there’s something the Governor didn’t like I’m not sure they were ultimately too interested in having it.
Semo Times: What was falling apart? Was the Governor involved in the end when it seemed like everything was falling apart?
Diehl: It’s just like anything when you have an agreement it’s just like anything you want to get that agreement closed as quickly as you can and I’m not suggesting this was the only factor but I think it’s a factor that’s not talked about enough. Is the fact that we waited almost 4 weeks when there’s an agreement between on a continuous issue between two bodies to get it done you try to get that agreement closed in a relatively quick period of time. I think what happened here was we waited and waited and waited and it aloud opposition to build to an amount to under cutting certain key components which ultimately made it impossible to resolve. I’m not sure ultimately it just with the Senate rules for it the Senators that were ever going to let any type of bill pass.
Conversation with John Diehl Part 1: http://semotimes.com/conversation-with-john-diehl-part-1/