Conversation with John Diehl, Part 3
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 3, enjoy.
Semo Times: It goes to a point I think sometimes there’s a view of St. Louis versus the rest of the state. What are some things St. Louis leaders can do and outstate leaders can do to bridge these gaps because it seems very harmful to the state as a whole?
Diehl: Oh it is harmful for the state. Honestly I haven’t really experienced a lot of that personally. I think a lot of that is a narrative is somewhat manufactured and perpetuated because it’s politically convenient for some people. Let’s just take the issue of agriculture for example. Agriculture is clearly the most important component of the economy in this state and is something that is incredibly important to rural Missouri and incredibly important to St. Louis because plant science center and the plant research that’s done there. When the auto industry fails then our major urban and suburban areas affected their tier 2 and tier 3 manufacturing to virtually every county in the state. The state will rise and fall as a collective whole and not as an individual part. There’s no part in this state that can drive the well being of the rest of the state alone. You know the quality of manufacturing tier 2 and tier 3 manufacturing facilities across the state in order to drive effective agriculture food and fiber are you need the technology and efficiencies that are developed by some of our companies that are in urban and suburban areas. Their intertwined.
Semo Times: You had a hand in crafting Proposition C the ballot initiative that helps prohibit the implementation of Obamacare. Can you tell us why you thought it was necessary and explain exactly what it was in the ramifications today?
Diehl: Sure, actually Prop C was a product of several other things that we had started doing even in the session before related to healthcare. So after Obama was elected in 2008 there started to be increasing talk about developing a federal solution to healthcare issues and I carried my first and second year most of the resolutions the house did calling on Congress to lead this on this issue. I think we passed several things and several resolutions and messages to Congress to not go down the route it did. Once the law was passed well that had kind of become a fore front issue at the time, Tim Jones and Jane Cunningham in the Senate filed a bill called the Healthcare Freedom act in which in its initial stage was an opt out of the federal healthcare system. As we started working our way through the system what we really wanted to do was set up a commerce clause challenge much like the issue that would appear in front of the Supreme Court. So we took one of my bills which was over in the Senate I believe and we put the modified version of the Healthcare Freedom Act which was really a commerce clause challenge so that the state cannot enact any rules or regulations to implement the federal healthcare law in the state. So we put that on and instead of putting a bill on Governor Nixon’s desk to sign what we did was a referendum and it got placed on the August ballot. Now when we first got it placed on the August ballot.
Semo Times: Did that the Governor threaten to veto it?
Diehl: I think so. It’s difficult to say he didn’t really give a whole lot of input on it.
Semo Times: He’s had a very vigorous position on it ever since.
Diehl: Yeah well I don’t think he wanted it on his desk, but on the other hand to we wanted to send a message. Also when it first got put on the August ballot we were all upset about it then we realized, wait a minute this could actually be a really good thing because we are jumping out. So we put it on the August ballot and it lit a wild fire.
Semo Times: What’s been a practical effect of Proposition C?
Diehl: What Prop C did in my opinion, and I think there’s a fair amount of national articles that have been written about it, it really focused on the federal healthcare debate and Obamacare as a central issue in the 2010 elections. There was a lot of talk about what the response would be, and there was going to be litigations, and there going to be different laws passed in Congress, law suits by individuals, law suits by attorney generals but we managed in Missouri to get it to the ballot first. When it got to the ballot in August 2010 there was virtually no money behind it and very late in the game. Some of the hospital associations came in and tried to kill it in the last couple weeks and it passed with 74% of the vote. All of the sudden all these people started coming to Missouri to learn how did we started this fire and talk about duplicating what we did. It really was the first time that voters got to vote on their opinion of the Federal Healthcare bill and no one can really say that Missouri was a state like Mississippi or Alabama where democrats have no chance.
Semo Times: Sure.
Diehl: Missouri was at the time considered to be a purple swing state and to get a vote of 74% was startling. You know it’s pretty funny looking at the front page of the drudge report the next morning with Obama with one of his angry stares and all it said was “Uh- Oh Mo says No”. I really think it focused the issue and make you realize this is something you can win on at the ballot box.
Semo Times: Is it particularly disappointing to you to know that one of our state Senators is a steadfast supporter of it ¾ths of the public steadfastly opposes to it and there fact that there wasn’t be a debate on it because of the weakness of the Republican Senate nominee?
Diehl: Yeah it’s very.
Diehl: I still think that race is going to be closer than anybody thinks.
Semo Times: You’re known for being a leading intellectual conservative. You’re known for being able to think and have courage of your own convictions. Does it embarrass you that at the top of your state’s ticket it led by Todd Akin?
Diehl: Well Todd’s my congressman it doesn’t embarrass me. You know people do make mistakes they say stupid things.
Semo Times: You feel that was a mistake?
Diehl: I think it was a stupid thing to say.
Semo Times: Do you think it was a mistake in that he didn’t mean to say it, or was it a mistake for him to say he meant?
Diehl: I can’t get into his mind. I think it was a stupid thing to say, and I think it’s sad to disqualify people from public office just because of stupid things they’ve said. By that standard how in the world can Joe Biden be Vice President?
Semo Times: Let me ask John Diehl what was his wife’s reaction to Todd Akin’s now infamous statements?
Diehl: She thought it was a stupid thing to say.
Semo Times: Redistricting is something you were right in the middle of, and the 8th district seemed to be the district that was at the forefront of the discussion.
Diehl: That’s only because you’re not from another part of the state. You know I’ve got to tie this back to together a little bit. Back when we were talking about Prop C what happened with the Healthcare Freedom Act here I think led to the map that we’ve ended up with. The reason I think that is because our success in the 2010 elections brought in a record class. At the end of my first term we had 88 members in the house. We were able to come in with the historic majority, and we have a unified message across the state. So tying that back into redistricting, Speaker Ron Richard asked me to head up the effort before he left, and Speaker Tilley kept me on and I think that largely because of my experience with the election board and in St. Louis County running the largest election jurisdiction in the state for four years. But when we started game planning this with 88 members we had no idea that the maps could turn out the way that they turned out. First we were uncertain as to whether or not we would lose a seat or not, but even if we did we thought our best case scenario was going to be a 5-2-1 map which was going to be significantly different than this one. You have to get a map the Governor would sign or the courts would draw a map for you. So we thought it would be a much different map.
Semo Times: So it’s fair to say you’re pleased with the end result?
Diehl: We’re certainly pleased with the end result. It was a challenging, challenging map to draw and really the key number has been discussed but in the end I don’t really think it’s what we were focused on. We missed that 9th congressional seat by about 15,000 people. So if the state had 15,000 more people counted we would have had 9 seats instead of 8. So that means the average seat in the state went from about 630,000 people up to 750,000 people. When you deal with particularly north highway 70 look at how many counties you need to fill a bucket of 110,000 to 120,000 people, all things being equal then these districts can become a challenge. That’s why we started early on saying every district is going to change. I mean every district is going to change dramatically.
Semo Times: The logic between putting more Jefferson County in the 8th as opposed to going west. We know how it turned out, but did it turn out for the best? Is this the map of the 8th that you advocated?
Diehl: Well I think it did. In some respects I think any time you draw a map there comes a point when you’re going to get districts that come together and it’s going to get a little messy because the federal law requires you to have precisely equal population in every single district at the time the map was drawn. So when you do that as a principle you’re going to have places where you’re going to divide up counties. For example my old state rep district under the 9 member map the 87th district had 3 congressmen representing it. So that was the tip of the spear under the 2000 map, that drew my district had us represented by Congressman Clay, congressman Carnahan, and congressman Akin. They all met and bout the middle of my district. At some point in the map you’re going to have a population center that gets divided somewhat irrationally but the overall thing is nobody could draw a map that didn’t do that it was just somewhere else where they thought it should be.
Semo Times: Steve Tilley said his goal from the start was a 6-2 republican map. Was that you’re goal?
Diehl: My goal was to draw a good map. Yeah I think that’s probably their political considerations. I also had to draw a map though that was constitutional that was going to be upheld by the courts.
Semo Times: Was it gratifying when it was upheld in court?
Diehl: It was, we were told from day one it wasn’t constitutional if you keep in mind that we went up to the Supreme Court without throwing out the maps basically at every level sending out a strong signal that they didn’t like it. It gets to the point where you can pick out what they call the tear drop where you can pick out of Jackson County or you can pick out of Jefferson County and complain about it, but the cold reality is nobody else could draw a map that takes into account the entire state. They may have drawn Jackson County better and may have drawn Jefferson County better or drawn their section of the state better but nobody could draw a map that drew the whole state better and at the end of the day it was constitutional because the districts were compact and equal in population and it took care of all the federal voters rights acts issues that you have to deal with.
Semo Times: So what went into your mind when deciding to run for majority leader?
Diehl: I like and care about our caucus, and I think I have something to add. I think we face some challenges in this state. Are we going to compete with our neighbors? Is our government as sufficient as it can be? Is our tax regulatory structure going to keep our businesses competitive for the next couple of decades? I think we have a lot of improvement to do in those areas and I want to be a part of that. I also like the campaign side of things.
Semo Times: What goes into a leadership campaign?
Diehl: Getting around the state, it’s a statewide campaign and you get to go out to the towns and districts of members across the state. You raise money to support the infrastructure of the organizations to maintain 106 seats. That’s a lot of work and you have to be able to I think and have a good strategic philosophy on how you’re going to win your races, what are the issue sets that are going to be and how you’re going to imply that.
Semo Times: Are you enjoying it?
Diehl: I am, but it’ tiring. It’s like any other campaign these last couple weeks are getting pretty tiring. As the days grow shorter it just takes up more and more of your time. But yeah, I love getting out and meeting people and visiting there’s just something with quality people in the general that you just learn a lot about stuff that’s close to them that you didn’t know was out there and I find that very satisfying.
Semo Times: What are your thoughts on the national ticket?
Diehl: You know I probably know more about what’s going on in the race then Washington County Missouri than I do about Washington D.C. because you just get so focused on our house members and their races. What really excited me about that first debate was I think is that it generated a great enthusiasm not just an anti Obama thing but I think Romney showed that he can generate enthusiasm with the voters of why he needs to be president why he’ll fight among for them. There’s always some fear that would Romney be a McCain. That he would be more interested in just getting along or being the guy that’s going to fight for them. I think we saw the other night that he’s going to fight for it.
Semo Times: If John Diehl is the Majority Leader in 2013 will he fight for it?
Diehl: Oh I will fight for it. Absolutely I’m not in this for any other reason. I fought for the map, I fought for the Healthcare Freedom Act. I like to do big things. I like to get a hold of them and stay focused and not give up on them till they are done.
Semo Times: Do you think Romney’s coat tails will make it over Akin and Nixon all the way down to state rep races?
Diehl: It’s hard to jump coat tails from a president to a state rep race per say. We always have what I say in politics is particular to a national narrative that’s there’s this mythical 4-6% undecided voter. Whoever that is, but honestly who hasn’t made up their mind on Obama and Romney. You’ve made up your mind about Barack Obama so for me it’s all about enthusiasm it’s about who gets their base out and so yes and I think it’s a factor that there is enthusiasm for Romney. There’s enthusiasm for the idea that we’re going to start trying to roll back the over reaches of the federal government then yes that will trickle down to the house races because that’s our message. I think Akin is going to have in effect of turn out that’s positive.
Semo Times: For Republicans?
Diehl: I do. I think there’s a case to be made of that.
Semo Times: What is that case?
Diehl: That there’s a significant percentage of voters in the state that are self identifying evangelicals that are strong pro-life voters. There’s nobody at the top of the ticket right now that excites those voters and motivates them to come to the polls. It’s not our governor candidate it’s not our presidential candidate I think Todd Akin is going to drive a type of voter to the poll that may not have been there otherwise.
Semo Times: Some of those voters are fathers, sons, and brothers of people who care about women too.
Diehl: I agree. I think he’s going to drive turnout that I think is going to help some of our candidates.
Semo Times: You think the father of a daughter who is also an evangelical will be excited about voting for Todd Akin?
Diehl: I think at the end of the day it’s about the big picture issues. There’s a clear choice with his flaws and faults aside. Does that mean you vote for Claire McCaskill back in the US Senate to defend the Obama? I’m not sure that that happens.
Semo Times: Give me a seat that nobody else is seeing that the republicans are going to carry. Give me an upset special pick.
Diehl: Kind of like our Brent from of last year.
Semo Times: Yeah give me a dark horse pick, you know these districts as good as anybody.
Diehl: I think we are going to do very well in Jefferson County. Ed Martin carried Jefferson County by 13,000 votes over Russ Carnahan two years ago. I think that county is turning. I think if we’re able to nationalize the message in Jefferson County I think you will see some upsets there.
Semo Times: Interesting. I couldn’t let you go without asking you about the upcoming Mayor of St. Louis race. Slay vs. Reed.
Diehl: Oh that’s going to be ugly. I think Mayor Slay has done a lot of really good things for St. Louis. I think he is reform minded, and that is what the city needs. I think he’s open to reform and I think he’s open to a lot of things that will be good for the city. I think that’s going to be an unfortunately ugly race.
Semo Times: Let’s do some word association. Peter Kinder?
Semo Times: Jay Nixon?
Semo Times: Jason Crowell?
Diehl: Wasted opportunity.
Semo Times: Steve Tilley?
Diehl: At peace.
Semo Times: David Barkledge?
Semo Times: Clint Zweifel
Semo Times: To you?
Diehl: I think to most people.
Semo Times: What about John Bardgett?
Diehl: Very easy to deal with.
Semo Times: Jeff Roe?
Semo Times: Ann Wagner?
Semo Times: You know John Ashcroft better than most people we interview. What about John Ashcroft?
Diehl: I probably can’t do him in a word. I think he’s inspiring, he’s been one of the most he’s clean he’s smart, and when I say clean I mean corruption free smart and conservative and I think it’s a loss to the state that he’s not still more involved than he is.
Semo Times: Tim Jones?
Semo Times: Jo Ann Emerson?
Diehl: I did she’s a terrific team player. There’s nothing we haven’t asked Jo Ann Emerson to do that she hasn’t willingly done and done more.
Semo Times: Jeff Smith?
Diehl: Yeah. You know I only served with Jeff for a year or two years. I always found him easy to work with but I don’t really know him all that well.
Semo Times: Jeff Harris?
Diehl: Very intelligent, very intelligent.
Semo Times: Rob Mayer?
Diehl: I think of sometimes you thank god for those unanswered prayers. He may have wished that race didn’t turn out the way it did. I think he was well intentioned but I think he had a situation he couldn’t control.
Semo Times: What about Representative Leara?
Diehl: Mike has been a friend. I wish him luck.
Semo Times: Thank you so much for sitting down with us we really appreciate it and I think it’s something that our readers are going to enjoy.
Diehl: Well good I hope so. Thank you.
Part One: http://semotimes.com/conversation-with-john-diehl-part-1/
Part Two: http://semotimes.com/conversation-with-john-diehl-part-2/