Part One of our Conversation with Republican 8th Congressional District Chairman Eddy Justice
Jo Ann Emerson’s resignation from Congress has thrust into the spotlight the Republican 8th Congressional District Committee. So we sat down Saturday for a conversation with the chairman of that committee Eddy Justice. In part 1 we discuss his background and his thoughts on the committee and why he got involved as well as his opinion on the ideological make up of the committee.
SEMO TIMES: So tell us about yourself. What do you do for a living?
Justice: I’m a State Farm Insurance Agent in Poplar Bluff. I have been with them for 15 years, and in Poplar Bluff since 2000.
SEMO TIMES: Where did you grow up?
Justice: I was born in Rollins, Wyoming.
SEMO TIMES: What were your parents like?
Justice: My father was a preacher. I grew up mostly in Oklahoma. I went to a school named Christian Heritage Academy. Most of our curriculum was based on the Constitution and Bill of Rights.
SEMO TIMES: What denomination did you father minister in?
SEMO TIMES: Tell us about you wife?
Justice: I am married to Penny who is from Annapolis, Missouri. We have four children between us, and three grandchildren with another one on the way.
SEMO TIMES: College?
Justice: I went to John Brown University in Siloam Springs Arkansas. My major was in business and I minored in economics.
SEMO TIMES: Tell us about Eddy Justice in High School?
Justice: I was the captain of the football team, and a four-year letterman. I was in the choir, and not really a scholar student by any means. However, my dad’s rule was that to play football you had to have a B or higher in everything, and I wasn’t about to lose football, so I kept my grades up.
SEMO TIMES: What was college like?
Justice: College was unique for me because I lived a very sheltered life as a child in preacher’s home, so it was a breaking out experience. I mean, nothing crazy. I don’t have to say I never inhaled because I never tried any illicit drugs. I wanted to be a police officer most of the time growing up and was afraid if I did something someone would find out and I wouldn’t be able to become one.
We had a lot of fun. I played rugby in college and mostly hung out with other business majors. I was the treasurer of the college Republicans. I guess I have been involved in politics for as long as I remember.
Justice: Oh yeah my grandfather graduated from the University of Oklahoma Law School, and if you live there long enough that red dirt gets in your blood.
SEMO TIMES: What brought you to Missouri?
Justice: I worked on the national catastrophe team for State Farm traveling 220 days a year, and decided I was tired of working harder than other people and not being paid any better so I looked into agency. I looked at 5 other opportunities from Denver, to North Carolina, but I wanted a small town so I settled on here. I came to Poplar Bluff at 8:30 one morning and by 12:30 I told them this is where I wanted to be.
SEMO TIMES: What do you do for fun?
Justice: I love to deer hunt. I used to fish a lot, but after moving here I picked up deer hunting and love it. As we go along work and politics seem to take up more and more of my time.
SEMO TIMES: What does your wife think of your being involved in politics?
Justice: When we got married she had no interest what so ever, but now she has grown to love it. We support each other’s activities. She is now the vice-chair of the 153rd district legislative committee so she has a vote in the 8th district nominating process as well.
SEMO TIMES: Are you on the same page as to what you are looking for in a congressional nominee?
Justice: Well I never pretend to be able to predict a woman. I would never try to tell her who to vote for, I think we will probably come to the same conclusion on a candidate, but I wouldn’t dare to predict what her decision will be.
Justice: I looked into the structure of the Republican Party’s organization to see what I could do locally. I started going to the Butler County organization’s meetings on the 4th Thursday of every month, and still do today.
SEMO TIMES: So why did you go to that first meeting?
Justice: I have children and grandchildren, and I believe that old statement is true that for evil to succeed all it takes is for good men to do nothing. I will never be accused of doing nothing. My greatest fear is that my grandchildren will sit on my lap and ask me what it was like to be free? That is my greatest fear.
SEMO TIMES: Tell us about joining the central committee.
Justice: When it worked out I was able to run for chair and get into the chairman position I felt I was in a position to fight for the values we believe in.
SEMO TIMES: Some people reading this won’t know, but for years being chairman of the Butler County Republican Central Committee was a position that was typically forced on person who drew the short stick, and not really an important force of local politics. You have greatly changed that, how?
Justice: I had a three-part strategy. 1. Visibility 2. Influence 3. Effectiveness. A lot of success in politics comes from visibility. A lot of people don’t make up their mind until the last minute so it’s very important. To accomplish this you have to have committee members willing to work the fairs and festivals to raise that visibility. Influence, we had to make sure we would be seen as a resource of knowledge in the area to be helpful to candidates. Finally, in order to be effective you have to have money. We have been able to raise a significant amount of money each year I have been chairman.
Butler County has moved to a 68% Republican county, and that is significant. I think we could take that number higher. We are about 1500 voters below where we should be and the reason for that I believe is that many of them think that its not as important because they already know the direction Butler County is going to go. I believe most of them are republicans. I want to focus on that over the next two to four years. I want to inspire people to vote every time. It’s so important on a statewide level to have the most votes out of Butler County possible.
SEMO TIMES: To offset Democratic strongholds like St. Louis?
Justice: Exactly, those 1500 votes would go a long way to offset losses in those places.
SEMO TIMES: Some local observers know you started as a tea party organizer, but have moved into a more establishment role and have seemed to maintain credibility with both groups. Republicans at every level seem to be struggling with that, how have you succeeded where others haven’t.
Justice: Well lets start on the principal level. What I believe the Tea Party is isn’t not what the national media believes it to be. I believe true Tea Party people are people who believe in a smaller federal government locally controlled and strong family values. If you look at those principles and compare them with the original founding principles the Republican Party was founded on they match up perfectly.
Often as movements are more successful fringe elements begin to take over and that is the case here. The late comers and fringe elements began to define the movement, but real Tea Partiers are people who just feel the Republican Party wondered off the reservation a little bit. The Tea Party is a wonderful movement. When there is an argument about the Tea Party I typically fall with the Tea Party that is where my heart is, but I bridge that gap with those involved in more structured party politics because standing on the street corner screaming until your lungs bleed is effective only for a short amount of time. Then the rubber meets the road. I believe there is a place for the Tea Party but there has to be a place to get engaged in the process as well. They have to be involved in the structural minutia to truly change things. It’s the difference between the way things ought to be and the way things are.
SEMO TIMES: From an outside observer the history of the 8th district committee is that it was previously very Cape Girardeau County focused group then there was a rebellion from the western counties against Cape. It had a reputation of being conflicted and contentious. Why did you want to get involved in an organization with that reputation?
Justice: Its kind of hard for me to form an opinion on it when it has such a limited function. We typically only meet every two years to organize and have a caucus every four years. So it’s hard to get an impression when there isn’t much that it does unless we lose a Member of Congress. This year with the primary being non-binding the caucus took on greater importance, but that all unfolded after I was already elected chairman.
I just saw a need for some youth, some new ideas, and maybe some vivacity that may have been not as prevalent in the past. I am a leader. I was trained by my dad to be a leader. Usually when there is a lack of leadership in a situation it is tough for me not to take over.
SEMO TIMES: Were you encouraged to run for the position of 8th district chairman by the Congresswoman’s office or anyone else?
Justice: I approached them, and they said your young, a conservative so they said hey go for it.
SEMO TIMES: When were you elected as chairman?
SEMO TIMES: Were you opposed?
Justice: Yes, both times. Both times I won by approximately a 2 to 1 margin. The first time by Bob Green from Texas County, a great conservative man, somebody who I trust. We don’t always agree about how to get there, but we agree on where we want to take the party.
SEMO TIMES: Have you had any problem working with either of your opponents after the election?
Justice: No, but that is the great thing about our committee we don’t always agree, but we are professionals.
SEMO TIMES: Tell us about your role on the redistricting committee?
Justice: Tom Burcham of Farmington and I were nominated from the 8th district and the Governor basically chose to not let him serve. I didn’t bother to call the Governor to find out his logic I just said thank you and went on. We were tied 9-9 on every plan. It ultimately went to the state Supreme Court and they drew the map.
SEMO TIMES: What was your impression of the map they drew?
Justice: My first impression was what in the world were these people thinking? In Poplar Bluff on the same side of some streets the 1st, 4th and 6th houses are in Richardson’s district and the 2nd, 3rd, and 5th are in Cookson’s. Then I looked at it with an eye of a Republican loyalist and I knew this would be a map Republicans would enjoy.
SEMO TIMES: Do you see problems with precinct splitting making the maps unnecessarily complicated and leading to issues such as the ones in the 150th that have sprung up.
Justice: There are three parts I would agree with that on. 1. It’s tough to campaign in confusing maps 2. It’s hard for voters to keep straight what candidates they need to follow. 3 It’s not cost effective having to print so many ballots. So yeah I think there is a problem with the way things are drawn.
SEMO TIMES: Were you surprised by Congresswoman Emerson’s resignation?
Justice: I was not entirely surprised. There is only so much time that an individual can spend in Washington and remain who they are in my estimation.
Justice: She is not going to have to run for re-election. I am 100% positive toward her. I believe in what she has been doing for our district. I just felt she was getting to the point where she was ready to do something different with her life. I would have to say I wasn’t surprised.
SEMO TIMES: You were vocal in your objection to adding Jefferson County to the 8th district, explain why.
Justice: I testified before the redistricting committee, and one of the things I was concerned about was that I wanted the 8th to maintain its personality. I was afraid if we went too far north into St. Louis it would be hard to represent the entire district because of the vast differences between St. Louis and the rest of the district. But at the same time if you went too far to the west you would have the problem Congressman Graves has with a huge district that is hard to manage and navigate. It’s very difficult to say what would have been best.
SEMO TIMES: Is it possible to represent the RCGA in Jefferson County and the Poplar Bluff Chamber of Commerce?
Justice: That is one of the reasons it will be so important in our selection process to find someone talented, because it will take a great deal of talent to represent this district’s diversity.
SEMO TIMES: Has your view of Congresswoman Emerson and her service to the district evolved over time as you have gotten to know her and the process better.
Justice: Yeah, I would say so.
SEMO TIMES: Our publication’s view of her has certainly evolved. Did you view her differently before you were involved in the process than you do today?
Justice: I would agree that my view of her has evolved. At one point when she was running I set up a forum for her primary opponent in Poplar Bluff to find out who they were. I wasn’t completely satisfied with her votes, and wanted to find out about her opponent. After it was over my daughter my came up to me and said are you aren’t seriously gonna vote for this guy are you. Her fresh perspective was important to me. You have to balance electability and principle. After that event I knew it was going to be very difficult if we ever did decide to find someone else. Jo Ann and I have become friends. I didn’t know her then, but we have become friends since. Is she perfect? No. Has she done amazing things for southeast Missouri?, beyond a shadow of a doubt.
SEMO TIMES: Besides yourself, a person whose name has been mentioned as having a lot of weight with this committee is the congresswoman’s chief of staff Josh Haynes. What is your view of him?
Justice: Josh has a very smart political mind? He is a tremendous family man and has always been straight up with me. He has never lied to me. I trust him implicitly because he has proven to be trustworthy. I would classify him as a friend even if politics wasn’t involved, I would be thrilled that he was my friend.
SEMO TIMES: How did you become treasurer of HRCC? What do you do as Treasurer, and do you enjoy it?
Justice: After being elected chairman of my county committee. I told a person in the party that I want to do more. I didn’t feel like I was doing my share. Two weeks later HRCC called and asked if he would be treasurer, he said, “Nope, I’m too old but I know who would”. He called me and as they say the rest is history
SEMO TIMES: Is the 8th District Committee is it a Tea Party Committee, an establishment committee, a Libertarian committee, or something else entirely?
Justice: Well there is definitely a cross section. I don’t think it can be pigeon holed. You have Tea Partiers, establishment people, and some Ron Paul supporters. Even with its diversity it’s great to see that it works together as well as it does. Really all of those factions are pretty equally represented.
Tomorrow in part 2 we discuss several contenders for the nomination, the rules he thinks should be in place at the nominating meeting, and if he is interested in running himself.