Graves represents, reflects district in which he was born, raised
Missouri Baptist loves public service
By Lee Warren
December 9, 2004
TARKIO – If you stop by First Baptist Church, Tarkio, during the Christmas season, you might just see Republican Congressman Sam Graves and his family playing various roles in the live nativity scene that the church performs annually for the community.
You also might find his family doing the same things that many other families do.
“We are kind of homebodies,” he said. “We enjoy being at home. I enjoy working on the farm with my kids. We bought a house that’s a hundred years old and we spend a lot of time fixing it up. We take a room at a time and we’ve just about got it done.”
Graves is well known in his community for remodeling his home. Blake Hurst, a church member at First Baptist Church, once wrote about Graves, “My congressman happens to be from our small town, and when he’s home on the weekends, he’s shingling his house. His constituents are proud of the fact that their representative can run a nail gun and is still humble enough to get his hands dirty. Just the same, the project has taken over a year, and we all think it’s time he’s finished.”
Hurst isn’t the only person to give Graves a hard time about his roof. “Everybody’s always making fun of him for not finishing the roof on his house,” said his pastor, Glenn Scott.
Graves finally did finish his roof and you can see why he feels at home at First Baptist Tarkio. He knows how to absorb the good-natured barbs from his fellow church members because his roots run deep.
“I was raised there,” he said. “I grew up going to Sunday School, belonged to RA’s (Royal Ambassadors) and was baptized there.”
For many generations, the Graves family has done the type of hard work that is valued in Tarkio, a town of about 2,200 tucked away in the northwest corner of Missouri. The five generations that preceded Graves worked on the family farm, and he was proud to represent the sixth generation after he received a degree in agronomy from the School of Agriculture at the University of Missouri.
He still works on the family farm with his father and brother when Congress isn’t in session. And true to his hard-working reputation, he also finds time to help others.
“He’s very helpful to our community and to our people,” Scott said. “When people have a problem about something they feel like they can call him and talk to him—whether it’s Social Security or something else. He’s our congressman. He’s very approachable and just a down-to-earth kind of guy.”
Even though Graves seems to be a natural at serving people, he never planned to be a politician.
“I kind of backed into politics,” Graves said. “I came home (from college) and started farming full-time and did so right up until 2000 when I won my seat in Congress. I got involved in a couple of organizations—one being Farm Bureau, organizations like that—and I started to come to the realization that rural issues were very important. And I didn’t feel like the individual representatives in the state House were doing a very good job, so I felt that instead of complaining about it, I ought to do something about it.”
He ran against Everett Brown, an incumbent, in the state House in 1992 and won. In 1994, the people of the 12th Senatorial District elected him to serve as a state senator. And in 2000, he ran for Missouri’s 6th Congressional District seat and defeated former State Sen. Steve Danner.
Graves doesn’t take his position as a representative of the people lightly.
“To whom much is given, much is expected,” he said. “God gives us these talents or abilities to be able to do something, but you also have an obligation to fulfill that.”
Since he feels accountable to God for his actions as a congressman, he believes that he is not supposed to bow to every whim of the people, but instead to govern with his conscience. He used same-sex marriage as an example of the way his conscience guides him.
“In my district, same-sex marriage is pretty well a slam dunk that the people support marriage between a man and a woman,” he said. “But if I got an overwhelming amount of phone calls that said, ‘I think you ought to support same-sex marriage,’ I still wouldn’t support it because I have a basic belief that it is between a man and a woman. People knew that going into this election. We put our views out there.
“This is a republic. It isn’t a democracy. You elect people to represent you, not to poll you every time an issue comes up. They know what my beliefs are and what I feel about whatever the issue is—schools, gun control, religion—and I’m elected to represent them.”
Graves feels confident that he knows who his constituents are and what they believe. He grew up in the district he now represents and he doesn’t appear to be surprised that Missouri is one of the “red states” that voted on Nov. 2 for President Bush.
“Those red states—we just have a whole different perspective on our elected officials, life in general, the way we raise our families, the communities we want to live in, and the country we want to live in,” he said. “I hesitate to use the phrase ‘a simpler look at things,’ but I think people (in the red states) are much more grounded and much more down-to-earth and I think it is completely reflective in the elections and what we saw in that incredible divide between the two parts of the country.”
The divide that Graves speaks about can also be seen in the “separation of church and state” debate that continues across the country. He isn’t afraid to offer his opinion about the matter.
“The separation of church and state is to keep government out of church—to keep government from sanctioning one religion over another,” Graves said. “It has nothing to do with church being involved in government. In fact, our Founding Fathers—the vast majority of them were members of the clergy. They were ministers and pastors.
“Every single day when we open up a session in the House of Representatives or open up a session in the Senate, we have a prayer. The same thing goes on in the Missouri Legislature—both the House and the Senate. It’s always been that way. It will always be that way if I have anything to do with it. To say that the church shouldn’t be involved in government or that religion shouldn’t be involved in government is ridiculous. It is right now and there’s no reason why it shouldn’t be.”