Focusing on traditional family values
Missouri’s incoming Speaker of the House retains candid style
By Allen Palmeri
December 22, 2004
JEFFERSON CITY – Missouri’s incoming Speaker of the House of Representatives is a conservative, evangelical Christian whose political bent is to advance something he calls “traditional family values” — issues that go beyond stereotypical boundaries of abortion and homosexuality.
Rep. Rod Jetton, R-Marble Hill, got to know Roy Blunt and his son, Matt, when Roy was president of Southwest Baptist University (SBU) from 1984-1993. Jetton graduated from SBU in 1990 with dual degrees in history and political science, and Matt Blunt is now governor-elect of Missouri.
Jetton, Matt Blunt and Sen. Mike Gibbons, R-Kirkwood and the incoming Senate President Pro Tem, are the new inner circle of state government. With Jetton staying connected to rural Missouri and Gibbons keeping up with urban issues, Missouri’s new governor will have the opportunity, in their regular meetings, to get a quick read on the entire state. Jetton talked about how the three Republican leaders will work together in 2005.
“I think you’ve got some folks now who really believe in doing everything they can to strengthen families,” Jetton said. “When you look at the problems we have in the state—the prison population, those who are on Medicaid and can’t get a job—it usually stems from broken families. So we want to adopt policies, whether they’re for jobs, abortion, the Second Amendment, gay marriage or the educational system, that will assist and strengthen families by helping moms and dads stay together.”
Jetton may be from the most conservative area of the state. When 71 percent of Missourians voted for Amendment 2 (defining marriage in the state constitution as between a man and a woman) on Aug. 3, 89 percent of those voting in the heart of his district, Bollinger County, were for the measure. No other county in Missouri reached that level of support.
Consequently, Jetton remains the same confident Christian that he always has been in the Capitol—a politician who will say that he is in step with his constituents on issues like life for an unborn baby, marriage between a man and a woman, and the right to own firearms. His style has been to be both direct and firm, causing some Capitol observers to wonder whether Speaker Jetton will be told, at some point, to tone it down.
“I always try just to be candid and tell the truth,” he told The Pathway. “You can’t get in too much trouble when you do that. Sometimes you make people mad.”
Jetton said that those who try to put conservative, evangelical Christians into a box labeled “right-wing,” limiting them to issues like abortion and homosexuality, are missing the heartbeat of the moral values movement that has given Republicans complete control of state government for the first time since 1921. Conservative, evangelical Christians have a reasonable agenda that is going to be thoughtfully advanced, he said.
“I don’t think as Christian conservatives we should back down,” Jetton said. “Obviously, you always have to be reasonable, and you have to realize that a democracy is set up to not change very fast, but I think what we always have to remember is that there is another side out there that’s been very aggressive in articulating their message and their agenda, and demanding it. If I have any complaint, it’s that church people have been too passive.”
Reform of Missouri’s abortion laws is reasonable, Jetton said. Specifically, he is all for passing a pro-life bill imposing civil liability for violating Missouri’s informed parental consent law that has been sponsored for the past six years by Sen. John Loudon, R-Ballwin, and a member of Ballwin Baptist Church. As Speaker, Jetton will now be the one prioritizing the bill if it comes over to him from the Senate.
“Right now, these boyfriends sometimes will take their teenage girlfriends across the state line and get an abortion,” Jetton said. “It’s wrong.”
This is an example of the type of direct language that Jetton has tended to use as a House member but now may be used against him by his political opponents as he takes on the responsibility of representing the entire chamber. At another point in the Pathway interview, Jetton stated that “abortion is a huge problem, with children being killed every day.” He went on to explain how he will handle this subject in his new “Mr. Speaker” role.
“Obviously, there are some pro-choice folks in the House that I can’t speak for, but that (abortion) is a priority for me and I think a majority of our caucus,” he said.
Jetton said his political philosophy of supporting “traditional family values” includes broad areas of public policy in economics and education. For example, the idea of biblical stewardship would steer a conservative, evangelical state representative like him toward the area of Medicaid reform.
“That’s a big deal that we’re going to take on this year,” he said. “We’re going to try to reform that program and get the fraud and waste out of it in such a way that we can actually get the benefits to those who truly need and deserve them—the elderly, handicapped and disabled. We’re going to try and make that a safety net to catch them and keep them from falling, not a platform that they can stay at.”
Besides abortion, which will clearly be a top priority for Speaker Jetton, gambling and judicial activism will be major concerns for the House Republican Caucus in the 2005 General Assembly, he said.
“We want to hear from Christian conservatives around the state on ideas they have to limit those things and to curtail it back to what it used to be, because we used to have strong families,” Jetton said.
As Jetton prepares to take over from last year’s House speaker, Catherine Hanaway, in a body where 97 of the 163 seats are now in Republican hands, the 37-year-old captain in the United States Marine Corps Reserve remains confident of who he is. He has no problem talking directly to the Christian voting bloc that turned out in force in November to elect pro-biblical values politicians like Matt Blunt—and Jetton.
“Politics in America is almost like being a Christian,” Jetton said. “You can’t be a good Christian for two weeks and then take a break. You can’t be a good Christian for two years and then take a year off. Every day, you’ve got to get up and try your best to stay away from temptation and pray that the Good Lord will watch over you and not let the devil destroy your life, and try to be as good as you can.
“In politics it’s the same way. You can’t just work real hard for one election and expect everything to be good from then on. There’s another side out there that’s always working opposite of you.”