The Missouri Times: So, why did you decide to run?
Smith: I was caught by surprise when [Congresswoman Emerson] made her announcement in early December. I considered it as a possibility in the future, if Jo Ann decided not to run for reelection. My goal has always been to serve the district. My decision was based upon her stepping aside. Normally, I wouldn’t have sought it in a special election.
TMT: Is there anything that President Obama has done that you agree with?
Smith: I cannot think of a major issue that I agree with President Obama on, as it related to either domestic or foreign policy. I believe we need improved race relations, but I’m not sure anything he’s done as President moves us in that direction.
TMT: In 20 years, what will be the thing the President did that will be as bad as advertised today?
Smith: It won’t take 20 years, but the so-called “Affordable Care Act,” is going to have long-term ramifications on the healthcare delivery system in our country and the ability for the average person to access quality healthcare. It will have a progressively negative impact on healthcare access in our country. If it is not overturned, it’ll be worse 20 years from now than it is today. I think it’ll change slowly, and Republicans in the White House or the Senate will make improvements. Most of the elements could be overturned when we gain Congress and the White House. People are going to watch the implementation and see that it costs more and it doesn’t provide the quality of services that was discussed.
TMT: How did you become a conservative?
Smith: I grew up in a Democratic household. My dad was a union carpenter and farmer. He was a Roosevelt Democrat, no question. He worked at the CCC camps and sent money home to mom and three siblings. I became a conservative during the later Carter years and a full-fledged republican in 1980. I’m a Reagan Democrat turned Republican.
TMT: Is there anyone in Congress now that, if you won the seat, you’d like to work with the most, or someone you admire a great deal.
Smith: It depends if we mean budget issues or policy issues, I’m more in line with Paul Ryan on budget issues. If there’s another I admire, I think being able to articulate conservative philosophy, Senator John Thune. He does it about as well as anyone I have seen.
TMT: Are there Republicans in Congress that you do NOT admire or agree with? If so, why?
Smith: Well, look, there are republicans in Maine that are different than republicans in Missouri. I’d rather have a Maine Republican I agree with 90% of the time, than a Maine Democrat I’d only agree with 10% of the time if that were the only choice. Do I think they represent their constituency in Maine? I guess they are. They keep getting re-elected in Maine
TMT: How would your ideology fit with someone like Speaker John Boehner?
Smith: I think John Boehner has an extremely difficult job of holding a pretty diverse Republican caucus together on the issue grid. Having said that, I think we lost the fiscal cliff debate of August 2011. I think, at this moment, he’s the strongest speaker we could have to take on [President] Obama right now. Moving forward, I’d be willing to reexamine that, based on what happens in the next 120 days from the debt limit to the budget.
TMT: Is this Boehner’s last chance to make a mark as Speaker?
Smith: He’s in a position of either standing tall for Republican conservative thought, as it relates to the budget, or giving in and allowing this President a win. I think the caucus expects him to go toe-to-toe with the President and [Senator] Reid. If he does that well, they expect him to come out with the best possible thing for the country. If that battle is not one that he’s handled well, he could easily be replaced. At this point, he is the Speaker of the House and he is going to be in the room fighting for our cause and we need to see how he performs.
TMT: What are some things Congresswoman Emerson has done you support?
Smith: Going all the way back to Bill Emerson, and Jo Ann, I was Chief of Staff for both. The outreach we had for constituent services, the act of moving forward with a constituent who has having trouble with Veterans Affairs, Social Security, the Corp of Engineers or National Forest Service or whatever….those outreach and advocacy operations are the kind of things you’d want to emulate and improve on. If someone was having trouble with one of those entities, they could call and we would work to find a solution.
TMT: What are some things Congresswoman Emerson had done that you do NOT support?
Smith: The one that comes most readily to mind was in May of 2005, and it was a vote on embryonic stem cell research. She had a position prior that supported the Bush administration position. She voted on that issue and I disagreed with it and I told her I disagreed.
TMT: What makes you better or more qualified than the other candidates?
Smith: I think probably the qualifications I bring to decision making process in understanding the District: I know the district, knowing every county like the back of my hand, having worked in projects and on cases and with local communities from St. Gen County, which was once in the district and Jefferson County, which was too. I’ve worked in every county, with almost every entity in the district and every group in the district. I’ve touched most of the industry here in one way or another: Healthcare, farming, timber industry, port authorities and highways, small businesses. They all needed to have someone in the Congressional office that would be their advocate who would bring an understanding and work for them—that was my job.
The other, I have probably recruited as many Republicans as anyone to run for office in the 8th. We ran folks in democratic areas when it wasn’t very cool to do that when I was with Bill [Emerson]. We worked for the party from the grassroots. We helped elect republicans in places that hadn’t elected one for 50 or 60 years.
TMT: If you win, are you prepared or otherwise planning for a tough primary challenge in 2014?
Smith: I think you have to assume you’ll have a primary and I’ve assured the committee members that not only would I run in the special, but also in 2014. Obviously, I’d have to be successful in the primary to be in the general in 2014.
TMT: Is it different going from a former campaign manager and Chief of Staff to a candidate? How are you navigating that transition?
Smith: Telling a candidate what to do and being a candidate is like the difference between coaching on the sidelines and passing the football. I’ve been so close to campaigns in the past, it’s not a real difficult transition for me. I’ll be the most difficult of all candidates to manage, because I’ve done some managing in the past. But when they tell me make to take 19 stops in one day, they will need to make the purpose clear to me, because I’m going to have more understanding of that process and ask more questions. No one I’d hire has managed as many campaigns as I have, I’ll be hard to manage, but I’ll expect a lot because I know what it takes to win.
TMT: What is the most important thing you can do for the 8th if you are chosen to represent them?
Smith: That’s a tough. The people in the district want less government intrusion in their lives. They want less government at all levels–less debt. I want to cut the amount of debt every year that I’m there. I’d want to support a Balanced Budget Amendment to Constitution, and balance the budget as soon as possible. Slow the growth of debt and reduce the size of government, because one is tied to the other. I’d work with like-minded folks in Congress to stop spending and stop increasing the debt at this unsustainable level. We’re borrowing almost 40 cents on every dollar we spend. That won’t work; you don’t need a PHD to know that.
TMT: Immigration is going to be an issue this session for Congress. How do you feel about immigration? Specifically: Many in the Republican Party have, at times, favored deportation. Would you support deportation?
Smith: I think it’s unrealistic to deport 12 million people. Having said that, some of the ideas in the recent days from [Senator] Rubio may be a starting point, but I am more conservative than that. First, before any other changes, we must strengthen the border with a fence. We can send a signal that you’re welcome to come to the country if you do it legally, but that’s the only avenue we will tolerate.
Strengthen rules on employers. If the jobs aren’t here, then the illegal immigrants won’t come. So let’s stop companies from hiring them, when they know they are hiring illegals. For the ones already here, if we allow them to stay, we need to know who and where they are and implement some kind of registration process. I want them working and I don’t want them getting access to government programs that our citizens pay for. If someone is arrested, it should be grounds to deport. If you get a DUI and you’re illegal, as far as I’m concerned that gets you on the deportation list.
TMT: What should be our policy on naturalized citizens born of illegal immigrant parents?
Smith: I don’t know what the percentage is as compared to illegals in the country. If we do give them citizenship, then it seems to me that we are condoning the bad behavior of their parents. But, do we give them a pathway to citizenship? I would consider it. But just to ‘carte blanche’ give them citizenship that encourages bad behavior. If I’m getting ready to come here, I might try to get here and get my child to be born here. The key here is government services. At some point, they wouldn’t come here to have the child if they thought there would not be services provided by our government.
TMT: Gun control will also be a major debate. What (if any) restrictions would you support on weapons? Would smaller magazine clips or universal background checks have your support? Why or why not?
Smith: The guns are not the problem. I heard the story about the pilot being taken off the plane because he had been drinking. If that hadn’t happened and the plane went down, was it the plane’s fault for crashing, or the pilot’s for drinking? People actually kill people. Guns don’t. I think we look at this the wrong way. Only after we enforce existing gun laws and sentencing, should we move to universal background checks and mental health screenings. You’ll never keep criminals from getting guns; thereby you need the most stringent sentencing laws on the books possible for those folks that use guns in any type of criminal activity. That sends a signal that if you use a gun for a crime; you’ll do a lot of time. If you do a crime with a gun, I’m for much more strict sentencing guidelines that force those folks to spend more time in our penitentiary system.
In regards to the Sandy Hook situation; nothing the President proposed would have stopped it? I find reprehensible that he used a backdrop of victims of gun crimes to make Executive Orders that would not have stopped those travesties. I find that pretty reprehensible.
TMT: Several of our candidates have mentioned the importance in winning the younger vote for the Republicans in the future, in order to sustain the party. If chosen to represent the 8th, how would you work to winning younger voters in an increasingly socially liberal generation?
Smith: It’s more of a national question than it is in the 8th. Romney carried it with 66 percent. Jo Ann carried it with almost 72 percent. Most of our down ticket candidates won this Congressional District. Having said that: do we have a problem with young people on the 8th being conservative? Not really.
But I think we could to a better job of articulating our positions to young kids. Teenage Republican Clubs are great. Let’s communicate with them in High School before they go to college and let liberal professors indoctrinate them. We need to do a better job communicating into classrooms. When I was working for Bill I carried this communications system. It was like a heavy briefcase with all these wires and cables, we’d use microphones and a phone and Bill would call the classroom. It allowed him to speak to them, and with technology today, we should be able to duplicate that.
We should be using Skype technology to have Members of Congress in Washington coming back to the civics classroom in the school. If I were that person, I’d try to do that. Most of our schools wouldn’t see that as a political tool, but as an educational tool. Long term, it will attract younger people into the party.
TMT: Finally, what is something people don’t know about you?
Smith: First and foremost, I’m a family man. I think a have such a strong sense of family because I lost my own mother to cancer when I was 12. I’ve been married more than 40 years to my incredible wife, Marlys, and I have three grown children. I have a very strong faith, and am an Elder in our church and a former Chairman of the Board.