Rep. Cody Smith is often seen as a more quiet member of the legislature, but do not let that fool you.
Smith is not typically seen speaking from a microphone on the House floor, nor is he making waves in his support or opposition to legislation. He didn’t pre-file any legislation before the start of his first term and has no expectations to have framed bills on his walls just yet. Instead, Smith’s quiet and calm presence is one of a calculating mind, one gathering as much information as it can on the topic at hand and learning as much as he can to make his assessments.
It has not gone unnoticed.
Just two years in his career as a state legislator, Smith has moved up from serving as a member of the House Budget committee to his latest appointment as the Vice Chair of that same committee, absorbing every opportunity to learn the processes and strategies to his respective chamber and position. He says that his main role now is to back up Rep. Scott Fitzpatrick, the head of the House Budget Committee. Smith says that the opportunity to learn under him is a truly great one, which he relishes.
His bread and butter, simply put, is working with the budget, a priority that mirrors that of his predecessor, Tom Flanigan. Flanigan’s departure left some rather large shoes to fill, particularly as a budget hawk, but it’s a role Smith has stepped into with poise.
“After Tom vacated my seat, that left a large hole in terms of presence from the southwest Missouri delegation,” Smith said. “It left a large void from far southwestern Missouri, so I felt a sense of duty to represent my district in the budget, and not really knowing that would be what I ultimately wanted to focus my energy on.
He says that as he continued working on the budget, he became enamored with the most important – and one of the only constitutionally required – duty of the legislature.
As a business-minded individual, Smith says he has always gravitated toward numbers, and that with the responsibilities of working on the budget, there also comes an opportunity to really affect policy in the Show-Me State.
“You don’t get a better opportunity to affect policy than with the appropriations process,” he said. “And you don’t get a better opportunity to look under the hood of bureaucracy than with the appropriations process.”
He says that, by nature, the job is a learning process, and that the new tasks each day presents new challenges – and opportunities – for all involved.
“I have a good understanding of the appropriations process from start to finish,” he said. “But I’m still learning about individual departments and programs, and I expect to continue learning more about those until I am term-limited in the House.”
But Smith is not just a one-trick pony, and though he may not handle many bills, he’s not shy about taking on major pieces of legislation. Smith made waves this past session with his efforts to push forward reform on the issue of mandatory sentencing. His HB 1739 would give judges some leeway in placing mandatory prison terms or statutory minimum sentences in cases, particularly in the instances of nonviolent offenses.
Smith says that alternative sentencing would help prevent people from entering a life of crime as well as save the state some money and prevent the need to open more prisons.
It’s an interesting transition to watch with Smith, a politician who came to the Capitol as a true outsider. He had little background or experience, but his candidacy quickly placed him in Jefferson City without the ties or backing that some of his fellow colleagues.
Instead, he relies on his experiences, personal and professional, to help guide him.
“Letting that kind of guide me through this has been helpful,” he said. “But now, I’m in a position where I am expected to offer more input, to be more vocal, and speak up a little bit more. And I have to push back against my nature to lean back and be observant, and instead be more involved.”
Going forward, it should come as little surprise to see the soft-spoken legislator learning to change his stripes, but it should prove to be an interesting look as Smith opens up and shares his insights, as well as to watch his continued growth as he is groomed for what is assured to be a staple for the budget and southwest Missouri.
This appeared in the fall 2018 edition of the Missouri Times Magazine, available in Jefferson City at the Capitol, Tolson’s, Cork, and J. Pfenny’s, and online here.
Benjamin Peters is a reporter for the Missouri Times and Missouri Times Magazine, and also produces the #MoLeg Podcast. He joined the Missouri Times in 2016 after working as a sports editor and TV news producer in mid-Missouri. Benjamin is a graduate of Missouri State University in Springfield. To contact Benjamin, email firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @BenjaminDPeters.