Rod Jetton: Success, Scandal & Change-The Fight to Be King of the Mountain

As I am new to RP you may be wondering what to expect from my posts. Will they be rightwing rants, or milquetoast musings? Will they be politically correct or in your face opinions? The best way I know how to answer that, is to tell you my story.

I’ll start with me on the flower covered dais in a packed, standing room only Missouri House chamber, my right hand raised, repeating my oath of office. My wife is holding our Bible, and my loving family is sitting in the house well watching their dad, son and brother being sworn in as the second youngest Speaker in Missouri state history.

Many wondered how a country boy from Marble Hill, Missouri could go from the lowest ranking member in the minority party to Speaker of the House in just four years. Some said it was my work ethic; some said it was my political skills; and others said it was my friendly likable style; but no one really seemed to know the real reason.

While I’m sure hard work, skills and smiles helped, being in the right place at the right time and term limits created an opportunity!  My House seat opened up only because of term limits, and we had a chance to win the majority only because so many Democrats were term-limited. All of the senior Republicans had left which gave a friendly, hardworking guy who knew how to raise money and help candidates win campaigns, an excellent opportunity to be the Speaker in just two terms.

Life is always throwing opportunities your way, and it’s up to you to take advantage of them. I freely admit the four years it took to win my first House campaign, help spearhead the legislative redistricting process for my party, recruit candidates, win the majority and position myself to be unopposed for Speaker, were four of the busiest years of my life. I have never consistently worked that hard at anything in my life and I thought I understood hard work.

Running track and setting school records required working out twice each day to get in the 100 miles a week it took to win races. When I joined the Marine Corps I learned a new level of hard work. They gave me 90 pounds of gear and ordered me to march through the hills, with no rest or sleep, through all kinds of weather for days on end. Starting a small real estate business and making it profitable, required early mornings and stressful nights day in and day out.

But all those experiences were just preparing me for what it took physically, emotionally and mentally to recruit candidates, win the majority, unify caucus members, advance an agenda, get good press, and stay in touch with donors all while trying to be a good father, loving husband, and solid community leader back home and in the district.

Don’t get me wrong, I am not complaining. The crazy thing is, I LOVED IT! I was having a blast, everything was going my way, everyone loved me, respected me, and wanted to know what I thought about matters great and small. The other positive aspect of all my success was the policy changes I was able to implement. Expending political capital and pushing hard for the policies I believed in was never a question for me. I studied the rules, reached across the aisle to make friends and understood how to use my political clout to get things done.

In the House it takes a united team to change things. Developing an agenda, unifying our caucus behind it and leading them in the public debate was a very worthwhile experience that required using the carrot and the stick.  I rewarded both Democrat and Republican friends alike. I helped them with their priorities and gained their support on our agenda. I also sometimes punished my opponents.

I made it clear that if you crossed me or my allies there would be consequences. I removed chairmen, kicked members out of their offices, delayed Senator’s bills, and ignored the Governor’s priorities, with no regard for party affiliation. In my mind, you were either helping my caucus pass our priorities, or you were slowing us down. It’s amazing what can be accomplished in politics when a leader does not mind taking a few arrows to force change.

I take some pride in what we were able to do in Missouri. I’m pro-life, and we made it harder to get an abortion in Missouri, resulting in the lowest number of abortions performed since 1975. I’m also a gun nut, and after several failed attempts in previous years, we gave law-abiding citizens the right to carry.

In 2003, Missouri had a $1 billion deficit, but by the end of 2007 we had a $600 million surplus. For the first time ever we cut the size of our state work force by over 3,000 employees.  While our previous Governor was forced to cut education funding because of the bleak budget situation, we were able to increase education funding by over $500 million from 2005 to 2008.

Missouri also went from having the 47th worst roads in 2002 to the 9th best by 2007 resulting in 161 fewer deaths in 2006, the biggest drop of any state in America that year. Missouri went from being the number one meth producing state in America with 2,860 meth incidents in 2003 to just 1,280 in 2006. That’s a 55 percent drop, which made our state a safer place to raise children. We also reformed our tort laws which stopped the 20 to 30 percent yearly medical malpractice premium increases and actually lowered premiums keeping doctors in Missouri.

Hopefully, my liberal friends have not stopped reading, because we also increased funding for perennial liberal priorities such as autism support, S-CHIP’s, Utilicare, First steps, food pantries, Meals on Wheels, and drug courts. Ironically, these are the same programs our Democratic Governor and his Democratic legislative majority were forced to cut in 2001 and 2002 when Missouri was going broke.

My nutty liberal friend

Another exciting aspect to this story is that we accomplished all this with no new taxes! You heard me right; we didn’t pass a single tax increase. In fact we cut taxes. One of the few bills that I actually introduced and passed during my eight years, was a tax cut on social security benefits. Because of my nutty liberal friend Sen. Jeff Smith’s threatened filibuster, I had to compromise and put an income cap on it, but we still eliminated taxes for thousands of senior citizens in Missouri.

I cannot take credit for all this success, nor do I want to leave you with the impression that I am solely responsible for all these changes. We had a unified team in the House helping me push this agenda and a Republican majority in the Senate along with Republican Governor Matt Blunt. Strangely enough, it sometimes seemed like we had to fight our Governor and our Republican Senators more that we had to fight our Democratic colleagues.

All in all things are better in Missouri because of the changes we were able to make and I am thankful to have played a part in changing the direction of our state, but there is a cost to everything.  While I was successful in the political world I failed in the personal part of my life.

For me the costs were high.  Next post I will write about how these successes led to my failure.  I will also discuss some of my choices and how they negatively affected my family, friends and finally led to my political downfall.  It’s a sad story that I do not relish telling, but I hope by sharing it others can avoid making the mistakes I made.

Continued …(See below)

For Rod Jetton’s full story, click the following links for Part 2 & Part 3; and be sure not to miss his video interview with the RPand his video Great Debate with Jeff Smith.   And don’t miss Jeff Smith’s piece on their unlikely friendship.

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