This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon: State Rep. Steve Hodges was a February surprise for southeast Missouri Democrats.
Before then, the East Prairie Democrat wasn’t considered a prospective candidate for the 8th congressional district seat. Soon after former U.S. Rep. Jo Ann Emerson, R-Cape Girardeau, announced her intention to resign to lead the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association, Hodges told reporters he wasn’t interested in the June 4 contest to succeed her in Congress. State Rep. Linda Black, D-Desloge, became the presumptive Democratic frontrunner.
But the electoral sands shifted dramatically after House Speaker Pro Tem Jason Smith, R-Salem, won the GOP nomination. A few days before a Democratic committee met to choose a nominee in Poplar Bluff, Hodges announced his candidacy, Black swiftly bowed out. Several days later, Hodges won the Democratic nomination to take on Smith.
Any Democratic candidate is going to have a tough slog in a district where Emerson won re-election with 70 percent of the vote. But Hodges has quite a bit of experience with tough contests, including one last year against a high-profile challenger. And he’s also banking that his conservative voting record will sway GOP voters.
To provide more insight into his personal and political life, here are 15 intriguing facts about Hodges as seeks to replace Emerson:
1. Before he entered politics, Hodges owned and managed an IGA grocery store in East Prairie: During last month’s meeting to nominate a candidate, Hodges discussed how his decades of running a Mississippi County grocery store gave him insight into ordinary citizens’ problems.
“And after taking the utility bills and their phone bills and the different things at my grocery store all these years… I often wonder how in the world do they get along?” Hodges said last month. “And I’ve got some Republican friends when I ran for state representative for the first time… one of them even said he’d donate so much money to my campaign if I’d really admit that I was Republican,” he added. “I said ‘I’m sorry, I can’t do that.’ I said ‘I have a social conscience.’
2. Hodges went to high school with Lloyd Smith, the former executive director of the Missouri Republican Party: When the Beacon called Hodges last December about his interest in running for Congress, he said that he went to East Prairie High School with Smith. He also said they were on the basketball team together.
Smith, who served as chief of staff for both Bill and Jo Ann Emerson, unsuccessfully sought the GOP nomination for the 8th District seat.
3. Hodges received a bachelor’s of science in business administration from Southeast Missouri State University and a MBA from the University of Missouri-Columbia.
4. Hodges spent 12 years on the East Prairie School Board: Besides his experience as a business owner, Hodges also worked as a substitute teacher and referee for high school sports.
5. Hodges is married to Amy Hodges and has three sons: One of his sons – Andrew Hodges – is a graduate of West Point. A speech son Andrew gave about not missing opportunities made Hodges reconsider his decision not to run for the 8th District seat.
"I thought ‘I think God is presenting this an opportunity for me,’" Hodges said during the Democratic nomination meeting. "So I need to decide whether this is something that I should try to take advantage of or let pass by because it’s not going to happen again.”
6. In 2006, Hodges defeated Republican Gary Branum to win his first term to the Missouri House: Hodges decided to run for the state House after Rep. Lanie Black, R-Charleston, was barred from running again because of term limits. The seat – which encompassed parts of Mississippi, New Madrid, Scott and Stoddard counties – had traditionally been Democratic until Black first won in 1998.
The contest between Branum and Hodges was one of the most expensive and contentious races of the 2006 campaign. Republican committees spent nearly $150,000 to support Branum, a farmer from New Madrid County. But Hodges ended up winning the seat by 152 votes. The victory was part of the best showing by House Democrats in years.
7. Hodges didn’t sponsor a bill in his first year in the Missouri House, but he did co-sponsor 65 bills that year: Many bills he co-sponsored were from his Democratic colleagues, including one to reverse steep cuts made in 2005 to the state’s Medicaid program. Almost every Democrat that ran for the state legislature that year railed against the cuts, which the GOP-controlled legislature passed and Republican Gov. Matt Blunt signed into law.
Only one bill that Hodges co-sponsored was signed into law: Rep. Rick Stream’s bill to exempt veterans' organizations’ property from real and personal property taxes, to increase certain matching grants for veterans' programs and to establish the Stolen Valor Act of 2007.
8. Hodges' first bill was to require health insurance coverage for infertility treatments: Hodges’ bill was referred to a committee but didn’t get a hearing. Interestingly, then-Rep. Tim Jones, R-Eureka, was a co-sponsor of Hodges’ bill in 2008. Jones now serves as speaker for the Missouri House.
It’s worth noting that Hodges has sponsored the bill every year he’s been in the Missouri legislature, including this year.
9. Hodges sponsored legislation to change “informed consent” requirements for abortions in Missouri: That bill would have prompted a physician performing an abortion to inform a pregnant woman of “the risks associated with the abortion procedure, the probable gestational age of the unborn child, and the medical risks of carrying her child to term.”
Hodges’ legislation also would have required a doctor “to perform a fetal ultrasound imaging and auscultation of the fetal heart tones so the pregnant woman can view the image and hear the heartbeat of her unborn child at least 24 hours prior to performing the abortion.”
While Hodges’ bill didn’t get much traction, other bills did. One "informed consent" bill sponsored by then-state Rep. Bob Onder, R-Lake St. Louis, would have also made it a crime to “coerce” somebody to get an abortion. That legislation became an issue during Onder’s unsuccessful bid for Congress.
10. In 2009, Hodges sponsored legislation to allow prosecutors, assistant prosecutors, circuit attorneys and assistant circuit attorneys with conceal-and-carry permits to bring guns into courthouses: At a committee hearing for Hodges' bill, then-Dent County Prosecutor Jessica Sparks recounted how someone she prosecuted on meth-related charges had tried to come into her office. While the confrontation didn’t result in any injuries, Sparks said she would have been in serious danger if the man produced a weapon.
A few months later, Attorney General Chris Koster filed a motion to remove Sparks from office for, among other things, being derelict in filing roughly 250 felony cases. Sparks later voluntarily resigned.
Hodges' bill received a favorable vote in committee, but didn't end up passing that session.
11. None of the bills Hodges sponsored during his tenure in the Missouri House have passed: This isn’t surprising: It’s much harder for a member of the minority in the Missouri House to get a bill through the legislature, mainly because the majority controls which bills get considered.
More often than not, Democratic lawmakers provide most of their input either through amendments on the floor or work within committees. By contrast, eight bills that Smith sponsored were signed into law.
12. Hodges signed a pledge promising not to raise taxes in 2012: Hodges was one of two Democratic incumbent lawmakers to sign the Americans for Tax Reform pledge to “oppose and vote against tax increases.” The other Democratic lawmaker that signed the pledge – pushed by conservative activist Grover Norquist – was Rep. Penny Hubbard, D-St. Louis City.
Hodges’ name was on a list of lawmakers who had signed the pledge after the 2010 election cycle. Smith also signed that pledge both years.
13. Hodges’ state House district was perhaps most impacted by a decision to blow up Birds Point levee: Back in 2011, the Army Corps of Engineers made the decision to activate the New Madrid Floodway by intentionally breaching the Birds Point levee and flooding more than 100,000 acres of land. Breaching he levee caused immense damage throughout Mississippi County, which Hodges represented in the Missouri House at the time.
Hodges was interviewed by Missouri News Horizon before that decision was made, stating that the corps’ move would have a devastating impact on farming in his home county.
14. Hodges was the subject of some controversy when he voted to sustain Gov. Jay Nixon’s veto of a bill barring mandates for abortion, sterilization or contraception: Last year, lawmakers approved Sen. John Lamping’s bill that allowed various entities to exclude abortion, contraception or sterilization from insurance coverage. Hodges joined a number of anti-abortion lawmakers in voting for the bill, which Nixon vetoed.
When Republicans overrode Nixon’s veto, Hodges voted against the move. He noted that Mississippi County -- where he resides -- has one of the highest rates of teen pregnancy in Missouri.
"I tell you, we have lots of single mothers in my district," Hodges said last year. "Not only single mothers, but some of them are working two to three jobs. That's not a term that I throw out lightly. I know my people. I've lived here in East Prairie for almost 50 years. I had a grocery store. I know these people personally.
"I had several people call me and say 'we really appreciate you doing that; that was a great favor for us,'" he added. "I said, 'it wasn't a favor. It's what I felt like was right.' My thinking is if we don't make contraception available through the insurance coverage ... then we're probably looking at more pregnancies, which could later lead to more abortions. Which I am definitely against."
As a result of that vote, Hodges lost his endorsement from Missouri Right to Life. That group had made Lamping’s bill a rated vote, which could have been why seven Democratic lawmakers voted to override Nixon’s veto.
15. Hodges' hobbies include reading, singing and playing golf: No word yet whether he'll try to get a round in with Tiger Woods if he's elected in June.
On the Trail, a weekly column, weaves together some of the intriguing threads from the world of Missouri politics. Click here to read 15 facts about Smith.