First in a two-part series
EAST PRAIRIE -- In his first term in the Missouri House of Representatives, Steve Hodges, D-161, treated his constituents the way he treated customers at the Mississippi County grocery store he owned for many years.
"And it's been a wonderful transition for me," he said. "I couldn't be any happier."
Hodges is set to be sworn in with other representatives on Jan. 7. The legislative session will also kick off that day, and Hodges said he is looking forward to entering his sophomore year and continuing to serve his constituents and all Missourians.
The biggest concern to everyone, it seems, Hodges said is "people's back pocket and the economy." So that will be his biggest priority in the upcoming session.
"We're not in a perfect world right now," he said, noting he and his family have also felt the economic pinch. "We're in some critical times."
The state has felt the pinch, with several agencies, and even the University of Missouri, under hiring freezes and budget cuts, said Hodges. But, he said he is committed to doing what he can to help create jobs and also to ensure that no vital positions go unfilled.
In fielding phone calls and requests from constituents, Hodges can see the effect of the reduction in staff. "Most of them deal with disability claims, unemployment, child support and worker's compensations," said Hodges. "The backlog is just tremendous."
Hodges ranks healthcare as his No. 2 priority. He and other Democrats have said in their campaigns they plan to restore some of the cuts made in 2005.
"There are a lot of children and a lot of elderly that are doing without different services," said Hodges. "But the problem is, with the shrinking economy, declining revenues and those state agency budget cuts, will it be able to happen?"
But money isn't the only thing that may prevent the restorations. Hodges noted Republicans have the majority in both chambers, so such an initiative may not pass.
Hodges is looking forward to having a governor from the same party, however. "It will be a more positive situation for me," he said, adding that he has no issues with Gov. Matt Blunt.
Hodges said he has been good friends with Gov.-elect Jay Nixon for about three years now. Hodges is anticipating what will happen after Nixon officially becomes governor on Jan. 12.
"I think we're going to have a great atmosphere," said Hodges. "Jay has a very outgoing personality, he is a fair man, and I think he is going to be very accessible. I think we'll see him create an atmosphere of bipartisanship."
As an example, Hodges applauded Nixon's recent announcement that license bureaus will be bid out on a competitive basis. "That's a reflection of equity," said Hodges.
Hodges said an issue he anticipates will come up is whether -- and how -- to spend a "rainy day" account estimated to be between $380 and $500 million.
"Some want to spend it and others don't," said Hodges. "I'm not sure how I feel yet, so I'm not going to say spend it or don't spend it. I'm going to see how things turn out and weigh the issue before I make a decision."
Hodges has pre-filed several bills. "Most of the ideas came from constituents in my district," he said. One deals with including fertility treatments in medical coverage, another would allow prosecutors and assistant prosecutors the right to conceal and carry weapons.
The representative is quite active in committee work.
His interests include education appropriations, and has requested to be re-appointed to it, or another education-related committee; agriculture policy, and he has requested to be put on it or another agriculture-related committee; workplace development and workplace safety; an interim committee regarding senior citizen centers; and the rural economic development committee. He was also appointed by the Speaker of the House to serve on the Mississippi River Parkway Commission, which is not a part of the General Assembly.
Currently, Hodges is on a special joint committee, which looks into the NPS Funeral Services, which sells pre-arranged services. The program puts a dent in funeral homes' profits by not paying extra costs for inflation.
"This is a very serious problem," said Hodges, who requested to be placed on the committee. "We want to rewrite the regulations to keep this from happening."
Hodges also said that a lot of what he does is made possible by his legislative assistant, Glenda Blattel.
"She is a tremendous asset and complement of what I do," he said. The two have several of the same mannerisms and share a common work ethic, something Hodges said is "very much a help to me."
One of the most important things to the two is a quick response. "We respond to issues that day or within 24 hours if it is not on a weekend," said Hodges. "We also get respond to a number of inquiries that come from outside my district."
Hodges represents constituents in Mississippi, New Madrid, Scott and Stoddard counties. He can be reached by calling 573-751-4085 or e-mailing firstname.lastname@example.org.