Republican congressional candidate Jason Smith missed three-fifths of the Missouri House's votes before the final day of this year's legislative session, while his Democratic opponent, Steve Hodges, missed about one-fifth of the votes.
Smith and Hodges, who both currently serve in the state House, are facing off in a June 4 special election to succeed U.S. Rep Jo Ann Emerson, who is resigning from her job representing southeast Missouri's 8th Congressional District. An analysis of House roll call votes by the Southeast Missourian found that both candidates were absent more often this year than in the past.
The newspaper examined 766 roll call votes taken from when the 2013 legislative session began in January through Thursday, its next to last day. Smith missed 462 of those votes while Hodges missed 171.
A comparison of past years shows the time missed was out of the ordinary for Smith, who had an attendance record of above 90 percent in every legislative session in which he was a House member. Smith first was elected in a 2005 special election. Hodges' attendance percentage since he was elected in 2006 also was above 90 percent.
After winning the Republican nomination for Congress on Feb. 9, Smith said he would remain as House speaker pro tem — the second-ranking position in the chamber — despite having to campaign for Congress.
"I can multi-task," Smith said then. "In case you haven't met me or know me very well, I can handle a lot at one time. I don't think it's going to be any problem whatsoever."
Smith confirmed he has taken several trips to Washington since his nomination, including one during which he met with the National Republican Campaign Committee.
"No one wants to miss a vote," Smith told the Southeast Missourian. "There's no question about that. But I've never been someone who just goes (to Jefferson City) and just casts a vote and collects my per diem. I say that because people don't want someone in Washington, D.C., that's just going to be a wallflower and not push policy."
Hodges acknowledged that he missed some votes — even while present during the session — but said there are explanations, such as having to step away from the House floor to deal with constituent concerns.
"Very, very rarely have I missed votes," Hodges said.
Smith was the lead sponsor of two bills this session, both of which received approval by the Legislature. One will place a constitutional amendment before voters in 2014 that Smith said would protect the rights of farmers. The other, if signed by Gov. Jay Nixon, will require a special election be held in case of a vacancy in the lieutenant governor's office. Smith called the session a success — highlighted by passage of a tax cut, pro-gun measures and a workers' compensation bill — and said he believed he was able to fulfill his leadership role despite his absences.
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"I have no doubt that I have been very effective as speaker pro tem," Smith said. "Just because I may have missed votes, or in some cases days, I was constantly on the phone with members back at the Capitol, and dealing with issues and problems and advising them on ways to direct policy."
Hodges noted that Smith had missed some votes even on bills that Smith had sponsored.
"How can you go back, and look at the people you represent, and they know that, and justify it in any way? You can go and say, 'Well, I was working on the congressional race,' but if you do that there, what are you going to do in D.C.?" Hodges said.