After Sam Graves took his oath for the first time in the U.S. House, he had a trio of experienced hands in the Missouri delegation to guide him past the barriers and customs of federal lawmaking.
Reps. Roy Blunt, Kenny Hulshof and Jo Ann Emerson, all Republican colleagues, had a collective 12 years of House service and a willingness to steward the new congressman.
Now, Mr. Graves, at age 49, finds himself on the other end of this experience spectrum. The North Missouri lawmaker has the longest tenure of Missouri Republican representatives and, along with Democratic Rep. William Lacy Clay, serves as dean of the state’s House delegation.
“It takes a little while to get used to things around here,” Mr. Graves said Wednesday afternoon. “You find somebody (as a mentor) and you try to absorb all that you can.”
The delegation got its newest member on Tuesday night, when Republican state Rep. Jason Smith, a 32-year-old from Salem, won a special election to fill the 8th District congressional seat vacated after the resignation of Ms. Emerson in January.
He took the oath of office on the House floor Wednesday afternoon, with Ms. Emerson holding the Bible.
Mr. Graves helped introduce the newest representative, noting Ms. Smith’s background as a lawyer and a fourth-generation farmer.
“As a farmer, I don’t think we can ever have enough farmers in this body,” Mr. Graves told fellow lawmakers during his introduction.
While Missouri Democrats hold four of six statewide elected positions, in addition to one of the state’s U.S. Senate seats, Republican congressional members have made most of Missouri red.
With the exception of Saline, Ray and Lafayette counties and St. Louis city, the other of the 115 Missouri counties, all or in part, have Republican representation in the U.S. House.
Republicans hold six of Missouri’s eight House seats. Mr. Clay and Rep. Emanuel Cleaver remain the two Democrats in the representative ranks.
Mr. Smith will trail in seniority by about four months Congresswoman Ann Wagner, a St. Louis-area Republican elected in November to the seat previously held by Rep. Todd Akin.
Mr. Akin, Mr. Clay and Mr. Graves claimed seats in Congress after the election of 2000. When they arrived, the cumulative seniority of House members from Missouri stood at 66 years. (Much of that came from the 48 years of House service by Reps. Richard Gephardt and Ike Skelton.)
Today, the totaled seniority amounts to slightly more than 40 years. (Missouri has one less House seat now because of reapportionment after the 2010 census.)
Missouri Sen. Roy Blunt, in a conference call Wednesday afternoon, praised the cross-the-aisle attitude of the state delegation and said lawmakers would move quickly to add Mr. Smith to the mix.
“Our whole delegation will be looking for ways they can help him,” the Republican senator said. “I really think our delegation, while we know there are a lot of things we don’t agree on, we go out of our way to be in a position where there are things we can agree on.”
Mr. Graves noted that the 8th District representative will benefit from his time in the Missouri House, where he served most recently as speaker pro tem. Both the national and state bodies operate under Jefferson’s Rules of Order. Not all states do.
But small things can still trip up a new lawmaker, even finding committee rooms, Mr. Graves said.
The veteran representative said he would gladly pay forward the help he got as a young lawmaker.
“I’m more than happy to help him,” Mr. Graves said. “He may not want it but I’ll make myself available if he does, just like Roy did for me.”
Mr. Smith’s election brought praise from the Republican hierarchy in the state. Ed Martin, Missouri GOP chairman, said, “We are very fortunate to have his leadership working to bring Missouri values to the forefront in Congress.”
And Amy Kremer, chairman of the Tea Party Express, praised Mr. Smith’s “principled values,” adding, “His commitment to the tea party movement and our shared goal to reduce the size, cost and intrusiveness of the federal government are much needed in Washington.”