Most of southern Missouri is represented in Congress by just two individuals: Jason Smith, a young lawyer, real estate agent, and bachelor farmer in the southeast, and Billy Long, a rotund auctioneer who represents the southwest corner of the state. Smith, a St. Louis native, now owns and operates a farm in Salem, and Long is a resident of Springfield. Both men are staunchly conservative and generally reliable votes for the Trump agenda.
But things are starting to change here in what should be one of the most dependable Trump areas in the whole of the nation. Smith, who showed up as a surprise visitor to one of his own listening posts at the West Plains City Hall last week ran headlong into some local concerns. One person at the meeting complained about the the cost of presidential vacations and Smith responded that "it drives me insane," clearly a crack in his once solid wall of fawning support over the glories of Donald Trump.
But if Jason Smith is beginning to show a trickle of commonsense with regard to the misadventures of Donald Trump, Billy Long just kicked open the floodgate.
House Speaker Paul Ryan is trying desperately to put together enough votes to pass the repeal and replace legislation on Obamacare. Trump wants to erase every vestige of the of his predecessor's time in the White House, but so far he hasn't been able to take down President Obama's crowning achievement - The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, a program popularly known as Obamacare. A proposed replacement, the American Health Care Act, stalled in the House and was withdrawn last month, a big failure for the Trump administration.
But Trump won't give up. The Republican Party's failed health care legislation was amended by the Freedom Caucus, the vilest right-wing element of the GOP in the House. The amendment proposed giving states the opportunity to gut one provision of the original Obamacare that moderates wanted to save. Under the Freedom Caucus proposal, states could request to be exempted from covering "pre-existing" conditions, a move that would cost patients dearly and would benefit insurance companies by countless millions of dollars. The amendment made a mean bill even meaner.
Yesterday Billy Long, a man who once boasted that he was a member of the Tea Party before being a member of the Tea Party was cool, announced that he could not support the proposed health care bill - because of the Freedom Caucus amendment. So far Paul Ryan has bent his ear, privately and unsuccessfully, and Donald Trump has phoned the errant lawmaker to try and get him to change his mind. But Long stands firm.
Billy Long has at long last begun to see the light - and Jason Smith may have even detected a glimmer or two. It isn't about orthodoxy - its about service to constituents. It's not about what members of Congress can do for themselves - its about what they can do for the folks back home - and for the common good.
Maybe the Trump nightmare will spawn a few points of light, though undoubtedly there won't be many.
Open your minds, Jason and Billy, and enjoy the fresh breezes!