A 'Long' Story: Give 'em Mel!

When I met auctioneer and small businessman Billy Long shortly after he declared for the House seat of Rep. Roy Blunt (R.-Mo.), who is running for the Senate, I remarked how Long’s straight talk and skepticism about big government reminded me of Blunt’s memorable predecessor: Republican Rep. (1988-96) Mel Hancock, a security alarm salesman and as outspoken an enemy of higher taxes and big government as ever served in Congress. 

Hancock became famous as the author and driving force behind statewide amendments requiring voter approval before any taxes are approved.  When he was introduced and wildly cheered at annual sessions of the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in Washington, attendees would whisper:  “That’s the guy who wants to abolish the federal government!” and “He votes ‘no’ on everything, including adjournment.”  True to form, Hancock kept his promise to leave Congress after four terms. 

But last week, the 80-year-old Hancock briefly emerged from the political retirement and, at the Greene County Lincoln Day dinner, the former congressman delivered a strong endorsement of Long in the August Republican primary.  Hancock’s blessing, which Long said he was “honored and humbled to have,” is clearly a major boost for the auctioneer-candidate in the race for the nomination to succeed Blunt (who is relinquishing  his seat after 14 years to run for the Senate seat of retiring GOP Sen. Kit Bond). 

Long responded graciously, telling reporters:  “If there is one endorsement in Southwest Missouri I would want, it’s that of Mel Hancock.” 

Like Hancock, Long sports “outsider” credentials.  Having never held nor sought office, the 54-year-old Springfield resident owns a real estate company with 550 agents in four offices, has conducted more than 500 auctions, and is a talk-radio host on Station KWTO, which covers more than 95 cities and towns in the Show Me State (“the poor man’s Rush Limbaugh,” is how Long styles himself).

Given the 7th District’s history of being in Republican hands for 50 uninterrupted years, it is no surprise that the August primary features a crowded field of Republicans vying to succeed Blunt.  Long is considered one of the “Big Three” in the race, along with State Senators Jack Goodman and Gary Nodler, and both of his legislator-opponents have impressive credentials of their own. 

Goodman has the backing of more than 50 elected officials and has been in the forefront of such key conservative causes in the legislature as conceal-and-carry firearms legislation and opposition to Big Labor’s cherished card-check.  Nodler, who served as top district aide to the Republican Rep. (1972-88) Gene Taylor, lost primaries for the seat to Hancock in 1988 and Blunt in ’96.  Although many consider this his last hurrah, the 59-year-old Nodler has considerable chits to call in as Senate GOP floor leader. 
 “And I never so much as ran for office let alone held office,” Long told me.  “The problem in Washington is that 36% of the House members are lawyers and too many of them have held one office or another before they came to Congress.  That’s why it’s always business as usual—too much of our tax dollars are spent.  I’ve spent 30 years meeting a payroll and, like Mel Hancock, I believe in term limits.  That’s why when I’m in Congress, it won’t be business as usual.”