Rep. Jason Smith of Missouri understands the concerns of electric cooperative members because he is one of them.

“Jason has always been willing to step up for the rural electric co-ops because he is one of our member-owners and has been his entire life,” says Caleb Jones, CEO of the Association of Missouri Electric Cooperatives.

Smith, a Republican and seventh-generation Missourian, lives on the family farm started by his great-grandfather in Salem. The community is served by Licking-based Intercounty Electric Cooperative Association, which has more than 24,000 members.

Jones, who served with Smith in the state legislature and considers him a close friend, said the congressman has been “more than willing to help” with federal legislation that benefits co-ops and their members.

Smith is a co-sponsor of the bipartisan Flexible Financing for Rural America Act, which would allow co-ops to refinance their loans from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Rural Utilities Service at lower interest rates without incurring prepayment penalties. Co-ops say they would use the money they save to invest in their systems and keep rates down for members.

The congressman is a big supporter of rural broadband and has reached out to the Federal Communications Commission to ensure that its broadband maps accurately show which communities are most in need of service, Jones says.

“Jason has worked hard to make sure there is broadband service in his district,” Jones says.

The 42-year-old congressman was also a co-sponsor of the bipartisan RURAL Act, which passed in 2019 and preserved co-ops’ not-for-profit status. Without the legislation, co-ops would have had to pay federal income taxes if they received government grants to recover from natural disasters, develop renewable energy projects or provide broadband service to rural communities. Many co-ops would have had to raise rates to afford to pay the taxes.

“Jason is committed to fighting intrusive government regulations, increasing markets for farmers and ranchers, and protecting his constituents’ rural way of life,” according to Smith’s official biography.

Smith says he is especially appreciative of co-ops’ efforts to close the digital divide.

“Broadband isn’t a luxury—it’s a critical tool that farmers, students and businesses need to compete and succeed,” he says. “That’s why I’m a strong advocate for programs like ReConnect—which I helped create in the 2018 Farm Bill—that have invested hundreds of millions of dollars to expand access to broadband in Missouri.

“As a co-op member and fourth-generation owner of a family farm, I really appreciate the Association of Missouri Electric Cooperatives’ commitment to ending the digital divide that has left nearly one-third of rural Missourians without access to broadband. I’ll continue working closely with the Association of Missouri Electric Cooperatives to accomplish our shared goal of ensuring every single Missourian has access to broadband and the great opportunities it provides.”

Smith won a special election for Congress in 2013, when incumbent Republican Rep. Jo Ann Emerson resigned to become CEO of NRECA.