ON THE EDGE of the Ozarks in central Missouri is St. Elizabeth, population 336. It's home to a century-old bank where Congressman Blaine Luetkemeyer learned the industry. In 1913, his greatgrandfather called a meeting to see if the farming community was interested in launching a bank. An overwhelming positive response led to the opening of the bank in January 1914.
The Luetkemeyers and the Bank of St. Elizabeth have entwined ever since. Today, the congressman's brother, Brice Luetkemeyer, is bank president, and Rep. Luetkemeyer, who once served as vice president at the bank, is part owner.
In Washington, the Republican applies his background in banking to his seat on the House Financial Services Committee. He sits on its subcommittee on Financial Institutions and Consumer Credit and is vice chairman of the Housing and Insurance subcommittee. He also sits on the House Committee on Small Business.
"He understands first-hand all of the day-to-day workings of a bank and finance," Brice Luetkemeyer said of his brother. "In today's world, a lot of people think they can learn it all out of a book, but sometimes those life lessons where you have actual experience are so impacting."
Matthew Ruge, executive director of the Missouri Independent Bankers Association, called him one of community banking's premiere advocates in Congress.
"No matter what he's doing, he's always mindful of how it's going to affect community banks, in Missouri and everywhere," he said.
Rep. Luetkemeyer, 61, represents Missouri's third district. The area includes his hometown, as well as western St. Louis suburbs; Jefferson City, Missouri's capital; a swath of rolling farmland, woods and small towns; and the Lake of the Ozarks resort area.
As a businessman, Luetkemeyer wore several hats after graduating in 1974 with a degree in political science from Lincoln University in Jefferson City, 35 miles north of St. Elizabeth.
"Where I come from, it takes two or three jobs to make a living," he said. His father, he said, had four or five jobs, including banking, insurance and the family farm. When his father bought the bank, Rep. Luetkemeyer ran the insurance business, worked as a loan officer in the bank and later sat on the board. He also raised cattle and hogs in the early years of his marriage and is the fourth generation to own the family farm.
Immediately after his college graduation, however, before he assumed roles in his father's business- es, he worked for two years as a bank regulator for the state of Missouri. The experience taught him about the inner workings of regional, state chartered banks.
"Having been on both sides of the table, I can bring a little different perspective on the various issues that come before the committee," he said. "I have a broad background in financial services."
Of his many roles, fatherhood was the most important, he said. For that reason, he waited until the youngest of his three children was a senior in high school before running for state legislature. He viewed elected office as an extension of his community involvement and leadership in St. Elizabeth.
In 1998, Luetkemeyer was elected to the Missouri House of Representatives. While there, he served as ranking member and then chairman of its Financial Services Committee, as well as the House Republican Caucus chairman.
He did not seek re-election in 2004; instead, he ran for State Treasurer. He lost, but Gov. Matt Blunt appointed him director of the Missouri Division of Tourism. In 2008, he ran for Congress and won Missouri's ninth district. After the 2010 Census, the ninth district was dissolved due to state population loss. Much of the district's territory was assumed by the third district, which Luetkemeyer won in 2013.
The congressman was appointed to the Financial Services Committee during his second term in office. With his background, it's no surprise Luetkemeyer champions community banks.
"We still need the big guys to handle the high-level corporate financing that needs to go on, but when it comes to mom-andpop, small towns and suburbs, you need to have a local bank that understands the local needs and the local community," he said. "It's very important that we maintain both entities to be able to deliver those sorts of services."
Luetkemeyer was the primary sponsor of the regulatory relief-seeking CLEAR Relief Act, which he introduced in April 2013. As of May 2014, the bill had 129 cosponsors - more than a quarter of the chamber's members.
Max Cook, president and CEO of the Missouri Bankers Association, said that if Luetkemeyer's legislation were enacted, it would go a long way to help community bakers.
Cook said the congressman has a "tremendous relationship" with Missouri bankers. "He's a guy who any of us would want to be friends with, personable and fun, but he has a very, very serious and knowledgeable side to him that he's not afraid to put into play," he said.
While Luetkemeyer's banking background is a useful foundation for his committee work, he says his colleagues' diverse perspectives are important.
"You have to have the common sense to understand how business operates," he said. "They can be no more successful than the local economy in which they're operating. That's what it's all about."
By Maria Wiering