Get to know: Representative T.J. Shope

Each month we will highlight an elected official to get to know better and chat policy. This month CBN sat down with state Representative T.J. Shope to hear about his start in Arizona politics, life outside of the state Capitol, and what it takes to rock a good lookin’ cowboy hat.

Question: What inspired you to initially run for the legislature?

Answer: I wish it could be something that was a lot more inspiring, but there was literally an open seat after redistricting, and I had been a school board member for a few years already. Frank Pratt and I have a great relationship, and I asked him if he wanted a running mate and he said yes. So, I decided to go ahead and announce that I was going to run. I had plenty of people tell me that I shouldn’t because it was a district that they wanted to single shot Frank and that I was going to ruin that. And then lo and behold, I won, as well.

Q: What issues do you most like to work on at the Legislature?

A: I don’t know that I have any particular issues that I enjoy the most, but the most fun bills concern business, whether it was my food tax equity bill, which was probably one of the most fun bills that I have ever run this year. But at the same time, on the flip side of that, working with the Arizona Chamber on the data-privacy, data-breach bill this year was frustrating at times, but then it turned into something that everybody was okay with which was very satisfying as well.

Q: You seem to enjoy chairing COW. Is that a fair observation?

A: Here’s one of the funny things, I haven’t done it in two years because when you’re the pro-tem you’re just in the chair for floor votes. But when I was not pro-tem I used to love chairing COW, and I still love chairing floor votes. I have been our school board president in Coolidge for 5 years, my dad was a mayor for 14 years, so I am very accustomed to running a meeting. That is my favorite thing of anything that I do here, is being in the chair whether it’s a committee or on the floor and setting the tone and using different tones for different situations. You can tell when you’re in the chair if people are getting too amped up and it’s getting too hot on the floor with arguments. Or if people just need to get woken up a little bit and I’ll have something funny to say in between.

Q: Do you plan to run for the state Senate when you’re termed out in the House, or are you going to try your hand at something else?

A: I have never signed a pledge in any of my campaigns of any kind, and I never commit to anything in the following cycle before that cycle is done. We are in a business where at 33, when the election occurs this year I will be 33, I will either win or lose, and if I win then at 35 I will be forced into retirement in one place just after I feel like I have learned a lot of what I need to know. Assuming I win, obviously I have a decision to make the following cycle. Stay tuned.

Q: Tell us about that photo of your family with Rep. Jim Kolbe that’s in your office.

A: I was around four or five years old, and I actually had blonde hair at the time because I think I still favored my dad and the Iowa blonde before my mom and the Sonora dark brown came in, but it was a trip to Washington D.C. My dad used to be the chairman of the precursor to the Arizona Food Marketing Alliance, which was called the Retail Grocers Association of Arizona. We would go back to DC. every year, and I’d been doing that pretty much on a yearly basis for all my life for this association conference. We ran into Jim Kolbe who was the congressman for Coolidge at the time, so that would have to be in that ‘89- ‘91 time frame before that cycle of redistricting– and he took me on the floor, and I actually got to press the button on a vote on the floor. But then he had to go manually change his vote because I pressed the wrong button. Funny enough, years later I ran into Kolbe at a U of A football game in Tucson, and anybody who knows him knows he has like a photographic memory of things and he asked me if I finally figured out how to vote now that I was going to be in the legislature.

Q: Where did high school kids hang out in Coolidge?

A: Oh man, I wish I could give something really fun, but most of the time I was working at our store when I wasn’t on the golf course. So, I like to think that all the cool kids played high school golf in Coolidge, and we would be on the course almost every day. When I was in high school we had awesome football team, so we were always at every high school football game, and that’s where not just the cool kids but the entire town was at the time. We had a good time doing that.

Q: How long has your family been in the grocery business?

A: A portion of my family got there before my grandparents did, to Coolidge, my grandparents moved there and my dad who was 4 years old in 1952. Before then another portion of my family got there in the late 1940s and set up shop. Their first business, actually for my grandpa anyway, went bankrupt. He had to find something else to do, he went to work for Romney Produce, which had an operation just south of the railroad here, just south of downtown. Then drove a truck for them for a handful of years before he made enough money to purchase a spot to have a new business in Coolidge where we did groceries. Then he decided later on to get into the sporting goods business. So, we had a grocery store and then right next door in a separate building we had a guns and sporting goods store. He was known for always wearing a gun on his hip. He was on the city council for 8 years too– he was primarily a butcher in our grocery store–and he’d show up at city council meetings with his bloody apron and then take it off in front of everybody and throw it on the dais in front of him and tell folks it was time to get to work. I always heard that story from a 90-year-old guy that used to be on the city council.

Q: Who is your biggest inspiration?

A: Obviously, I think my dad is for sure, but I would hope most people would be able to say something like that. Other than him, I would say reading Conscious of a Conservative, by Barry Goldwater when in college was probably the thing that set me on a path and shaped my belief system. I think that was pretty inspirational for me, so he has to be up there.

Q: What determines a good cowboy hat?

A: Oh, it’s the X’s on the hat. So, there are different types, I don’t have mine here today because I just got a haircut, but everybody has their different preferences. Some have a boxier shape up front on the crown, and others are a little bit more curved. I always have one that is more curved. I have a strict rule, once it gets over 85 degrees it gets too hot for felt. Then you have to wear straw.

Q: What is one fact most people don’t know about you?

A: Everybody knows I’m a nerd for the most part because all I do is go home and watch American heroes channel. Or other documentaries that bore the heck out of people who come over when I’m not watching football or hockey. I am a consummate reader; I love history, but most people know that about me.

Q: So, what would you say is your favorite documentary?

A: Aside from what I saw last night on John McCain, there was one on the History Channel a few years ago. It was about the people of WWII, but it actually did not talk anything about WWII. It focused on Stalin, Hitler, Tojo, Roosevelt and Churchill as they were in WWI because that shaped who they were going to be in WWII. It was really fascinating because I never even considered how that played into WWII.

Q: What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?

A: If anyone has not read The Man in the Mirror poem they need to, especially if you’re going to be in this business. I always tell folks, and we’ve heard it before, people get into office and they change. I kind of rebut that a little bit. What happens is people get into office, especially if they’ve never been around politics before, and it exposes who they really are on the inside because they’ve never had anyone tell them how awesome they are or anything like that. When I got elected I was lucky enough to have a father who told me that people are going to tell you that you are the funniest guy in the world, the smartest guy in the world, the most attractive guy in the world, and all these great things, and none of them are true. So, I think that it’s really important people realize that they have to stay grounded in who they are and if they are able to look themselves in the mirror every night, and actually like the person that’s looking back then they have done a good job for the day.

Lorna Romero

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