EUREKA • On his Twitter account, Rep. Tim Jones used to describe himself as a "conservative attack dog; constantly stalked and harassed by the Far Left for the Truth thus proclaimed."
His missives on the mini-blogging site pounded home that theme. He attacked liberals, the "lamestream media" and even fellow Republicans in the Senate, whom he once labeled "legislative terrorists."
But as he takes the helm today as speaker of the Missouri House of Representatives, Jones will be stepping into a new role. The speaker — often called the second-most powerful job in state government — is elected by the full 163-member chamber to oversee its operation, a broader leadership job than the partisan ones Jones has filled previously.
While he readily admits that he has "a lot of fire in my veins," Jones signaled that he won't be the bomb-thrower that he has been in the past.
To be sure, he'll keep hammering at President Barack Obama's policies, which he believes are "disastrous." And Jones' legislative priorities for the Missouri Legislature will include some polarizing bills, such as one eliminating seniority protection for public school teachers.
But in an interview in his hometown of Eureka this week, Jones, a lawyer, said he will strive to keep a civil tone in the House chamber, end brinksmanship with the Senate, work with Democrats where there is common ground and maybe even cool it a little bit on Twitter.
"Yes, I'm a very principled, staunch conservative Republican," Jones said. "But I also know how to practically work across the aisle and accomplish things."
FROM EUREKA TO NYC
Whether taking on his first job cutting grass or winning a mock trial in law school, Jones, 41, has always been a man on a mission, his friends and family say.
His family moved to the Eureka area of St. Louis County from Manchester when Jones was 6. His father, a veterinarian, and his mother, a teacher, renovated the long-vacant foreman's house on the old Pevely Dairy site.
"There was nothing out here," he said. "We had Six Flags and Walmart and church."
He attributes his fiscal conservatism to his father, who "had to struggle every year as a small businessman" with taxes and government regulations.
The younger Jones' first full-time job at age 14 was cutting the greens at the golf course down the hill. In the summers, he and his cousins put in fences on the family's homestead in Dade County.
More recently, they have gathered there annually for the "Jones Mudfest" — a four-wheel-drive competition through mud pits and obstacle courses.
"Tim's always been driven," said Rep. Caleb Jones, R-California, a first cousin of Tim's. Caleb Jones is the son of former Rep. Kenny Jones, the former Moniteau County sheriff and the first politician in the family.
Tim Jones graduated from St. Louis University High School, where he ran cross country and helped publish an underground newspaper. He continued his Jesuit education at Fordham University in New York City.
He majored in English and Russian studies, but he spent his spare time as a certified emergency medical technician in a student-run ambulance service that covered both the campus and the Bronx, handling everything from adverse drug reactions to heart attacks to stabbings.
Those health care skills led him to meet his future wife, Suzanne, during a summer job at a Girl Scout camp in eastern Missouri in 1993. He ran the health center, and she was a senior counselor.
Then Jones entered law school at St. John's University in New York. Staying on the East Coast for a few years after he graduated, Jones worked for a personal injury firm and as a prosecutor in Nassau County.
He came home in 1998 and joined the Chesterfield-based law office of DosterUllom LLC. Though his legislative duties don't leave much time to practice law, he handles some real estate tax appeals and family law matters. He also helps bring in clients.
"I'm a mini-rainmaker," Jones said.
He and Suzanne, now the assistant director of career services at Webster University, were married in 2002. They have two daughters, Katie, 7, and Abby, 3.
POLITICS 'WITH A ZEAL'
After he moved back to Eureka, Jones secured a spot on the parish council at his church, Most Sacred Heart Church. Then he asked some friends at City Hall to appoint him to an advisory panel so he could get involved in municipal government, too.
Several months later, he was still waiting.
"Well, I'm impatient," Jones recalls.
So in 2001, he challenged an incumbent for a spot on the Board of Aldermen — and won. Board members later elected him as their president.
"He was great," said Eureka Mayor Kevin Coffey, who served on the board at the time. "He kind of goes after everything with a zeal. He never tires."
Jones did suffer one memorable defeat: Over his protests, the board outlawed pot-bellied pigs as pets.
The Missouri House seat for the area came open in 2006, and Jones won a three-way GOP primary. He has faced no serious opposition since.
Early in his tenure, his fellow Republicans put him on the team that defends Republicans' arguments on the floor and scrutinizes Democrats' amendments for legal flaws.
Slight in stature but intense in manner, Jones is known for his oratorical skills.
"When the guy speaks, everybody listens," said Rep. Stan Cox, R-Sedalia, who, like Jones, was first elected to the House in 2006.
For instance, Jones helped defeat a death penalty moratorium in 2009, when he related to a hushed chamber how his aunt, Kenny Jones' wife, was killed during a rampage in Moniteau County that also left three law enforcement officers dead.
Jones also has shown his emotion in other ways.
In 2010, he almost got into a shoving match on the House floor with former Democratic Rep. Jeff Roorda of Jefferson County. Both men now say they patched things up afterward and have no hard feelings.
Jones points out that he has worked with key Democrats on some issues, such as economic development. He said he likes having "buy-in" from the minority party, even if it's not necessary to pass bills in a chamber dominated by the GOP.
Rep. Mike Colona, D-St, Louis, said he has had a good working relationship with Jones on economic development and criminal law matters.
"Tim is one of those fellows who, if he gives you his word, he's going to stick to it," Colona said. "And we can agree to disagree" on volatile issues such as abortion rights.
The majority leader the last two years, Jones was tapped by House Republicans about a year ago as the speaker-in-waiting, with the expectation that he would assume the top post in January 2013.
His promotion was moved up to today because of the resignation of former Speaker Steve Tilley last month. House members are expected to elect Jones as speaker when they convene at noon for their annual veto session. They will have to repeat the vote in January, when the next session convenes.
With the GOP likely to retain a large majority in the chamber next year, some wonder how Jones will treat the minority party.
"Tilley was more laid-back" than Jones, said Rep. Jamilah Nasheed, D-St. Louis. Jones is "a nice guy, but he's going to be a different type of speaker. He believes in his core principles strongly."
Even Republicans have felt his barbs. When a tax credit bill collapsed in 2011, Jones said the House "continues to pass good-government bills" while "legislative terrorists" in the Senate "continue to kill them."
Jones said this week that he gets along well with Sen. Tom Dempsey, R-St. Charles, who is expected to become the president pro tem of the Senate in January. Both leaders said they are hopeful they can break the years-long deadlock between the two chambers and pass a tax credit bill early next session.
Liberal bloggers have blasted Jones for signing on to a lawsuit that alleged that Obama is not a citizen. Jones said he got involved "after 25 times" of being asked by a young constituent to 'sign the affidavit," but "it will not be part of my platform in any way" as speaker.
His platform will focus on three e's: energy, economic development and education, Jones said.
Asked about another "e" — ethics legislation — he said it isn't a priority.
"I don't see this culture of corruption in Jefferson City. There's too many eyes, ears and camera phones to do anything wrong anymore."
Jones plans to avoid "getting baited into a back-and-forth exchange" with his critics on Twitter. But he acknowledged that could be difficult.
"By heritage, I am a Scotch-Irish-Italian-German. I have a lot of fire in my veins."