The Leadership Battle: Talking to John Shadegg

Posted: Nov 15, 2006 2:27 PM

(Note: On Tuesday, bloggers talk to Representative John Shadegg (R - AZ) who is running for Minority Whip. Shadegg is the former Chairman of the Republican Study Committee.

Congressman Shadegg: I believe we had drifted pretty seriously from our basic principles as of last January. We have been doing that for quite some time, and that’s why I jumped in last January belatedly to the race for Majority Leader. I felt that we had made essentially two fundamental promises for the American people when we ceased the majority. One of those was that we would shrink the size and scope of the government and have it tax less, regulate less, and interfere in our lives less. Quite frankly, we had discovered that was much more difficult than we realized. Not only were we not shrinking the size of government, we had fallen into some pretty bad habits of growing it. As you know, we were growing it as a pace faster than or just as fast as even Lyndon Johnson. So I campaigned last January saying we have to end that; we have to stop the spending. We have to show respect for the American taxpayer’s dollar and show that we can spend it prudently and carefully – treat it as though it is our personal money and not nobody’s money, which is what happens to tax dollars once they get to the government. That was one plank of my campaign last January. Maybe I could say I was for spending reform and spending control before spending reform and spending control were cool.

The second plank, last January, is the one that I think did us additional damage in the election. I think the spending one hurt us badly, but I also think – and I work on different ways to try to get this point across – I think fundamentally in the revolution, we told the American people that if they would entrust us with the majority in the United States Congress, we would be different. We would not pay attention to our own interests and needs as Congressmen and look out what we enjoy or what’s good for us, we would look out for the peoples’ business. And that meant not just ending backroom deals and ending corruption like the House banking scandal, but it also meant being regular Americans, not taking advantage of the perks of power, things like golf trips to Scotland quite frankly or excessively cozy relationships with lobbyists or with powers in Washington D.C.

Fundamentally, I think early on in the revolution, early on in the majority, we made a lot of great progress, and I think we have a lot to be proud of. Welfare would be a huge one early on, and if you look at a graph of spending, spending actually grew up until 1995 then it flattened out for two years; unfortunately it started to grow again and as you saw, it grew exponentially. After those successes, we had some early successes when the President came to power; we cut tax rates and that’s responsible for a booming economy. But beyond those accomplishments, the American people came to believe, most recently looking at the various scandals, that we really weren’t different. We were typical D.C. politicians. We were interested in cozy relationships with lobbyists; we were interested in taking cushy trips around the country or around the world at the expense of either our contributors or other organizations or the taxpayers. We allowed the impression that we had become exactly what we had campaigned against. I think as you all know the exit polling showed that the number one issue on the minds of voters as they left the polling places was corruption. I don’t think it’s necessarily is corruption just in the Duke-Cunningham sense, I think it’s a corruption of values or principles, or of essentially conduct. I think the American people came to conclude that we weren’t there working on their business; we were here working on our business, to make life comfortable, and cushy, and good for us. Having said we were going to be different, it turned out we were proving, we were demonstrating – or at least allowing the appearance to be created- that we weren’t different. I think that’s what we got nailed for on Tuesday, that combination of things.

I now believe, as I believed in January that we must get back to those original, basic principles. We must regulate spending, we must be the party of smaller government, we must be the party of lower spending, we must continue to be the party of lower tax rates, which we’ve now quite frankly proven – John Kennedy proved it, Ronald Reagan proved it, now we’ve proved it again – that when you lower rates you actually increase revenue. We have to get back to those basic philosophical tendencies, which I do not think were rejected in this election. More importantly, we have to earn back the trust of the American people by once again making it clear to them that we are different. We are politics as usual and we aren’t run of the mill politicians. Quite frankly, I think that means we must have a change in our leadership. We cannot come out of this election, this set of leadership elections, re-electing the exact same team of top two leaders that we came into the election with. If we do, I believe we’ll send an unmistakable message to the American public that we really didn’t get the message of this election and we really don’t care about their priorities, and we aren’t about to change or reform.

I’ve said a lot already, but let me just say one other point. Many of you know that I got into this business as the son of a campaign manager. My dad ran Barry Goldwater’s first campaign for the United States Senate in 1952, he ran Goldwater’s 1958 re-elect campaign, and went on to manage campaigns for many lots of different people including John Tower, Margaret Chase-Smith, Paul Axel, and Steve Simms. I want to say that I am passionately committed to two things: one, taking back the majority and two, taking it back in 2008, not a day later than 2008. I know for a fact that every incumbent’s first re-elect is their toughest re-elect. It’s the time when voters will examine what they’ve done. It’s the time when they have not done a huge stack of favors and curried the kind of benefit that incumbents can build which makes it impossible to knock them off. We must re-take this majority and have a plan to take it, and a strategy to take it, and an effort to take it with total abandon, and re-take in ’08. Because by 2010, they will be entrenched and my fear is if we do not re-take in ’08, we will not re-take it for a decade or more. Now, one of the things that aids us in that is that I believe that at least nine, and maybe ten, of the seats we lost, we lost because of some taint or scandal. I think we need to recruit untainted, non-scandal connected or related candidates in those seats and very aggressively go back at all of those. And some of our incumbents I think are quite literally poised to be re-elected because we can change the dynamics that resulted in their defeat. For example, in New Hampshire two of our incumbents, Charlie Bass and Jeb Bradley, lost, and they lost those seats I think in part because the Democrat governor carried 75% of the vote and in that state they carry straight-ticket voting. That seems to me to be a unique circumstance, and I personally would hope we could talk either of those two candidates, Bass himself or Bradley himself, or find strong candidates and immediately go back at those kind of seats and win them. With that, I’ll shut up and answer your questions.

Question: Congressman, we just got off a call with Congressman Lungren, and he was concerned about the rush here to get this new leadership elected without the work that needs to be done to come up with a plan and all the things that should be done after the last election. Do you agree with that; do you think this is being rushed or are you fine with this?

Congressman Shadegg: I believe two things. I believe we are making a mistake in doing it this quickly, but I think it’s highly unlikely that we won’t proceed in making that mistake. I think the sentiment is to go forward. The reason I think it’s a mistake is because, and I’ll be brief with this. In my estimate, the vast majority of members are still in shock. They haven’t even completely come to grips with the fact that we are in the minority much less why we are in the minority. I don’t see how you can figure out who should lead you to regain the majority if you haven’t even fully come to grips with the fact you are in the minority or why you are in the minority.

Blogger: Between you and Lungren, you have two votes when it sounds like 50 are needed to do from what Lungren explained to us. That’s a start.

Congressman Shadegg: Well, I think it could happen. I think there will be discussion of that at tomorrow’s conference meeting, and it could very well be that there will be a ground swell revolt by members who say this is ridiculous.

Blogger: Well, I think too that might be where the blogosphere can come in.

Congressman Shadegg: Yeah, by all means. I know there are members who are concerned that we are making a rush to judgment. I know that the procedure that has been outlined is not one that members are particularly comfortable with. As I understand the procedure, we get 15 minutes. Each candidate for each slot gets 15 minutes to either speak or take question and that’s it. As I understand it, that 15 minutes is the same time allotted to every office top to bottom. Now, maybe I’m wrong about that, but some members that I have talked to in the last 24 hours are saying we ought to first have a lengthy conference to discuss and try to figure out amongst ourselves why did we lose the majority and what did we do wrong? Thought ought to be a complete and thorough discussion first, and then you go about debating the merits or demerits of any given candidate.

Question: What can we do, in tangible terms, between now and Friday morning, to help your chances, or to make it more general, to help the chances of the candidate we support?

Congressman Shadegg: That’s a great question for which I don’t know I have an absolutely crystal clear answer, but I can raise some points. Going back to what I just said, lots of members I think don’t yet comprehend how huge a defeat and how big a rejection this was of what we have been doing. I had a member angry with me this morning because I had set to a Wall Street Journal reporter that we had lost our way, that we came here with idealism and then we became corrupted with the levers of power in Washington, and we quit going after the things we articulated in the beginning. He was mad that I said that out loud. Now I understand that we just were beat up by the Democrats saying that, and our Republicans don’t want to hear it. I said to him, “Excuse me, but it’s the truth.” I think one thing is for members to hear from you, or maybe more importantly the people that read you, that this was a serious screw up.

I had another member tell me we just lost because of the war. I think the war hurt us, but I don’t think we lost just because of the war. I think if we bury our heads and try to say we lost just because of the war or quite frankly people are saying we were too conservative, and a number of you have written quite accurately, we didn’t lose because we were too conservative, we lost because we weren’t conservative. That’s a sensitive subject because some of the seats we lost were in the northeast. No politician can stand up and say, I’m for “X”, and then get in power and do the opposite of “X”, whether that’s control spending or be honest. It’s one thing for the Democrats; they’ll tell you right up front that A.) They’re for more spending, at least they’re now going to start saying that and B.) They don’t even pretend to be all that honest and their public doesn’t hold them up to very high standards of honesty or integrity. We stood up and said we were going to be honest, not just honest; we were going to be politicians. We were going to be different, and it turned out we weren’t different, and people don’t like hypocrisy. People don’t like to be betrayed. These are harsh words for Republicans to come to grips with, for Republicans in Congress to come to grips with. But I really think that’s the message that was sent. Me saying it out loud has my colleagues angry at me, but I think it is something that needs to sink in here. I just had a conversation with a member who said, “I don’t think we’re going to understand the depths of this defeat until January or February.”

Follow up: Do you feel that the traditional 11th commandment, that you never speak ill of another Republican, does that hinder those who are calling reform, that kind of a bias against ever criticizing the party leadership, from criticizing another Republican?

Congressman Shadegg: I guess I would like to interpret the 11th commandment as meaning that you are not supposed to gratuitously or without need criticize a fellow Republican. I don’t think we can interpret that rule as you cannot reflect on mistakes made. I think you do have to reflect on mistakes made, and we have to be grown up enough to look backward and make a realistic assessment of whether or not things were mistakes. Clearly, gutting the ethics process here in Washington and then having a series of scandals come forward had the public come saying to us, “You guys don’t get it.” Unfortunately, we played into that. When the evidence began to stack up against Bob Ney, we never acted. There was clear evidence and people say to me, “Well gee, we thought he was lying to us.” Give me a break. Read the document. Take a look at what he put in the congressional record and go check it out yourself and see if it was truthful. We had told America we would hold ourselves to a higher standard, and then we didn’t even hold ourselves to any standard.

So, if the answer is you can never speak ill of a Republican because they’re a Republican, and that means you can never acknowledge a past mistake, I think we’re in real deep trouble. Here’s a contrast for you. On the one hand, we seized power in the revolution and immediately enacted the Shay’s Act, saying that every law that applies to average Americans, including building codes, should apply to the United States Congress. We are not above the law was that statement. People really liked that. They said, “Yeah, they are finally getting it. They are not above the law.” And then we turned around and when someone wanted to conduct a search of a member of Congress’ office, we said, “Oh no, you can’t search a member of Congress’ office. We’re above the law.” Now, I know that some people believe that there are separation of power issues there, but I think if carefully examine the Constitution, they’re really aren’t separation of power issues there. A search warrant is not one branch of government acting, it is one branch of government going to a second branch of government asking for it to ratify. The prosecutor has to take evidence to the judge showing probable cause. And yet we stood up, unfortunately- and I don’t want to get too pointed- but unfortunately, we set the impression by that incident, and I would argue others, that we are above the wall and that we deserve to be able to take cushy trips and that we’re just different. We ought to be treated better and we ought to be awarded special status.

In my race for minority whip, I make it clear I am running for minority whip and not against any person and that the skill set required for a minority whip is very different then the skill set for a majority whip. Our last minority whip was Newt Gingrich, who I believe was elected to minority whip some 8 years or 10 years before we took back the majority. He was an ideas guy, he was aggressive, he was articulate, he pushed the agenda. I think those are the kind of things we need in our next minority whip. I don’t think it is a really job that is predominantly a vote counting job; it’s a job that is predominantly taking our case to the American people and, on the floor of the House, taking our case to the Democrats.

Follow up: I’m very intrigued by the fact that you said it’s not a vote counting job. Are you redefining the position?

Congressman Shadegg: I don’t think it really is redefining. I think it’s being accurate. I spoke to someone the other day about that very point and said, “Was Newt Gingrich known as a vote counter?” And this a member that had been here when Newt was here and he said, “I don’t think Newt ever counted votes once.” Now he may have had a staff that did that, and there may be occasions when you do have to count votes to see if you can beat the majority party on your issue. I think this is an issue not of black and white but of degrees. I think the job of majority whip is a job where you don’t set policy; you carry out policy and you are very much in a functional or mechanical job. The policy in the majority is set by the conference led and directed by the speaker and the majority leader. In the minority, you don’t get a speaker, a majority leader, and a whip; you get a minority leader and a whip. You are not enacting legislation very often; you are predominately trying to stop legislation, and I do think there will be times where we need to count. And I think there will be times when we need to reach out to the blue dogs and hopefully work with them and the White House to, for example, keep some of the tax relief that we’ve enacted in place.

As defined by Newt Gingrich, I think the job is not just counting. Maybe what I’m doing is reacting to the fact that the Blunt campaign is putting out here on the Hill the argument Roy is a good vote counter, and this is just after all, a mechanics job. Why do we need an ideas guy? Why do we need a policy wonk like Shadegg in the whip’s job? We really don’t need a policy wonk or an ideas guy in the whip’s job. My response to that is, the whip’s job has a lot more policy and a lot more ideas involved in it to recapture the focus of the American people than the whip’s job in the majority.

Question: Can I ask you a blunt question? Do you have the votes to win on Friday?

Congressman Shadegg: I don’t think anybody has the votes to win on Friday yet. There are huge number of conference members who are keeping their council, or I haven’t been able to reach or my opponent hasn’t been able to reach. I personally think these public lists of supporters and vote counts were made to look foolish in the last election. If you will recall, in January when there was a 3-way race for leader, I think there was a public declaration by the Blunt campaign either a day before I got in or within a day or two after I got in, that the race was over. They had, in the basket, enough votes for Roy to be elected majority leader and that all they had to do was hold the election and it would be done. They maintained that position from that point through the balance of the campaign saying they had the votes, and it turned out they clearly did not have the votes. I just don’t think in leadership races that these public lists or whip counts or “By God I’ve got this many votes”, are very reliable. I don’t think I have to make that case; I think all the posturing on vote counts last time proved that on a secret ballot election, that kind of prediction is notoriously unreliable.

Question: It is very nice to hear the spirit of ’94 emanating from at least some of our members of Congress and you mentioned Newt Gingrich. Is there any chance he could play a role this week or other leaders of the party saying we really do [not audible] our direction because I think we’re all very alarmed about the idea of the old leadership being rubber stamped back into its leadership roles.

Congressman Shadegg:I think that Newt is already trying to play a role; he has published something. I don’t know how far it went, and I don’t know how far any one person on the outside can go on trying to influence the outcome of the election. I do think, and have heard from my colleagues here in the House, that they would like to hear the reflections of some thoughtful former members who care about the cause and who have perspectives to share. We have lots of young members. I’ll tell you, I was going through the list earlier this morning, and clearly more than half of the members of the conference have I believe been elected since I’ve been elected. The number of members elected prior to 1992 is pretty daggone small, and a lot of these younger members, I think, are interested in guidance. Many of them having never been in the minority in the Congress though I think we have some value that some of them have been in the minority in the state legislatures. John Campbell comes to mind. I had a long chat with John Campbell two or three days ago, and he has some pretty clear perspectives that I have no personal experience in, in having served in the minority in the California legislature.

I think it would be prudent to have Newt and others speak out and give us advice. Newt at one time advocated delaying these elections, and I’ve heard members say they’d like to hear from them, even perhaps have these people come in. My sense of it is that we’ll learn tomorrow what the sentiment is, how strong the sentiment is to slow these elections down and do them more reflectively or get them over with.

Question: : You’ve spoken a lot about resisting the Democrats, reasserting Republican values, and you’ve also spoken about retaking the House in 2008. Is there a specific agenda that you will advance or be part of creating to retake that, sort of a new contract with America, with specific positive messages about what you will do to limit the power of the government and the power of the majority as well?

Congressman Shadegg: Well, we’re going to put out, we have in draft form, a document called an agenda to take the majority. We will probably if not later today then tomorrow. It is not as complete a document, in part because of the time we’ve had to craft it, as The Contract of America and it reflects my views and my supporters views not the views of the whole conference. Having said that, my answer is to your question, if I could modify the question a little bit, do I have plan to have such an agenda? Absolutely. I think you have to have an agenda to win over the American people.

Unless you get lucky like the Democrats did in this election. They won without an agenda on the backs of the sentiment of throw the bums out. They didn’t start to articulate an agenda until after they won the majority although you could dig below the surface and find some of it. They want nationalized healthcare and they are now going to start pushing for it. They don’t quite know what they want in Iraq. They campaigned to go by with, “Well we need to get out of Iraq, but we don’t quite know when. Maybe tomorrow and maybe not.” I don’t think you win the hearts and minds of the American people without having some substantive agenda items. I guess I would break those into two categories. One goes back to building sentiment in our conference, which I hope we can, that Republicans believe you have to set the highest possible ethical standards, and then you have to adhere to them and you have to enforce them on your own members. You have to be self-policing in that. And that’s going to create some angst for discussion within our conference. Moving beyond that, I think you have to move to some of the basics that we’ve talked about.

But let’s go beyond the basics of, for example, restraining excessive growth and spending; let’s talk about some other places where our vision is radically different from the Democrats’ vision. The Democrats want healthcare reform that is government focused; they essentially want government run healthcare. The Republicans need to make it clear they want patient centered healthcare reform, where patients have greater control over who gives them their care, and when they can hire and fire that person, and back to letting patients be the deciders. Quite frankly, I think move away from employer based healthcare where your employer picks your doctor and your health plan, and you get what they give you whether you like it or you don’t. Republicans can be for patient centered healthcare reform; let Democrats be for government centered healthcare reform. That’s one.

Second, Democrats have kind of a Jimmy Carter approach to energy. Oh, let’s all turn down our thermostats, or in my neck of the woods turn them up, let’s all buy smaller cars, let’s all get by and do with less. Republicans have a very different agenda. We believe that while we have to move to alternative sources of energy over time, and have to aggressively pursue that, we have oil on the outer continental shelf; we have oil in the inter mountain West; we have oil reserves in ANWAR. While gas prices are down right now, energy is going to remain a hot issue and an issue where our view of the world is starkly different than their view of the world. And we could pick a number of others. It’s not going to be John Shadegg’s agenda for the ’08 election, but it does have to be the “Republican majority to be’s” agenda for America for the ’08 election.

Question: Do you think that the Republicans, in general, can get together on a similar limited government agenda, or do you think there’s going to be a lot of division among the Republicans on that?

Congressman Shadegg: Well, it’s always a struggle, but I think the basic beliefs of, even among our most moderate members, are that people are better at spending their own money and better at handling their own lives. I think some of the divide within our conference comes within the role of government on the social agenda.

Question: You bring up healthcare. I was in the pharmacy a couple days ago and a woman in front of me was picking up $300 worth of anti-biotics and complaining about her $20 call pay. That’s the kind of entitlement mentality we have. Taking that on requires a lot of persuasion and a lot of energy, energy we’ve seen lacking in the Republican caucus the last several years. How do we go about getting that back? Are we willing to pay the political capital to make that case that a free market healthcare system is better than the socialized system we’re drifting towards?

Congressman Shadegg: Actually, in the general context of convincing members of Congress to advocate for more individual responsibility and less government care, it is difficult because of the mentality of the woman you cited. That is, there are so many Americans who look to government to provide for them that very few members of Congress want to say, “No. It is not best to provide for you. It is best for us to provide a climate in which you can succeed and provide yourself.” However, in the specific implantation of that philosophy, I think we have a better chance, and let me try to explain that. I personally believe that employer based healthcare is a perfect illustration of the failure of the collectivist mentality.

When I was a kid growing up, every American had an indemnity policy. That meant that they went out and bought a health insurance policy that would indemnify them, and they got to go spend their healthcare dollars. They picked their doctor, they picked their hospital, and they picked whatever things they wanted, and they got control of their life when it came to healthcare. By the way, it meant that you could, in those days, call your doctor on a Saturday night because your son or daughter had a high fever, and your doctor would take the call and call the pharmacy, and you could go get your prescription filled right then. Over time, actually as a result of government policy, we decided that we would let employers deduct the cost of healthcare, but not let individuals deduct the cost of healthcare. That meant if you got employer based healthcare, it was payed for pre-tax dollars. If you went out and bought it on your own, it was 33.33% higher because you had to pay a tax on that money first and then go buy your healthcare. Well, what has that meant? Now, none of us, literally no Americans, basically – a small handful – get to pick their health plan or pick their doctor. Instead, their health plan is picked collectively by their employer, and their doctor is picked collectively by the plan. We have lost all freedom when it came to healthcare. Now Americans go around and say, “Healthcare isn’t my responsibility. I don’t care how big the bill is. And oh, by the way, I’m getting lousy care.” I think by pointing out that the collectivist approach to healthcare is centered around employer based healthcare means that we no longer have patient centered healthcare. We have collectivist, the employer centered or the employer’s plan centered healthcare. If the Democrats are going to say, “You know what, it hasn’t worked with employers, let’s just move it to the government.” We should be making the case to the American people; look, you already lost control of your healthcare life. You can’t pick your plan or your doctor, and under current law you can’t fire your plan or fire your doctor. And if it’s a [not audible] plan, you can’t hold it liable in court if it hurts you. And now, the Democrats want to take you to an even more leftist, more government-controlled plan.

We believe in a more patient centered health plan, and we want you to make the decisions. So we’re going to give you the same tax breaks that you’re employer got for buying healthcare. Now you’re in the driver’s seat. You can pick your plan and your doctor. Which of these do you like better? In that specific instance we can, I hope, convince the American people that the individual responsibility/individual freedom model is, in fact, better for people better than the nanny state model. I think we can attack the Democrats if they don’t repeal the provision that says companies get a tax deduction but you have to buy it with after tax dollars. I personally believe in giving people a tax credit to buy healthcare. Again, Republicans can come out with patient centered healthcare reform because the Democrats are already advocating and moving toward government centered healthcare reform, which the American people rejected once before.

I have a separate bill out there for people out there who are in the individual market. I think it’s called The Patient’s Healthcare Choice Act or The Healthcare Choice Act, one of the two. What it says is, that we should allow the insurance industry to qualify a policy for sale in one state, and then automatically essentially sell it in all 50 states, which would dramatically increase the amount of competition for health insurance in the individual market in all 50 states. And that’s the kind of thing right now that the health insurance companies that want to offer in the state have to write that policy have to meet all the laws of that state, if they want to sell the policy in 50 states, they have to write 50 different policies, and everyone of those policies has to meet the benefit mandate of all 50 states.

My bill says you would only meet the benefit mandate of the state in which you initially filed, so you could pick a state that had very few benefit mandates, and quality it there, then take it to a state like Maryland or New Jersey that has tons of benefit mandates and you’d be able to undercut the market. For a much lower price, people could then buy a basic health care policy. Of course, the Democrats hate that because that’s you deciding what health insurance you need not the nanny state deciding what health insurance you need.