Editor's note: This piece originally appeared in the April issue of Townhall Magazine.
Benjamin Franklin once said, “They who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety.”
That quote is written on the wall in Rep. Matt Salmon’s (R-AZ) office on Capitol Hill.
This Arizona congressman, who believes the Bill of Rights is “second only to the Ten Commandments,” has been defending America’s unique freedoms since he first ran for Congress in the early 1990s.
He first decided to enter into public service thanks to a certain radio broadcast he heard as a young businessman on his way to work.
“I was listening to the guy that represented me in the state Senate and I just got really frustrated. I called my wife and said I’ve always wanted to do something that makes a difference. So I ended up running and won.”
Salmon served in the state legislature for four years. Because he proved to be a staunch conservative, constituents encouraged him to set his sights on higher political office. He listened and people voted. Just like that, this Arizona legislator, who had not even so much as visited Washington, D.C., became a United States congressman.
It was good timing too. Salmon entered Congress the same year Speaker Newt Gingrich heralded in the Contract with America and Republicans won a majority for the first time in 40 years. They didn’t waste the opportunity, either. Salmon and his colleagues balanced the budget for the first time in as many decades.
A man of his word, Salmon was one of few congressmen to keep his pledge that he would only serve three two-year terms. When he left Washington, the federal government had a surplus of more than $230 billion and Salmon assumed he was leaving Congress in good hands.
However, we all know that’s not quite how the story unfolded. Salmon watched as the country’s budget soon doubled and the federal debt went from $5 trillion to well over $17 trillion. So, once again, a frustrating political environment persuaded him to run for office.
“I just couldn’t take it anymore. If everything was going really smoothly, I just assume let somebody else do it.
Because to me it’s a sacrifice being away from my wife and my children and my grandchildren.”
But, it’s a sacrifice he is willing to make for an ailing country.
“If everything was going along as it should, I probably wouldn’t have come back. I came back because to me this fight is very real and my grandchildren’s future is at stake. And that to me is not a game.”
Since his return, Salmon has picked up right where he left his liberty torch. He is now laser focused on protecting Americans’ right to privacy, which Salmon includes in his list of ‘most abused’ amendments, largely thanks to scandals involving both the IRS and NSA.
Many remember that the former agency targeted organizations they considered to be President Obama’s political enemies. As for the National Security Agency, they proved to be peeping toms when it came to Americans’ personal correspondence. A lack of transparency Salmon believes goes “far beyond the powers they were granted under the Patriot Act.”
“When government gets information, many times they’re not careful or responsible with it. ... The right to be able to expect your communications are protected, it’s just a fundamental right. ... You have unelected bureaucrats that literally are trying to trample people’s rights, and they’re accountable almost to nobody. So much so, they believe it’s OK to lie under oath. That’s a frightening thing.”
Salmon continued his fight against this overreach of governmental power at The Heritage Foundation’s first annual Conservative Policy Summit in February. In his speech, Salmon championed his Electronics Communications Privacy Amendments Act, which, among other restrictions, would require government agencies to acquire a warrant before reading one’s private emails. Because Salmon sees this as an issue both sides of the aisle can agree on, he is confident the bill can pass if given a hearing.
Salmon’s commitment to others’ freedom is not limited to the United States. As a missionary for a Mormon church in his early 20s, Salmon was immersed in the Mandarin language up until the point he says he was “literally dreaming in Chinese.” His fluency in the language allowed Salmon to join several delegations to China and even help to free political prisoner Song Yongyi.
“He was a librarian at Dickinson College who was imprisoned for doing research on the Cultural Revolution. I met with President Jiang Zemin and asked for his release. A couple weeks later, we were able to get him home.”
Salmon is still a fan of liberty even when he’s not protecting Americans’ privacy or helping to rescue political prisoners. He quips that when he’s not serving in Congress, he’s known as a “terror on two wheels.” The representative likes to take spins on his Harley Davidson, which is parked at his office building on Capitol Hill, or tackle challenging trails on his mountain bike.
Whether on two wheels or two feet, Salmon is one congressman who knows what it feels like to experience freedom.
Perhaps that’s why he’s so committed to protecting it.