Rep. Tom Graves (R.-Ga.), who won a special election for Congress in Georgia last month and is facing Republican challengers in a primary, sat down for an interview with Human Events editors. Here are excerpts from the interview:
HUMAN EVENTS: You won a contested primary over another former state representative and now you face a primary with three other Republicans. What makes you unique and why should conservatives get involved in a Republican primary for you?
GRAVES: What we have found throughout our campaign is that voters are looking for new energy, new ideas and new solutions. The status quo will not work anymore. I have been very outspoken of the principle “Christian first, conservative second and then Republican.” And I have the track record in the Georgia General Assembly of doing so. The voters are tired. Enough is enough.
HE: Would you be specific in championing an issue that your opponents would not readily rise to the occasion in support of?
GRAVES: I guess that’s a great question. Where we see the differences in policy is in the spending of the stimulus. I want to repeal the unspent portions of the stimulus package, whereas my main opponent attended a Joe Biden stimulus check handout.
HE: The Department of Education, I wrote a lot about abolishing that during the 1994 election because a lot of candidates were for that. Then in 2000 it was taken out of the Republican platform. As of late a lot of candidates have said, ‘Yes that is something that should be put back on the table.’ In these hard economic times what say as thou about abolishing the Department of Education?
GRAVES: I believe that is a serious question we need to have. I believe the federal government has no role in the educating of the children of Georgia. That is a role that needs to be state driven and it needs parental driven and child-centered.
HE: The GOP talks a great game about limited government and free enterprise especially now that Obama is our President but it’s all talk. What would you do to push for eliminating programs and for departments to be phased out? Are you simply going to echo the GOP chorus or are you actually going to be bold in pushing to eliminate these programs?
GRAVES: I have no sacred cows. In Georgia, I was the co-author of sunset agencies and commissions. Let’s review them all and put a sunset provision on them if necessary and let’s have a performance review to see if they are accomplishing the task they set out to do. But you know you are right, I think the GOP has a big test coming. They have the right governing principles but can they stand by them? It’s going to be a big challenge. There was a test vote the other day on an amendment to the DISCLOSE Act and I believe 56 or 58 Republicans voted for the amendment. That was a big test.
HE: Would you be in favor of sunset provisions for agencies and programs on the federal level?
GRAVES: Yes absolutely.
HE: Taking his question a step further, can you name three agencies or programs that you would put under the microscope and consider prime candidates for sunsetting out of existence?
GRAVES: I would say Education, EPA, and Energy. My three E’s.
HE: Repealing Obamacare?
GRAVES: Yes, I’ve already co-authored to repeal that.
HE: Do you think that leadership is serious about repealing Obamacare because now we hear “replace” or other words and it seems that the drive to repeal might be phasing out among Republicans. Do you think they have the courage to repeal it?
GRAVES: There was a discharge petition that was very aggressively signed. I do believe a full-out repeal is the right approach. It was bad policy. I believe we need to provide free-market competition, capitalism in our healthcare system and not a government take over and I believe our states are better prepared to handle healthcare.
HE: Are there three issues that you would want to work on, presuming you win?
GRAVES: Spending, we need people to say enough is enough. It is out of control. The Democrats will want to talk about job creation and they approach it from a government perspective and I am totally the opposite. I say get government out of the way, eliminate taxes, lower taxes and remove regulations. We’ve been working on a lot of that at my office.
HE: Has there been any surprises during the short time you have been here in Washington? Has it been what you expected?
GRAVES: I’d say the process. Just how closed the process is to debate. For example, the rule for the supplemental war appropriation—to take a rule and deem that the appropriation is going to pass and urge that an amendment is going to be added, is an abuse of the process.
HE: One of the things is with this new [oil spill disaster] fund is that BP is going to contribute, too. There is some concern that the money could be used for cleaning up the gulf in a way similar to how TARP money was spent on things other than Wall Street. Do you have some concerns about that money and where it is going?
GRAVES: My main concern is that the administration will use this crisis to advance their agenda. Yesterday, in the Transportation Committee we were dealing with one of the components of their legislation for dealing with the oil spill and it was totally removing caps and providing and requiring certain financial stability for all in this industry. I think we all know what this is going to do to the small guy and smaller businesses. I just see them reaching way too far.
HE: Are you in favor of the moratorium on offshore drilling?
GRAVES: No, we need to continue offshore drilling. Not only offshore but onshore.
HE: Do you think Joe Wilson’s comments “you lie” during the President’s address to Congress were appropriate?
GRAVES: There is a certain decorum and respect. He probably said what a lot of others were thinking. I think we should see what the President said there and look back and see who was correct. That would be interesting. I know Joe and he is committed to advancing freedom and liberty and aiding his state and he is just a gentleman.
HE: You are a believing Christian. And it would seem that social issues seem to have taken a back seat to the fiscal issues. What is on your social agenda? What are the social issues you believe ought to be pursued by conservatives in Congress?
GRAVES: With 52 weeks on the campaign trail, I did not get one question relating to my pro-life stance. Very interesting. Someone like me who is pro-life, no exceptions, and also a strong fiscal conservative that can handle the forums and answer the tough questions is very good for the conservative cause. I am the complete conservative package. With the expenditures that were put in the healthcare package that fund abortion that we were assured would not be in there, we need to be on guard right now because more attention is on fiscal issues and we are not seeing the social issues that are being snuck in.
HE: [GOP Indiana Gov.] Mitch Daniels has said we need a truce on social issues right now. You disagree?
GRAVES: I haven’t heard that comment. I believe if you are passionate on a social issue you should advocate for what you believe.
HE: Do you think social issues have taken a backseat due to out of control spending and massive deficits? People are not as concerned about social issues currently?
GRAVES: I would say there is a heightened awareness for the fiscal side because it is more immediately affecting more people. With unemployment increasing and the tax burden increasing, it is touching more lives including those who are more moderate on the social issues. There is a heightened awareness of out-of-control spending.
HE: I personally think that the deficit and spending is a moral issue; we are just piling debt onto the backs of our unborn children and not considering the moral question involving this. Future generations are being robbed as they are asked to subsidize their grandparents. Yet it seems the GOP is so disconnected in terms of bringing the moral question and that emotional response that belongs here.
GRAVES: That is a great point. It is no different than me as a father spending irresponsibly and not saving for my children and preparing for their future. That is a message we need to be communicating better.
HE: Are there any ways you believe the GOP could refine their messaging skills? A way they could more effectively connect with more Americans overall?
GRAVES: What I believe the GOP needs to be doing is casting a more positive image. We are Americans with the ability to dream, we have an entrepreneurial spirit, that drive to succeed and that is what will get us out of this. Not with more government intervention. Ronald Reagan really said it best, “Government is not the solution to our problem, government is the problem.” It’s that positive message. People are hungry for a positive visionary and not someone who will simply say no, no, no all the time.
HE: Do you support Arizona’s immigration law?
GRAVES: Absolutely. I support the state and this is a reminding time that the states created the federal government and not the other way around.
HE: [White House spokesman] Robert Gibbs said we can’t have each state having its own set of laws for immigration. Do you agree with that statement?
GRAVES: I believe each state has its own set of laws on immigration currently. States have different laws about a number of things. I believe it is sufficient for each state to have their own laws regarding immigration particularly if the federal government is not doing its job.
HE: If you only a minute to communicate to a voter in your home district, who is wavering, what do you tell them right there to bring them on board?
GRAVES: I would stay very positive; this is not a time to get negative. We need someone with a positive message and lots of energy who will not give up and that’s my track record. I come from very humble beginnings, a single-wide trailer on a gravel road, and I learned you need to work hard but before you can work hard you need to dream big and when we do that as a nation we can accomplish a lot.
HE: What’s your favorite conservative book?
GRAVES: Favorite conservative book? I’m working on the Road to Serfdom. That one takes a little work.
HE: What about your favorite movie?
GRAVES: I don’t really watch movies. We don’t have cable or satellite at our home. If I really went back and thought about it, I’d have to say Smokey and the Bandit from the 1970s.
HE: No cable? Growing up I didn’t have it either. My parents were adamant about not getting it, then I moved out of the house and they got it.
GRAVES: Julie and I, we made that decision when we had children. We’ve never had cable or satellite in our home since we’ve had children.