Master of the Budget Numbers

Talking in his office in the Longworth House Office Building with me before President Obama’s State of the Union address last week, freshman Rep. David Schweikert (R.-Ariz.) recalled the first time I had interviewed him.  That was back in 1994, when Schweikert was Majority Whip of the Arizona House of Representatives and one of three candidates in the Republican primary for Congress from the Grand Canyon State’s 5th District.

He lost.  The primary was won by fellow conservative and popular television sportscaster J.D. Hayworth, who went on to win the seat in November and serve in Congress until his defeat by Democrat Harry Mitchell in 2006.

“And I realized after that defeat that really all I had done in my life was politics and real estate,” Schweikert said, “So I decided to do some different things—and, boy, were they different!”

He earned a master’s degree in business administration from Arizona State University, took cooking classes, and mastered sky diving and scuba diving.  Schweikert also began taking what he called “unique vacations” every year.  From Mexico in 1995, to Pakistan and India (“I saw the Taj Mahal right after 9/11 and it was the only time not a single person was outside—they were all  praying”), Vietnam, and Butan.

On the professional front, Schweikert continued in the real estate front.  But the new MBA holder was also named to the state Board of Equalization, where he chaired Arizona’s Tax Court.   

“And, oh, yes, one day I was in Starbuck’s going through one of my books on accounting,” he said with a laugh, “and this beautiful young woman came up to me and said ‘My accounting book is different from yours.’  Her name was Joyce, she had a background in finance and administration and ran a surgery center.  Within a short time, we were married.”

Holding up his wedding picture, Schweikert smiled and said, “How many married couples do you know who met over accounting books in a Starbuck’s?  God has a reason for everything.”

With his passion for sound management and enhanced background in finance and administration, Schweikert re-entered politics and won election as treasurer of one of America’s largest –counties:  what Arizonans call “the grand imperial state of Maricopa County.”  Managing the investment capital for the fast-growing county that includes Phoenix made David Schweikert more aware of the need for people in office who could read budgets and knew when and where taxpayer dollars should and should not be spent.

In ’08, he made his second race for Congress.  This time, Schweikert made it through the Republican primary but lost to popular former Tempe Mayor and liberal Democrat (lifetime American Conservative Union rating:  26.27%) Mitchell. 

Last year, Schweikert was again a candidate for Congress. In his third race for Congress, the issues and the national trend were on his side.  Running on a platform of repealing health care reform enacted by the Democrats in Congress and vowing to submit every government program to a review for cutting in order to get America out of debt, Schweikert unseated Mitchell with 52% of the vote.  

As it was with Newt Gingrich, Rep. Frank Wolf (R.-VA) and a handful of other House Members who had lost two races before finally emerging triumphant, the third time proved the charm for David Schweikert.  He finally went to Congress—and Congress had a new master of the budget numbers.

In the Mold of Stockman and Kasich

Walking through the basement of the Longworth Building to the Capitol for Obama’s address on January 25th, Rep. Schweikert was upset when I told him how White House officials had earlier told reporters that the President in his speech would attack the extension of lower taxes for the highest income earners that was part of the tax bill compromise with Republican lawmakers a month ago. 

“So why did he sign it?”  exclaimed Schweikert, “His liberal base is getting upset that [Obama] is moving to the center, so it appears as though he has to please them by playing the class warfare card.”

But as I have come to realize, any policy discussion—any discussion, for that matter—with the Arizonan almost always works its way around to excessive spending in Washington and ways of cutting it.  Like former Michigan Rep. and Office of Management and Budget head David Stockman and onetime House Budget Committee Chairman (and new governor of Ohio) John Kasich, David Schweikert seems to talk, live, and breath budget figures and management.

“I would never consider voting to raise the debt ceiling,” he told me, “unless I knew in advance that there were going to be major across-the-board cuts in spending and entitlements would be put on the table.  And I plan to try to get some reduced spending for certain things in the Continuing Resolution to make sure it happens.”

Entering Statuary Hall in the Capitol (where a sea of reporters waits anxiously for lawmakers willing to comment before the President’s address), Schweikert deftly moves to another of his passions: overhaul of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.

Is he really talking about abolishing the scandal-tinged mortgage titans? 

“Pretty close,” says Schweikert, who serves on the House Financial Services Committee, “At the very least, much of Fannie and Freddie needs to be privatized.  Right now, I’m reading all I can about both of them so I will know as much as any Hill staffer who specializes in this.  Then we’ll draw up a plan.”

As the congressman left to enter the House chamber for the State of the Union, I had little doubt that he would master the nuances of Fannie and Freddie and then come up with a plan that was likely to be both packed with details and quite unique and even daring—in a sense, like David Schweikert himself.