“Watch the outsider” is a popular admonition among politicians and pundits in Peru. It refers to the tendency of Peruvians to reject the predictable and the status quo in their presidential elections and instead opt for genuine political outsiders. Never was this truer than this year, when three durable politicians ran behind and the top two spots for the June run-off went to former Army Col. Ollanta Humala, an ally of Venezuela’s Marxist President Hugo Chavez, and Congresswoman Keiko Fujimori, daughter of Peru’s former strongman-President Alberto Fujimori.
“Watch the outsider” may also fit most aptly in the politics of Missouri’s 7th District whenever its U.S. House seat is open. In 1988, for example, the retirement of Republican Rep. Gene Taylor led to a crowded GOP primary. Topping a field of established pols was Mel Hancock, security alarm salesman and another ofstatewide amendments requiring voter approval before any taxes were approved.
Of plain-spoken conservative Rep. Hancock, it was once said: “That’s the guy who wants to abolish the federal government!” and “He votes ‘no’ on everything, including adjournment.” One of the first champions of congressional term limits, Hancock kept his promise to leave Congress afterfour terms.
Last year, when Republican Rep. Roy Blunt gave up his 7th District seat to run (successfully) for the U.S. Senate, eight Republicans campaigned for their party’s nomination for Congress.
Two of them were well-known state senators, one of whom had run for Congress twice before. But again, the Southwest Missouri voters opted for the outsider. Distancing his rivals with 37% of the vote was auctioneer and businessman Billy Long.
“I didn’t look or act the part, that’s for sure!” Rep. Long recalled to me recently, patting his stomach, “I was overweight and I never used prepared remarks in our joint appearances—just said what was on my mind.”
Having never held nor sought office, the 55-year-old Springfield resident was a partner of a real estate company with 550 agents in four offices, has conducted over 4000 auctions in his 32 year career, and was a talk-radio host on Station KWTO, which covers more than 95 counties in the Show Me State—in his words, “a poor man’s cross between Paul Harvey and Rush Limbaugh.”
Actually, listening to Long’s distinct twang and machine-gun style auctioneer’s delivery, one hears echoes of L.A. “Speed” Riggs, the voice of Lucky Strike who made “Sold American!” a pillar of radio and early television.
Looking back at the primary, the auctioneer-congressman freely acknowledgedthat neither he nor his top two opponents disagreed on much of anything. All were strong fiscal conservatives who wanted to cut government spending in a big way, all were pro-life and pro-marriage and all vowed to repeal Obamacare and reform healthcare.
“But I think what made the difference was I was the only candidate who, for thirty years, had signed the front of a paycheck and had hired and fired employees,” Long said, “Too many people make a career out of holding one office and then another before they come to Congress. Folks in Southwest Missouri wanted something different, as they did with Mel Hancock—who supported me, I’m proud to say.”
Although the 7th District has sent a Republican to Congress for fifty unbroken years, Democratic nominee Scott Eckersley ran a spirited race against political newcomer Long.
“He was always interrupting me in debates and talking when it wasn’t his turn,” Long told me, “Finally, I got fed up and said ‘I just saw the movie Wall Street, and, in the words of Michael Douglas, ‘You quit lying about me, and I’ll quit telling the truth about you.’”
The fall race was not even close. Before he was elected, the Republican hopeful vowed “When I’m in Congress, it won’t be business as usual.”
Never did that vow ring more clearly than on Friday, April 8, when Rep. Billy Long became one of 28 House Republicans to vote against the budget compromise that averted a government shutdown by about two hours.
One of the “Gang of 28”
On the evening of April 8, House Speaker John Boehner announced the budget agreement with the White House that would forestall a shutdown to his colleagues in the House GOP Conference. At one point, freshman Rep. Long asked what precisely was the amount of the cuts from the entire budget White House and Congress were agreeing to.
“And then the speaker said $39 billion—that’s of the total cut, not above what we had already cut, mind you,” said Long, “Later, outside the conference meeting, a reporter from the New York Times said ‘You don’t look too happy, Congressman.’ And I said I wasn’t happy. We were supposed to cut $61 billion, which is about 3.8% of the entire deficit. Now we’re cutting just over half that amount? And the pay for our troops is still on the table?”
So Long became one of the “Gang of 28,” the House Republicans who voted “no” on the deal that kept the government open.
To the argument that successive cuts in each of the Continuing Resolutions brings government closer to the goal of being smaller, Long shakes his headvigorously.
“You can’t run a business that way—by revisiting the budget every few weeks and starting over again each time,” he said, “No way. And it keeps getting harder and harder to follow because they come up with a new set of numbers that we’re supposed to cut each time. There’s more numbers thrown around in this process than there are at auctions!”
What most bothers the Missouri man is the way payment for Americans in uniform are never taken off the table in the process. Long recalled to me how “a constituent of another Congressman kept telling him he was panicked about his son, who is stationed in Afghanistan, would be making a truck and mobile home paymentwhen his $1600 monthly payment is halved. This wouldn’t be happening if the Senate would have passed the last CR I – I voted for that. Cut $12 billion in spending and funded the roops though the end of the year [Long is now two-for-two, opposing two CRs and voting for two]. But they didn’t do it in the last one and that’s what lets Obama and Harry Reid use the troops and their families as pawns every time we have to face a shutdown.”
For all his worries about the process and the families of troops, Billy Long is an optimist. He plans to pursue his goals of payment for troops and greater spending cuts.
One thing can be certain about the Show-Me State lawmaker. He promised it won’t be “business as usual.” And Billy Long will keep his promise.