I sat down for an hour yesterday afternoon with Sam Clovis, a Republican candidate for United States Senate. We met for coffee at the Brickhouse in Indianola just before he spoke at the Warren County Central Committee meeting.
My project: My goal is to have a discussion with each of our candidates for the 3rd District U.S. Congress and the U.S. Senate to improve my understanding of where they stand on some of the key issues. I do basic research on their positions so I can focus our discussion time on issues or positions that are of interest to me and other likely primary voters. I prioritize issues where I disagree with them and/or where they appear to disagree with the 2012 Iowa GOP Platform. I then write as concise a summary as possible for sharing in social media. I am not a professional journalist so set your expectations accordingly.
First of all, before I get into the discussion topics, I complimented Mr. Clovis for setting the “gold standard” in terms of communicating his thoughts on key issues. He has a comprehensive portfolio of position statements and short videos on his website. That helps me to focus more on “why” and less on “what”.
#1. I told him that economic growth was my top priority and that I would appreciate more details about his clear support for a “fair tax”, repealing the 16th Amendment and free trade.
He explains most policy positions with reference to their authority under the U.S. Constitution. In my opinion, this is his core. In simple terms, he favors a national sales (consumption) tax of about 18% with some adjustments for low income and a handful of exclusions, but with far more Americans paying for government than is the case with today’s income tax structure. Remember he is for elimination of the income tax so most people would have a large increase in “take home pay” with which to pay a sales tax. States like Florida and Texas use this system currently. He would freeze aggregate Federal spending where it is at until revenues catch up. He is for fair trade with only the exemption of countries that are not competing fairly, such as China, where the government owns or subsidizes many industries. He is for a strong guest worker program based on needs in the U.S… He is not in favor of any type of permanent non-resident status for guest workers.
#2. I asked him to share his thoughts on controlling costs in politically sensitive areas, specifically military and entitlement spending.
Regarding the military, he did not take issue with reigning in military spending 5 years ago, but he feels the military has taken the brunt of the cuts since then and that further cuts are unwise. He has extensive military and foreign policy experience. He articulates specific changes in our allocation and use of military resources, for example, dramatic troop reductions in South Korea. Regarding entitlements, he believe reforms of Social Security and Medicare can be done by folding some free market concepts into the current framework, which does not secure the funds for their intended use and therefore has no accountability to the individual contributor.
#3. I asked him to share his thoughts on energy policy. I understood that he was largely against subsidies and market interference. Did that apply to energy?
He supports an “all of the above” approach to energy. He is in favor of replacing fossil fuels with “above ground” alternatives whenever it is economically feasible. He explained in detail the recent reductions to the renewable fuels (RFS) mandate. He feels it was almost wholly associated with the failure of the industry to produce fuels from renewable biomass. He generally supports ethanol, wind, solar and other programs designed to foster in competitive energy technologies. He is against permanent subsidies for alternatives that prove noncompetitive. He is against picking “winners and losers” with direct government investment in companies.
#4. I asked about his position on immigration reform? I told him that I supported comprehensive immigration reform if and when we had a President who would enforce all of the law. I also told him that I thought the U.S. needed large numbers of immigrants to sustain strong economic growth.
Sam is an unflinching supporter of the “rule of law” as it relates to immigration reform. He would favor registration of all people in this country illegally. He would accomplish this with broad based community outreach and an offer of legal status. However, if an individual has committed a felony, they would be subject to deportation. And, he pointed out; the illegal use of someone else’s identity is a felony. He estimates that less than half of the current illegal population would qualify but for those that do, they would acquire a temporary (10 year) renewable work permit. I admit that I expressed skepticism over the reaction of the Hispanic community to this approach and so we discussed how best to offset this reaction with a stronger appeal to U.S. citizens of Hispanic descent. He said we must make our appeal to them based on economic opportunity and real hope to break the chains of poverty. He said that improving their educational opportunity was the single most important factor.
#5. I asked about his position on health care beyond repeal of the Affordable Care Act?
He said he favored full repeal Obamacare. He restated a website position that McCarran-Fergusson Act of 1948 must be repealed by Congress to enable competition across state lines. He also favors tort reform (to limit medial liability and the related overuse of medical tests). He also favors the allowance of tax breaks for individuals so their after-tax costs of insurance would be similar to employees of large corporations (who are not taxed on the insurance benefit they receive). He believes these steps would reduce health insurance costs by 50%.
#6. I asked about his position on education. I understood he was against the “Common Core”. I asked him about his thoughts on the proper role of the Federal vs. the State government.
He reminded me he was running for the U.S. Senate so his focus has been on the Federal role. He would be for dramatic reduction, and possibly elimination, of the Education Department. He believes that at most the Federal government should “block grant” money to the states for education with no strings attached to the standards or curriculum they must use. He believes education can best be improved by encouraging competition in the form of school choice options such as charter schools, private schools, schools affiliated with religious organizations, home schooling, etc… I told him that I understood he favored local control by parents and school boards, but I personally felt that far too many local school systems were failing (think Detroit, but also hundreds of others) and something needed to be done. He said if he were running for Governor, he would be for a leadership role in education at the state level but not too authoritarian and balanced with the education districts.
#7. Not so much as a question but as a general theme throughout the conversation, we talked about the type of style he might have as a U.S. Senator. I told him I was not personally a fan of the Ted Cruz approach because I don’t want the Democrats to use it when they are the minority in 2015.
His response was that the Senate was designed for representatives who championed the interests of their state and signed an oath to uphold the U.S. Constitution. He said he would speak boldly and without fear. He would vote his conscience, not to satisfy Mitch McConnell.
Overall Conclusion: Sam Clovis has very broad and meaningful experience in the military, the private sector, the public sector and education. He is sound on economics, politics, foreign policy and history in general. He has gone to great effort to articulate his thoughts and solutions via the written word and video recordings. There are political risks with being that clear and he has chosen to accept those risks. He experienced some tough “back and forth” during the Q&A with the Warren County Central Committee. He handled those respectfully and succinctly. I like all of that. Still, in the era of 30 second sound bites and video clips, will the general public respond favorably? Well, Iowans have done so for Chuck Grassley, so maybe they will for Sam too.
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