My congressman, Rep. John Carter (“Warlord of Mars”) of Texas House District 31 held an open house in Round Rock on Tuesday, August 17. Here’s my brief report. (I’m quoting from memory, so please forgive me if I get any quotes slightly wrong.)
This was a standing-room only crowd (my rough estimate would be 300-400 people), predominately older (not uncommon for political events), and 95% conservative (this is, after all, Williamson County). Save one liberal that shouted questions from the audience rather than waiting to use the microphone, it was also very well-behaved. (It would probably be unfair to compare Rep. Carter’s open house to those of Russ Carnahan or Claire McCaskill or even Ciro Rodriguez, all Representatives catching flack from their constituents for voting for the Obama-Pelosi agenda.) I think about two people in the Q&A session voiced approval for ObamaCare, but even those two were against cap-and-trade.
Indeed, there seemed to be overwhelming sentiment for smaller government in the room, and there were probably more hardcore libertarians than liberals. One attendee suggested the abolition of all federal departments except those (War (now Defense) and State) listed in the Constitution.
Carter, a former Williamson County judge, himself looks a bit older than his website’s official photos, and is a solid public speaker, if not a natural one.
Rep. Carter talked about how he had voted against TARP, the Stimulus, ObamaCare, Frank-Dodd, and cap-and-trade (the first four of which passed anyway). He said they had about two days to consider TARP, with the Bush Administration saying the banking system was about to collapse. He voted against it anyway, despite the pressure brought to bear for him to vote for it. “I told them I had presided over five death penalty case, three of which resulted in the death penalty being carried out, and compared to that their pressure was nothing. After that, they agreed I wasn’t going to change my mind, went away and left me alone.”
He also told us that worst effects of Obama’s policies may not have been felt yet, which is an ominous thought.
He showed off the infamous ObamaCare chart with its myriad array of boxes and new federal entities. He said he had experienced socialized medicine firsthand in The Netherlands (his wife is Dutch) and wanted no part of it.
He said that Washington was destroying small businesses. He talked about a subdivision developer in Bastrop who was making money, had sold half the lots in the subdivision, and was current on all his payments, but because of Dodd-Frank, the bank said he had 30 days to take his loan to another bank because Dodd-Frank said they had too many real estate loans in their portfolio. He said he had to take on a partner just to move the loan.
He also said that Republicans had pleaded with their Democratic colleagues not to let the Bush tax cuts expire. “Where I come from, when you pay more money, that’s a tax increase.” He also said that lower-income earners were going to be some of the hardest hit.
Come question and comments time (Carter appeared as part of the GOP’s “America Speaking Out” tour), there was the usual mixture of personal issues: one small business owner said she thought the government was trying to drive her out of business, questions about having to pay taxes on social security, a recent veteran (standing ovation) relating how he had a job offer pulled at the last minute due to a credit check, exhortations to read the constitution, etc. The usual panoply of grassroots American democracy. (At least in a Republican district. Perhaps speakers at Nancy Pelosi’s town halls exhort people to read Karl Marx or Howard Zinn.)
When it came my turn to ask a question (I was about 15th in line), I asked how, if Republicans were to recapture the majority, they would ensure they showed more fiscal restraint than the last time they were in the majority. Carter flatly admitted “We screwed up,” including himself in some votes early during his tenure when colleagues had urged him to vote for big spending bills “because we have to govern.”
I feel fairly confident that Rep. Carter has repented of the free-spending ways of the late Dennis Hastert-led Republican House, but I’m not sure his colleagues have.
I had to leave shortly after that, but I had a chance to say hi to Republican State House District 52 candidate Larry Gonzales, who I interviewed and endorsed (and have since contributed to) on the way out. I asked him how the campaign was going, and he said “Great! We’re loaded for bear.”