Politics

Salmon still hardline after all these years

Salmon still hardline after all these years
Matt Salmon (Photo courtesy of Gage Skidmore)

The returning member recalled his stint in Congress from 1994-2000 and the first time he attended the president’s State of the Union address as a freshman lawmaker in 1995. Rep. Matt Salmon (R-Ariz.) said: “I heard a Democratic president proclaim ‘the era of big government is over.” Salmon then noted that, returning to the House 12 years after he voluntarily limited himself to three terms, “I attended the State of the Union address [Feb. 12] and heard a Democratic president proclaim: It’s ba-aa-ck!”

Any interview with the 55-year-old former telecommunications executive inevitably gets around to his iconic status among the 33 Republican House members in this year’s class. The Arizonan is a “freshman-plus”—one of two just-elected GOP members who had a previous incarnation in Congress. Like Steve Stockman of Texas, Salmon was one of the 72 Republicans in the “Gingrich Class” of 1994 who rode a national conservative tide that gave their party a majority in the House for the first time in four decades.

And like Stockman, Salmon (lifetime American Conservative Union rating: 100 percent) remains unchanged in his swashbuckling conservative philosophy and style. In 1997, then-two-termer Salmon, joined in an abortive coup against then-Speaker Newt Gingrich by Republican lawmakers who felt that “Mr. Newt” had let down their conservative agenda. A year later, after Republicans lost ground in the midterm elections, Salmon again called for a revolt against Gingrich. Within days, the speaker resigned from Congress.

On the same day that the president was calling for a greater federal government hand in education, Salmon was repeating to Human Events his years long call for abolishing the U.S. Department of Education.

“We’ve had a federal department to oversee education since 1979 and there is no evidence to suggest the quality of education has since improved,” Salmon said. He serves on the House Education Committee and plans to introduce legislation to merge the Education and Labor Departments into one cabinet-level agency.

“Eventually, we’ll just have a federal office to block grant funds to the states for education and let the states do their own testing,” Salmon said.

Salmon has never lost his passion for shutting down the Departments of Education, Energy, Commerce, Labor, and Housing and Urban Development. As to whether this will have any impact on the deficit, he shot back: “At least as much as any of the discretionary spending we have been cutting out. I say let’s begin to starve the beast with these departments and then work our way to the big stuff—entitlements.”

Honoring a promise—coming back

With three terms behind him, Salmon voluntarily left his previous seat in 2000 and thus honored a promise he made when he won his first term.

“I retired because I said I would and I’m glad I kept my word,” Salmon told Human Events, but pointing out that he made no such promise in his comeback race and supports term limits only if they are universal.

He returned to private business and served a stint as state Republican chairman. In 2002, he lost the race for governor by about one vote per precinct to Democrat Janet Napolitano, now secretary of Homeland Security. Salmon recalls the state’s campaign finance reform law, the creation of Democratic State Chairman Jim Pederson, “provided state matching funds for a candidate who was facing an opponent who wouldn’t take the state funds, as I wouldn’t.

“The law even provided matching funds when an outside group backed the opponent. So that gave her [Napolitano] a big advantage.

“I’m glad to say the U.S. Supreme Court finally struck down that insidious law and, had it not been on the books 10 years ago, I would have been governor.”

When Republican Sen. Jon Kyl announced his retirement in 2011, Rep. Jeff Flake (Salmon’s successor in Congress) quickly emerged as the likely Republican nominee. Although Salmon was happy in the private sector, he began contemplating a return.

“I began thinking how Republicans got control of Congress and the presidency and then started spending away the surplus they inherited,” Salmon said.

“I thought about how I would have fought the Medicare reform package in ’03 and ‘No Child Left Behind’ Finally, my wife told me I had to get back in the fight. I decided to run.”

In the primary, Salmon faced state House Speaker Kirk Adams, a fellow Mormon who had the backing of both of the state’s U.S. senators, Gingrich, Sarah Palin and much of the business community.

There were few issue differences between the two conservatives.

“People clearly remembered me as the outsider fighting ‘the establishment’ and that’s how the race played out. We left no stone unturned,” Salmon said.

The former congressman’s team held over 100 meet and greet events at the homes of supporters, went door to door, and ended up out raising the Adams. Salmon won the primary by a margin of 52 percent to
48 percent.

“I’d talk to everyone but never drank any coffee,” Salmon laughed.

“More patriots this time”

Addressing the massive spending cuts known as sequestration that will take effect March 1 unless Congress offers an alternative plan, Salmon told us: “Sequestration is not the ‘be all, end all’ in the whole fiscal debate. The real fight will be over the continuing resolution down the line and the question of whether we continue to fund the federal government at the same level.”

And the question for Republicans in Congress, he said pointedly, “is whether we are willing to partially shut the government down to get to a lower level. We have made $83 billion in cuts this year, but it’s just a start. If we don’t [cut more], we’re going to end up like Greece.”

What gives Salmon hope is what he cites as the premier difference between his first class of House Republicans in 1994 and the class he returned in 2012: that there are more who are willing to go all the way on conservative causes, such as reducing the size and scope of government.

“We had 72 Republicans come in 1994 and there were only about 11 of us who were willing to go all the way,” he said, “Now, you look at [fellow freshman Reps.] Ron DeSantis [Fla.], Doug Collins [Ga.], Tom Cotton [Ark.], and Steve Stockman, who I think walks on water. We have more patriots this time—at least 20 of us willing to do what has to be done. Things are going to happen this time.”

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