I spoke recently with Senator George LeMieux about health care, education, and the threat to religious liberty. George LeMieux was appointed to the United States Senate in 2009 and served for 16 months. He announced in April that he will compete for the Republican nomination to go against Sen. Bill Nelson, D-FL. To learn more about George’s campaign, visit www.georgeforflorida.com.
Why are you running for the United States Senate?
Well, as you know, I had the opportunity to serve in the United States Senate for 16 months. I was appointed to fill the unexpired term of Senator Martinez. It’s not something that I ever thought would ever happen to me. It’s was a tremendous honor. Unfortunately, besides being an honor, it’s the most dysfunctional organization that I’ve ever been a part of. And I am tremendously worried about our future.
When I finished my term, I returned home to Florida. And my wife Meike and I sat down and talked about what was going to be our next step. I’ve very blessed to have a good job in the private sector. And a lot of my friends think I need to have my head examined trying to go back to Congress.
But my wife and I have four kids, oldest is 8, the youngest is 17 months. The concern we have is that our country is going down such a perilous path that if good people aren’t willing to run and see service as a sacrifice and do what they think they need to do as a country we are on the road to some choices that potentially could diminish this country for our kids. That’s why I feel the calling to run. I believe in the phrase the Good Book has given us, ‘To much is given, much is expected.’
What would you say to folks who were surprised by Governor Crist’s decision to leave the Republican Party and run as an independent? It seemed like on important issues like the right to life, his views were malleable. Fair or not, they associate him with you because he appointed you and you had worked for him. How do you convince voters to give you a second chance, to say you are your own man?
Well, I am my own man. I have a conservative record. It’s a principled pro-life, pro-family, pro-Constitution and limited role of government record. And I showed that. We handled more issues in my 16 month period than most Senators deal with in a six year term.
Although it was only sixteen months, a lot of water went under the bridge in that time period. So the voters can take a pretty full read of me, my character, my votes, what I stand for, and what I’ll fight for. And ultimately it’s not who you work for, it’s what you do when you have the job.
And no one was frankly more disappointed that I was that Charlie Crist did what he did. That was difficult for me personally. We’re friends and friendships matter. Even though we’re friends, the day after he left the Republican Party, I endorsed Marco Rubio [EDITOR'S NOTE: Rubio had been Crist’s opponent in the Senate GOP primary]. And then I campaigned for Marco — with him and for him, all over Florida. I think I’ve proven that I’ll put principle first.
When I travel around the state, Florida voters understand that. It might look a little different on the outside looking in, but Floridians know.
All the Republicans in Florida were once Charlie Crist supporters. Charlie won his race for governor handily. He had a 70% approval rating early on his first term as governor. But somewhere in 2009, he sort of lost his way, which can happen to people in this world. We’ve all walked down the same path of disappointment. I’m not finding that the voters are holding that against me.
During your time in the Senate there were some crucial votes, with Obamacare being the most consequential. Nancy Pelosi had famously said that first we have to pass the health care plan…
Yeah, we’ll pass it, then find out what’s in it.
Well, Catholics sure got a wake-up call this August when the Obama administration issued a mandate that all private insurers provide contraception. The religious exemption contained in this bill was so tiny that the Catholic bishops are saying that no Catholic school or hospital could possibly qualify. What does this say about the federal government’s approach to health care reform?
It’s one of the many things that’s wrong with it. I voted against Obamacare. I strenuously argued against Obamacare. You can find all that information on the web. I went to the Senate floor time and time again with my 39 other Republican colleagues and we did everything we could to show the American people how bad this bill was.
I can’t tell you I knew of every problem that was in it. But I read the bill and did my best to understand it. I knew of a lot of problems that were in Obamacare. The fact that it’s going to take a half trillion dollars out of Medicare, which is health care for seniors. That’s a program that’s already going to have problems in its ability to pay claims in the next 12 years. We take that money to create a new entitlement. It didn’t make any sense to me.
It would tax medical devices and medicine, which would increase the cost of health care for all Americans. It didn’t make sense to me in light of the debt and deficit situation to create a $1 trillion new federal program.
And it certainly didn’t make sense to me that we would put the government further involved in health care decisions in place between the patient and the doctor.
As far as what you talked about in terms of Catholic providers of health care [insurance] and the rules that are being mandated and how they are not respectful of religious institutions and the role of contraception [in that] is further manifestation of the fact that the government is way too involved, especially the federal government, in these health care decisions. I opposed Obamacare. If I have the opportunity and privilege to go back, I will vote to repeal it.
Sticking to the topic of religious liberty, the National Labor Relations Board ruled in the last year that two Catholic colleges were not sufficiently “Catholic” to qualify for a religious exemption. There may not be many Catholics who are aware of this yet, but shouldn’t the decision over whether a college is sufficiently Catholic be left up to the college and the bishop – not the federal government?
It absolutely should. But let me give you a view, I won’t call it a contrarian view, but just a word of caution. But I don’t know if these two institutions take federal money. Most schools in this country do, whether they are public or private. And when you take money from the federal government, you are opening yourself up to that kind of interpretation.
I went to a Catholic law school. I went to Georgetown. I believe in Catholic and Christian schools. My children attend Christian schools. I am Catholic, which you probably know. I’m looking out the window and I see the Church I was baptized in, St. Anthony’s here in Fort Lauderdale. My Catholic faith means a lot to me.
I think there’s been an attack upon Christianity and religion in this country, that we’ve become very secular. I think that with many of the problems of the federal government – that it’s too large and spending too much, is a moral problem at its base. It’s a problem that says you and your family and your community and your church are not capable of handling problems on your own, that only the federal government and the bureaucracy are able to handle these social justice needs, for lack of a better term. And I think that’s absolutely wrong. That’s not what our Founders intended.
There’s a theory in Catholic theology called subsidiarity, which is what I believe in, that says that the government that should be most involved in your life is the one that is closest to you. Thomas Jefferson said something very similar to that effect. And I don’t think the federal government should be involved in these decisions. I think the federal government should be the smallest government in terms of an impact on your daily life. It should first be your local, then your state, then your federal government. And it’s because we have this moral problem, this lack of a sense in where we came from and what our founding principles are, that we have a government that is going broke and a government that is intruding on every aspect of our life.
Do you think it’s possible that one of the reasons we are so politically divided in this country is that we try to have all these issues decided at the federal level? I’m in Michigan and you’re there in Florida. The people in our states might look at this differently. Perhaps if more of these decisions were made locally, maybe we wouldn’t be have such a divisive political culture nationally?
That’s a fantastic point. I’ve never thought of it that way. It’s very true. And if these decisions were made here, by like-minded people, it would be easier perhaps to get to reconciliation. And frankly city government works better than the national government. You see people of different political parties in city government and they come together and figure things out. And it’s far less political.
You make a great point. Our Founders did not want a direct democracy. They wanted a republic. They wanted federalism. And federalism meant that Texas would be different from Michigan and Michigan would be different from Florida and Florida would be different from Massachusetts. If you don’t like that state, you could move.
But what the liberals want to do is make America homogeneous so that every state is the same and every place is the same. You can’t move your employees from Washington State to South Carolina. Different states shouldn’t have different laws and rules. And you know that Boeing example.
So I think you made an excellent point and if you don’t mind, I might steal it from you.
Well, sure. I think it just gets to the disconnect that people have with their elected officials in Washington. They feel like they’re not responsive, that they don’t ‘answer to me.’ Part of that came up during the debate over health care reform where 60-70% of Americans disapproved of Obamacare and they passed it through anyway. These politicians are 2,000 miles away, but in local government these officials are your neighbors.
When you are in your supermarket and you see your city commissioner, you walk up to him and tell him that there’s something you don’t like or something that you do like. And they’re involved in your local community. They’re at your kid’s soccer game or baseball game. They’re much more accessible. I think the government that governs best is government that’s within driving distance.