Friday, January 29, 2010
One-on-One with Senate Candidate Tim Bridgewater
A brief look at field of challengers for US Senator Bob Bennett, and more lengthy notes on my 45-minute telephone interview with Tim Bridgewater last evening.
Last evening brought a somewhat unexpected opportunity to interview US Senate candidate Tim Bridgewater one-on-one by phone for about 45 minutes. He's making the rounds of bloggers. I approached the interview with considerable anticipation. I have heard good things about him from an insider or two over the years. And I already knew I liked another of Senator Bennett's Republican challengers. I wondered if I would end the evening liking two of them.
Before I recount some highlights of the interview, here are my current notes on whole field.
I mentioned in September my serious displeasure with US Senator Robert Bennett. There are at least four Republicans running against him now, as well as two or more Democrats running for their party's nomination. I'll be a little surprised if Senator Bennett avoids defeat in convention, but as a campaigner he's pretty sharp, not to mention well-funded, so the possibility exists.
I don't expect to vote for either Democrat, but all I know about their principles at the moment is that Christopher Stout is trying to sound like a Utah conservative -- maybe he is one -- and Sam Granato's campaign Web site promises that information about him is coming soon, but doesn't yet offer any.
With what I expected to be a conference call with Bridgewater and other bloggers looming, I decided it was time this week to take a serious look at the Republicans in the race. If it seems rather early to you, it's . . . not. Precinct caucuses are in March, and the Utah State Republican Convention, which will eliminate all but one or two Republican candidates, is in early May. Of the challengers, Mike Lee, Cherilyn Eager, James Williams, and Tim Bridgewater, I was somewhat acquainted only with Lee before this week.
Before I proceed, I'm inclined to a disclaimer. To wit: Some readers may think me unduly judgmental. Supporters of certain candidates will find me unfairly so, perhaps. But as a voter I am required to pass judgment, and as candidates the five people I will discuss have invited me to pass judgment on them. So here goes.
I spent a couple of hours last fall listening to Mike Lee at a gathering in Alpine. He wasn't a declared candidate at the time, but it was clear that he was working toward a run for some national office. I hoped he'd run against Congressman Jim Matheson, but he has his eye on a longer term on the other side of the Capitol. At the time, I declared with some enthusiasm -- in fact, this was the title of the blog post -- "I Think I Found a Great Candidate." He still has some things to prove -- that's what campaigns are for -- and I've kept enough of an open mind to wonder if there's another equal or better candidate in the field.
Cherilyn Eager has an impressive resume in business and politics. She pushes the same conservative buttons as the rest of the candidates, more or less. But I quickly lost interest when I clicked the "Principles" button at her campaign Web site. That page is almost long enough to be a filibuster, which is rather senatorial, I suppose. But she wants to read to me from Cleon Skousen's The Five Thousand Year Leap. I have a certain amount of respect for Skousen and his thinking about government. I've read some of his writings, and his views have had some influence on mine. But I also have at least one candidate who wants to read to me not Skousen, but the Constitution itself, and who speaks of it intelligently and insightfully. Eager loses me on basis of that comparison alone, even before I reason that the Constitution itself is a lot more likely than Skousen's book to be the basis of an effective, broad-based conservative movement on Capitol Hill. Besides that, the Constitution is already the supreme law of the land, and The Five Thousand Year Leap is not.
Eager also quotes Glenn Beck at some length. I listen to Beck occasionally and find him insightful at times. He is admirably passionate about important things at all times. But leading with Glenn Beck is not the mark of an effective candidate for US Senator or an effective Senator. We need more than a reliable conservative vote in Washington. We need a leader who can attract and persuade peers who are not quite conservative to support conservative legislation and principles.
As a matter of fact, if I click the "My Principles" link at James Williams' campaign Web site, I'm turned off before I ever realize that the 28 principles he quotes there are from the same Cleon Skousen book. (By the way, did either candidate get the copyright holder's permission to quote the book?) It's less than two months to the precinct caucuses, and less than four to the state convention, as I've noted. A serious campaign for the US Senate should look professional by now, including his campaign Web site. To my eye, Williams' campaign does not.
Senator Bennett himself is a candidate, of course. He's a savvy, seasoned politician with seniority -- none of which is bad in itself. He's less conservative than I am, and I have some major objections to his positions on some crucial issues, but I've voted for him before, and I would do so again if he were the best candidate in the field. At present, I don't think he is.
That leaves Tim Bridgewater, who ran unsuccessfully for the US House of Representatives some years ago. My initial explorations suggested that he was worth a longer look, so I watched the October speech in which he declared his candidacy. (The speech and subsequent questions and answers are in three parts on YouTube.) I found him adequate but less than scintillating as a speaker. However, we've seen clearly in the last year, if we didn't already know, that a great orator doesn't necessarily make a good leader, so I will not write off a candidate for sounding like he is reading his speech when he is, ahem, reading his speech -- as long as he is talking sense. Bridgewater was.
The Bridgewater Interview
(Note that I'm working from notes and memory here, not from a recording or transcript.)
Tim Bridgewater describes himself as an entrepreneurial capitalist, and he has the business resume to prove it. Experience in the real business world is sorely lacking among the Beltway sages who now presume to repair and regulate our economy. More of such experience among them could not be a bad thing.
I said something about all the candidates trying to push the same conservative buttons and asked Bridgewater what differentiates him from the others. Later I posed a more specific question about what separates him from Mike Lee. (He spoke positively of some of Lee's experience and qualifications, by the way.) His answers to these similar questions were essentially the same and basically two-fold:
First, he grew up in a single-wide trailer house with a mom and a stepfather. He comes from a neighborhood where people worked long and hard, and he was the first from his family to go to college. He sees this background as an advantage for someone who proposes to represent all the people of Utah.
Second, while he has some experience in government at the state and federal levels, under Governor Huntsman (education policy) and in the Reagan administration (Treasury), he has a great deal more experience in business than Lee has. He knows what it means to struggle to meet payroll, and he has firsthand experience trying to build and grow small businesses in an increasingly oppressive regulatory environment. He has seen up close, he said, how small changes in law and regulation can put people out of work and put businesses out of business -- a sensitivity one wishes would burst forth in Washington, to be sure. He also brings to the table some international project development experience.
I like the fact that he lived for several years outside of Utah, in Washington, DC, and in Houston, Texas, not to mention a two-year stint in Venezuela. I think there is valuable perspective to be gained in living in other places. (Naturally, I would think that, having lived much of my life elsewhere.)
During the interview Bridgewater kept returning to his central theme, the need to impose a sense of fiscal responsibility in Washington. We are spending too much, borrowing too much, and sapping our economic strength by regulating too much. In addition to "exploding" debts, we find government increasingly intruding into every aspect of our lives. When government picks the winners and losers in the the economy, he observed, it distorts markets.
He said that we need to work toward a balanced budget; he thinks it could take ten years to get there. He emphasized the importance of entitlement reform, declaring that Congress determines entitlement spending, and that for Congress to plead that it has no choice in such matters is to abdicate responsibility. He suspects that those who are elected to the US Senate this year will arrive with a clear mandate to put the government's fiscal house in order.
He asked me what is my greatest concern, as a voter and an observer. I mentioned a related theme: We, especially in Washington, seem to have lost all sense of the necessity and desirability of limited government and enumerated federal powers. (Here I must note that my own political optimism these last few months is rooted in the sense that Americans at large have not altogether forgotten these things.)
He asked what I'm looking for in a candidate. I almost reverted to what I have often told my college writing students I'm looking for in their papers: evidence of thought. Instead, I explained that I'm not just looking for someone who can defeat the Democratic nominee in the general election, and I'm not just looking for a reliable conservative vote in the US Senate. I'm looking for someone who can reach out intelligently, effectively, and relentlessly, drawing support in the Senate from a broad segment of the political spectrum, and actually push things in a productive, conservative direction.
This means that my final decision, if I'm given a choice on a primary or convention ballot, will be in some measure an instinctive one. It's hard to know how campaign promises and high-flown principles will translate into influence and productivity on the Hill. So we do the best we can in the election, and then we watch to see if we got what we need. If we find that we can do better next time, we decline to renew his contract.
I asked him what foreign policy issues loom large for him. I won't try fully to reconstitute his answer from my notes, but he touched intelligently, I thought, on Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iran, and China. He thinks, for example, that victory in Afghanistan will be very difficult, and he'd prefer that we weren't at war there -- but we are there, so we have to win. And he is persuaded of the need to help and encourage internal opponents of the Iranian regime.
To improve my sense of where Bridgewater fits into the Utah conservative spectrum, I wanted to discover his view of Senator Orrin Hatch, another arch-villain in the minds of some conservatives (not including me). So I asked him a hypothetical question: If both Hatch and Bennett were running this year, and both seemed vulnerable, against which would he choose to run? He said, Bennett. Hatch has not only fought the good conservative fight in some important ways over the years, as in the case of several judicial nominees; he has led the good fight. (That's my paraphrase of Bridgewater's answer.) Then he added this interesting observation: As he has traveled the state, he has found passionate opposition to both senators. For Senator Hatch -- but not for Senator Bennett -- there is also passionate support. People don't seem to see Bennett as "part of the solution," he said.
Conclusions and Beyond
I found Tim Bridgewater to be intelligent, personable, and candid, including in a matter I asked him off the record. He didn't strike me as a knee-jerk right-winger of the sort that would surely be marginalized if he ever got to DC in the first place. His demeanor, his thinking, his positions on various specific issues, and especially his priorities don't seem wing-nutty at all.
Where my own vote is concerned, the best outcome Bridgewater could reasonably hope for as a result of last night's interview was that I would remain for the present undecided between him and Mike Lee. I told him this. I also told him at the end that he achieved that outcome. That's where I am now.
With two fine candidates in the race -- Mike Lee and Tim Bridgewater -- the chance that I will vote for Senator Bennett is near zero. To reenter the race for my vote, Bennett would have to convince me that what I've seen is not what it appears to be at all, which seems unlikely. So it's now a two-way race for my vote, and I'll enjoy watching both Lee and Bridgewater as the campaign unfolds.
There was a debate among the challengers in Provo the other day. I wasn't there. Bridgewater promised to send me a link to the video recording of the debate, when it's available. It may be illuminating.
So tell me, do you agree or disagree with my view of these candidates? Why?
(Editorial note: I tweaked the prose in this post in several places after publishing it, to make it read more smoothly, but not to change its substance. DR)
Connor Boyack comments (1/30/2010):
FYI, here are clips of Mike Lee's responses at the Provo iCaucus debate.
Also laughed that a "Bob Bennett for Senate" google ad appeared at the top right of your page when viewing your post. :)
Copyright 2010 by David Rodeback.