Have you ever wanted to be President of the United States? No? How about Congressman? Me neither. But last year I suddenly found myself running for Congress and in the process got quite an education. At a recent Patch bloggers pizza gathering I was asked to write about my experience.
First, all I wanted to do was call my Congressman and tell him Congress was approaching the deficit problem from the wrong angle. The Republicans were talking about cutting programs. As a poor kid who started life in the fields of the San Joaquin Valley picking fruit with my grandparents, I knew it was
impossible to save your way to prosperity (if you don’t have enough money for
food, no matter how much you save, you are still hungry).
The Democrats were advocating raising taxes as a way of cutting the deficit. I love reading history and knew that you could not reach prosperity by raising taxes. I believe it was Winston Churchill who said that trying to tax yourself into prosperity is like standing in a bucket and trying to lift yourself off the ground.
It seemed like an easy task. I called the Congressman’s office and asked for a schedule of town hall meetings. There were no meetings scheduled.
I asked for a schedule of speaking engagements in the county so I could buy a ticket. No scheduled meetings.
I asked when it would be possible to speak to the Congressman personally. Apparently they are very, very busy.
It appeared my attempt at saving the country would have to take a different path.
I purchased a website and wrote out my plan. Points of the plan included a flat tax of 12% paid by every wage earner in the U.S. Manufacturing plants could sell products overseas with zero tax on the profits. Corporate tax rates, on items sold in this country, would match individual tax rates at 12%.
The EPA rules would be rolled back to 1998 and the remaining rules would be reviewed for their return on investment. An added emphasis would be placed on trade schools. (The world always needs electricians, welders, machinists and factory workers. The old saw about everybody going to college only appeals to those without real life experience.)
Oil drilling rules and regulations would be returned to the states. My whole idea was to make the U.S. the preferred manufacturing location in the world. We would have low taxes, sensible environmental rules, cheap energy and a well-trained work force. We are world leaders; we needed to get back to Capitalism which made us the beacon that attracted the best and brightest to our shores.
People contacted me and some even liked my ideas. The really smart people thought they were too simple, but I’m a big fan of the KISS (Keep It Simple, Stupid) process. Later the Heritage Foundation would release a report by three PhD’s, which was very similar to my plan.
Next, I set out to find a candidate. I could picture the person in my mind. My candidate would be super smart, good looking, charismatic and thoughtful. People would love my candidate.
To tell you what happened next, I have to go back 30 years. Bev Nestande was a great woman whose ex-husband was a county supervisor. Years later, her son would be a state legislator. She asked me to run for a local office. I begged off because I had a new child, a new business, and a lot of debt. Bev said to me, “John Webb, if you don’t run, somebody else will. Years from now you will not be happy with the results.”
Thirty years later Bev’s words came to me as each potential candidate recited nearly the same litany of reasons they could not run. Each meeting ended with the person saying, “Why don’t you run? Your family is grown and you have time.”
This was a real problem. I don’t like meetings. I don’t like authority and I rebel against the system on a regular basis. Still, nobody was talking about the right things to fix our problems in this country.
I had several meetings with friends and mentors. All the people I knew were supportive except for one guy who suggested I had earned the right to go play golf and leave it to younger people.
Next, I contacted my wife with my idea. My wife is a great supporter, but a very tough business person who knows how to ask the right questions. Our meeting was tough because she did not want me making a mistake. The final question went something like this: “If I agree with you, will you agree to stop yelling at the television?” She drives a tough bargain, but with that agreement, I understood the decision was mine.
Running for office takes a lot of money. Running for office takes a lot of time. I didn’t have a political base. I did not even know anybody who had ever served in the Congress. I started attending meetings around Orange County talking to people active in politics and asking them about my odds. The overall agreement was that I didn’t stand a chance.
I asked to speak to several groups and they declined to have an unknown speak about the unspeakable. With these thoughts in my mind I thought, “What could go wrong?”
The next day I filed the papers to run for Congress.
Next week I will talk about the journey each of you should consider at some point in your life.