By Dustin Siggins
In 2010, Robyn Hamlin ran for Congress as a Tea Party candidate in a district long held by Democrats. With little money and even less name recognition, she garnered less than 30% of the vote in the general election. The owner and operator of two small businesses who raises chickens on the side, she is frustrated with what she sees as a corrupt system in Washington that Congress is unwilling to change. Now she's running again, this time against not only Democrats but the local and state GOP, which for reasons of a basic lack of courage made an under-the-table deal with the incumbent Democrat to guarantee the seat remains his.
As part of her re-election campaign, Hamlin hired Liberty Torch Political Consulting, LLC, a libertarian political consulting firm co-founded by my friend Josiah Schmidt. Earlier this week Josiah asked me if I'd interview Hamlin in order to help her get the word out about the GOP's deal as well as garner support among conservatives nationwide in order to help her raise the money necessary to win the seat. Below is that interview, conducted by phone last evening.
Hamlin's website can be seen here, and a press release from the campaign outlining the basics of the GOP's underhanded deal with the district's Democrats can be seen here.
Dustin Siggins: In 2010 you garnered 26% of the vote in the general election. Why will this year be different?
Robyn Hamlin: My name recognition is higher and I constantly educate voters. People don't know what their political parties are supposed to do locally, how things happen, how to elect people, or what congressional district people are in. In 2010 people did not know what district they were in, and had signs for candidates they couldn't even vote for.
Regarding the vote count, we did very well considering we had no money. We raised $21,000 and got that high of a percentage. We made door hangers and all else that we could in-house and walked everywhere to get to everyone.
DS: How important is redistricting to your campaign this year?
RH: It helps a little because losing a district in Missouri makes people pay attention. Additionally, the two incumbents (Lacy Clay and Russ Carnahan) are fighting each other for the Democratic nomination. One district left, which was Carnahan's, and now we have two incumbents tearing each other apart. This makes them weaker and the eventual Republican general election, hopefully me, stronger.
DS: One of the reasons Josiah wanted me to interview you was because of an alleged deal between the local GOP and local Democrats. What is that about?
RH: This area was once considered a protected district, meaning it had to go to a black Representative due to the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the area's demographics. That went out the window after the 2000 Census. Every ten years we count all citizens and get their race, gender, etc. and this has not been a protected district since 2000.
I sent Josiah e-mails I exchanged with the local GOP, including one in March really blasting them. I sent it to 700 people with my complaint about how the GOP wasn't competing for the district. One of the responses told me that the area is a majority-minority district, and thus the local GOP didn't want to cause waves. So rather than do their due diligence, they just kowtowed.
My answer to the woman responding to my e-mail was to inform her that the area is no longer protected. I pointed out that this should have been obvious for many reasons, including the simple fact that Russ Carnahan is white and Lacy Clay is black.
As a side note, I'm half-white and have-Cherokee, but I don't fall under "protected" status. You'd think I'd get special treatment -- I mean, I'm a single mother who runs two businesses and is half-Cherokee. I fall under every minority category possible, but I don't think I deserve assistance. Unless someone can't do something, such as being in a wheelchair and needs help going up a ramp, he or she should stand on their own two feet.
Back on track -- I did research on the racial diversity of the area and the Civil Rights Act, and found that the St. Louis-area racial demographics no longer fall under the Act's purview. Yet the GOP continued to ignore me and just try to hand the district to the Democrats because they just want to ignore the 1st District.
The state GOP even does this. If you are in the 1st District and call to ask about volunteer opportunities, they will take your information and send you to another district. They are so used to having the 1st District be protected that they haven't kept up with the way the district has changed. They did this in 2010. It's also about leaving the Clays alone (Clay's father held the seat before he did) and Carnahan ( Carnahan's sister is Secretary of State, and Carnahan's father was elected governor). Also, Carnahan's brother has a green wind farm that due to ballot language in his district got federal and state money to subsidize his wind farm.
DS: Speaking of wind farms and federal monies, let's shift to policy. Your website indicates you are pretty fiscally conservative. What are the three most important things you want Congress to do about the fiscal mess we're in?
RH: We need a balanced budget in Congress, with the exception of a Declaration of War from Congress. Other than that, we need a Balanced Budget Amendment. We also need sound money backed by something. Lastly, there are 159 countries in the world. We give money to 152 and borrow from 25. That is insanity. A fifth-grader could figure out what's wrong with that. We should quit giving money to people we're borrowing from.
DS: We spend less than one percent of our budget on direct foreign aid, which means we're spending less than $37 billion annually on foreign aid. Is that really such a big deal compared to our huge deficits?
RH: It's not the number. It's the mentality. It bleeds over into everything else.
DS: Ideally, how long would you take to balance the budget?
RH: It should be balanced every year. That's Congress' job. That's the job of every business owner and homeowner in the country. Every one of us on Main Street has to have a budget. Some people get paid weekly, and they budget within that check. Whether that check is $300 or $2,000, they have to live within their means. If they get laid off or work fewer hours, they have to re-evaluate. They don't have a money tree in the backyard or a printing press in the basement.
This does not mean adding in the cost of living or allowing government agencies to allow budget processes for unnecessary spending at the end of the fiscal year. I used to work for the government. At the end of the fiscal year you'd see expensive chairs, desks, movies, audiovisual equipment, etc. popping up out of nowhere just to spend the money to say they need more in the next year.
This applies to hospitals as well. I don't know what it's like where you're from, but a lot of hospital wings happen to pop up in my area when money is available. They really like that federal health care money.
DS: What are some internal changes in Congress you'd like to see?
RH: I think term limits should be simple: 30 years total in any elected office. That includes as a selectman, mayor, state representative, Member of Congress, and/or President. This idea of political science majors leaving college to just work their way up the political ladder without ever having a real job is ridiculous.
We never voted for Congress to have automatic pay increases. They voted that for themselves. We have veterans begging on the side of the road, and policymakers vote themselves a raise. There's a problem here. We need significant change.
DS: What kind of Member will you be when it comes to working with your colleagues, should you be elected? You have Members like Allen West who are firebrands, but you also have many Members who just kind of go along to get along.
RH: I'm a squeaky wheel. I yell every time I see an injustice. I will talk about an injustice forever until it's fixed. Ignoring it isn't the solution, since ignoring means people aren't going to know it's a problem. If they send me to Washington, constituents will hear from me routinely. I will probably use a lot of money on franking privileges. They will hear from me on simple, folded, stapled paper telling them about how bad things are on the Hill. They'll hear the gossip from me as it's happening.
Update: A couple of comments pointed out errors in the interview. Hamlin is not running for re-election, and it was indeed the Voting Rights Act she referenced, not the Civil Rights Act. My apologies for these silly errors.