CRESCENT PEOPLE: Congressman Mick Mulvaney — From “Nitpick Caucus” to “Fab Four”
Sometimes things don’t work out the way we plan. We may start out moving in one direction and wind up doing something completely different. Other times, we may plan to do something and take a different path to get there.
Congressman Mick Mulvaney is an accidental politician…sort of. He planned to serve in elected office as a way to help his community, but he found himself in Congress due in no small part to his predecessor who upset the wrong constituent one night.
Congressman Mulvaney tells CRESCENT how several unplanned circumstances led from him writing a conservative newspaper column to being the state’s congressional delegation expert on the federal budget and how dollars, cents, and common sense are interconnected.
You served in the state House, you served in the state Senate, and you did both very quickly, rising through those ranks before you got to Congress. Where did you start politically? What got you into this whole thing?
It started as a columnist for the Charlotte Observer. I won a writing contest about, I guess it was ten years ago now…a community writing contest for the local Charlotte paper and I wrote a monthly conservative column. At that time it was a Knight-Ridder paper, now it’s a McClatchy paper, not known for its lack of left-wing bias. It’s one of the most left wing papers in the country. They’re owned by the same folks who own the Sacramento Bee, for crying out loud. It’s a left-leaning paper so to be one of the one or two folks actually given the opportunity to write conservative materials for that paper was very exciting. The more I did it, the more I realized not only that I enjoyed it, I was pretty good at it. I’ll never forget the last column I wrote, which was just excoriating the paper for misleading people on environmental policy and the editor called me and said, “Look, I got news for you. I’m going to print everything you just wrote, but you’re never going to write anything for this paper again.” And I got out of that and I got picked up by one of the local conservative newspapers, one of the free weeklies that I wrote for a couple of years, and that’s how I got into it. I just got interested in politics through writing.
Once you got into elected office, did you see yourself moving through the ranks so quickly and being here?
No, in fact, it was sort of accidental. Keep in mind, South Carolina state politics is part-time. And, at the time that I ran the first time in 2006 for the state House, we had several growing businesses. I was in the real estate business. We were looking at that time at starting a home-building business, that we eventually did start. I was mildly active in the restaurant business at the time, so I was very, very busy in the private sector but was able to do that job down in the state House on the House side, at the same time. I really liked that. I liked the idea of being a part-time legislator. Go, put your service in for three days out of the week, five months out of the year, and the rest of the year, go run your business. And you could do that in the state House. The Senate race was by accident. The downturn came and my senator was in the building product industry, and his family business, a hundred year old business, was really in severe risk of going out of business. And he came to me and said, “Look, I think I have to step back from this.” He’d been in the senate for sixteen years, he’s only my age. He was Greg Gregory. He was moving up the ranks. He was a very high ranking member of the Senate already and he said, “Look, I think I’ve got to go back and run the business. Do you want to run for the Senate?” OK, how different can it be from being in the House? Turns out it was. Senate is a lot bigger time commitment in state government than the House. You represent three times as many people, and they really do expect you to spend more time. So I was doing that and struggling with it because I still had those businesses at the same time. I had a bigger commitment to state government but was figuring out a way to make that work when I went down and saw my predecessor John Spratt give a town hall meeting on healthcare. I got angry for not the least of reasons being that he asked that made me show my driver’s license to get into the meeting. This was in my Senate district and I had my Senate ID and they would not let me in to see my Congressman on that, I had to show them my driver’s license. I was just angry. I remember, I called my wife that night and said, “Look, I’m angry.” I told her that and I asked, “Can I run for Congress?” She said. “I don’t know. Could you win?” I said, “No.” She said, “Then you can run.” Because we had the businesses. We had triplets. It was not…we never anticipated doing this. That’s a real long way of saying it’s almost been by accident each step of the way. I expected to spend six to ten years in the South Carolina House on a part-time basis, growing my businesses and then getting out, letting somebody else do it. Then I sort of ended up here by accident.
That time in the Senate, Harvey Peeler nicknamed you and Phil Shoopman “The Nitpick Caucus.”
Yes, that’s right. I never could get who was Nit and who was Pick but, yeah, I will take that.
Well, was Senator Peeler accurate and why?
Well sure. And Phil and I…and listen, Harvey Peeler is one my favorite people in the Senate. Harvey Peeler to me is so much about what South Carolina is. At the end of the day, he’s not the majority leader in the Senate, he’s not from this big old famous South Carolina political family. He’s a farmer. That’s what he is. He’s a conservative Southern farmer. I don’t care if you call him a Democrat or Republican. He was a Democrat for part of his life. He’s a Republican now. It doesn’t make any difference. Harvey Peeler is a conservative Southern farmer and I think, in so many ways, he exemplifies a lot about what’s great about this state and about the South. He’s one of my favorite people. He always had fun with me and Phil and used to make fun of the fact that we used to read the bills. You know, we’d go over them pretty clearly. We’d want to talk about the impact of a particular word or sentence on a piece of legislation or piece of law. Plus Phil and I always love the rules of the Senate and it was one of the things we learned very early on. It was one of the things the new guys…see, seniority in the Senate drives so much power. You know, if you’re the new guy, typically, you sit around and wait for sixteen years before they give you something real to do, unless you knew how to use the rules. And I remember very clearly sitting in Glenn McConnell’s office at the end of the first year that we were in the Senate. He was having a celebratory glass of wine and Shoop and I sort of wandered in. And he’s sitting there talking with some of his close friends and he looks at us and, I cannot do the accent, but you can imagine, McConnell saying this: “I haven’t figured you two boys out yet. I can figure out if I like ya or I hate ya.” We were stung by this. We just said, “Why is that, Senator?” “Y’all ask way too many good questions for only having been here a year.” And I took that as the highest form of praise from Senator McConnell. So, yes, the Nitpick Caucas…I’m sad to see Phil leave. It’s a real loss for the Senate. He is a true gentleman and the kind of guy that is a real positive for the state but I wish him very well in this new business he is pursuing.
You, Tim Scott, Jeff Duncan, Trey Gowdy, all elected and have become well-known inside and outside the beltway for working frequently so closely together. Some in the press have called you the Fab Four. Are you John, Paul, George or Ringo?
I don’t know, probably John because I’m the mean one. And Trey would be Paul because everybody loves Trey. Trey’s just this “aw shucks” Southern gentleman. He’s always dressed to the nines on the floor except the days he forgets to comb his hair and shave. I don’t know. I’ve never stopped to think about that but if the angry, cutting edge, raw guy is John, that’s probably me. I’m probably the least liked of the four in Washington. Certainly that would be the case with leadership. They can’t stand me. And they can somehow tolerate the rest of the guys. It’s a good group. I’m going to think that through. So I’m John and Trey is Paul. I don’t know because I’m a big Beatles fan so I don’t want to put a square peg in a round hole so I don’t where the rest of them fall. I don’t want to say.
Maybe it’s multiple Johns and multiple Pauls?
There you go. In fairness, depending on the issue, that’s often the case. It it’s an energy issue, I defer to Jeff Duncan. I mean we do. We get an energy bill come across the desk or an amendment on the energy bill, an amendment that deals with energy, we call Duncan’s office and say “Get us up to speed on it.”
Absolutely, but I’m more than happy to take a back seat to Jeff on that because that’s what he knows. And I think one of the things we figured out early on was that the federal government is so big we’re never going to know everything about it. And we will be better served as a delegation and thus better serve our state if I take the budget issues, Trey takes the legal and oversight issues, Jeff takes energy and national resources, Tim is on the Transportation Committee and obviously spends a lot of time dealing with the port but is also at the leadership table, so we have sort of divided up the work and it’s been extraordinarily helpful to us doing that. When you saw Eric Holder (“Fast and Furious” controversy), Trey Gowdy was front and center, and that’s for a reason…he’s really, really good at it.
For Part 1, Click HERE. Stay tuned for Part 3.
- Follow Congressman Mulvaney on Twitter at @MickMulvaney.
- Follow Congressman Mulvaney’s Official Congressional Feed at @RepMickMulvaney.
- Like Congessman Mulvaney’s Facebook Page HERE.
- Like Congessman Mulvaney’s Congressional Facebook Page HERE.
- Visit Congressman Mulvaney’s Campaign Web Site HERE.
- Visit Congressman Mulvaney’s Congressional Web Site HERE.
PHOTO CREDIT: Mulvaney for Congress on Facebook