CRESCENT PEOPLE: Congressman Mick Mulvaney — Husband, Father, and Not Your Average Republican
Congressman Mulvaney says and does things you might not expect. For example, you don’t expect a leader in the Republican Party to say things like, “I hate the Republican Party talking points. They make me sick and tired.” Okay, then.
It’s just another example of being an independent thinker. Sure. He very frequently votes with his South Carolina Republican delegation members and has become somewhat famous for it, but he is still is own man.
This week, Congressman Mick Mulvaney talks with CRESCENT about working as a team, how he views his obligation to his district, and life as a husband and father.
Well, working as a team and bouncing ideas off each other and supporting each other and voting as a block, we’ve talked about the kind of reputation that that’s earned on The Hill and it’s kind of earned the state. How do you see it translating back home? How is that benefiting the district and the state?
Well, it’s benefiting us in that we punch way above our weight. We have a disproportionally large input into the process because we function as a team. Leadership knows when Jeff Duncan goes in to them and talks to them on an energy issue that Jeff Duncan isn’t one vote out of 435 or, more importantly, out of 240-something Republicans. He’s five votes because we tend to speak as one voice. It does not mean that we vote exactly the same, in fact, we often do not. It doesn’t get as widely reported, but every single day there are issues where I’m on one side of the issue, Trey is on the other, and there is good reason for that. Reasonable people can disagree. But on the really big stuff, they know that it’s not just Jeff or just me or just Joe Wilson, for that matter, that we will tend to vote together. And not only the five of us, there are people who really do watch how South Carolina votes. It’s largely a group of conservatives, largely out of the South, the Southeast, and to a certain extent, the desert Southwest, but if a congressman, I don’t want to give any names because I don’t want to put anybody in a bad light in terms of…it’s not a lack of independent thinking but there’d be guys sitting there who’d go, “OK, I’m voting this way, yet every single one of those South Carolinians has voted the other way. Why is that? Let me go find Mulvaney and find out if it’s a budget issue. Let me go find Gowdy if it’s a legal issue. Let me go find Tim Scott if it’s a leadership thing. Let me find out if I really am off the reservation when it comes to good conservative voting.” I think that helps us as a state, as well, because everybody knows it’s not just me, it’s not just Joe Wilson, it’s not just Tim Scott, it’s a group of us who tend to move in the same direction at that same time.
You’ve got the four of you. Joe Wilson seems to kind of float in and out…
And now there’s going to be, chances are, a new Republican in a new district.
What’s that going to bring to the table?
I have no clue. I don’t want to…that is a great question and I don’t know. I hope…let me spin it this way… I hope that Tom (Tom Rice, the Republican nominee for the new 7th Congressional District that covers the Pee Dee and Grand Strand), finds a place on this team, and there are areas where we are still weak. There is no question about it. The federal government is so big that, with me handling budget issues and Trey handling his and everybody else handling theirs and Joe handling military personnel, there’s still fifteen other areas where we don’t have as good a coverage as we want. I want somebody who will be additive to that effort. I want a fifth horseman or a sixth horseman, so that we can grow exponentially — somebody who not only brings one vote but figures out a way to work hard in a particular area to pick up five or six other votes so that they earn respect in their chosen area so that we grow this team of conservatives. We want somebody who’s interested in being a representative for the state of South Carolina and can help further what I think the five of us have accomplished this year.
When you were elected to the South Carolina House, you were the first Republican to ever hold the seat, you beat John Spratt who’d held the seat since ’83, you were the first Republican to hold this seat since 1883…
A runaway slave, I think it was who held this seat.
Being the first at something is never easy. What kind of pressure have you felt, or have you felt any, being these big firsts?
That’s a great question. I try really hard not to be…let me see if I can figure out a way to say this…I am cognizant of the fact that I am the first Republican for whom many of my constituents have ever voted, other than maybe Ronald Reagan. And I respect that and I think those folks especially, but everybody deserves representation that is focused more on principle than on party. Folks didn’t vote for me because I was a Republican. They voted for me because my ideas were different than my Democrat predecessor. They didn’t vote for him for years and years because he was a Democrat. They voted for him because he was a conservative Southern Democrat. And when I go down into Camden, like I was down there this week, my message is one that is based on principles that I think and hope we share as South Carolinians, as conservatives and is not necessarily the Republican party line. I hate the Republican Party talking points. They make me sick and tired. One of the people asked me “What are you most surprised of in Washington?” I was surprised at…
When you say you hate the talking points, are you talking state or are you talking federal?
I’m sick of them.
Both, talking points are talking points. It’s not…”President Obama’s failed policies are damaging job creators.” What the hell does that mean? That is a talking point. That is rhetoric — hollow words that might have meant something at one point, but when you repeat them a thousand times, they become part of that echo chamber of Washington, part of the problem with Washington. My folks back home deserve better than that, generally, because so many of them are looking to me as the first Republican they ever voted for. I have to give them more than that. If I were to deliver just the Republican talking points to my folks in Camden or Chesterfield County or Newberry County, they’d run me out of that town on a rail and rightly so. They deserve better than empty rhetoric. They deserve ideas. They deserve explanations. They deserve real details about what’s broken in Washington and how we can fix Washington. And I come down here and start spewing Republican talking points that come straight from the Speaker’s office in a memo that we get every single week and the talking points haven’t changed for the last eighteen months, I’d be a laughing stock down here. That’s what I’m cognizant of as the first Republican here is that folks here deserve better than just another Republican member of Congress. They deserve something more substantial and substantive than that and that’s what I’ve been trying to give them for the last eighteen months.
When you beat John Spratt, it’s not like you beat some schlub who stumbled into the job. He was chair of the House Budget Committee and the number two ranking Democrat on Armed Services. There are a lot of Republicans who tried to beat him over the years but couldn’t do it. When you realized that you won, what ran through your mind?
Nothing along the lines with any relationship with what you just said. I was not…it never occurred to me that everyone else tried and failed, that never occurred to me. And still doesn’t occur to me. There was a reason. There was a reason Ralph Norman lost. The reason that we couldn’t beat the guy in ’92 and ’94 had nothing to do with the quality of our candidates. We’ve had really, really good candidates. We’ve probably had candidates better than myself run against Mr. Spratt over the course of the last 28 years. It was Mr. Spratt that beat Mr. Spratt this time. It was his voting record, especially in the last four years. The message that we delivered that resonated with people was just that their Congressman had changed. That’s not about me. That’s about him. I recognize the fact that I’m in his seat mostly because a lot of people voted against the guy who preceded me, not because they necessarily voted for me. That was a lot of pressure on me to convince people that they were right to do so but I never got up there and said, “I was the guy who finally beat John Spratt.” I just happened to be the right guy at the right place at the right time, which I look at as a special opportunity to prove to people that they were right to vote against that guy but I never thought that I accomplished something that nobody else was able to do.
Your wife, Pam, who, by your admission, “is, has been and shall remain for many years, 29,” and the kids who are now twelve, have been there by your side through this whole journey. How important has that been?
The kids are getting older, the wife stays the same age. And actually, in the house, she’s not 29, she’s “Plenty-Nine.” There was a time when the children were very young when my wife was 39 years old and they asked how old she was and she told them, “I’m thirty-nine” and they just misheard it and pronounced it “plenty nine” because the kids were born when Pam was 37 or 38 years old and so she just like that so she’s always told people now she’s plenty-nine. They’ve been great. My wife tells me we have something that I never heard of, which is a “commuter marriage,” and evidently it is working well. The one…the couple of things you look to…are you still happy to see you wife when you get home and the answer is, “Absolutely.” Is she still happy to see you? Absolutely. So that’s working out great. And the other thing to sort of keep an eye on is how the kids are doing in school. Are the kids happy? Are their grades up? And the kids’ grades have either stayed the same or gone up since I’ve left. I don’t know what that says about me as a parent, it says a lot about my wife, so it’s been really, really good. It’ll be interesting to see how the kids, as they get older, because now they’re becoming teenagers, how they deal with the fact their dad is on TV and people now know who their dad is. When the kids were little, they went to Catholic school in Charlotte, NC, just across the border from where I live. I’m Roman Catholic, and I wanted them to go to Catholic school, and nobody knew who I was. Now the boys go to the public school down the road, and most people, the teachers, know who I am. I will be curious to see how they deal with having a semi-famous dad, for lack of a better word, as they get older. That’ll be a challenge. I think for us as parents to try and continue to raise normal kids, but if anybody can do it, it’s my wife. I do know this, I’ve joked that sooner or later she might actually want to come to visit me in Washington, DC, and she assured me that I’m still welcome to come home on the weekends but she likes her horses too much to come and spend time inside the beltway.
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PHOTO CREDIT: Mulvaney for Congress on Facebook