Ed Lindsey is House Majority Whip of the Georgia General Assembly and a candidate for the Republican nomination in the 11th congressional district. His legislative resume can be found here. Rep. Lindsey sat down with THE ARCH CONSERVATIVE to discuss education, the future of the Republican Party, and his primary contest.
THE ARCH CONSERVATIVE: What is the most pressing need that the House GOP Majority needs to address right now?
Ed Lindsey: First of all, we need to show the general public that we can govern. We need to be able to not just talk about problems but to actually promote a positive conservative reform agenda, and that’s the strength that I bring to the process. Furthermore, we need to explain how a conservative agenda will impact people’s lives. When we talk about economic issues and job growth, we need to do so not only in terms of economic development, but in terms of the importance of work and employment to the human soul, to our work ethic. That tends to get lost in the discussion. We need to be focused on issues that are “gateway issues.” These are issues that, while most importantly being good policy, give groups that haven’t traditionally been with our party a chance to give us a second look. Education and school choice are good examples, and I have been actively involved with those issues in the General Assembly. Criminal justice is another. We need to be willing to go into communities where we don’t currently have a strong voice.
TAC: In the statement you made as you announced your entry into this race, you mentioned that we need to stand up to President Obama, but also what you called the “forces of retreat within our own party.” How do we respond to the challenge that these “voices” pose?
Lindsey: There are now three paths for the Republican Party. The first path takes us into a walled city, in which someone standing at the gate gets to decide who is and who is not worthy of being inside. That path leads to decline and death. The second path takes us into a swamp, into which we only gradually wander, but which results in us becoming more and more like the Democrats. This also leads to extinction. The third path takes us up a very steep mountain. We face on this path folks screaming at us from both sides. But it is the only path that lets us reclaim majority status. By that path what I refer to is the opportunity that we have to seize the tough issues and to approach governing responsibly.
TAC: With respect to the Charter Schools Amendment, which was one of your biggest accomplishments in the General Assembly, how can you apply that experience to the federal level, and what role do you see for the federal government in education policy?
Lindsey: The federal government does have a role, especially as it relates to school choice. What we don’t need is a federal system that acts as a master school board. As much as we can we need to keep education as close to the child and parent as possible. There are three main principles for an excellent education: greater parental involvement, an inspiring teacher, and an engaged child. School choice has the potential of enhancing all three. There are some things you could do on the federal level with school choice, and it wouldn’t lead to the micromanagement that characterized No Child Left Behind, which was a disaster. Instead of further empowering the federal government, you empower the parent and the child.
TAC: A recent column in Slate claimed that parents who send their children to private schools are essentially “bad people.” What say you?
Lindsey: That’s silly and actually offensive. I believe in school choice. I believe that the working class family deserves school choice as much as an upper-middle-class family. For my children, I had school choice. What I would like to see is every family with a greater degree of choice when it comes to making sure their child gets the particular education that works for them. Sometimes children learn very differently. The beauty of school choice is that it gives the parent the ability to find the education program that works best for their child.
TAC: Another issue you worked on in the General Assembly was illegal immigration. What do you think of the current debate in Congress and what would you say to those who say that the Republican Party desperately needs to make concessions on immigration to survive electorally?
Lindsey: I think what we need to do is formulate an immigration policy that actually works. When you drive good policy, over time it becomes good politics. Bad policy might lead to temporary benefit in the short run, but in the long run it is disastrous. The Senate bill is a poor bill. It is poor public policy. I have four concerns. First, the current bill depends too much on future promises and not enough on checks that those promises are being met. Secondly, no one who crosses the border knowingly and illegally should ever be granted citizenship – it violates the rule of law and isn’t fair to legal immigrants – and it also doesn’t work. Number three, this bill carries an enormous cost to state and local governments, and no one has bothered to find out how much it is or how they are going to pay for it. The National Council of State Legislators…had their national convention in Georgia, and said that, basically, no one has told us how we’re going to pay for this thing. Finally, there’s a difference between a hodgepodge bill and a comprehensive bill. This is a hodgepodge, and we ought to be breaking it down into each of these individual issues.
TAC: What is your opinion on what changes, if any, need to be made in the Republican Party’s stances on social issues?
Lindsey: We need to stick to certain key principles of our party in order to preserve our Party’s soul. That doesn’t mean that we don’t listen. That doesn’t mean that we don’t talk. That doesn’t mean that we don’t have honest debates. And it doesn’t mean we need to adopt some rigid litmus test. But I do believe that we don’t just toss over our core values just to gain votes. In the long run that’s not a way to grow our party. Insincerity is very easily detected by voters.
TAC: Now to the campaign – to what extent will Bob Barr’s run at the top of the Libertarian Party ticket in 2008 be an issue in this campaign? What concerns does it raise?
Lindsey: It raises serious concerns. It is one of the huge differences between Bob and me. I have disagreed at times with my party, but I have stayed in my party. We don’t need to listen to a Libertarian to tell us who is and is not a good Republican. Look at his last twelve years and my last twelve years. Start in 2002, I’m working to elect Sonny Purdue as our first Republican governor in many years. At the same time, Bob Barr makes a calculated decision to abandon his seat in West Cobb to go run in what he sees as a safer seat in Gwinnett. I’m trying to build the party, he’s looking for a safe haven. He loses. He proceeds to go on a somewhat exotic journey – works for the ACLU for a while, works for a marijuana legalization lobby for a while, works for Baby Doc Duvalier, joins the Libertarian Party, promptly starts throwing overboard the positions he once held in an effort to make himself more palatable to the Libertarians. He runs for president in 2008 and loses. Now he wants to come back – and I’m happy to have him back. But our respective histories in the party and our respective public service records are relevant. And I think the voters will agree.
TAC: What do you see as the future of the conservative movement and what can we as a movement do to stay vibrant and relevant in American politics?
Lindsey: Don’t allow our own actions or the words of others to tag us as the folks for the status quo. We must be the movement for reform and change, the movement that takes an honest look at problems in society and applies conservative principles to them. We have to attack problems. That’s how we remain relevant – we stay totally engaged with today’s problems. We can’t just be the party of “no.” We also have to be a big tent. We can’t just toss people out. I don’t agree with a lot of Chris Christie’s positions – but he’s pretty fiscally conservative, took on the unions… I appreciate the fact that he’s a Republican governor of New Jersey. I want him at the table. I’ll have an honest fight with him and debate him on a number of issues, but I want him at the table. I want a party that’s big enough to hold myself, Rand Paul, Chris Christie… and Bob Barr.