“I don’t believe it’s enough to just vote No … I think it’s very important that we be the party of solutions, and not just the party of No.”
Karen Handel is running for Georgia’s open U.S. Senate seat, vacated by retiring Senator Saxby Chambliss. Handel served as Georgia Secretary of State from 2007 to 2010, then ran a competitive primary campaign against Nathan Deal. In 2003, she was elected chairwoman of the Fulton County Board of Commissioners. Her experience expands into the private sector, where she worked for major companies including KPMG and non-profits such as Susan G. Komen for the Cure.
THE ARCH CONSERVATIVE‘s Tucker Boyce chatted with Ms. Handel about the Senate race, healthcare and other issues of the day. Though a capitol outsider, Ms. Handel emphasizes her ability to get results for her constituents. This is the first part of a two-part interview.
THE ARCH CONSERVATIVE: So to start, you’ve marketed yourself on being a D.C. outsider in this race — what about that allows you to act differently within the D.C. environment once you get there?
Karen Handel: I think it’s important for people when they are going to Washington to realize that they are there to represent the people, and what has happened is that career politicians have literally made D.C. a way of life. We need to break that cycle with new leadership and individuals who are going to be focused on solving problems. If you compare my record to that of my opponents, I have a record as a proven conservative of actually getting the job done putting conservative principles into action in tough environments.
[When] turning around the Chamber of Commerce as Fulton County Commission Chairman, I took on a $100 million budget deficit head on — I did it by cutting spending, not by passing the buck. Then in the [Georgia] Secretary of State’s office again I cut the spending by 20 percent while keeping services going. [I also] implemented photo ID, I had the courage to take on the Obama admin in order to verify the citizenship of new voters.
If you compare that to the records of the others in this race, they’ve had 10 to 20 years to do everything they’re talking about on the trail now. They haven’t done it, so why should we expect that they will successfully do it just because they move over from the House to the Senate?
TAC: And so what about that political environment has helped prepare you for the tenacious political environment that defines D.C.?
Handel: I would say that the Fulton County Commission would be probably the best training ground. Tenacious is a good word for it. It was definitely a tough environment where, as a Republican and the first female chairwoman of the Commission, I didn’t have a majority to do anything … I had to be smarter and more strategic in how I brought things forward and in how I moved things ahead.
I don’t believe it’s enough to just vote No. Again, I’ll use the budget as an example. The Democrats had a budget on the table with a $3 million property tax increase. I could have easily voted No against that budget, but the result would have been a $3 million property tax increase. So my job is to figure out a way to solve problems based on my conservative principles and do what is right for the people I represent.
TAC: You also had a close race with now-Governor Deal. How did that help improve and tailor your strategy to Georgians specifically?
Handel: I think that having the experience of running state-wide is very valuable. State-wide races are extremely tough, they have a way of … rounding you down as a person all the way down to your natural soul and you have to really understand who you are and be comfortable with who you are. Tough campaigns can make you find that out about yourself. That’s going to be a big advantage in this race, because no one else in this field has ever had to run a really tough campaign like I have nor faced the kind of scrutiny that I have been under. That’s going to be a big advantage in terms of discipline on the campaign trail, knowing how to target voters and all of those tactical aspects of a campaign as well.
TAC: What are some of the issue-specific differences between you, Representative [Jack] Kingston and Representative [Paul] Broun who have consistently been on top of recent Republican straw polls?
Handel: Well I think it’s based on results — look at my results in elected office and the business world and compare those results to either one of those two. Paul Broun — look, he votes No, but is that really enough? For Kingston, let’s look at the record: In the 20 years he has been in Washington, our debt has gone from $4 trillion to $17 trillion. He talks about cutting spending now, but the truth is that he was a big spender — he voted multiple times to increase the debt ceiling by trillions of dollars. He voted for the Bridge to Nowhere, he voted for $20 million for the Ted Kennedy Center. He says he’s against earmarks now, but before he was against them he was a really big proponent of earmarks to the tune of billions. So, as a party and people in this campaign we can blame everything on the Democrats, but the hard truth is that accommodating Republicans have contributed to bringing us to where we are today.
Let’s take tax reform — we haven’t had tax reform in 30 years and we need it. Where was Jack Kingston in leading the charge for tax reform? Where was he as a member of the Appropriations Committee for being a champion of cutting spending? He wasn’t.
TAC: You have released the 4 Step economic plan. The first point of the plan concerns Obamacare and issues with health care. What do you think is the best way to resolve the health care crisis before 2016 (i.e. the short-term solution?)
Handel: First, I try to transition away from calling it Obamacare because it sounds a little warm and fuzzy; let’s call it what it really is, the Obama health care tax and mandate. It’s an $800 billion tax and we know it’s costing families a lot more in premium costs and costing jobs across the country.
I also think that if we can achieve a GOP majority in the Senate combined with a majority in the House that we would have a significant opportunity to fully repeal the Obama health care tax and replace it. I’m a big proponent of Tom Price’s bill H.R. 2300. I think that it has got a lot of really important health care reforms that are done in a market-driven way and in a way that protects the relationship between the patient and his or her physician.
If that is sent to the president, he has to make a decision about whether everything must be “his way or the highway.” Also keep in mind that more than 30 key elements of the health care law have been delayed. I believe that we have to seize the opportunity to make dramatic changes and do the repeal now so we can stop those elements.
TAC: Do you take issue with votes that are conducted to repeal Obamacare independently when he obviously would veto them? Would you participate in those type of votes?
Handel: To me it’s important that as we work for full repeal but that we also have alternatives from our side — I think that’s very important that we be the party of solutions, and not just the party of no.
Part II to follow.
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