Karen Handel is hoping that her record as a political outsider willing to shake up the status quo will help propel her to victory in the competitive Republican primary for Georgia’s open U.S. Senate seat.
The race is interesting because it’s a potential battleground for control of the Senate. Handel is one of eight candidates currently running in the Republican primary. The field also includes three sitting U.S. Congressman, Paul Broun, Phil Gingrey, and Jack Kingston. Whoever wins the primary will likely face Michelle Nunn, a Democrat and daughter of former Sen. Sam Nunn (D-GA), in November.
Handel served as Fulton County Commission chair from 2003 to 2007. In 2006, she ran successfully for Georgia Secretary of State, a position she held from 2007 until 2009, when she resigned for to run for governor. Though she made it to the runoff, Handel lost to former Rep. Nathan Deal (R-GA) by 2,519 votes.
That may cause some to ask how Handel can claim to be an anti-establishment outsider, after all, she’s served in elected office, statewide office, at that. The answer is pretty simple. Handel made national headlines in January 2012 when Susan G. Komen for the Cure, where she served as vice president, cut off funding to Planned Parenthood.
Handel, who is pro-life, played a role in the move, though she wasn’t solely responsible. She resigned after Komen reversed course due to the outcry from abortion advocates. She also declined a severance package offered by the organization.
Handel wrote a book, Planned Bullyhood: The Truth Behind the Headlines about the Planned Parenthood Funding Battle with Susan G. Komen for the Cure, about her experience at the organization.
United Liberty chatted with Karen Handel on Friday about her campaign and some of the hot topics in Washington and in the Peach State, including the nation’s out of control debt, immigration, Obamacare, and the continuing controversy over the National Security Agency’s domestic surveillance programs.
United Liberty: This is Jason Pye, editor of United Liberty. Today I am joined by Karen Handel, who is a former Georgia Secretary of State and current candidate for the United States Senate in Georgia’s open Senate seat. Karen, thanks for chatting with me today.
Karen Handel: Happy to be here, Jason. Thanks for having me.
UL: So we’re just a few months away from this primary. It’s an important primary. It’s quickly turning into a pretty nationalized race. There have already been a couple debates for the Republican primary. How’s your campaign going?
Handel: My campaign is going great. I’m very happy with the feedback I’ve gotten and the reviews I’ve gotten from the debates. I think that’s one of the first opportunities that we’ve had to have all of the candidates together. We had a rally on Sunday with over 300 people. And people came from all across the state to help us kick off the 100 days until the primary.
So I feel really really good about this, very very good. The momentum is out there, on just the grassroots side, January was a really really good month on the fundraising side. So all good with 100 days left.
UL: Turning to some policy stuff, because there’s been some pretty interesting last couple weeks in Washington. Really, last couple years, but especially the last couple weeks. Congress voted this week to increase the nation’s debt ceiling. You blasted the move in a statement saying that Washington’s either incapable or unwilling to address the spending and debt issues that the country faces. You also took aim at your opponents in the race, Congressmen Phil Gingrey, Jack Kingston and Paul Broun. What makes you more qualified than some of the other candidates to deal with the nation’s ominous long-term fiscal issues?
Handel: First of all, I’ve done it. I dealt with long-term fiscal issues at the Chamber of Congress, I did it as Chairman of the County Commission, and I managed it in the Secretary of State office. I understand that cutting spending is politically difficult, but it is not complex. And let’s keep in mind that both Kingston and Gingrey, they have voted twice for nearly $2 trillion worth of increases in our debt ceiling. They have voted for hundreds of millions of dollars in earmarks, including the bridge to nowhere. They voted for the Kennedy Center in Massachusetts, the Frankel Center in New York City. So these are individuals who — I don’t understand the issue with Congress.
The rest of us understand that we are in a true fiscal crisis and we need to cut spending. But yet time and time again they just keep spending. They kick the can down the road and it’s not lost on any of us who are paying attention that kicking this thing with the debt ceiling until March of 2016 serves to do only one thing. And that was to give individuals a free pass in the election year.
UL: You also opposed the Ryan-Murray budget deal. What was your beef with that particular spending bill?
Handel: It increased spending. And it did not cut spending. Once again, we’re given a false promise of, let us increase spending now in exchange for cutting spending down the road. Well how many times have we been told, next time, next time, next time? And yet next time never comes.
We need an individual who is gonna go to Washington, who is gonna have the guts and resolve to actually cut spending and get our fiscal house in order. That is imperative, working on that track. And then the second track, in parallel, is doing things to get our economy moving again, realigning the tax code and really putting some common sense back into this onerous regulatory climate we have.
UL: You mentioned tax reform. That seems to be a bit of a unicorn. Everybody talks about it, but nobody ever sees it. Are you proposing anything specific in terms of tax reform?
Handel: Yes. I think we need to rewrite the tax code. I am a big fan of the Fair Tax. We cannot continue with the status quo. We have the highest corporate tax rate of any industrialized nation in the world. We have not had broad tax reform in nearly 30 years. And we wonder why our companies are at such a disadvantage, why we have so much capital on the sidelines and we’re not seeing the kind of growth and expansion that we really need to be able to create the number of jobs that we need to get people employed in a good, solid, quality job.
UL: So immigration is a really hot topic right now in Washington. You’ve launched a petition that hints that you’re opposed to a comprehensive immigration reform proposal, preferring instead that Congress address the issue with specific targeted pieces of legislation. So how would you address the nation’s broken immigration system?
Handel: I think we have to, first and foremost, start with enforcement. We have a lot of laws already on the books that, if we’re honest, have not been enforced. And we have individuals in this race who are talking tough when it comes to enforcement in our immigration law, but since the last time we went down this road in the mid-80s, nothing has been done. Absolutely nothing. So we need to have enforcement.
But in addition to that, we also need to deal with a very broken visa process. It’s both ways where it’s broken. One, for individuals who want to come to our country in a legal, lawful way, we should make a process that is less onerous. Because anyone who wants to come to our country legally to pursue the American dream, most of us in this country embrace that.
What we don’t embrace are individuals who either sneak into our country or they come here legally and then they skip out on their visa. Some 45% of the illegal population in the United States are individuals who have overstayed their visas. So that’s another piece of the broken process. That all needs to be fixed.
UL: A campaign tracker recently filmed a November, maybe December, speech that you gave in front of the Houston County Republican Party, in which you pointed out the visa problem. And they tried to say, oh, you differ from your opponents in the race who want to focus on the border first. Now, do you have a fundamentally different approach or do you just think we should not ignore the enforcement issue?
Handel: I’m saying that we have to do both. In this race, particularly the three individuals who have been in Congress for a combined 42 years, they’re not talking about enforcement of our immigration laws. And I can appreciate why they’re not. Because, well, they had 10, 20 years to do something about it and they haven’t.
What I was saying was exactly what I just said a minute ago, that we need to focus not just on the geographic border between the United States and Mexico, but when the other visa issue, because 45% of those who are here illegally do overstay their visas. And if we only fix the geographic border issue, we haven’t dealt with the whole illegal immigration issue as a whole. And we need to be aggressive on both fronts.
UL: So another very hot topic is Obamacare. You’re opposed to the law and you said that you support patient-centered alternatives. You’ve mentioned Congressman Tom Price’s legislation. Some of your opponents in the race, including your likely Democratic opponent, Michelle Nunn, merely want to fix Obamacare. Why is it important to repeal and replace the whole law?
Handel: Well, first and foremost, I like to call it the Obama Healthcare Tax, but no one really talks about is the fact that this piece of legislation comes with $800 billion in new taxes. We’ve already seen the Obama administration delay key pieces, dozens of key pieces, of this law.
It is a fundamentally flawed piece of policy that, one, is an infringement on our specific individual rights around our healthcare, not to mention some of the other religion freedoms that it does trample on. Secondly, it’s a massive tax increase. Three, it doesn’t even go to the heart of fixing the issue of healthcare. So we need to repeal it entirely and replace it with a common-sense healthcare reform bill.
Congressman Tom Price’s bill, HR 2300, is a great, great start at doing just that. It is a repeal, but it also replaces with patient-centered approaches, so that there are more robust opportunities for individual healthcare savings accounts. It deals with putting in place a high-risk pool for those with preexisting conditions. Enables and fosters portability of your insurance plan. And importantly, it has additional tort reform so that we can start to do more around driving down cost versus increasing costs due to defensive medicine across the whole healthcare spectrum. And the other thing, too, is just the sheer cost that comes with Obamacare.
So you have $800 billion in new taxes, but in addition to that, within five years it is projected that the cost associated with this law will eclipse Social Security to become the number one federal outlay in the budget. We simply cannot afford this bill, and we surely cannot afford a bill that isn’t going to be good and best for Americans.
UL: What did you think of the CBO report — just a week or so ago, the CBO released a report that showed two and a half Americans will be disincentivized from working because of the subsidies that are provided in the law. In testimony before Congress, Director Doug Elmendorf said that’s going to have an impact on GDP growth. Have you heard anything like that, or seen any examples of it?
Handel: What I’m seeing is, mainly they’re not leaving the labor market voluntarily, but what’s happening is between the $800 billion in new taxes and the mandate, that small businesses and large businesses are forced to comply with, it’s having a chilling effect on job creation and job continuity, if you will.
And despite the fact that the Obama Administration unilaterally delayed certain aspects of the law, which by the way, they were legally required to move forward with, that’s a whole another topic, but even though it’s been delayed, businesses small, medium and large alike are so uncertain about what the future holds that they are having to make adjustments now in order to protect the integrity of the business in the midterm. And so decisions like decreasing hours for some of their hourly workers to get around the 30-hour threshold.
To get around some of the mandates from this bill, they’re having to adjust now because companies, unlike, unfortunately, the folks in Congress and the Federal government, most corporations, they’re always thinking years out in how they’ll have to move their business. And so these decisions are happening now, and people are losing jobs. And we’re seeing that here in Georgia already.
UL: Changing subjects a little to civil liberties. President Obama rolled out his purported reforms last month to the NSA’s domestic surveillance programs. Civil libertarians in Congress are less than pleased, shall we say, because the metadata collection will still continue, just be out of government hands. The government insists, still, that it needs the haystack to find the needle. Would you support reforms such as the USA FREEDOM Act that would end the NSA’s bulk metadata collection?
Handel: I think it’s imperative that we move forward with that. We all want to have a safe and secure America. But there is a fine line to the point where we cross over into encroaching and infringing on Americans’ individual liberties. And we have reached that point with the snooping and the spying, et cetera. I, for one, am not in the place of ever wanting to trade my personal freedom for the sake of safety, because I feel like if I don’t have liberties, then I’m not going to be safe at all.
UL: So you break with the Old Guard GOP? The Lindsey Graham’s and the John McCain’s, who you may respect but you break with them on the issues?
Handel: Of course I have respect, but I’d like to think that people can have the opportunity to agree to disagree. And if anyone follows my time in elected office, they would see that I’ve never had any hesitations to break with the Old Guard, the New Guard, or any Guard for that matter.
UL: That brings me to my next question, because in an interview yesterday, Senator Rand Paul said the Republican Party has to undergo a transformation to retake the White House in his life again. He said that the GOP has a messaging problem, especially with young voters who tend to be more libertarian minded on social issues. As a Senator, if you’re elected, how would you try to bridge the divide with those who are skeptical of the GOP?
Handel: I think Senator Paul was on track about message and messengers, and unfortunately, within the GOP, we have not really gotten to the point where we’re turning the page, moving to the next generation of leaders.
While I have the utmost respect for the service of individuals who have been in Washington for 20, 30, 40 years, as in the corporate world, there comes a moment when you turn the page and you move on to the next generation of leadership, and we are at that.
Secondly, in terms of messaging for the GOP, for me, I don’t see it as one of moving away from the social issues and being pro-life, I see it more as how to re-articulate a message to the broad American community about how conservative principles in action can make life better for individuals and for families.
UL: That seems to be an issue that conservatives are really scared to discuss. I know Senator Mike Lee has been proposing what he calls a positive conservative reform agenda addressing issues like poverty and introducing pro-growth tax reform that will strengthen the middle class. So these are policies that you would back if you’re elected? Not specifically, but the idea of a positive reform agenda.
Handel: We do have to talk positive, and the GOP has to be about ideas. And again, articulating to Georgians and Americans of how conservative policies in action can make life better.
In terms of talking about the poverty issues in our country, some on the liberal side think that if we just simply raise the minimum wage that that is going to somehow lift people from poverty. Well, let’s be candid. To take the minimum wage from $7.25 to $10.10 an hour is not going to lift anyone out of poverty.
What is going to lift people and move them up the economic ladder are pro-growth conservative policies like re-writing our tax code so that, number one, individuals keep more of their hard-earned money in their pockets.
Number two, so that we are creating a vibrant environment in which companies are once again innovating and expanding. Where we are creating the kind of climate where companies want to do business and do their manufacturing in the United States, not offshore. I think it’s all of these things. And then how do we articulate that.
For me, I look at the opportunities that I had to be able to move up the economic ladder. And those were things like if you work harder and longer than the next person, you had a great opportunity to get ahead. But in order to do that, there had to be good jobs for me to move up into. And that’s what we have missed. This recovery, we still have not, post- the “Great Recession” — we are still millions of jobs fewer in the marketplace than we were prior to the beginning of the Great Recession. So the key here are pro-growth policies that will get the job market going again.
UL: I haven’t seen much from your campaign about environmental issues. This is pretty important right now, given that the EPA is trying to push through climate change regulations. President Obama, in the past, has pushed cap and trade. We also have Keystone XL, which is also a very important issue to a lot of Republicans. Just give me a rundown — what’s your take on environmental issues, where do you stand?
Handel: Having come off of two back-to-back snowstorms and frigid weather in Georgia, I’m in the camp of strongly disputing the whole global warming trend that some harp on. I think for what has happened, not just the EPA, but across the board in a regulatory climate, is that the federal government has moved from the place of looking for the right balance for consumer protection to doing two things. One, trying to pick winners and losers in the marketplace through regulatory approaches. And number two, the overbearing impunitive in how the regulatory climate is actually administered.
Congress has almost fundamentally abdicated its authority in the area of regulatory decisions over to the bureaucrats and these agencies. Even though there is the provision in law where Congress can essentially disapprove of regulation that an agency has put in place — and I think this has been in place since 1993 — they’ve only done it once. One time has Congress had the ability and the gumption to repeal something from an agency. I mean, come on.
UL: That happened with HHS in 2010. Well, they didn’t repeal it, but a resolution of disapproval was introduced on the Obamacare grandfather plan regulations.
Handel: I’m sure, but I’m talking beyond Obamacare. How about the fact that the payment processing sector, which is one of Georgia’s driving industries for job creation, I think about 40,000 jobs, is regulated by no less than 19 federal agencies.
We have a bureaucratic climate, a regulatory climate run amuck. And you can start with EPA, but you can go across all the agencies involved in Dodd-Frank, from USDA, you can go across the spectrum. Then back with other environmental issues, on energy policy, we do need to have the Keystone pipeline. And at some point, it becomes a business decisions on the part of Canada. And they’re going to eventually pick a business partner. And I believe its imperative to the United States that we be that business partner.
UL: Canada’s ambassador to the United States this week said that if the United States rejects it, if the Obama Administration rejects the pipeline, that it’ going to damage diplomatic relationships. So we’re not just looking at it from a jobs perspective, and yes, it will create jobs, but we’re also looking at it from a foreign policy perspective as well.
Handel: That’s a very good point.
UL: That’s all I have. Thanks for chatting with me today. Do you have any final thoughts that you’d like to add before we go?
Handel: I just want to thank everyone for taking the time to listen, and thank you for making time to do this interview. As we come up on the last 90 days into the May 20 primary, just keep in mind that we need to have a U.S. Senator who is going to be focused on results and getting the job done.
We look at this field, and when you have individuals who have been in Washington for a combined 42 years, they have had every opportunity to do everything that they’re talking about on the campaign trail, and they haven’t done it. It’s time to have someone with a proven record, an individual like myself who has shown time and time again that she has the guts and the resolve to stand up and take the hard decision and move forward aggressively with getting the job done.
So I hope everyone will take a look at karenhandel.com. I ask for your vote, but I’m gonna do like I’ve done before, and that is work really really hard to earn it. So thank y’all.