Send conservative reinforcements! Interview with Tom McMillin, Justin Amash-endorsed candidate in Michigan’s 8th

Tom McMillin

The next battle in the war for the heart and soul of the Republican Party has quietly shifted to Michigan’s Eighth Congressional District (MI-08), between former state Senate Majority Leader Mike Bishop and state Rep. Tom McMillin.

Rep. Mike Rogers (R-MI) recently announced that he wouldn’t run for reelection, deciding to start a new career in talk radio after 14 years in Washington, DC. Though he won’t be on the ballot, Rogers is openly backing Bishop while Rep. Justin Amash (R-MI) is supporting McMillin, making the race a proxy war between the Republican establishment and the grassroots.

McMillin launched his campaign earlier this month, telling a crowd of nearly 100 supporters that Washington is the problem. “I’m going to the belly of the beast,” he said, “and I’m going to go there to push things back and bring some common sense.”

The Republican primary is on Tuesday, August 5.

United Liberty talked with Tom McMillin on Friday about the race and touched on several of the issues on which he’s running. The conservative grassroots candidate explained that there are clear distinctions between the two candidates, as there have been clear distinctions between Congressmen Justin Amash and Mike Rogers.

McMillin drew distinctions on important differences, including Bishop’s support for tax increases and crony capitalism, sharply contrasting McMillin’s record of opposition to big government and big business.

He also railed against Obamacare and the failures of “central planning” inherent in big government programs.

Check out the full interview and read the transcribed version after the jump.

United Liberty: Hey guys, this is Jason Pye. Today, I’m joined by Tom McMillin. He’s a candidate running for Michigan’s 8th Congressional District. He’s currently a state representative. He’s in his third term. He was first elected in 2008. Tom, thanks for taking some time out of your busy campaign schedule to join us today.

Tom McMillin: I’m honored to be on.

UL: So how’s the campaign going? We noticed that you kicked off earlier this month. You had your campaign hitting the ground running. Congressman Mike Rogers is retiring after many years in the House, and you’re one of two candidates seeking to replace him. How are things going?

McMillin: It’s going well. This is a short timeframe because of the surprise announcement. It’s really going to be a sprint the whole way. We’ve got a good team on the ground. We’ve got a lot of volunteers. There’s a lot of excitement about my campaign. A lot of people, liberty people and conservatives have been following my work for many years.

So, we’ve got a lot of volunteers, the fundraising is going well, and the issues, we’ve certainly got good issues. There’s a very strong distinction between me and my opponent. And we’ve got it in the website, we have a scorecard out. It’s really engaging and we’re working it fast.

UL: We noticed the scorecard. We were taking a look at your campaign website, for those listening it’s tom4michigan.com. And your opponent is Mike Bishop. He’s a state senate majority leader, I believe.

McMillin: Former.

UL: Former, excuse me. And you’ve got Michigan business tax, you voted to end it, he voted to create it. Raising Detroit’s debt limit, you opposed it, he supported it. He was voted one of the most liberal Republican legislators, and you’re not even close. Seems like this is kinda the establishment, the kind of go along to get along Republicans that we’ve come to know in Washington DC versus the grassroots in this race.

McMillin: That’s what it is. There’s a clear distinction. There’s a lot of votes on corporate welfare. A lot of votes for tax increases or for allowing tax increases. So yeah, there’s no surprise why Mike Rogers chose him and why somebody like Justin Amash is backing me and other liberty folks and conservatives. It’s a real stark contrast.

UL: You mentioned the corporatism, the cronyism. That’s been a big theme in the grassroots, the conservative grassroots in the liberty movement lately. We’ve heard Senator Mike Lee talk a lot about the positive conservative reform agenda. We’re seeing a lot of people taking on the Export-Import bank, for example, reauthorization of that is coming up here in the fall. Obviously you’re opposed to this stuff, but why? Why is this bad for taxpayers? Why is this bad for the residents in Michigan’s 8th Congressional District?

McMillin: I oppose all central planning. When government’s trying to take tax money from hardworking businesses and then give it to select interests that have good lobbyists, there’s very little worse than that the government can do. I think it really harms our credibility when we really do need to reform welfare. And bend the cost curve and really deal with the debt. And then folks that are subject to some welfare reform point to corporate welfare, and say what are you guys doing? So Republicans are turning the page on that, a lot of the are, my opponent is kinda from the old days where they thought picking winners and losers is a good idea.

It’s a bad form of government, and I’ve been a leader in Lansing to make sure that we expose it and I’ve always voted against it. And typically am able to bring along some freshmen and others to help. There’s one bill I stopped because they were trying to expand corporate welfare. I’ve been a real leader and I’ll continue that in Washington.

UL: Republicans often talk about reforming welfare and reforming entitlements, and getting rid of the welfare state. But few really do talk about getting rid of the corporate welfare state. And that’s a refreshing point. We need that change of perception about the Republican Party, because voters do oppose corporate welfare. It seems like it’s a winning issue if Republicans would just seize it.

McMillin: Yeah, I mean, it’s surprised some people that I am so strongly against it. But these kind of central planning schemes — I mean, we had Jennifer Granholm, and she operated by basically trying to lead through press releases. Every month, even though we were the worst in the nation in unemployment, she would always have a press release saying we cut a lot of deals and are given a lot of money so that we’re creating jobs. We just need to get out of the central planning, get taxes as low as we can and let the market operate.

UL: Switching gears a little bit, I noticed the other day on your Facebook page you were standing up against mass government surveillance and specifically taking on secretive cell phone tracking being used by the Oakland County Michigan Sheriff’s office. Tell us a little bit about that and tell us how it kind of correlates in the broader NSA stuff.

McMillin: I’ve got resolutions in Lansing calling on James Clapper to be prosecuted and making sure that the NSA has specific warrants for anything they’re doing. And then I found out a few months ago, I was holding winter liberty discussions, and I brought in the ACLU person and a Democrat who is truly concerned about privacy and then a Campaign for Liberty guy. And the four of us just spent three different meetings during the summer talking about drone regulation or civil asset forfeiture. And then we had surveillance.

We found out, a reporter said well, are you guys going to talk about Hailstorm in Oakland County Sheriffs, we didn’t know anything about it. So I started digging into it. And the Sheriff’s department stonewalled me. Wouldn’t say anything about what they’re doing, just trust us. And I told them that paradigm is shifting. Since James Clapper said “trust us,” and then we found out that he was lying and that the NSA is mass surveilling, I held the hearings, first one in the nation on this Hailstorm, to try to find out what the heck it’s doing.

It’s a military style surveillance similar to what has been used in the past over in Afghanistan and other parts by our military. And the capabilities of these are vast. They certainly are not able to just pinpoint one person, it’s a mass surveillance. So they are gathering data on people that are innocent, that have no reason for their privacy to be invaded. We’re still continuing to go after this issue. And police, the law enforcement, I don’t have any reason to believe that they’re doing anything wrong.

But they need to welcome this oversight instead of stonewalling and trying to prevent it. I feel that our privacy and our fourth amendment rights need to be protected. This is the latest assault.

UL: You mentioned drones just a moment ago, and that’s becoming another hot topic again. I know you’re running for the House of Representatives, but Senator Rand Paul is planning to filibuster this judicial nominee over his authorship of the drones memo in which he basically laid out the purported case where targeted assassinations of American citizens. And I’ll admit, I’m a through and through libertarian. The Constitution guarantees due process and trial by jury. Mike Rogers, he’s very much this, I hesitate to say perpetual war, but he seems to like the warfare state. And he’s robbing us of our civil liberties. Your opponent, given that he’s backing him, seems like he’s the same way. How do you relate this message? How do you explain this message of civil liberties to potential constituents?

McMillin: This is really resonating. I think they’ve gone overboard and we’ve gone beyond the tipping point. I think citizens are really concerned about surveillance and mass surveillance by the government. And the idea that our due process rights are just being tossed away, as well as our fourth amendment, to privacy and no search and seizure without a warrant.

And so, with drones, other than trying to require a warrant or eminent danger like a barricaded gunman, and unfortunately, law enforcement has pushed back and they basically want unfettered ability to watch all citizens at all times. You know what, whether it’s that, whether it’s license plate readers — and I’m a cosponsor on reining that in — whether it’s this Hailstorm, NDAA and taking away due process rights. We were the fourth state in the nation, under my leadership, to make sure that we at least are not going to participate in the taking away of due process rights.

So these issues are resonating, not just with libertarians, but with conservatives and liberals. It’s a left and right coalition, that I think befuddles and surprised some of the law enforcement. Some of them are welcoming it. If they’re not doing anything wrong, they keep telling us that, if you’re not doing anything wrong, why not let us surveil you all the time. But I’ve turned that back on them, and I say, if you guys aren’t doing anything wrong, you ought to welcome oversight and making sure that you’re doing everything right.

UL: I always joked, right after the NSA stuff became public, the NSA and the Obama administration basically said, if you have nothing to hide you have nothing to fear. And I’m like, I’m looking for that clause in the Fourth Amendment, and I don’t see that there. People didn’t seem to understand that we have a right, we have a presumption of innocence. The government can’t just search our records just because they think they can. We are presumed innocent. We can’t be treated like criminals.

McMillin: Right. And it also resonates with the way they talk about the Second Amendment. They treat everybody like we’re criminals and feel like they have to take away our rights. There’s a real strong pushback, and I’m excited to be a leader in that area.

UL: Hey, Tom, this is Matt, I really want to thank you for being on. You talked briefly about, or mentioned, civil asset forfeiture. Can you talk about what’s going on in Michigan and where we can build a coalition, again with left and right. This is an issue that I’m particularly interested in. So what’s going on in Michigan, and what do you see going on in other states?

McMillin: In Michigan, we’re about ready to kick out a package on Tuesday that I’m the lead sponsor on the package of Civil Asset Forfeiture Transparency. Now I don’t like at all that we are seizing assets of our citizens without a conviction, but if we’re going to do that, we ought to at least have transparency and make sure that every law enforcement agency doing that has to report at least quarterly how often they’re seizing assets, how much they’re taking without a conviction, what are they using it for. Often they’re using it for who knows what, it seems like it’s either for salary, to make sure Joe still has his job, or we’ve heard from around the country trips to here and there. So certainly the incentives are wrong.

That’s really, when you get down to it, you look at government, and a lot of times you see these incentives that are wrong. They have an incentive to make sure they do as much civil asset forfeiture as they can. And so in Michigan, on Tuesday, we’ll be moving that out of my committee, I chair the Oversight Committee. And also I’m a cosponsor of a bill that does require a conviction before you can take citizens’ assets, which really ultimately makes a whole lot of sense.

UL: Looking at your campaign website again, I notice that you’re a vocal opponent of Common Core. And that’s also another hot topic right now, the Common Core State Standards initiative. This is another one of those establishment versus grassroots type battles. What are the biggest glaring problems you see with Common Core?

McMillin: I lead the effort here in Michigan. I organized seven other legislators, and we stopped the budget until the governor, who had just been, about a year ago, he was on stage with Arnie Duncan, talking about how much he loved Common Core. But then six weeks later he was signing a budget defunding Common Core. And that was due to my leadership in making sure that we stopped it if they were going to sign a budget. And so, it’s another central planning idea.

The federal government, they’re funding the testing, they’re promoting and giving money and waivers for making sure that states are taking Common Core. It’s just a nationalization of education. It’s another central planning idea.

I’m going to Washington to push all this stuff out back to the states, where the feds just have no reason to be dictating what is going on at the local school in education. So I don’t care, and I’ve said I don’t care if the curriculum is written by Heritage Foundation and Rush Limbaugh, I don’t want to have a national curriculum and a national standards. It’s something that states by states should be doing, and we have fifty laboratories to make sure that we’re always looking at best practices. And this is just the opposite of what we should be doing.

UL: The argument, it seems, is that this was started by states and states joined it together. But it has been sort of co-opted by the federal government. The federal government through things like race to the top, stimulus money and other programs, they’re kind of making it very difficult for states not to adopt Common Core.

McMillin: Yeah. And this is another area where left and right can come together. There are a lot of teachers and some unions, some leaders like Diane Ravitch on the Left that’s opposing it. And I’ve been fighting this issue of Goals 2000, School Door, whatever flavor of the month they want to call it. It’s always about central planning, and some guy in an ivory tower deciding what every child ought to be learning. And it’s extremely bad policy. We’re a party that needs to say local control is the best, the teacher and the parents are what’s best for little Susie and little Johnny.

UL: I noticed on your website as well, you have a plank about free speech. That seems to have a, especially in the last 18 months or so, with the IRS scandal and now we have Democrats in both chambers calling for further restrictions on political speech. It’s a little scary, it seems like civil liberties, whether it’s the threat of terrorism or the threat of the Koch brothers, strangely enough, where they want to trade our rights away for some perceived boogeyman. But you also have a mention in here about defense of persecuted Christians. Explain that.

McMillin: Back in 2010, there was a — Dearborn has an annual Arab-American festival and they shut down the streets. But these are public streets. And there were four Christians that came, and they were very peaceably, just talking about their faith and interacting with some of the Muslim children and younger adults that were there. They had it on video, because the prior year there had been some problems with the police and what they were doing to try to shut down free speech. So they were videotaping. And lo and behold, next thing you know, they’re in handcuffs being led off. And they did absolutely nothing wrong. And nobody else stood by them.

I immediately went to their trials, I defended them in the press and talked about how wrong Dearborn was acting. I wasn’t able to get legislation through — we were in deep minority at the time, the Republicans were — but I did what I could. That’s what I do. And ultimately, they prevailed and the city has to pay those folks $400,000 and issue an apology. I’m somebody who will stand up against this idea of government shutting down free speech.

UL: Finally, before we wrap up, I wanted to talk to you about Obamacare. We just finished the first open enrollment period back, well, it was supposed to be the end of March but they extended it another 15 days into April. The Obama administration’s claiming victory. It doesn’t really seem like there is much of a victory. Premiums are going to increase, the enrollment number’s they’re pushing don’t seem to be real. We don’t know how many people actually signed up. What kind of reforms are you pushing from the conservative side, the libertarian side. What would you take to Washington? What would be your plan to repeal and replace Obamacare?

McMillin: We certainly need to repeal it. When we talk about central planning, this is something that’s extremely hideous. When we’re talking about the freedom of making sure that you can get to the healthcare that you want, and some bureaucrat, hundreds or thousands of miles of way, deciding what that’s going to be.

It’s pretty evident to Republican voters and a lot across the spectrum that we need to repeal it. There are answers, certainly, that can be some total reform, but I’m more leaning towards just choice. I’d prefer the market will handle that well. As long as we knock down barriers that prevent choice and freedom and healthcare decisions, I think that that’s the direction we need to go to. Not a real sexy sounding thing, but to me it is. It’s freedom and choice, best solutions to problems, including healthcare.

UL: We’ve been writing a lot about Millennials lately, young voters between the ages of 18 and 32. Let’s say you’re speaking to a crowd of Millennials. How would you try to bring them into Republican Party? What would be your pitch to them?

McMillin: I think it’s unconscionable what we’re doing with the debt. We continuously pile on this debt on our kids and grandkids. You just look at Greece. The youth over there are being told they’ve got to carry the burden for those that are retired or elderly. They know, instinctively, that it’s not going to work. That they’re going to pay a lot of money and not get much back. This train is going to crash.

They recognize that Republicans are the only ones that are really talking about dealing with the debt. They’re the ones that are dealing with privacy, and the youth do not like Big Brother watching them. They want to be left alone. And Obamacare harms the youth. That’s the only way this central planning scheme works.

The healthy, younger ones are subsidizing folks that are older and retired. I certainly don’t have anything against retirees, but when I’m talking to the youth, I think they realize that they’re getting the raw end of the deal. They’re waking up. And the liberty message really resonates with them. Government is too big and it needs to leave us alone.

UL: Well Tom, thanks a lot. We appreciate your time today. Do you have any final thoughts before we go?

McMillin: This is going to be a strong race. I’ve got a very good chance of winning this. I certainly would encourage people to go to my website, tom4michigan.com. There’s a lot of excitement here, so people can even fly in from other states if they want to help send somebody that’s going to be right there with Amash, Massie, and all the people that are fighting the good fight in Washington. I plan on being there next year.

UL: Thanks so much, Tom. Best of luck to you. We appreciate your time.

McMillin: Thank you.

Photos courtesy of McMillin’s Facebook page
Matthew Hurtt contributed to this interview and write-up


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