Republican Jack Flanagan has served in a number of elected offices – most notably as state house majority leader – but says he’s most at home digging into public policy.
Flanagan is running for Congress in New Hampshire’s 2nd Congressional District. He joined Weekend Edition now to talk about his campaign and some of the policies he’d pursue if elected.
What convinced you to make a run for Congress this year?
I had done the local things - school board chairman, cooperative vice chairman, SAU chairman, board of selectmen, finance committee... I got convinced to run for the House, and I'm in my third term. I was driving home from Concord and it dawned on me, I really enjoy the legislative process. One of the things I did learn is that you can affect people's lives positively.
That's over and above constituent work. I had a woman in my town, a single mom - she got notice that her house was being foreclosed on two days [after] Christmas. I made a few calls, and it didn't stop the foreclosure, because she had stopped payment on the mortgage, but it gave her until February to get her affairs in order.
I think this is sort of the next step for me, and God only knows there are plenty of opportunities down there to try to fix things.
You've made effectiveness the rationale for your campaign, and said that the incumbent, Democrat Annie Kuster, has passed one bill in Congress.
One piece of legislation, which is really her job, other than constituent services which we all do. The other thing I think that concerned me about Mrs. Kuster is - I hate to say partisan, but if you look at my record in Concord, for example, I get along great with Democrats. We don't always agree, but we're very civil. I'm approachable, I've co-sponsored a number of bills - the prescription drug monitoring program, it was either going to be me or [Rep.] Peter Schmidt out of Dover, I think, and Peter put his name on first but I was more than happy to put my name on it second.
I think we can get things done a little bit easier than, say, Mrs. Kuster. Here's another example: the gas pipeline. I've been against the Kinder Morgan pipeline since February of 2015. She was sort of late to the party; she came in December and now all of a sudden she's putting legislation through to have an ombudsman to help the citizens. That's great, but even if you have somebody advocating for us, all the federal government has to do is say there's a need - and, by the way, there's no definition of what "need" is.
This is what I mean by effectiveness. I'm well-respected, I think, in Concord, well enough that I was nominated and appointed Majority Leader. I think we got a lot of things done statewide - we went from an $8 million Rainy Day Fund to $80 million. We balanced our budget. We made it easier for companies to stay in the state. We made some changes to Common Core testing. We cut down the number of tests, and at the secondary level, 11th grade, we enacted the SATs instead of the Smarter Balanced Assessment, which President Obama a month and a half later said, if you wanted to do it this way, you could - but we had already done it earlier in the year. I think we did a lot of good things.
There are a significant number of Republicans saying it's better to stand on principle than to potentially compromise or water down those principles through legislative deals. What do you make of that argument?
We do have core principles - smaller government, more efficient government, less regulations, more local control, meaning the state. But sometimes you have to get a quarter loaf or a half a loaf before you get the whole loaf. You don't always get everything you want. When the [House] freshmen come in, I tell them, "Do you want to be right or do you want to be effective?"
You've proposed changes to the tax code to help close the budget deficit - what about spending, any changes there?
It's funny you bring that up, because even in Concord, I had an incentive for employees to find cost savings in our budget. Someone said to me, Jack, you worry about the pennies and the nickels, and I said, yeah, but if you worry about the pennies and the nickels the dimes and dollars take care of themselves.
I'm not a big wasteful spender; I'm not a big spender. If we need to spend something, then we do it. That's what government is about, providing services for the public good. My legislative philosophy is, does it make sense? Can we afford it? Are there unintended consequences? Is it constitutional? Not necessarily in that order, but that's the way I look at legislation, that's the way I look at spending.
Talk about waste, too - there are a lot of regulations that each one of these agencies is putting out. In Concord, we have what's called JLCAR, Joint Legislative Committee on Agency Rules. The agency has to come in front of this joint legislative - Senators and Representatives - and say why they want to change these rules. They don't have that in Washington, DC, but I would advocate for that at that level, because regulations are another thing that are hurting our businesses. There's a record low number of small businesses - I think we're like 46th in the world. A country like the United States, who pride themselves on entrepreneurship? We're not creating businesses anymore. Part of it is the regulatory environment.
On foreign policy, you've said the US needs to have a presence in the Middle East to help stabilize the region - perhaps in Syria, and perhaps a military presence. Obviously conditions change, but right now, what would you envision that presence looking like - and to what end?
Syrians don't really want to leave Syria, they just want a safe place in their country, and I think it would behoove us, instead of bringing all these people into our country where we can't vet them, send in the Marines into Syria and say, this is the line. Then we send the Army Corps of Engineers and build buildings, places for them to stay and sleep and establish their own territory. It might be better off for everyone.
We do have allies in the Middle East - Jordan is one, Saudi Arabia's another, obviously Israel, so having a presence there, being able to scramble jets and things like that, wouldn't necessarily be a bad thing.
What about social issues like abortion or same-sex marriage? How would you describe yourself?
On the abortion issue, I think the courts have already decided. But I have taken positions like, for example, late-term abortion other than the life of the mother, rape and incest. And I believe there was another bill that passed that I supported that said a minor could not get an abortion without parental consent or going in front of a judge, and the judge actually had to give a recommendation, I believe, within two days, to proceed. With limitations, I would say I'm pro-choice.
I'm a traditional marriage person - I think it's 3,000 years and ticking. However, I don't think someone just wakes up in the morning and says, "I think I'll be gay today."
Among your hobbies: motorcycles. What do you ride?
I started in 1973 - shows you how old I was - I still do it, but not very often because I don't have much time. I race motocross, dirt bikes. Last year I had a little accident, breaking five ribs, but it's been something that gets into you. For me it's a form of exercise, it's a distraction. I do like golf, too, by the way, but it keeps me a little young, keeps me in shape, and keeps me out of trouble.