Freshmen GOP Lawmakers Revel in Maverick Power


ASHLAND, Ky.—U.S. Rep. Thomas Massie lives off the electrical grid in a solar-powered 
home on a 1,200-acre farm in the Appalachian foothills. The first-year congressman and 
engineering graduate of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology built the house from lumber 
he logged and milled.

The Kentucky Republican also lives off the grid politically. Just a few weeks after his 
election, he helped spearhead an unsuccessful coup against House Speaker John 
Boehner and has since voted regularly against party priorities.

The defiant posture of Mr. Massie and a dozen or more like-minded conservatives
 has changed the agenda in Washington. In a capital where partisan power is nearly evenly
 balanced, he and a small but committed group of new House activists have discovered
 that they have the ability to block not just Democrats but their own party’s leaders—and 
they are willing to use it.

“I’m going to hang in here like a hair in a biscuit,” said Mr. Massie, who has twice 
appeared on the TV show “Junkyard Wars,” as one of the competitors who
 build machines from scrounged objects. “I’m digging in for the long haul. This place
 is worse than I thought.”

Republicans hold just a 17-vote majority in the House, which means such a relatively
small but cohesive bloc can derail just about any measure that doesn’t draw 
Democratic support. That already happened when Mr. Boehner was unable to bring
 the conservatives into line on a big farm bill, compelling unhappy Republican leaders
 to make wholesale changes in the legislation. Trouble also lies ahead on a proposed
 immigration overhaul, as well as efforts to fund the government and extend the U.S.
 borrowing authority this fall.

Mr. Boehner has told audiences in New York and Washington not to expect much 
activity from the House for the rest of the year. The speaker was forced to rely on 
Democrats, for example, to help pass disaster relief for superstorm Sandy, the 
Violence Against Women Act and an extension of Bush-era tax rates for people
 who make less than $400,000.

Mr. Massie, 42 years old, represents a potent strain of small-government 
conservatism. He and his colleagues, unlike some of their predecessors, didn’t
 come to Washington content to trim government. Instead, they believe wide 
swaths of what government does need to be reconsidered from the ground up
 to deal with deficits and a potential explosion in entitlement spending.

These lawmakers, who now are the front line of the tea-party movement, are
 unwilling to fall in line with GOP colleagues. They are, however, willing to vote
 against what is perceived as their own political interests, as some did in 
opposing farm subsidies popular back home.

“There are a bunch of zombies here,” Mr. Massie said in an interview, referring
to lawmakers in both parties. “Most of them come here with the purest of intentions,
 but they just get bitten…I don’t know whether to hug ’em or hit ’em with a baseball

The White House has concluded that this conservative bloc is so formidable that it 
now is, in effect, seeking to work its agenda through the Senate instead of the House.

Mr. Massie is hard to pigeonhole, though he leans to the libertarian wing of the 
Republican Party. He drives an $80,000 Tesla electric sedan with a license plate
 that says, “Friends of Kentucky Coal.” He wants lower taxes and less federal 
spending. He has sponsored or co-sponsored 61 bills, including ones to abolish 
the Federal Reserve and the new health-care law, as well as a measure to make
 legal possession of guns in a school zone.

He and his wife, Rhonda, grew up in Lewis County, Ky., population 13,870. 
They left after high school to attend MIT, where Mr. Massie, with the help of 
scholarships and financial aid, earned degrees in mechanical and electrical
 engineering, as well as the prestigious Lemelson-MIT Student Prize, known
 as the Oscar for inventors.

At MIT, the couple started a company in their apartment to sell a virtual-reality
 computer technology Mr. Massie created, using some of the 24 patents he developed.

In 2003, after building the company to a 60-person team that raised $30 million
 from investors, the Massies sold their stake and moved back to Kentucky to 
raise their four children on the farm where Rhonda Massie grew up. Mr. Massie’s 
father, a beer distributor, and his mother, a nurse, still live in Mr. Massie’s 
childhood home, about 15 miles away in Vanceburg, Ky.

Mr. Massie took a one-week course to learn how to build a timber-framed
 house on his farm, which he bought from his in-laws. He used a bulldozer
 to fell the 600 trees he used and assembled the solar electricity system himself. 
He later acquired 50 head of grass-fed cattle.

Mr. Massie said he began reading the Lewis County Leader, a local newspaper,
 where he learned county officials had proposed a levy to build a government
 office to lure a branch of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Mr. Massie, who estimated the levy would have cost him $100, wrote letters
 to the newspaper and staged a protest that drew 150 opponents. Officials later
 dropped the idea, and Mr. Massie was soon drawn to politics by the small-
government wave that washed across the U.S. in 2010. That year he ran his
 first political campaign and was voted the top elected official in Lewis County.

As the county’s judge-executive, Mr. Massie scoured financial records and
halted services he thought the county didn’t need. To save money, he
 installed a new water tank at the county jail himself.

When Mr. Massie ran for Congress in 2012, his maverick reputation had 
already reached Washington. Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy and other 
House Republicans donated more than $50,000 to Mr. Massie’s top rival
 in the GOP primary, according to the Federal Election Commission.

Mr. Massie used the donations to reinforce his portrayal of his opponent 
as beholden to Washington. “Once she wore the establishment hat,” he said, 
“it was all over.”

He won over college student John Ramsey, who had given $3 million of his 
inheritance to build a group that backs free-market, small-government
 conservatives in the mold of former U.S. Rep. Ron Paul. The group, 
Liberty for All PAC, spent more than $640,000 on Mr. Massie’s behalf,
 according to the Center for Responsive Politics, a nonpartisan group that
 tracks political donations.

Mr. Massie won the seven-candidate GOP primary with 45% of the vote, 
and then beat Democrat Bill Adkins by nearly 30 percentage points.

House freshmen used to be a quiet breed. But consecutive elections have
 swept away older lawmakers and replaced them with newer faces, instilling
 younger members with a measure of power over party elders.

In Washington, Mr. Massie joined a handful of freshmen who won seats 
despite opposition from congressional Republicans. First-year U.S. Reps.
 Jim Bridenstine of Oklahoma and Ted Yoho of Florida both beat incumbent

It took Mr. Massie just a few weeks to run afoul of party leaders. In late 
December, Mr. Boehner was negotiating with President Barack Obama
 to avoid a combination of pending tax increases and spending cuts that
 was nicknamed the fiscal cliff. As talks fizzled, Mr. Boehner asked the 
House to approve extending tax rates for all but million-dollar earners.

Mr. Massie, who was sworn in early after his predecessor resigned, opposed
 raising tax rates and voted to block it.
Mr. McCarthy, the No. 3 Republican in the House, bounded across the
House floor to scold the newcomer, Mr. Massie recalled. Mr. McCarthy 
then turned to Ohio Rep. Jim Jordan, ringleader of the revolt, and said: “Jim,
 he doesn’t even know what he’s doing. He doesn’t know what you’re getting him into.”

After Mr. McCarthy left, other Republicans congratulated the freshman for 
standing his ground, Mr. Massie said. Mr. Boehner pulled the bill.

Mr. Massie’s reputation was cemented weeks later when he tried to deny 
Mr. Boehner’s re-election as speaker. Although the plot fizzled, 12 
Republicans voted for someone else or abstained, the most defections by 
fellow party members for a speaker since 1923.

Mr. Massie and his allies are supported by a network that raises money 
and builds support outside the party structure. Club for Growth, FreedomWorks
 and the Heritage Action for America use social media and direct outreach to 
congressional offices to fan discontent among conservative voters nationwide 
over legislation they oppose.

“The internal forces here in Washington, D.C., don’t produce the right answer,”
 Mr. Massie said. “We need to rally people on the outside.”

In March, Mr. Massie and 15 other Republicans nearly upended legislation to
 fund the government. Some opposed the bill because it failed to cut funds
 for the health-care law. Others were annoyed that party leaders denied an 
amendment to prevent Mr. Obama from spending taxpayer money to play golf.
Democrats say the infighting helps them paint the GOP as out of step with voters,
 while tamping enthusiasm among conservative activists.

“You’ve got the far right worrying about the far, far right and pulling the entire
 party out-of-step with independents,” said Steve Israel, chairman of the
 Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.

GOP leaders tried to bring the agitators into the fold. They scored a 
victory in March by persuading Mr. Bridenstine to support a budget
 blueprint that Mr. Massie and nine other Republicans opposed.

To win his vote, House Budget Chairman Paul Ryan (R., Wis.) spent more
 than an hour with the freshman, trying to quell Mr. Bridenstine’s concerns 
about increased spending. During voting, House Armed Services Chairman
 Buck McKeon (R., Calif.) sat next to Mr. Bridenstine to prevent others
 from lobbying him against the bill. Mr. Bridenstine said the Ryan plan
 “was the best we could do” to stabilize the debt.

Republican leaders aren’t likely to try a similar effort with Mr. Massie. He
 told his staff to give his cellphone number only to his most fiscally conservative 
colleagues. Of Mr. McCarthy, the GOP majority whip, Mr. Massie said,
 “I run around tying shoes and Kevin runs around untying them.”

The rhetoric by House Republicans has cooled since party leaders put off 
until fall a fight over extending the U.S. borrowing limit. The controversies
 buffeting Mr. Obama have also galvanized Republicans, including the
 targeting of conservative groups by the Internal Revenue Service.

“The energy has dissipated some,” Mr. Massie said. Party leaders “have
 succeeded in peeling off some members.” He recently attended a
 session with Mr. Boehner in the speaker’s Capitol office. Mr. Boehner
 told the group to be patient. Change, he said, takes time.

Mr. Massie used the meeting to lobby Mr. Boehner on one of his favorite
 causes, telling the speaker to oppose legislation that would give states the
 authority to collect sales tax on Internet transactions. Mr. Boehner told
 him the bill would never reach the floor, Mr. Massie said.

Representatives of retailers Best Buy, Home Depot, Target and others had
 piled into Mr. Massie’s office in June to give him an earful about how online
 retailers now have a pricing advantage, according to participants in the talks.
The speaker recently promised his rank-and-file he wouldn’t allow a vote
 on an immigration bill unless a majority of his caucus supported it—a nod
 to Mr. Massie and others.

Mr. Massie also made a concession to party leaders when he backed a revised
 farm bill after GOP brass, bowing to conservative pressure, stripped money 
for food stamps.

But the Kentucky Republican and his allies were back at it last week, 
nearly passing a measure to defund the National Security Agency’s
 data-collection program.

Back in his district, Mr. Massie revels in his outsider status. He returns 
to Kentucky on weekends and during the week he stays in the basement
 of his aunt’s house in Virginia.

At a town-hall meeting this spring, he told constituents about a recent
 flight home from Washington. His 4th congressional district, which is 
heavily Republican and 92% white, favored former Massachusetts Gov.
 Mitt Romney in the 2012 election by 29%.

The congressman took his seat in the last row of the plane when a man
 next to him jabbed him in the ribs. “Do you realize who’s on this flight,”
 the man said, gesturing to Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell
of Kentucky, Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky and Ohio Sen. Rob Portman,
 all fellow Republicans.

“I was sitting there,” Mr. Massie said, “hoping he doesn’t ask me what
 I do for a living.”

The original front page WSJ article can be read here.


About BruceMajors

freelance writer at Daily Caller, The Hill, reason, Breitbart
This entry was posted in FreedomWorks, Kentucky, libertarian, Thomas Massie. Bookmark the permalink.

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