familyfoundation.org: Delegate Frederick, thank you very much for agreeing to this interview, and welcome to familyfoundation.org. You're the first member of the General Assembly to do an interview with us. Congratulations . . . can you feel the pressure? ; - ) Delegate Jeff Frederick: Nah, no pressure. It's great to have the opportunity to chat with you about the future of our Commonwealth.
familyfoundation.org: Let's start with the questions:
There is a lot of talk around Capitol Square these days that you are going to run for Virginia Republican Party chairman at this summer's convention. Is this true? If so, why are you running?
Delegate Frederick: Yes, it is true. It is a pivotal time in Virginia, so I think it is time for bold, new leadership. Time is of the essence -- Republicans can't afford to lose any more elections, which if we do, the effects will be felt for the next decade or longer. We must start winning again, and I've proven I know how to win tough campaigns in less-than-favorable environments -- but we must be up to the task of better positioning ourselves for the challenges ahead.
familyfoundation.org: How do you see the direction of the party right now, especially given the 2005, 2006 and 2007 elections? Is the party not winning because it's afraid to fully embrace conservative issues and reforms? Or is it more about technical things, such as campaign management?
Delegate Frederick: Well, it's about both, and more. On strategy and organization, simply put, we can't keep doing the same thing over and over again and expect a different result. We've got to put into place a proven plan to build party infrastructure and win elections with a results-oriented approach. On philosophy, we've got to figure out (and agree upon) who we are, and what we stand for as a party and move forward together. We've seen the results of becoming "Democrat-lite" and moderating our core principles. Instead, we can be common-sense conservatives while articulating our values in a way that welcomes and attracts a broad base of voters. That's my idea of a big tent.
familyfoundation.org: If you are elected party chairman, would that make for an awkward arrangement between you and the Speaker? Who would be the boss?
Delegate Frederick: Well, neither of us would be "the boss". We both work for and serve constituencies who are our bosses. But I know what you're getting at, so let me address that. I think during my time in office, I've proven myself to be independent minded. In 2004, I was the only member of my freshman class (Republican or Democrat) to oppose Mark Warner's largest-in-Virginia history tax hike. In 2006 I was only one of 2 votes in all of the General Assembly to oppose the budget because I thought it did a poor job of prioritizing. In 2007, I was (and still am) a strong opponent of the transportation tax-hike "compromise". As a member of the House of Delegates, I've never forgotten who I work for; what I promised in order to get here; and who helped me to get here. I'm always quick to point out that I work for the people of the 52nd district, and that's who I'm accountable to. In the same respect, as Chairman of RPV, I'll never forget that I work for not just the party faithful, but also for ideas and values that define our party.
I also don't think that things would be awkward with the Speaker, but actually the opposite. I'm sure he'd like to see a stronger party to support his caucus, which would mean both helping to re-elect Members, but also to provide friendly nudging when necessary. A successful RPV will be an organization that elected folks value and respect because RPV is a significant player in helping advance our values and ideas -- and office holders rely upon RPV. Right now, that is not the case, since many in office don't feel like RPV brings any value to the table, nor do they rely upon RPV for anything. Just like any relationship, its give-and-take, with a healthy reciprocal exchange of IOU's. Nothing like that exists today.
familyfoundation.org: Who and what were are your influences? What got you involved in politics?
Delegate Frederick: I always had an interest in politics, but my involvement really started in high school. I did some volunteer work for Bush/Quayle. That got me tuned into the College Republicans as I was headed to college. I recall thinking it would be cool to get involved in the CRs. I never expected to lead the club, but when I arrived at Emory (by all measures, a very liberal school), I found that the CRs had become defunct. So, I went and found a faculty sponsor (just to give you an idea of how bad things were, I had to get a Democratic professor to sponsor the club) and got things rolling. By the time I graduated, we had 10% of the student population as a dues-paying member of our club; we had the only-in-the-nation advisory board that included 3 members of Congress, including the newly sworn in Speaker Newt Gingrich. That led me to work for Newt and got me involved in national politics. Our club had made a few national headlines in pointing out the hypocrisy of our school's administration and their diversity policies, and had been recognized as one of the most effective CR clubs in the nation. Those were the good old days. :-)
familyfoundation.org: What is your definition of conservatism?
Delegate Frederick: Less government, so that people have more liberty and freedom. Less taxes, because I think people know better how to spend their money than government does. Personal responsibility; protection of life; and empowering families.
familyfoundation.org: Why is it important to win over voters to conservatism; in other words, does conservatism matter anymore?
Delegate Frederick: Yes, it does, and I think that most citizens have conservative leanings. I also think that most people reject the liberal agenda. If you look at Democrats that have been successful in office (or getting elected), at least in Virginia, they more than likely ran away from liberal ideas and embraced conservative ones. Then the issue becomes one of simply who is more believable, and that's where we've failed in recent years. The objective from our standpoint, as I said earlier, is to take our conservative message and articulate it in a way that appeals to a broad base -- and once articulated, to make good on our promises and stay consistent in our principles while using those principles to address people's everyday challenges.
familyfoundation.org: Virginia's budget has more than doubled over the last 10 years, and government spending at all levels all over the country outpaces inflation and population growth. Is constant government growth and power over individuals inevitable or will government ever get scaled back?
Delegate Frederick: I hope it is not inevitable. The larger government gets (and spending is a direct factor in the size of government), the less freedom and liberty people have. The more government takes, the less people have to live their lives they way they feel is best; and the less incentive and modification people have to do more and create more. If you can find it in the yellow pages, government shouldn't be doing it. Citizens today have the least amount of freedom they've ever had in our nation's history, and that should bother people.
Further, with respect to Virginia's budget: Considering the responsibility we have of stewardship over the people's money, my primary concern is overall with the budget -- it's process, and the accountability (or lack thereof) in ensuring that every dollar is used wisely and frugally. Every dollar. The fact that we base our budgets today on a 1971 model, and neglect to revisit and justify previous spending levels (now we just question increases) is hugely problematic in my view. This has resulted in duplicative services, outmoded/dated programs, and a lack of targeting the lion-share of resources on top, core priorities of government. Then, because it is easier to just raise taxes, we ask families to cut their family budgets when our budget is skyrocketing.
familyfoundation.org: Along those lines, history has shown that excessive government is inefficient, corrupt and leads to stagnation economically and socially. Yet we seem, despite our Founders' vision, to continue to drift to the European, secularist/socialist model. Who's winning the philosophical wars in Virginia and America.
There are some very legitimate needs out there, so the only question is, "is it government's role" to address this or that? Be careful about your answer, though, since people expect consistency. If we narrowly define government's role and stick to that, it can be easy to have a consistent smaller, limited government. If, however, we decided that we must address things that shouldn't be core functions of government, then we promote a notion that government can be all things to all people and solve every problem -- no matter how heartbreaking -- that gets our attention. Our Founders envisioned a wise and frugal government. I don't think anyone believes either of those terms fit modern day governance.
The funny thing now is the trend in some other nations, especially in Europe. Their social spending experiments of the last century failed miserably and out of sheer necessity, many of them have adopted very conservative ideas and they are seeing very positive results.
I remember when I was a kid, Virginia was a great place to live. Some argue a better place to live than today. Yet then, government was much smaller than it is today, taxes were lower, kids did better, seniors retired here, and on and on.
Who's winning in Virginia? Well, I think conservatism is largely winning, since even the liberals espouse (at least rhetorically) conservative principles, and anytime the voters are given a clear choice, they chose the conservative direction. I think our problem is that our Republican brand in Virginia has become diluted by those that want to try to please everyone (which ultimately satisfies no one), mixed with a notion that we've always done things in some way, so we should continue on the same path. A prime example: basing every budget since 1971 on that 1971 template.
familyfoundation.org: What are your priorities during this General Assembly session?
Delegate Frederick: I'm pretty predictable on this stuff, largely because I focus on the promises I made when I stood before my constituents and asked for their vote. To that end, I have proposed legislation on a wide range of issues that have a direct impact on the quality of life in eastern Prince William. My focus includes addressing the problem of illegal immigration in our communities; making health care more affordable; reducing people's tax burden; better managing out-of-control growth and development; adequately funding transportation; and getting more of each education dollar into the classroom.
familyfoundation.org What are the Republican Caucus' priorities for this session and what do you think they should be?
Delegate Frederick: Our caucus is obviously focused on reforms to our mental health care system in response to the tragic events last year at Virginia Tech. I think there is broad agreement on this issue, and I think everyone here wants to see some results in this area.
On the other issues, I suspect, there is less agreement. Illegal immigration; real estate property tax relief; funding the Standards of Quality; and keeping the Governor from raiding the rainy day fund and money earmarked for transportation all round out our caucus agenda.
Personally, I support our caucus' efforts, but I'd also like to see us do more to keep our promise on getting rid of the car tax. I'd also like to see us doing more to cut spending and cap the growth of real estate property taxes (taking it a step further than the proposed homestead exemption moving its way through). We should do more to inventivize (not force) business to provide health insurance to their employees, and we should make sure that more of each education dollar ends up in the classroom. We also need to do a better job of keeping our military retirees in Virginia (other states have friendlier policies to disabled and retired vets than we do). I could go on and on, but I'll stop there.
familyfoundation.org Observing you in committee, you don't suffer fools gladly. You are active and are willing to pry the truth out of lobbyists and bureaucrats, which is something we believe in strongly. You catch people in contradictions, such as when the CSB lobbyist said CSBs involve the parents but don't notify them. Is there more conservative lawmakers can do in committee to advance the cause?
Delegate Frederick: I strongly believe that the special interests are too influential in Richmond. I also think that the loudest voice is often not the majority voice. I like to make sure that the "great silent majority" have a voice here, notwithstanding all the louder voices walking around.
Richmond during session is kinda like it's own little world. It's easy to forget who you are and where you came from, but I think if more people remember those things, our cause will be advanced significantly.
Finally, I'd love to see more people in Richmond find ways to make things happen instead of just always saying its a good idea but not the right time for it.
familyfoundation.org Why are government agencies and associations, such as VACO or the school boards or school superintendents, allowed to lobby the General Assembly against reforms and measures counter to taxpayers' interests with lobbyists paid by taxpayer money? For example, VACO was one of the biggest roadblocks to eminent domain reform last year: That's local government using taxpayer money so they can continue to take taxpayers' private property; and the educrats use taxpayer money to block education reforms. Can't we reform this terrible system, or at least sunshine it so voters will know what their government is really "doing for them"?
Delegate Frederick: That would be great. I wish taxpayers knew more about the extent to which their tax dollars go to lobby and influence policy, and for policies they'd oppose or to defeat policies they'd support.
familyfoundation.org: Delegate Frederick, thank you so much for participating in our blog interview. We look forward to seeing and hearing more about you in the future.