Editor's Note: We visited Congressman Andre Carson Downtown at the Marion County Democratic Party Headquarters on Aug. 30, 2012. Thanks to intern Sara Davis for her transcription assistance.
NUVO: What do you feel defines a good congressman?
André Carson: I think someone who sees him or herself as a representative in the true sense of the word. Someone who is truly a representative in D.C fighting on behalf of their district. Working hard to bring back resources to their district, working hard on creating jobs, working hard on making sure that schools have the resources that they need. Making critical decisions as it relates to tax vehicles, to generate incomes, making critical decisions as it relates to our war efforts, and more importantly collapsing our war efforts so we can get those monies being spent on wars back into our treasury to make critical investments in our cities.
NUVO: Great. Why do you want to be in Congress?
Carson: You know, I've been in congress now for four and a half years, it's been truly an honor, and since I've been in office, I've been able to bring back half a billion dollars back to the state and the district, and in the past few months I had President Obama sign two of my bills into law. Now that's a task that usually takes a member of Congress a decade or two to have one bill signed into law, and we were able through a lot of hard work and network building to get it done in four and a half years.
NUVO: And this will tie perfectly in with the next question. What do you feel your greatest demonstrated strength has been in office, and in what areas have you tried to bolster your leadership style?
Carson: That's a great question. I think for me, I think I've been able to be a consensus builder. I've been able to work across the aisle with some of my Republican colleagues, but more importantly, I think that my greatest strength has been to be bold, to be one who listens to my constituents regularly. Accessibility, if I can't physically be in the district to meet with an interest group, or a group of constituents, we take advantage of technology, and we have video conferencing, where I can still meet and have a very capable staff. I think that I've been able to use the resources quite effectively. The budget that we're given annually, we were able to use it quite effectively and return money back to the treasury. Even though the Republicans have made significant cuts, we have been able to make some sound decisions as it relates to reaching out to the community, servicing the community, and keeping a capable staff to meet those needs.
NUVO: How will you negotiate the current partisan gridlock that seems to have stymied so much cooperation and conversation?
Carson: Well I think, you know, I've had the opportunity to travel, even with some of my Republican colleagues, and at the end of our travels, in conversations, they'll say "You know, Congressman, we don't disagree on much. Our methodologies are different, our approaches are different, but I think we still want the same for the American people. We want to create jobs. We want to improve our broken educational system. We want to see critical investments made in infrastructure. But our approaches our quite different." And now, I'm even finding out from some of my Republican friends, they, too, feel hindered by their party leadership because of these serious decisions and these cuts that are affecting the very constituents that they have been sworn in to represent.
NUVO: What will your legislative priorities be moving forward, I know that you touched on it a little bit, but are there any plans you want me to hyperlink or anything?
Carson: Yeah. Well I want you to certainly hyperlink our two bills that have been passed. But also, I'm focused on our financial literacy. Given our economic downturn, it is clear that we need to have a more financially literate society.
My wife is a principal, and I've met with superintendents, I've met with teachers, I've met with educators across the spectrum, and they say, "We would love to teach financial literacy in our schools, but we're already stretched too thinly because of testing requirements. So at best, we could teach financial literacy as a function of consumer math or social studies, but we need a focused effort in bolstering our awareness about financial literacy." And so what I did was I introduced a bill, a nontraditional bill that pairs NGOs and non-profits with the financial services sector: the banking community, credit unity, and the like. And it offers an opportunity to compete for competitive grants and once those persons secure those grants, they can teach financial literacy at their not for profits and have the banking community offer tools for balancing a checkbook, what does it mean to invest in a stock. Now, the intent isn't to make folks head fund managers or venture capitalists, but it is a vehicle, an apparatus, to allow our community to not only more financially literate, but to allow our constituents to make decisions more soundly and firmly.
NUVO:In what ways can Congress, and this may be one of them, best stimulate greater economic growth and job creation?
Carson: Well, I think that we certainly need to make changes to our current tax code. We also need to penalize those companies who choose to ship our jobs overseas. Also, I think we need to come up with more ways to convince companies to keep the bulk of their operations here in the USA. There are a lot of companies here who manufacture phenomenal things internationally, but they don't have any major warehouses in the country. And that's problematic for me.
I think that we also need to clamp down on some of these overseas tax shelters and their governments and impose some sanctions on some of the islands that have been used as tax havens to let people escape from paying their fair share of taxes. Another way is for us to tap into the alternative energy sector. For far too long, we've had a dependence on foreign oil and if you look at a state like Indiana, and you drive up I-65 in Carroll County and White County you'll see beautiful wind turbines as far as the eye can see. A lot of the time, these wind turbines are being built and manufactured in China. We have a skilled, capable workforce here in the great state of Indiana who can build wind turbines, solar panels, and help develop the next generation of alternative fuel vehicles where you could take a bottle of water and power a vehicle to get sixty miles to the gallon. We have to put more pressure on Congress to raise the standards so we can do those kinds of things. And those are just some of the creative things that we can do to help spur economic growth.
And lastly, I'd like to say the more we collapse and end the war in Afghanistan and our true presence in Afghanistan, we can get our men and women, our service members back home, and use those billions of dollars back in our U.S. Treasury so we can have a series of critical capital infusions in places like Indianapolis to spur economic growth.
NUVO: To what extent do you feel government should provide a social safety net for the least fortunate among us?
Carson: Well, I try to live by the Golden Rule. I think no matter what religion that you believe in, or if you have no religion at all, no matter where you are racially, politically, economically, socially, philosophically. I think a common human inclination that we all share is to help the less fortunate, to help the least of these. Far too often we are seen elected officials who have shown and proven themselves to be insensitive to the needs of the poor.
We have seen those folks, particularly, a Mitt Romney of sorts, who has made some pretty provocative statements about poor people. That indicates to me that there is a dispassion as it relates to the haves and the have-nots, the disproportionality is so startling. I would like to see more elected officials help create legislation that will not only protect the poor, but that will empower the less fortunate to start their own business or to enter back into the workforce so they can have educational opportunities and even skill building opportunities that will make them contributors into society that will give them dignity, that won't stereotype them.
But I think that all of us have a commitment, if you have any kind of human sensibility at all or any religious belief at all, that we have an honor and we have a duty to give back to the poor, and we have a responsibility to protect the poor.
NUVO: What do think of Grover Norquist's no new taxes pledge?
Carson: Well, I think it's an ambitious pledge. What concerns me is that America is arguably the wealthiest nation in recorded history. America can pay her debts, we're not Greece, we're not some of these other European countries. If we've learned anything from these European countries is that austerity measures do not work, especially in a recession. We cannot afford to make grave and deep cuts that will hurt senior citizens and that will hurt the poor in the time of a deep recession. You don't make deep cuts to entitlement programs in ways that will cripple entitlement programs and worsen the condition of those who depend on these entitlement programs. You make cuts when our economy is healthier than it is right now. That is not to say that we shouldn't implement measures that help us deal with the issues of fraud and abuse in the system because I think that's a serious conversation we must have because those things exist. But they don't exist to the degree that this mythology has grown, and the poor has become a boogeyman of sorts to justify and rationalize these deep cuts.
I'm concerned about this growing conversation about sequestration because if it goes through, we're going to see some wonderful Hoosiers lose their jobs.
And so, while I think we should look at cutting defense spending in many areas, particularly the black budget, I think we should look more closely at ways in which we can use our resources more effectively like ending the war in Afghanistan fully, collapsing that effort, and investing that money back into our Treasury.
NUVO: What does sensible tax reform mean to you?
Carson: I think sensible tax reform means making sure that the wealthy 1 percent pays their fair share.
NUVO: What do you see as the most serious environmental issue for thisstate?
Carson: Well, I think that certainly global warming is a serious issue and a concern of mine. I think that we need to look more clearly, as I said earlier, at ways in which we can look at the alternative fuel sector, the alternative energy sector, solar power, wind power, switchgrass technology, hydropower, to smart grid technology, to not only power our homes and vehicles, but to make our world, our communities, and our state a better place to live.
NUVO: And this dovetails on that too, how concerned are you on manmade climate change?
Carson: I'm deeply concerned. Scientists are telling us that the weather we're witnessing and feeling is a result of our abuse of Mother Earth. We're seeing high temperatures in seasons where it should be cooler, and we're seeing cooler temperatures in seasons where it should be warmer. This is all a result of our excessive greed and our inability to realize that we are all interconnected and we have a duty and a commitment to maintain Mother Earth as best as possible.
NUVO: What are our country's strengths and weaknesses on a foreign policy front?
Carson: I think our strengths have been that we have been able to go into places where they have had dictators and help implement a democracy where there is rule of law, where women are allowed to serve in Cabinet positions, where women are allowed to engage in the political process, where we have absolutely made an investment in building schools to educate young girls where formally, they weren't allowed to be educated, think of Afghanistan as an example. So I think we've done a lot of good things to help usher in democracy in the true sense of the word. On the other end, I think that we have been inconsistent. We have operated in many ways as an empire of sorts, where we go in and we engage in local wars and battles only to be left with a contingency of US Troops who have, some may say have served as a security force to usher in big business and corporate interest to mine those natural resources out of those countries.
NUVO:How do you feel federal education policy has influenced the state's educational landscape and in what areas, if any, would you like to see that changed? I know you touched on that a little bit.
Carson: I think that Race to the Top had good intentions, but it was pretty controversial. I know the state of Indiana did not get it's fair share. I think more importantly, we need to see absolute reformation of our education system nationwide. We need a space where teachers are given the freedom to teach to meet the different learning styles of children. Most of us are visual learners. Some of us are kinesthetic, we like to feel, touch, and build things. Some of us are auditory learners. Many of us are a combination of all three, but teachers need the ability, without having to worry about strict testing requirements, to really focus on true and nurturing these young, great, brilliant minds, and future leaders.
NUVO: What about immigration policy? Do you have any great hopes for changes?
Carson: Clearly, I'm in support of the Dream Act. Unfortunately, we will not see any progress made this year, it is an election year. I'm very pleased with the President's executive order. I don't think that it's proper to have those children who are a part of our school, a part of our community to be deported, and just taken away from those communities. So I think that his executive order was a bold decision, and I believe that President Obama has proven himself to be a leader as it relates to immigration reform. The difficulty is that he is having to contend with Congress that is in absolute opposition to his agenda, even when his agenda impacts their communities in a positive way. So I think immigration reform is a dissuasion, we are a nation built on the backs of immigrants, it's a discussion that we're going to have to have to deal with the changing face of America that many people seem to be unable to accept at this point.
NUVO: What about agricultural policy? Are there any changes you'd like to see in how Congress relates to farmers?
Carson: I think that we need to strengthen some of the subsidies that our farmers are able to get because right now farmers are suffering, especially given the recent scourge of droughts that we've seen across the country. The American government has a duty to empower her farmers any time, and any chance we can get. I absolutely stand by that.
NUVO:Now, we're wrapping up with a few more fun questions here at the end. How do you define a Hoosier?
Carson: You know, I read years ago that during wartime, someone's ear was cut off in battle and someone bend down and said, "Who's ear?" and that evolved into "Hoosier". Hoosiers are why I choose to call Indiana home. It's the energy of the people, it's the intelligence of the people, it's the passion of the people, it's the sincerity of its residents. And I'm talking from Vanderburgh County to Marion County to Pulaski County, and all the way to Lake County. The spirit, the energy, and the positivity that you get from those folks who live in the great state of Indiana can't be replaced. Indiana is America's best kept secret, and I'm proud to call myself a Hoosier.
NUVO:Of our state's most well-known sons and daughters, which have been most influential to you?
Carson: Julia Carson.
NUVO: Nicely done.
Carson: And Andy Jacobs.
NUVO: Nicely done again. On a broader plane, what books and thinkers have most influenced the development of your political philosophy?
Carson: Oh wow, there are so many books and thinkers. I think about Robert Greene, the great author of 33 Strategies of War and 48 Laws of Power. I think about Noam Chomsky in many ways. I think about Dwight Eisenhower, in fact, the first biography I ever read. I got a book from the Bookmobile, I don't know if they still have the Bookmobile, they had a Bookmobile that used to come to my school, St. Rita. They had a biography about Dwight Eisenhower, and it listed some of his writings and quotes, and I was inspired by that. Though he's on the other side of the political spectrum, he was a very thoughtful general and leader. He was mild-mannered, but had a decisive and bold personality. I'm also inspired by President Barack Obama and Bill Clinton.
NUVO: Some powerful forces there to back you up.
Carson: Powerful forces, yeah. When you leave, I'll think of fifty others. I'm in between like five different books right now. I just finished Crisis Economics and I just finished The Elephant and the Dragon.
NUVO: I haven't heard of that one.
Carson: It talks about China's and India's growing influence. Pretty good book.
NUVO: Nice. Thanks. What question do you wish that I had asked, and what's your answer to it?
Carson: What is your favorite TV show? I don't really have one. I like "Game of Thrones," I like "The Tudors," I like "Boardwalk Empire," I like "Morning Joe." There's a show that comes called "Managing Asia" that I really like. It interviews different CEOs who have big corporations in Asia.
NUVO: Okay, two more. If you could ask a question of your fellow candidates, what would it be?
Carson: What do you plan to do for Hoosiers, and what do you plan to do for the middle class?
NUVO: And the final question is about veterans. what are you hearing in the field? And what do you think necessitates congressional action?
Carson: Well, one of the bills I mentioned earlier was a bill signed into law given the fact that we've had a few of our soldiers commit suicide in Indiana.
NUVO: I met Gregg Keesling, and he told me the story.
Carson: So the bill deals with suicides and had the military taken his son Chance's medical records into account in a holistic manner, they could have prevented this because he was red flagged during one tour of duty.
And so this bill effectively requires the military, I just wrote a letter to Secretary Leon Panetta, to implement a holistic strategy where anytime a troop has had to seek medical treatment, and if they're transferred to another tour of duty, all of their medical record are taken into account before they're deployed. I'd also like to real address this issue of mental health in the military. I've been to Iraq and Afghanistan, and I've had troops whisper to me, "Listen man, any one of the guys or gals who gets treated or seeks medical attention, it's like you're blackballed."
It's such a taboo issue. So as a result, their condition worsens or is exacerbated because this taboo is so great because this culture exists in the military. And it's near and dear to my heart because my mother suffered from mental health issues as well. I come from a family of Marines, it passed me, but I think the military, even with the greatness of the military and given the fact that I'm a huge supporter, I think we need to lift a veil and deal more directly with the issues of mental health.
NUVO: Thank you. Well, that does it. I appreciate the time.
Carson: No, thank you.
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