Local businessman Ralph Patterson, 58, of Waco, is challenging Congressman Bill Flores in the March 1 Republican primary election to represent District 17, which includes Waco. The former McLennan County Republican Party chairman lists as issues border security, protection of the unborn, veterans affairs, repeal of the Affordable Care Act, abuse of presidential power, overregulation and blocking settlement of Syrian refugees in the United States. The Trib editorial board interviewed Patterson on Jan. 18.
Q So what prompts the McLennan County Republican Party chairman to want to run against the top Republican in the congressional district?
A As I’ve told you on many occasions, I gave up my First Amendment rights to some extent (to talk about individual Republicans) and, of course, I believe all of our rights are important — freedom of the press, freedom of speech — but being the county chairman, my job was to get these guys elected and keep them elected. I have always tried to be up-front, but there were things I couldn’t express. Over the past couple of years, however, it got harder and harder for me to suppress some of the things that I knew were going on. And as we started looking at voting records — well, I hate to jump straight to the omnibus [government spending] bill [passed last month], but that’s the latest example. You know, you can have a positive voting record on all of this stuff, but then when you come to a bill that’s not going to get rated on anything [by watchdog groups regarding specific issues] — you know the pro-life people aren’t going to rate (the omnibus bill), the Second Amendment people aren’t going to rate it — well, people are coming to me and saying, “We were sold out by our congressman.” That is just the latest example. His record has involved questionable things such as supporting (Speaker) John Boehner over time. And it’s been harder and harder to justify supporting our congressman in the decisions he’s been making. It seems like he was making friends in Washington and forgetting about the people who sent him to Washington.
Q You’ve heard Speaker Paul Ryan about the omnibus bill — that in divided government nobody gets everything he or she wants. In this case, for instance, the Republicans wanted to get the ability to export domestic crude. They got it. They wanted to clamp down on gun control. They got it. But to get those, they had to concede other things or force a shutdown of the U.S. government.
A There’s a difference in us compromising on tactics versus compromising on our principles and our values. Congressman Roger Williams [who represents a neighboring district], who’s not a wild-eyed, right-wing fanatic, and Texas congressmen Louie Gohmert and Brian Babin and Lamar Smith — all voted against this omnibus bill because they said there were things in there that made it impossible for them to support it the way it was.
Q So if all the Republicans had voted against it, wouldn’t we have had a government shutdown?
A I don’t know.
Q That’s sometimes the option it comes down to.
A Here’s the thing. We waited till the last week, the last day, to pass the omnibus bill. These are things we should have addressed throughout the year when we could have had good debate on them. We could have had compromises on each of those and we could have done this. Instead, they come up with a $1.1 trillion spending bill that has all this bad stuff in it. You know, at some point, the Republican leadership has to tell us how much bad stuff can be in there and yet it still be palatable. The truth is the Texans in our district aren’t willing to fund government-funded abortion at any level. One of the things that they said that you left out, they were talking about sending another thousand agents to the border. It seemed a little inconsistent and hypocritical to me that we’re going to send a thousand agents to the border to stop people from coming across the Mexican border and yet we’re going to fly 10,000 Syrians in and bus them into the American Heartland. I mean, is there anybody who argues that they can be vetted at this point? There’s no way to vet Syrians or, as Louie Gohmert said, alleged Syrians, because we don’t know who they are and we can’t tell where they’re from. At some level, you reach a point where many of these guys who are conservatives in Congress could not vote for this bill. If you were willing to go along to get along with Paul Ryan and the “leadership” — I mean, my point is our congressman touts how he is the head of the Republican Study Committee and, you know, he’s in with Paul Ryan’s leadership, but if we’re not getting the things that our citizens want, then they’re not leading us in the right direction.
Q Immigration has surfaced as a major issue in the presidential campaign. How would you comprehensively reform immigration?
A If I had a full congressional staff to do full investigation into all possible combinations . . . I don’t have a full immigration plan for one very important reason and that is . . . well, you know how the discussion goes: We have one side that says everybody should get amnesty and the other side says everybody gets deported and no matter which side of this equation you’re on, you can have a discussion with someone and five minutes into it someone’s going to call the other one a name. So let’s just say for argument’s sake that we find some middle ground that a couple of us can agree on. All of these people are mad that you got too much amnesty in it and all these people are mad you’re deporting too many people, so there’s two or three of us in the middle who come up with a plan. There has to be more of a plan than give everyone amnesty or deport everyone.
Q Some people protested about the issue at some of Congressman Flores’ town-hall meetings, which is why I ask about it.
A Well, you’re assuming I’m smarter than everyone else.
Q I have to assume you think you’re smarter than Bill Flores.
A This is how I feel about it. There are some people in Congress who are willing to step up and do the right thing. I’m not narcissistic enough to think I can go up there and change the world. But here’s what I do know. If I go and I give support to the Roger Williamses and the Louie Gohmerts and the Lamar Smiths, maybe I can give them support enough that they know I’ve got their back, so that somebody else knows we’ve got their back that knows somebody else that we’ve got their back and we can make a change in these things. What we’ve seen in Congress is cowardice in addressing this. I think we would all agree if the Donald Trumps, Ted Cruzes, Marco Rubios and all these other presidential candidates had not brought up the immigration stuff — Donald Trump in particular — we still wouldn’t be talking about it. It’s the third rail of the political system. We need to have people with courage that will go up there and fight these battles and quit being cowards about it and stand up and do it. And what has Bill Flores done to fix it? I would argue nothing. It’s time that somebody did.
Q Did I interpret you to say you’ve got somebody’s back and they’ve got somebody else’s back, and that you’d be open to a compromise plan that is neither all deportation or all—
A I’m open to getting the discussion out of the shadows just like these people. We have to come up with a solution. We can’t continue to have 11 million, 12 million, 30 million people — whatever the number is — we can’t have those people in the country. We have to come up with something. If it’s deportation — fine. If it’s amnesty — fine.
Q So dump the somewhere-in-betweens on this issue?
A Well, again, I’m willing to talk about what the problem is and us coming up with a solution. What I’m not willing to do is continue to let the problem roll along and us not address it anymore. Everybody wants to find something else to do. It’s like everyone’s got attention deficit disorder when we start talking about immigration. It’s “Oh, uh, look, there’s rabbits.” We’re always going off. At some point we’ve got to make the hard decisions and step up and do it.
Q Your campaign material says we are spending money we don’t have. Non-defense discretionary spending is quickly approaching our annual deficit, including Social Security and Medicare. How would you address those issues? Are we ever going to balance the budget?
A That’s all the red-meat issues that everyone wants to hear about.
Q Surely we can’t cut taxes and spur growth to the point of balancing the federal budget. How are we going to fix, say, Social Security?
A At some point we need to address the tax problem so we’re not being punitive on the people out there trying to create jobs. Obamacare is another one of those areas we’re going to have to address. I was buying some stuff for the campaign and the couple that owned this business said, “We have always provided health coverage for our employees and this year we don’t think we’re going to be able to do it, and not only that but we’re probably going to have to lay some people off because the cost of doing business has gone up.” Our welfare systems, all our entitlement programs, have become a hammock instead of a safety net. We have to get them under control. We have to change things to where having a job is something people are proud of again. And we have to make it more beneficial. Here in Waco, one of our more liberal social workers went out and was asking (some people) about 12- and 13-year-olds having babies and how upset were they about it, and the mother-now-grandmother said, “We’re not upset about it, we celebrate it.” And again, this wasn’t some right-wing Republican over there asking them. They said it’s a $500 raise. She said, “We don’t celebrate jobs because we’re the ones who lose the jobs. And we don’t celebrate graduating because we’re the ones who drop out.” Look, we have to grow the economy, there’s no doubt about it. But again, all these guys . . . again I don’t want you to get the idea I’m the smartest guy that’s going to Washington. There’s a lot of smart guys up there that haven’t figured out the answer. The truth is, until we get some kind of coalition of people that are willing to make the hard decisions — (Bill Flores) is not that guy. All of these votes — this week they’ve been voting to defund Planned Parenthood, I’m sure they’re going to do a Second Amendment one, they’re going to do something . . . I think they voted to defund Obamacare again. None of those votes — you can’t repeal something that’s got the guy’s name on it. You’re not going to repeal Obamacare and get him to sign it.
Q So what would you do?
A Again, you have to come in with a plan that is a better plan and come in and fix some of these problems. Forcing everyone into a (health care) plan (with legally required elements of coverage), you and I probably don’t need maternity care right now. I don’t know, maybe you do, but I don’t need maternity care anymore. It still comes down to in the last five years things have gotten worse, not better. We’re on the verge of turning our country over to our children and our grandchildren in worse condition than we got it.
Q You have vowed to file a bill to repeal all federal laws that violate the 10th Amendment. But wouldn’t that mean gutting federal laws that ban things like segregation, condoned by many states at one time?
A I’m also saying I’m going to do the ones that are legitimately states’ rights —
Q According to whom?
A The problem is that we continue to have the overreach of the federal government. You can’t put every nuance into campaign literature, but I’m going to resist and compel the federal government to only do what it’s supposed to do, only enumerated things in the Constitution. You know, kind of like the IRS. The IRS — there’s really only one IRS rule. It’s everything’s taxable and nothing’s deductible. That’s the rule. And then there’s the regulators who say, “Here are all the exceptions to the rule.” I’m concerned about the things that the federal government shouldn’t be doing like funding abortion, like bringing Syrians in that can’t be vetted.
Q While there are shifts to and fro, at any one time it seems half the country wants to protect a woman’s right to abortion and half wants to prohibit that right to save lives of the unborn. I know this is an issue you care deeply about. Is there a compromise somewhere in all this?
A Well, my basic tenet of government is protecting the vulnerable and the innocent. And in most cases I narrow that to the very old and very young, the unborn, the mothers of these unborn children. We have to protect them and those individuals in between who need extra help because of their circumstances. But I believe government should leave the rest of us alone. But here’s the thing. Since Barack Obama became president, there have been 9 million unborn children sacrificed for whatever—
Q That’s not what I’m asking.
A There are families out there who want to have children and there aren’t children available or we’ve made the law, you know, to where there would be privacy concerns or that adoption has become horribly complicated and expensive. It seems to me that we’ve got a problem that already has a solution, and that is we give the choice to the mother to have these children and match them up with someone on the adoption side. That’s just one of the options. I have met through my life many people who were the result of incest, who were the result of rape. They were the result of a lot of these things that we always have the exceptions for and, of all those people, not one wishes their mother would have aborted them instead of having them.
Q Let’s say Ralph Patterson goes to Congress. How would you reach out to the other side and say, “Hey, listen, we don’t need to fight a civil war over this too. Let’s find a package that gets to what you’re concerned about and what maybe the other side is concerned about.”
A Well, you’re probably not going to like my answer but if we’re going to fight a civil war, it should be about saving 9 million unborn babies. If we’re going to fight a civil war, we have to step up and (ask) who’s going to speak for them. At some point we have to say who’s going to speak for protecting the vulnerable and innocent.
Interview condensed and edited by Bill Whitaker