Kaleb Sims says pro-life causes and national debt require firm congressional resolve.

Groesbeck businessman Kaleb Sims, 38, who works in a metal fabrication and machining business founded by his father and uncle, is challenging Congressman Bill Flores in the March 1 Republican primary election to represent District 17, which includes Waco. Among the issues he cites are repeal of the Affordable Care Act, further steps toward energy security, addressing the national debt, battling federal overreach, protecting the Second Amendment and pushing a pro-life agenda. The Trib editorial board interviewed Sims on Jan. 20.

Q    Why is a Groesbeck businessman running for Congress?

A    When somebody is in a position to make a difference, you want to see they are making a difference for your values, your principles. The reason I’m running against the incumbent is because when I look at what he does strategically and in his voting record, there are a lot of things he does that are counter to both what he runs on in his campaign but also what we typically hold as values in this part of Texas. One example: Quite a chorus came out against Planned Parenthood over the last year — the videos that came out, the exposure they had — and there consequently was a large push with the omnibus [government spending] bill [passed last month] to defund Planned Parenthood. A number of people on the conservative side of the Republican caucus wanted to take funding away from Planned Parenthood. There were two ways that they needed to do that because there’s two ways that Planned Parenthood gets money. One is through Medicaid reimbursement, the other is through Title 10 funding. Title 10’s easy in the omnibus bill — you just take it out. But when it comes to the Medicaid reimbursement, they actually have to include a rider.

Q    Of course, that might have guaranteed a veto by the president and a government shutdown.

A    I understand that it’s like so many large bills that are full of different things and that there will be push and pull. And the president, like every other person involved in this situation, would have to look at that and weigh his options and decide what was really important. Is he going to necessarily veto that specifically because Planned Parenthood got defunded and thereby shut down everything? Or would he accept that and move on?

Q    He might be willing to shut everything down. Are you then willing to shut everything down in such an instance?

A    There is the question. Bill Flores often says we can’t afford to shut down the government. And he cites two reasons. One, he’ll say the Republican Party can’t stand it because it will hurt us, which is historically untrue. The other is he’ll say we’ve got to make sure everything stays running and he’ll throw out some narrative, such as the military won’t get paid. Well, there’s something in place to make sure that continues to happen.

Q    So the short answer is, yes, on this matter it is worth shutting the U.S. government down.

A    I know you’re looking for a straight answer. Shutting down the government is not the end-all end-all the incumbent would make it sound like it is. I want to start with that. It’s not going to tear down the country. We’ve done this many, many times, where we come to an impasse and we have to work things out. It would be OK if the government shut down for a short period of time. Now, shutting down the government is not something to be taken lightly. Even if it is just really a small part of government that shuts down, it’s still something that needs to be taken seriously. What makes that worthwhile? For us, I see an economy that is teetering on the brink because of unbridled spending. You look at almost $20 trillion in debt —

Q    So in certain instances, closing down government is a viable option?

A    The answer is yes. When you look at where we are financially, it’s a terrible place. And this is a train that is going over a cliff if we do not fix it. Very soon you’ll see us get to the point where our debt interest exceeds what we pay for our military. That’s a bad problem. And it’s not one that’s going to fix itself. We have to show discipline and go and make the changes necessary. So I tell you, do you throw the brakes on the train at the risk of derailing it? Or do you just let it run off the cliff? For me, there are certain issues that are important enough that you say we have to make a stand on this. There are principles that are important enough that you say, “Yes, I will do whatever it takes to make this happen.” And Planned Parenthood is a moral issue where we as a country need to stand up for the rights of all people.

Q    Given that the nation seems evenly divided on the issue of a woman’s right to an abortion versus protecting the lives of the unborn, is there some compromise out there?

A    Go back 50 years to the Civil Rights Movement. Go back a hundred years prior to that to slavery. Go back prior to that to the treatment of Native Americans. There has always been opposition when civil rights issues come up. And there are always those who think that there is some subset of our people who don’t deserve the same rights as everyone else. Do we just accept that or do we oppose them because it’s the right thing to do? My view is you’ve got a child. This person has rights and those rights should be protected just like anyone else’s would be. So for me, where do you compromise on that? It muddies the water to say “a woman’s right to choose” because then you’re saying she has a choice that can impact somebody else’s life and she can do that at her whim, not giving that person (the unborn) the right to choose.

Q    Regarding the federal debt, something like two-thirds of the federal budget involve interest on the debt and entitlements. How would you reform Social Security?

A    There’s a lot of people my age who have accepted for years that Social Security will not be there for them. Every paycheck I get has FICA taken out of it, and I’ll never see that money. What’s terrible is there are people right now who are retired who paid into FICA or their spouse paid into Social Security and they don’t see that money either because the government decided, “Well, we can’t really afford to give back what we promised, so we’re going to cut back here because we think you can afford it.” That’s wrong.

Q    So how would you reform Social Security?

A    Social Security is a promise that needs to be kept. It was not a promise of, “Hey, there’s free money that’s going to fall from the sky.” It was a promise of, “You’re going to trust us with your money over your working life and then when you get done and you retire that money’s going to be there for you.” And the government has reneged on that at some level — actually across the board — because even this last year they’ve robbed Social Security to pay for something else. Social Security needs to be completely off limits from being robbed.

Q    So no reforms?

A    I’m saying we need to make good on our promises. But I would like to see the government get out of that business. I would like to see there be a cutoff, whether it’s people born after 1975 or 1980 or whatever. And people will run away from that. But the problem we face is that the government is entirely irresponsible. You put them in control of watching over this money, they’ll rob the kitty every time. And so you end up with them just stealing from you instead of making good on the promises they were supposed to make. So the government needs to get out of that business because they can’t be trusted. And I could get on board with any number of proposals that would shore up the idea of personal savings. Another thing that we probably need to do — and no one is probably going to like this either — but we probably need to push the age back. It was created at a time that, when you got on Social Security, you were past your life expectancy.

Q    So how are we going to cut federal spending? What would you cut?

A    There are a number of agencies in the federal government that completely overstep constitutional bounds. When you look at what the federal government is given as far as latitude in the Constitution and then what they do, there are certain things that they really have no business in. Education really should be an advisory board at best, if it exists at all (on the federal level). That power of how our children are educated needs to go to the local level. The Department of Education at the federal level really needs to go strictly advisory so that people can say, “Oh, here’s what works in this part of the country” and they can have one place to go to see that. Or otherwise it just needs to go away. But there are a number of ways that the government has created for itself a large bureaucracy that really does not benefit the people. It benefits the government. Those things need to be trimmed back and cut. There are a lot of people who would like to see the Internal Revenue Service go away.

Q    So who collects taxes?

A    That’s a great question. I haven’t actually understood whether, if you go to a flat tax or a fair tax, somebody still must administer that. But right now we’ve got a bunch of ideologues in the IRS. I don’t have a problem with somebody who thinks differently than I do having a voice. We need to be able to give everybody a voice. But the IRS has suppressed the voice of people who think differently. And we’ve got a bunch of ideologues in the EPA.

Q    Haven’t things, however, broadly improved in the last several years?

A    We have seen in our nation a severe decline in the number who are participating in the workforce. President Obama is waving a flag saying 5 percent unemployment, but while unemployment rolls are dropping, the number of people working is also dropping. And so the unemployment number is deceptive as far as what it really means. Wages since Obama has taken office have actually fallen on average and so we’re in a bad place that is being exacerbated by Obamacare that’s heavy on the individual. It’s also heavy on small business. It’s a severe thing whenever we think about hiring somebody else because we pay for insurance. And so you look at the regulations that are being put out there — Obamacare did a lot of regulations on the insurance companies. You’ll not see any new entrants to the insurance market most likely because it’s prohibitive with regulations that are put in place. The banking industry is regulated so that it’s hard for new banks to come into the market. And that’s why you see the big ones consolidate. They grow larger, and it’s harder to get new people to create more competition. We need to reduce regulation and reduce the burden on the people that really make the country go.

Q    You say Obamacare is not working. What would you replace it with?

A    First of all I’m running for Congress, not president, so I’m not going to claim to have—

Q    Congress makes the laws. They’re lawmakers.

A    They do.

Q    Obamacare is a law.

A    I’m not going to come out and say I have an answer to every issue. What I will say is that, prior to Obamacare, health care was cheaper for the vast majority of Americans. And it was affordable for them and for those who could not afford it, they went without, and for some of them that worked out OK. I did it for a while. And I was a person who was in need of health care while I had no insurance. I had to dig and scrape and try to figure out how to make that work.

Q    Why didn’t you get health insurance?

A    Because I was laid off and I didn’t have a job at that time. You have the option of doing COBRA but it’s very expensive so I just went without for a while. That was a difficult time, but as difficult as it was for me, I didn’t have to stay in a hospital. For those who have real serious health issues, that’s a bad place to be in. And in the community I live in, you regularly see people doing fundraisers for people with health problems. What we run into with Obamacare is we’ve made it painful for every single person who is doing it themselves.

Q    So fix it. Tell me what you’re going to do different.

A    Repeal Obamacare.

Q    That’s not fixing it. That’s taking away one solution.

A    So there’s ideal. And there’s where we were. And there’s where we are. If we just went back to where we were, we’re better than where we are. Now is there a better place to be than that? Quite possibly and I’m open to hear those things. For those who say we have to replace it with something else before repealing it, I would say repealing it is better than where we are. If somebody has a viable option — “Hey, this makes health care better — I’m all ears.”

Q    Does Bill Flores serve the area properly? How would you better serve it?

A    I’m going to do something that is entirely out of character for someone challenging an incumbent and be completely fair to Bill on this one. I was part of this chorus . . . but there are a lot of people who wanted to see the end of earmarks because that’s going to eliminate waste. Well, that was naive. We took away from Congress the power to direct money specifically and yet they have figured out ways to waste even more. And yet they do it without having the discretion of saying this money will go to this person, this place, in particular. That still happens. Somebody still says this money goes to someplace in particular, only now it’s an unelected bureaucrat in an agency where nobody really has any control over what they do or say.

Q    Does Bill Flores serve his constituents well back home?

A    Bill has in a number of areas represented the lobbyists and the national party more than he has represented local values. Has he gained influence up there? Yes. Has that benefited the local communities? Well, in Groesbeck, there are things that we needed to have happen and they haven’t. One would be we have a private prison that has sat empty, idle now, for a few years. And we’ve not been able to get that occupied. That put the city in a bad way. The city has spent a lot of money on infrastructure to where they had to borrow money to make it happen. And so now they’re paying for that without the benefit of that place being used.

Interview condensed and edited by Bill Whitaker.