Sharron Angle Interview
WALL STREET JOURNAL
July 17, 2010
Link to Original Article
Angling for Harry Reid
Why the tea party favorite thinks voters will reject the attacks on her views and help her topple the Senate majority leader.
By STEPHEN MOORE
Sharron Angle first realized the extent of the brewing revolt against Washington in late March, at a tea party protest in Searchlight, Nev. A "Woodstock of the West," she calls it. "More than 30,000 people sojourned to this tiny rural town of 900 people," Mrs. Angle says. "The highways were jammed up and became parking lots."
To get to the stage, this 60-year-old grandmother of 10 says she "climbed on the back of a Harley Davidson Road King bike and rode through the immense crowds." Once there, she reminded the throng that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid must be replaced.
Now, after sprinting past two better-known and better-funded opponents in the June Republican primary, the party has chosen Mrs. Angle to go up against him. "I knew that if we were going to actually defeat Harry Reid," Mrs. Angle says, "we had to have a candidate who would offer a sharp policy contrast. Someone who would not just pay lip service to limited government principles, but had a solid record of voting that way time and again. I'm that candidate."
Thus has Sharron Angle—a former teacher, business owner, state legislator and political rabble-rouser—emerged as one of the three most prominent figures in the tea party movement. Sarah Palin and Rand Paul of Kentucky are the other two. Her campaign to become the next U.S. Senator from Nevada figures to be among the most closely watched, and surely among the most colorful, contests this November.
Liberal groups and Mr. Reid are gleeful that a "right wing extremist" has won the GOP nomination. At a recent fund raising dinner for the majority leader in Las Vegas, President Barack Obama labeled her "extreme, even for a Republican." Some Republicans privately grumble that she may be unelectable because of her staunchly conservative stands. And to be sure, some of her positions, such as banning fluoridated water or providing massages to rehabilitate convicts, seem a bit, well, odd.
But is she the kook Mr. Reid portrays her as in his TV ads?
I met with Mrs. Angle twice, first in Washington, D.C., late last month, then again during the Freedomfest conference last week in Las Vegas. In person, she seems anything but a threat to the American way of life. She is petite, has Irish red hair with and a pretty round face. She's friendly, but businesslike, and unlike most politicians, comes across as sincere in her convictions. Her husband, Ted, a 35 year veteran of the Bureau of Land Management (he explains that he's a conservative who worked to protect property rights, not violate them), stands constantly by her side as a confidant and de facto campaign manager.
When I ask whether it is really possible to knock off a Senate majority leader, she laughs and replies, "only Reid thinks he's too big to fail." Her strategy against the Reid attack machine is to link him to the lousy economy in Nevada. When I ask her if Nevadans want to give up Mr. Reid's clout in Washington, she replies: "When Harry Reid got to be majority leader, the unemployment rate was 4.4%. Now it is 14%, higher than even in Michigan. . . . What has Harry Reid's power done for our state?" Her new TV ad, unrolled this week, hammers this message. "We know he is going to attack me constantly," she says, because "he can't possibly run on his record."
Despite the deep recession, Mrs. Angle is not impressed by Mr. Reid's desire to extend unemployment benefits. "This only incentivizes folks that could work," Mrs. Angle says, "but can't, because they're making more on unemployment than they can by going back to work. The longer they're out of the work force, their skills become less marketable." Not too many Republicans even in safe seats are willing to speak that truth.
Regarding jobs, she points to Mr. Reid's role in killing three clean coal-fired plants in rural Ely, where she and her husband have lived since 1971. After years of opposition by Mr. Reid in league with various environmental groups, NV Energy halted development of a $5 billion plant in February 2009.
That meant the loss of 5,000 jobs, Mrs. Angle says. "That's really when we realized Harry Reid doesn't care about jobs or people losing their homes. And it's also when 'Anybody but Harry Reid' signs first began to sprout up all over the state."
Sharron Angle's first foray into activism was when her son was held back in kindergarten in 1983 and "the poor little guy was made to feel like a failure. He hated school." She wanted to home school him, but the school system and the courts said no. Her response was to open a one-room school with a Christian-based curriculum. It soon had 24 students.
"I didn't realize how many other parents were angry with the school system," she recalls. She charged $125 a month to cover the cost of supplies but taught for free. (Mrs. Angle has a degree in education from the University of Nevada, Reno.)
In 1985 she rallied hundreds of parents behind her successful effort to pass a bill through the Nevada legislature allowing parents to home school anywhere in the state. The result of her effort is that in Nevada home schooling has become a popular alternative to the public schools, and Mrs. Angle is referred to as the "home school heroine."
"I was just a mother, and the government had gotten between me and my child, and that's like getting between a mother bear and her cubs," she says. "I think that's what activates the tea party movement. What they see is the government interfering with their lives, and with the inheritance of their children. Are we going to pass down liberty or deficits? And that's really what this movement is about." The cub—her 6-year-old son—now has a masters degree and teaches high school history in Yerrington, Nevada.
Mrs. Angle was later elected to the county school board, and in 1998 she ran for state legislature, where she served for eight tumultuous years. She gained a reputation as a crusader who wouldn't flinch in a battle with the leaders of either party. Critics lampoon the times she cast the lone "no" vote for spending bills. They began to call these votes "62 to Angle," she tells me, smiling.
Mrs. Angle's most legendary fight was within her own party. In 2003, then Gov. Kenny Guinn, a Republican, schemed to raise the sales tax by half a billion dollars. Mr. Guinn declared that anybody who opposed his tax was "irrelevant, irresponsible and cowardly." The governor seemed to be pointing directly at her, says Mrs. Angle. "He knew from the start I would be against it."
The frustrated governor couldn't get the constitutionally required two-thirds vote of approval without her. As she tells the story, "at one critical point, the minority leader asked me: 'So, Sharron, what's your number?' That meant how big a tax increase could I tolerate? And I told them my number was zero."
When the bullying failed, the Nevada Supreme Court, in a spectacular abuse of the constitution, allowed the tax hike to go through without the two-thirds vote. The justices decreed that the money was needed for the schools and that the right to an adequate education took precedence over a procedural safeguard.
The next day, Ms. Angle recalls, "I went into the conference room and was told there's nothing you can do, Sharron. It's all over. The Supreme Court has the last word. And I said, 'No, it's not over.'"
She spearheaded a movement to get the Supreme Court replaced. In the next election in 2006, voters threw out five of the seven members of the Nevada Supreme Court; the other two had retired. "It was a referendum on that tax increase vote," she argues. "And the new court came in and reversed that decision and made our constitution whole."
Democrats think Ms. Angle is a piñata they easily defeat. The attacks run the gamut from her antifluoridation views ("my constituents all opposed" fluoridation), to her desire to abolish the Education Department, to favoring private Social Security accounts.
Mrs. Angle stands her ground: "I support voluntary personal retirement accounts for Social Security," she says. "It should be people's free choice." But she also notes that her 83-year-old mother and 84-year-old mother-in-law are on Social Security and Medicare. "I certainly will work to protect their benefits," she says.
Mrs. Angle is not bashful about wanting to take a knife to what she labels "C-priority programs," including federal agencies like the Environmental Protection Agency. She thinks such bodies should be funded "by the states under the 10th Amendment." As for federal education funding, Mrs. Angle believes it's a drain because control of the schools "should stay as close to the local level as possible, where the child, the teacher, and the parent are the main stakeholders, and make the majority of the decisions.
"If we did that," Mrs. Angle contends, "we would see a lot more money actually spent in the classroom."
The explosion of federal debt under President Obama and Mr. Reid, according to Mrs. Angle, is a moral and economic calamity. "We simply have to stop the Obama-Reid spending and bailouts—now," she says. It's a simple message that resonates with the tea party faithful and Republican voters.
But the key in this Senate race are swing voters—the 20% of Nevada independents who went for Mr. Obama in 2008. The political pros I talked to in the state are skeptical she can win those voters because of their liberal-leaning social views.
Mrs. Angle takes exception to my suggestion that her pro-life and antigay rights positions could hurt her. "This is a state that twice has voted to ban same sex marriages," she reminds me.
Still, the attack ads seem to be hurting her. A Las Vegas Review-Journal poll this week has the majority leader pulling into the lead for the first time by 44% to 37%. But his approval rating remains well below 50%, which always spells trouble for any incumbent, especially in this agitated political environment.
To win, Sharron Angle is going to need a major money influx from the conservative groups that pushed her over the top in the primary to counter the $25 million Mr. Reid is expected to spend. What Mrs. Angle has going for her is a contagious optimism that Nevadans would never send Mr. Reid back to the Senate given the fiscal carnage in Washington.
Nevada voters, she says, "are disillusioned, disappointed and disgusted with what had happened since the 2008 election. They are tired of this establishment machine that doesn't understand that we—the people— are in control. They are saying 'We don't care if you're a Republican or a Democrat. We don't believe either one of you.'"
She is banking on the depth of this discontent to help her topple the most powerful man in the United States Senate.
Mr. Moore is senior economics writer for the Wall Street Journal editorial page.