A conversation with Mike Murphy
By Somer Omar
Mike Murphy is currently a student in GS. He began his political career in 2004, when he ran for Texas’s 4th congressional district. Murphy received local media attention during the race when he recorded threatening phone calls from the National Republican Congressional Committee. Party leaders who sought to secure the seat for the incumbent, a friend of then President Bush, and deter Murphy from continuing his campaign. Murphy met with Managing Editor Somer Omar, CC ’16, to discuss his past and future political interests.
The Blue and White: How many campaigns have you run?
Mike Murphy: I ran for state representative for Texas legislature in 2010 primary and I had the closest election in the state of Texas. And the first one was in 2004.
B&W: Can you explain how the shenanigans started in 2004?
MM: Congressman Hall has been a Congressman [in Texas’s 4th district] since 1980, and he’d been a Democrat his entire life. He was 84 years old and we had just finished doing the redistricting in Texas where the lines were redrawn based on the census, and a bunch of gerrymandering took place, as it always does. So when he was reviewing his run for reelection in 2004, he saw that the voters and the district shifted from being a moderately Democratic district to being a pretty much Republican district. So then he made an announcement to the Dallas Morning News and said that he was going to switch parties and the reason he gave, he says, I would rather switch than fight, I promise I will not change any position or any ideas I’ve had in the past, I’m just switching to get reelected. He actually said these words.
B&W: What did you do?
MM: So my friend and I looked at some of the voting records and he was right that by the voting records he was the most conservative Democrat in the state of Texas. Taking that same voting record and flipping it over, you then become the most liberal Republican of the state of Texas. So we decided that I should run for the office. When I went to Austin to file to run, I received a phone call from the NRCC and they were encouraging me to get out of the race. I told them no. They called back, they tried to strong arm me. They brought in President Bush to campaign for [Hall] and got negative on me.
B&W: Was this what you expected to happen during a political campaign?
MM: I expected politics to be hardball. I was offered incentives to get out of the race. But that’s not who I am. I have strong convictions, strong beliefs.
B&W: The NRCC mounted a huge fundraising campaign against you, and Citizens United and McCutcheon probably just made that easier to do in the future. What do you think of political fundraising?
MM: If the founders were here today and they saw that they’re asking for millions and millions of dollars from citizens and corporations to fund campaigns, I think they would be aghast. Can you imagine George Washington going to citizens and asking for money?
B&W: I can’t. The central argument in those rulings was that money equals speech. Do you agree?
MM: I don’t know how you separate that. It’s the way it is. [It has been suggested] that government pay for campaigns. I’m for less government in every facet. I’m more libertarian than anything.
B&W: So if you run again, would you consider running as an independent?
MM: God, no. From Texas, we had Ross Perot in 1992 that gave the election to Bill Clinton.
B&W: And Nader to Bush in 2000.
MM: You do a disservice to your party of interest. We’re a two-party system and always will be.
B&W: Would you return to Texas to pursue your political career?
MM: I’m a fifth-generation Texan. I belong there. My family’s from there. I’m going to die there. I hope to re-engage Texas politics and one day I hope I can be Governor of Texas or somewhere in the executive leadership of Texas.
B&W: Would you approach it differently from when you first ran for Congress?
MM: My first foray into politics was a little bit naïve, and blinded by a little passion. There wasn’t a lot of inside knowledge on how things really worked and I’ve learned [from that for] when I run again. We had 10,000 votes cast in the primary. I lost by 300 votes against the most wealthy, longest serving state legislator. He spent $350,000; I spent $29,000, I think. I know how to run a grassroots organization, I went out and knocked on doors with my team. My opponent went to negative campaigning. I’ve never done it. I’ve never negative campaigned.
B&W: Not even in the first race?
MM: I won’t do it. I won’t negative campaign. I have a spotless record, I amazingly have no skeletons in my closet. I moved my house from one part of town to another and they painted me as a carpetbagger. I said I moved a mile across town. I’m a fifth generation Texan – really good chance I’m not a carpetbagger. That’s what you have against me? I moved across town. The second time I ran, [the opponent] who is from New York, he ran the carpetbagger thing on me. I said the definition of a carpetbagger is a Northerner who moves down to the South to campaign for office. I just said I’m going to state the facts here. He’s from New York. My mother, her father, his father are all from Texas. I think he should look up the word carpetbagger in the dictionary.
B&W: The 2004 run didn’t deter you from politics at all?
MM: No. The reality is Congress has an 11 percent approval rating in general and a 91 percent incumbency rate. Why would you work so hard to elect the people you don’t want in office? I’m working on a paper right now for another class that looks into that.
B&W: What have you found so far?
MM: I have some ideas in mind on how to fix them and fix those problems.
B&W: Could you divulge a few of them?
MM: Sure. These are ambitious but, the salary of Congress should be the median income of the United States. You want to increase the pay? Feel free to go out and find some way for the median income to go up for everybody. Second is health care. You either get on Medicare, Obamacare, or VA. That strips away some of the perks of being in Congress and makes them feel the pain of being in the United States. Those who understand and want to fix things will take those hits and say Wow, I need to stay here and fix these things.
B&W: Have your views clashed with those of people on campus in debates or class discussion?
MM: This semester I’ve come out to my professors. I’ve come out as a conservative just to test the waters and see where it goes, and I’ve found that even the most liberal professors have been very welcoming. I’m not antagonistic about it. I’m not a name caller. I have these views here – they’re thought-out. It’s not because I’m from the South or I’m a fifth-generation Texan. There was one liberal student, and we got into a back-and-forth about how to solve the poverty problem.
B&W: What were some of your ideas about how to solve it?
MM: Well, it was a very high-level kind of thing. According to demographics, there’s still around 46 million people in the United States living under the poverty line. They’re saying should we spend more money on it? I threw out a proverb which—I don’t base things on the Bible, it makes sense—which is: if you give a man a fish you feed him for a day, you teach a man to fish you feed him for life. My point is that education is clearly the silver bullet to every issue, including poverty. I find it odd that the politicians who want to extend the benefits are the same ones who want to allow twelve million undocumented workers into the country as citizens. We have a job shortage with 46 million people living in poverty who can’t find work. I’m not advocating we do this but if somehow we were able to say twelve million illegals were no longer in the equation, would that not be twelve million jobs available? That’s basic logic to me. I’ve got an idea to create 12 million more jobs in five minutes.
B&W: You mentioned an interest in education before. What ideas do you have on that?
MM: Education is a silver bullet. We have trouble teaching basic reading, writing, and arithmetic. In Texas they passed a law offering a religion elective. I had concerns about that. I said, okay, you want to teach, say, Christianity for example. Who’s going to teach it? Is it going to be a Catholic, a Mormon, a Jehovah’s Witness? And won’t that be a problem for you? It has no business being there.
B&W: What made you come to Columbia? It’s much more liberal and left-leaning than Texas.
MM: [chuckles] Is it? I was in state politics for ten years in the reddest of red counties. There’s no place that’s more conservative. However, I’m not your typical conservative or your typical Republican. I don’t see the party platform as a suicide pact. I had been a successful corporate manager but kept running into the problem of not having a degree. I was tapped out at middle management. Then my wife said, why don’t you not try to find a job, why don’t you go to school? So I enrolled in a community college and in the course of a year got my associate degree. So then she said, why don’t you try applying to a real university now? So I was applying to universities and I was also reading The Audacity of Hope or Dreams of My Father, one of the two presidential biographies. And I was following, Obama went to this college, Occidental, then he transferred to Columbia, then he transferred to Harvard. So I started to thinking about it – why don’t I do that? Why don’t I follow the president’s footsteps and learn what he’s learned?
B&W: What do you plan on doing after Columbia?
MM: My plan is to get into Harvard Law just like the president to pursue his career path. Not the president’s, but to learn everything he’s learned. My dream would be to be Governor of Texas one day.
B&W: What do you think of the current Governor of Texas?
MM: I have campaigned for Governor Perry in 2010. The last senator before Obama to be president was Kennedy. I think people give senators too much credit for their experience. They’re not executive, they’re legislative. Everybody between Kennedy and Obama has been in the executive branch of government. I would argue with good evidence that [Obama] doesn’t lead in the classical executive sense of the word. Perry is arguably the most qualified person on paper to be president. He’s the longest sitting governor of a state in the United States right now. Texas is arguably the best economy in the nation right now. So you could say the governor of Texas is presiding over the best economy in the nation at a time of great recession, slow recovery. Texas politicians are not always known for being the most wordy or best conversationalists, but they are known for being effective and doing good jobs.