Raleigh, N.C. — Second District Congresswoman Renee Ellmers spoke with WRAL News on Wednesday about gun rights, sequestration and a possible Senate run. Below is a partial transcript of her interview with WRAL anchor Bill Leslie:
Bill Leslie: Let’s talk about some of the issues before Congress now. It’s been about four months since the tragic shooting up at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut. Bring us up to date on the gun control legislation on Capitol Hill. What do you think Congress will ultimately do on the issue and what do you personally think should be done?
Rep. Renee Ellmers: Well, by in large, this is a bipartisan issue of protecting the Second Amendment, and you know this is an issue unfortunately brought to the national attention once again – a huge tragedy. And, of course, the president really wants a vote on banning some of the firearms, and I’m not sure where it’s going to go. I think I know that we are going to protect gun rights at all costs, because people in this country just believe in that. I hear every day from North Carolinians, especially in my district, about this issue, and as we know, gun sales are actually up as a result of it. When people feel that their rights are going to be infringed upon, they start to act. You know, the real issue here is that we have got to do something about mental health in this country. We have a mental health crisis. We have families who need to reach out. You know, that particular incident alone, as the story and the facts were coming out, we know that there was a history of mental illness there, and that’s what we really need to be doing. That’s one of the thing we’ve done in oversight and investigation committee in Washington, really looking at this mental health issue. This is something that we simply have got to put at the forefront, especially with all of the health care debate.
Leslie: So, at this point, are you saying that you would not support any changes in current laws?
Ellmers: As long as we’re strengthening the ability for a legal citizen to obtain firearms, I will always be in support of legislation there. But when it comes to limiting your ability to make your choice of a firearm, that’s when I draw the line.
Leslie: We’re beginning to see some of the direct impacts of the budget cuts from sequestration. We interviewed a Fort Bragg wife and mother the other day, really in tears over the possibility of some deep cuts in education, including the possibility of a four-day week for children in the military. What are you hearing from your constituents?
Ellmers: Well, you know, it’s interesting. What I hear is that there’s that fear there and that uncertainty, but up to this point, it really has not taken effect. I can understand from that mother’s perspective that we would be afraid that something like that would take place. However, that hasn’t taken place yet. And yesterday, we had a very important seminar in Fayetteville at the Crown Coliseum with bringing defense contractors together, helping to navigate the way through, because the government is still doing business. And here in North Carolina, the defense industry is only second to agriculture. So, we thought that was very important to follow through on that, even in the face of sequester. The message we got back from many was that, right now, they made preparations for the sequester and they tightened their belt a little bit and made some sensible changes and cuts, and they’re actually navigating through this very well. So, I hope that that’s not going to be the case. As we come to the end of the school year, I hope that maybe that will be a solution in itself when it comes to educating our children. But, at the same time, let’s make sensible choices and make cuts where they need to be rather than jeopardizing our children’s well being.
Leslie: I-95 runs through your district. It is, according to many people, in desperate need of repairs. I’ve heard estimates in the billions, maybe $4.5 billion. Many believe tolls will have to be charged to cover that bill. What is your position on that?
Ellmers: As you know, I am opposed to the toll system. That is a money-maker for the companies that actually come in and put the tolls in place, and I see little benefit to the average person. Let’s talk about who will really be harmed here. It’s people, low income, who are traveling back and forth to work or through their daily activities, and then they would have to pay a toll. That’s really an actual additional tax that they’re having to pay on the roads. We all know, especially I-95, well-traveled, state to state, people traveling through our state. Some people say, ‘Why can’t we be charging them a little more?’ You know, that gets into some Constitutional issues right there. So, what I think we need to do is, there again, look at this issue as a whole. I-95 is in deep need and has been for many years and, unfortunately, has always gone to the bottom of the priority list. So, let’s make the changes that we need to make. We do need to figure out how to get that revenue, especially with more fuel-efficient cars and people traveling less. Let’s turn this economy around. Let’s look at these issues. Let’s get the revenue stream, and tolls really are not the way to go. I think it’s an unfair tax.
Leslie: Congress has been criticized for not tackling the issue of immigration reform over the years. However, some believe that this might be the year. Do you think it is? And, if so, what is the best solution to the issue?
Ellmers: I do think this is the year that we are going to be dealing with it. Right now in the House of Representatives, we have a group that are coming together. We also have a group in the Senate and, in a bi-camera way, they are working together. And, of course, the president has urged Congress to come up with some solutions. I’m all in favor of it. I think we’re past the point of needing good immigration solutions in place. We need to make sure that we have safe borders, first and foremost. But, when it comes to individuals coming and going in our country, working, we need to know that they’re legal and able to. We need to keep track of them. But, our farmers in North Carolina need their assistance. This is one of the areas I feel very strongly about. We need to have a situation here that is addressed and one with solutions, one that will be working, working for our farmers, working for our individuals, people who are here legally and able to be here legally. And that’s what we’re looking for, and I do think that you’re going to see a product come out.
Leslie: A study recently concluded that the national GOP might be out of touch with voters, especially minorities, women and young voters. Do you agree with that assessment and, if so, what does the party need to do to reconnect?
Ellmers: Well, I’ll tell ya, I didn’t need to wait for that study to come out. All I had to do was see the results of the election. Here in North Carolina, I think we did a wonderful job. The GOP worked so hard, and we were really able to get many elected at the local, state and federal level. However, across this country, I think the American people have said they feel that the Republican Party just does not see eye-to-eye with them, and that is a big mistake. One of the things that we need to do a better job of are explaining what we believe. I believe we don’t have to change our principal at all. I believe the average American believes in what we believe in – hard work, ability to achieve, an equal chance, fairness. Those are the things that we need to be talking about, but we need to be doing it in a way that tells people that we really are doing these things because we care about them. We should be right in line with all the groups that you mentioned, and we’ve got to do a better job of messaging that because that’s truly where this comes from. We do these things, and I wouldn’t be in this job today if I didn’t care about every one of my constituents. And I need to do a better job of it, and I’m urging my colleagues to do the same.
Leslie: Who would make a solid GOP presidential candidate?
Ellmers: You know, that seems to be the big question. This is going to have to be an individual, and I don’t know who that person is. I had this conversation just yesterday. Who is the person that’s going to be the leader that we need? I think, overall, the American people are still waiting for a leader, someone who is going to be able to sit in that Oval Office and make good, sound decisions and really be the face of America. That’s what I’m looking for. I’m looking for, again, someone who can connect with people, someone who is able to articulate that they care about them, (someone to say) these are the beliefs that we have, someone that will be able to lead this nation. That is the most important job in the world, and you are the leader of the free world, essentially, when you take that position. And I’m sitting back and I’m waiting, and I’m going to be very vigilant, and hopefully we’ll be able to make that change in four years.
Leslie: Do you see any strong candidates beginning to emerge?
Ellmers: It’s so early. It’s so early, and sometimes I think when we speculate too early then that person, too much might be put on them. I will tell you I’m encouraged. I have heard some names come out, and I’m watching. I’m watching, because unfortunately, sometimes in this business, it’s all too easy to make a mistake that will throw you right out of the running, and sometimes that’s all it takes. I really want to see someone come to the forefront, and I think people can evolve in this issue. So, in the next couple of years, I think we’ll see that candidate come forward.
Leslie: President Obama has been extending the olive branch to Republicans with a series of meetings and luncheons in an apparent attempt to forge some compromises on key issues. Do you think he has been sincere in his efforts, and do you think they will result in positive change?
Ellmers: I think so. Any time we’re coming together in Washington and sitting down and discussion things, you know, we may disagree on our politics, we may disagree on how the way things need to progress, but at the same time, the American people are looking for us to be working together, and we know where the president’s coming from. We know where the Senate is coming from with the Democrat majority. As a Republican, I understand that fully. I think that’s where we need to start. I hope that the meeting we had with the president about two weeks ago was not the last meeting. I hope that he continues to come to us, or we can go to him. I think that’s one of the things that has been missing through the Obama administration. He really has not really opened up the doors to Congress, and even his own Democrats in Congress. I think if we’re all sitting down and discussing these things, that’s a great start, and I hope to see it continue.
Leslie: I know you’ve had enough to think about yourself on Capitol Hill, but here in North Carolina, state Republicans have been shaking things up in the General Assembly on a variety of issues, from fracking to education reform to the Dorothea Dix property. What are your early impressions?
Ellmers: My early impressions right now, especially with the new governor that we have, Pat McCrory, I think they’ve come in and they’ve had a lot to deal with. There’s a lot of organizations that they’re having to do. The state legislature, I think they’re following through on a lot of the promises that they said that they would keep. I think they’re doing a great job. I hope they keep it up. There again, we’ve got to make North Carolina more efficient at the state level. I like the idea that they’re going to be addressing tax reform at the state level. That’s going to be a huge issue for North Carolina. Anything that we can do right now. I kind of look at this as a transition phase right now. Anything that we can do to make North Carolina more of an attraction for business to come here. We’re in a very attractive region in the country for many different reasons. But, North Carolina as a whole can be one of those places that these businesses decide to come to rather than some of our neighbors. And I think that that’s the ultimate goal, and sometimes it is a little difficult getting there, but I think that we will, and I think that they’re doing a great job.
Leslie: What is your vision for North Carolina? Where do you think we can be in 10, 20 years?
Ellmers: I see great things. Ten years from now, I see it being the southern regional area, there again, that has grown the most. I think we can be the place where business sets up, that we can expand upon all of those different industries that have become so important in North Carolina, especially where technology, innovation and research is concerned. I think I see a center for business, because we are going to make it attractive for businesses to come here with tax policy. I really see growth, and I’m so optimistic about it, and I’m encouraged by what I’m seeing already.
Leslie: What do you like most about your job?
Ellmers: I love dealing with people. It’s fraught with its difficulties. I certainly get my share of criticism on both sides of the aisle, from my own side just as much as the other. But, you know what, every day when I get to help someone … Brandon Parker just got his Eagle Scout award over the weekend. I was asked to come to his ceremony and be part of it. That is an honor to me. When I have a mom, Donna Hunt and her daughter Autumn came to me about two weeks ago. Autumn, in school, pursuing a career in health care, wants to become a doctor but is looking at some other health care areas. She’s concerned about health care, and she wanted to see what my thoughts were. That’s when I know I can go home and lay my head on the pillow, and I feel so good. That’s the best of what I have.
Leslie: And the toughest part about your job?
Ellmers: I think being misunderstood. I think sometimes when we’re talking about the greater good, when we’re fighting for veterans and military families and trying to do the right thing, trying to make those decisions at the federal level, we’re always talking about cutting spending, why do we do those things? We do those things because we want to make it better for North Carolina families. We want to get debt under control. We want to make this country greater and grow and create this growing economy. That’s why we passed the budget that we passed. We want, in 10 years, to be balancing that budget. So, sometimes I think just being misunderstood is difficult. Look, I’ve got some pretty thick skin. I can take some criticism, but sometimes when you go to bed at night and you think, ‘Boy, I obviously didn’t make my point well enough today.’ Those are the difficult days.
Leslie: Any political aspirations for you beyond what you’re doing now?
Ellmers: I love what I’m doing right now. I really feel like I have made such strides in the very short period of time I’ve been there, especially without having a political background. But I will tell you, as you know, there is a Senate race in North Carolina that’s going to take place in 2014, and I am certainly open to that thought. I’m praying on it. That’s ultimately where I make those types of decisions. They come to me. I don’t make them myself, and it’s a very important one. But, there again, I’ve got to do the right thing, and I’m working very hard for District 2 right now. I want to do the right thing for North Carolina and the country as a whole, so either way I’m going to be happy, so we’ll see what happens.