Alabama GOP representative Jo Bonner announced in May that he was resigning to take a vice-chancellor’s job at the University of Alabama System in Tuscaloosa. Among the first to announce interest in his seat was Quin Hillyer, a senior editor at The American Spectator magazine and past contributor to National Review.
Hillyer spoke to NRO’s Jim Geraghty Friday.
Jim GERAGHTY: Quin, here’s the question that has nagged at me since the moment I heard you were running: Why on earth would anyone want to give up the glamorous and lucrative life of blogging and writing for conservative magazines to run for Congress?
QUIN HILLYER: So I can actually be in a position to start implementing the things I’ve been writing about for all these many years. It’s that simple.
GERAGHTY: Jo Bonner’s announcement that he was departing from Congress to take a position at the University of Alabama obviously was the trigger for this, but was this something you had been thinking about for a lot of years?
HILLYER: For years and years I had thought, “I could do a good job in Congress; wouldn’t it be nice if everything fell into place for me to be able to do it?” But I never really thought it would happen. And I certainly didn’t design a career to make it happen. For that matter, I certainly didn’t write in ways that would make it easy. I have played it straight and written things here and there that might tick off particular people or constituencies. It’s not like I really thought it would happen. But my wife and I had talked about it and said that if everything fell into place, it might be something we could do.
But I thought Jo Bonner was a lifer. He had been there since 1983 on staff, and then, of course, for eleven years as a congressman. I thought he would stay at least another session and maybe another ten or twelve years. I thought maybe after another couple years of book-writing, maybe when Jo steps down, that might be something I would look at. So I thought about it, but it wasn’t something I thought was imminent or likely.
I found out at two o’clock on a Thursday afternoon that Jo was stepping down, and by 5:20 I was announcing on live TV that I was running. A lot had to happen in that three hours and twenty minutes. Five or six things had to fall into place very quickly — in fact, I was supposed to go to Ireland the next day. If I had traveled for ten days, by the time I got back, there would have been no chance.
Those five or six things happened — I got that sixth thing, a text message at about 5:19, when I was about to go on local television and talk about the race. I had to make a snap decision. I realized that I couldn’t go on as a neutral analyst and talk about the race if it was really looking like I was going to run, because that wouldn’t be honest. So in the course of about a minute, I decided that when the second question came – which would be “Who is running?” – I would have to say, and I did say, on live TV, “I’m about to make a lot of news for y’all, but then I’m going to have to take off my microphone, because I’m going to run and I’m going to win.”
GERAGHTY: Tell us a little bit about Alabama’s first congressional district.
HILLYER: It is a prototypical Reagan-conservative district in the South, with a twist. It has been in Republican hands, I believe, since 1964. I believe it’s the only seat in the South that has been like that. It went for Romney by a little over 61 percent. A Republican is going to win this seat. On the other hand, it has been a seat held by Republicans who have always been very locally or regionally focused rather than big national-policy players. That shows that anybody who runs and hopes to win has to remember that these are constituents that really care about local issues. Now, that doesn’t mean local pork; that means BP [oil spill] relief or issues like the length of the season for red snapper or oil-and-gas development. They really want somebody who is going to fight for regional issues. It’s a Reagan district, but not one that has focused on national policy.
GERAGHTY: Any other local issues under the radar that could prove pivotal in the GOP primary?
HILLYER: I don’t think so, but there is a lot of talk about hurricane insurance, or more specifically, lack of home insurance because insurance companies are afraid of hurricanes. And I’m going to have the best answer on that . . . but you’ll have to stay tuned.