Not every dynamic woman in the Republican party is in Tampa today. In Arizona, Leah Campos Schandlbauer goes to the polls. The Hispanic Catholic wife and mom — and former CIA operative whose husband is a Foreign Service Officer deployed in Afghanistan — is one in a crowded field of candidates running in today’s primary for the nomination in a new congressional district including Tempe. She talked to National Review Online about why she’s running and what she’d like to do in Washington.
KATHRYN JEAN LOPEZ: It must be particularly exhausting to be running in a field this big. Or is there something exhilarating and encouraging about the fact that Arizona has so many people who want to serve?
SCHANDLBAUER: Running for office is exhilarating. I feel so honored and humbled by volunteers and donors who have given of their time and hard-earned money to help me. I have four kids and a husband who is currently serving in Afghanistan so exhaustion is definitely part of the equation, but the process and especially the people energize me and keep me going.
LOPEZ: What exactly did you do for the CIA? How does one come to do that? Why did you stop?
SCHANDLBAUER: I served as an Operations Officer in CIA’s National Clandestine Service. I lived and worked abroad, conducting operations, recruiting assets, and collecting intelligence on a whole range of targets. My colleagues all have varying stories about how they came to work at CIA — some met recruiters at job fairs, or knew someone who worked there. I simply always knew I wanted to work in intelligence, but thought I would go the military-intelligence route, commission in the Marine Corps or Navy. One of my professors at ASU was a former OSS officer and he gave it to me straight: Join CIA!
I left CIA to run for Congress with a heavy heart — I had many good friends and colleagues whom I respect and with whom I enjoyed working. But it was frustrating for me to see our president taking our country down the statist path of false promises and cronyism. I was living and working in places abroad that took that path and it was demoralizing. We all see the false promises of statism unraveling in Europe. When President Obama began using the class-warfare tactics I had seen used by Cristina Kirchner in Argentina or Hugo Chàvez in Venezuela, it became too much for me to bear. This is America — we are not an envious or resentful society — those are tactics of failed leaders clinging to power. It’s beneath the United States of America. I wanted to be part of what I believe is an urgent discussion about getting back to principles that have always made our country great: free enterprise, limited government, and personal responsibility. As a CIA officer I was subject to the Hatch Act which restricts political involvement. But I felt drawn to the discussion because I believe this country to be at a crossroads; I felt I could offer a different perspective in defense of free enterprise.
LOPEZ: Public service seems important to you and your husband — where did that come from?
SCHANDLBAUER: It came from our parents. My dad comes from a working-class family of Mexican-American copper miners from Superior, Arizona. He was raised in poverty, but believed in and loved America, and went on to serve our country in the military for nearly 30 years. My mother is an immigrant from Spain and together they are the most patriotic people I know! My brothers were commissioned officers in the Marine Corps right out of college, and now are businessmen and entrepreneurs. There was an expectation in my house that we would serve our country somehow — contribute in some way. My sister, Rachel is raising six patriotic children and uses her “spare time” to defend the American family and the unborn.
LOPEZ: How will your background be of use in the House? What do you hope to contribute on the national-security front?#more#
SCHANDLBAUER: One of the things I loved about the freshman class of 2010 is that there were so many varied backgrounds — truly representing so many elements of this great country. My brother-in-law, Representative Sean Duffy was a prosecutor in rural Wisconsin and a lumberjack-sports athlete. There was a pizza parlor owner, military officers, etc. Each brought a different perspective and expertise to the discussion. My background, having served abroad in intelligence and diplomacy, gives me the ability to understand the world and its complexities. Serving as a CIA ops officer abroad gives one an in-depth strategic understanding of the world, an understanding very different from that of a member of the military whose focus is more tactical, and only narrowly strategic. In my view, the current situation in the Middle East highlights the folly of not appreciating or understanding complexities, and the same can be said of the rest of the world.
Beyond that, I understand the intelligence business and feel strongly that a strong and streamlined intelligence service is our first line of defense. I also know that there are very good and dedicated people quietly serving our intelligence needs around the world, yet I have seen firsthand that a bloated federal government has not made our intelligence collection better; that layers of bureaucratic fluff (much of it in response to 9/11) has resulted in Washington-centric intelligence, rather than a lean and efficient field-focused service. Recent intelligence leaks that I believe came from Obama’s political team in the administration, underscores the need to have someone in Congress who can speak credibly to the terrible consequences of using intelligence operations for political gain. They are serious, long-term, and affect our national security. Shameless.
LOPEZ: What are you hearing the most from Arizonans you meet? What worries them most?
SCHANDLBAUER: Arizonans are concerned about the direction President Obama is taking this country, the economy, and the fact that our growing public sector is being financed on the backs of our children.
LOPEZ: What does it mean to “get tough on Washington,” as you vow to do in your TV commercial?
SCHANDLBAUER: It means that I intend to be principled — not just say I want a more limited government, but actually use every vote to see to it that our government shrinks and that our liberty expands. I have been in countries run like banana republics where the political class serves themselves to the detriment of the people and the country’s future. Sadly, in many ways, we are becoming a banana republic — but we are better than that.
LOPEZ: Arizona has been a lightning rod on the issue of immigration: Is there something the rest of us can learn from you all? Is there something you hope to bring to the leadership table here?
SCHANDLBAUER: The fact is, Arizona is ground zero for the problems that result from illegal immigration. The federal government has failed my state by not fulfilling its responsibility to secure the border and then to come up with a modernized immigration system. I believe that good immigration policy should benefit our economy — so if there is a need for unskilled labor, then we should have a streamlined and workable guest-worker program. When foreign students come to earn graduate degrees in the hard sciences at our universities and then wish to stay in America to create jobs and innovate — let them! Illegal immigration, on the other hand, is not good for our economy and is not good for those who come here illegally either.
I believe that Arizona needs to be at the forefront of moving past the over-politicization of immigration and toward achieving a real public-policy solution to this difficult issue, and if I am elected to Congress, I intend to be front and center in the discussion to solve the problem. President Obama’s attempts at wooing the Hispanic vote by throwing scraps at us in the form of piecemeal immigration policy that undermines the rule of law and solves nothing, is patronizing and insulting.
LOPEZ: What a mess the GOP seems to be in in recent days: Would we all be better off leaving abortion out of this election?
SCHANDLBAUER: This election, in my view, is all about freedom — economic freedom, religious freedom, both of which have been under attack lately. Some strategists and pundits might see the abortion issue as a distraction or wedge issue. In my view, though, we cannot have a credible conversation about freedom and our God-given right to pursue happiness if we don’t acknowledge the most basic right — the right to life.
LOPEZ: What do you make of all the “war on women” rhetoric?
SCHANDLBAUER: There is no “war on women” in America! This is a cynical political ploy hatched up by Axelrod and Plouffe at Obama HQ in Chicago.
LOPEZ: Does the religious freedom issue resonate in your district?
LOPEZ: How has this administration been disappointing?
SCHANDLBAUER: In every way.
LOPEZ: You’ve made nine commitments to your district. Were they fairly natural ones to make?
SCHANDLBAUER: Yes. I put these commitments out primarily because I wanted to assure voters that I would reject calls to raise taxes and work to simplify our overly complex tax code. I chose not to sign the ATR anti-tax pledge because I wanted my anti-tax pledge to be from me to the voters (my oath to the Constitution and any pledges to the people of the Ninth District). As I wrote out my pledge it hit me that there was so much more I wanted voters to know about what I would do if chosen to be their representative.
LOPEZ: You’re pledging to “work every day to be a voice and vote for life, economic freedom, and individual liberty.” Is economic freedom and individual liberty in danger?
SCHANDLBAUER: Yes. The real danger of statism is that just as it makes false promises, it slowly chips away at our liberties. Our country needs to embrace, once again, the true application of free enterprise, which includes eschewing crony capitalism and all the distortions and unintended consequences caused by government attempts to manage our economy. And we need to rediscover the American tradition of personal responsibility as a vital component of individual liberty.
LOPEZ: Why would you ever want to be in Congress? It can be quite the strain on a family — and you’ve got a big one — as I’m sure your sister and brother-in-law — Representative Duffy from Wisconsin — have shared.
SCHANDLBAUER: It is true that my sister and brother-in-law have told me how difficult it can be to juggle family and the demands of being in Congress. Away from reporters and cameras, I hear them both talk about how important it is to them that Sean is fighting the good fight in Washington — he’s doing it for their children. This is a critical time in our country and for our children’s futures.
LOPEZ: It’s a tremendously crowded field in your race; how do you get a message out about what sets you apart? What does set you apart? What would be your unique contribution to Congress?
SCHANDLBAUER: What sets me apart in this race is that I have stayed away from trite Republican talking points, and instead am focused on making a full-throated defense of free enterprise. I’ve been energized by Arthur Brooks and Father Sirico, both of whom have talked about the morality of free enterprise. As the Democrats make overtures to the growing Hispanic demographic with their big-government false promises, I know that the moral argument for economic freedom would resonate powerfully with my fellow Latinos. It isn’t about maintaining Republican majorities to me, it’s about exposing Hispanics to the dignity that comes from, as Arthur Brooks says, earning and defining one’s own success.
We’ve allowed the Left, with their class-warfare rhetoric, to turn this into rich vs. poor. That is not it, at all! It’s really about uplifting the human spirit by giving each and every one of us the freedom to pursue our dreams, to decide how to provide for our families, and to worship our God as we choose. It’s about the promise of America and the reason why our parents or their parents risked it all to come here in the first place: freedom! In Congress, I would be a voice exposing the dangers of an oversized government to our freedoms to all Arizonans, but Hispanics in particular. We need to get our message out — in Spanish, if needed (which I can do), to expose the false promises and the big-government lie.