After graduating from high school, Jeff Flake embarked on a Mormon mission to Zimbabwe and South Africa. The 48- year-old Republican will spend the next two years on a different sort of mission: He'll replace Rep. Matt Salmon, who voluntarily term-limited himself out of a job, as the U.S. congressman from Arizona's 1st district (see "Exit Interviews," October). Flake, the former head of Arizona's Goldwater Institute, has himself pledged to serve no more than three terms. He is also the most articulate and outspoken champion of smaller government in his freshman class. As he enters Congress in January, his goal is "to effectively advance the principles of limited government, economic freedom, and individual responsibility" and his biggest fear is that the "federal government will continue to expand and erode individual freedom." Flake talked with Washington Editor Michael W. Lynch in late November.
Q: Why did you run for Congress?
A: During my seven years at the Goldwater Institute, I enjoyed immensely the ability to gripe, complain, and moan about public policy and have none of the accountability that comes with elected office. I felt it was time to stand up and see what I could do about it.
Q: You're entering a Congress that's embarked on a low-profile spending spree and that is now pretty evenly split along party lines. How do you plan to implement your campaign mantra that "the government that governs least governs best"?
A: There are many areas in which we can move ahead right away. One is to repeal the death tax. It will pass, especially if we have a Republican in the White House and aren't forced to get a two-thirds majority. Privatization of Social Security is a popular item. It wasn't just something George W. Bush felt obligated to talk about. It resonated with voters.
Q: Your predecessor was frustrated with how hard it is to get things done in Congress. Did he offer you any advice on how to operate in D.C.?
A: He told me not to worry about re-election, that other things are more important, and I think he certainly exemplified that. He'd be the first to say it has been extremely frustrating. But somebody's got to do it. You have to try your hardest and stand firm.
Q: You get sworn in before the president is inaugurated and this year you may even get to help pick the president. Any thoughts on this historic opportunity?
A: It's something I'd rather not do. I'd rather have my first vote cast for a marginal rate tax cut.