Congressional Republican candidate Thomas Massie has a near-perfect resume. He earned two degrees from MIT, made a fortune with SensAble Technologies, Inc., and then returned to his hometown in Northern Kentucky, where he and his wife built a solar-powered house from locally harvested materials and are raising a brood of beautiful children. Now serving as the judge executive of Lewis County, Kentucky, Massie claims to have eliminated “enough wasteful government spending” in his first nine months in office “to pay his first three years salary as Judge Executive.”
Massie’s penny pinching has earned him the ire of most of his colleagues in the Lewis County government. And that’s what his supporters like about him. “He’s got the spine to stand up in the county,” says Ryan Hogan, the organizational muscle behind Massie’s run to replace Rep. Geoff Davis of Kentucky’s Fourth District. “The other elected officials or the magistrates, they completely don’t like him.”
Hogan worked on Rand Paul’s campaign for Senate, and later, in Sen. Paul’s Bowling Green office. He’s already recruited many of the grassroots activists behind Paul’s Senate run to Massie’s cause, including Matt Pannell, a patient of Paul’s who convinced the eye doctor to run for Senate. “I was on Rand’s campaign from the very beginning,” Hogan says, “so I kinda brought these people along with us in a way. And they know Tom.” Like Hogan, Pannell, whose involvement with Massie has been "more slacktavist," thinks Massie’s experience as a local reformer makes him a good Tea Party-style House candidate. “He's the real deal,” Pannell said.
Immediately after winning the election for judge executive in 2010 (a position similar to county manager), Massie began eliminating waste. “None of that necessarily included any layoffs or anything,” Hogan says. “It was just going through the phone bill for phone lines that weren’t connected anymore, electrical meters that weren’t hooked up.” Massie also cancelled a deal between Lewis County and a railroad company after learning that the county was paying to lease land that the railroad had sold nearly 20 years ago. “The county had just been paying this money to the railroad company,” Hogan says. “Thomas could never get a response out of them. So he didn’t pay the bill.” When the railroad called asking for rent, Thomas asked for the county’s money back.
Incidentally, voters in Lewis County elected Massie knowing he’d do exactly what he’s done. “Seven new brick government office buildings have been built or occupied in Vanceburg in [the last] 20 years, yet at least that many retail businesses have disappeared in the county,” Massie told the Lewis County Herald in 2009. “Farmers and other working people, as well as retirees on fixed incomes, now pay a larger percentage of their hard earned money to the local government, yet there are fewer local jobs available. If there ever were a textbook case that bigger government is not the answer, it would be Lewis County.”
Massie’s colleagues are less than pleased with his performance to date. “In one of the first fiscal court meetings, they basically told Thomas, ‘We don’t want you airing out our dirty laundry,’” Hogan says. “But guess what? That’s what voters elected him to do, was to come in and clean out the mess.” To that end, Massie blocked funding for new zoning proposals and flung mud in the eye of a regional development board by turning down a $400 million HUD grant for a housing project. According to Hogan, “the amount of the grant was actually a very, very small percentage of what the overall cost of the project would be.” According to Hogan, Lewis County under Massie has almost turned its deficit into a surplus. (Massie is so reviled for his penny pinching that he’s the first judge executive in recent memory to not have a seat on the development board.)
But Massie didn’t stop there. He also went after Lewis County’s treasurer for using county funds to have gravel spread on her driveway. When Massie got wind, he issued a stop order and reported the treasurer to the state auditor.
Much like Rand Paul and his father Ron, Massie’s small-government instincts extend far beyond keeping a tight grip on the checkbook. He’s also opposed to the PATRIOT Act, warrantless wiretapping, the police state, the drug war, and military adventurism. Massie’s views on civil liberties put a lot of daylight between him and his most well-known competitor for the GOP nomination, state legislator Alecia Webb-Edgington. A former member of the Kentucky State Police and the Department of Homeland Security, Webb-Edgington also helped launch Kentucky’s DHS-funded Fusion Center and told the crowd at a 2010 Lincoln Dinner, “We don’t need any more socialists, communists, or libertarians in the Republican Party.”
“So she tries to peg him as a survivalist or a libertarian,” Hogan said, chuckling. “And the other candidate has been in government for 16 years. Well, a lot of other people know the two main candidates and have had to deal with them for a while, and a lot of them just necessarily don’t like them too well. Thomas is a breath of fresh air.” With the number of libertarian Republicans in the House approaching zero, Kentucky’s Fourth District isn't the only place in need of some fresh air.
Mike Riggs is an associate editor at Reason magazine. You can follow him on Twitter.