Tillett

Tom Tillett, former chief of staff for the now-retired U.S. Rep. Joe Pitts.

Jan. 17, 2023: After Congressman Jon Snow’s surprise announcement in January 2020 that he was not seeking reelection, the April 2020 Republican primary was won by Winston Smith. Smith’s slogans were “I’ll always tell you the truth” and “I’ll be your lobbyist in D.C.” Smith went on to easily win the general election in November 2020; however, he lost the May 2022 GOP primary election to another newcomer, Holden Caulfield. Smith agreed to meet with the local editorial board to discuss his controversial one term in Congress.

Editorial board: Why did you lose the primary?

Smith: I told the truth. My belief is that people always deserve the truth, regardless of the consequences. Sadly, I found out rather quickly that in politics honesty is rarely a good idea. In order to get reelected, most members of Congress become fabulists spouting pabulum.

Editorial board: Looking back, Mr. Smith, do you regret putting up the sign in the lobby of your D.C. office that read, “Staff have been instructed to lock in the bathroom every third lobbyist who enters, and two have already been here today”?

Smith: No. Remember that I made a pledge to accept no corporate political action committee contributions, and I once said that many lobbyists are “parasites on the taxpayers.”

Editorial board: Is it fair to say that at times you seemed critical of seniors, especially baby boomers?

Smith: I was trying to educate my constituents about the issue of generational inequality. Going back 50 years, seniors have voted via their elected officials to transfer more and more societal wealth and resources to themselves. The baby boomers are the richest generation to ever live. Why do you think all the high-end and very expensive retirement communities are being built in the county? The seniors have the wealth. And they vote! Any member who mentions this issue is committing political suicide.

Editorial board: You introduced legislation to eliminate Social Security and Medicare benefits for very affluent seniors.

Smith: That is correct; however, only after all their contributions were paid back to them. Also, the bill would have increased benefits for low-income seniors by 30%. In my view, these benefits should not be a “reward” simply because you lived to a certain age. The key here is very affluent. Only about 7% of all seniors would be impacted.

Editorial board: Didn’t President Winfrey, in a highly unusual reaction for a just-introduced bill, say she’d veto it in five seconds flat?

Smith: I believe it was two seconds.

Editorial board: Did you get any co-sponsors?

Smith: Are you kidding? Many members still remember what happened to Congressman Dan Rostenkowski in August 1989 when 50 angry seniors tried to attack him, and he barely escaped. (Note: This is a true story.)

Editorial board: That was 34 years ago.

Smith: Exactly.

Editorial board: You described many of your Republican colleagues as “corrupt” for accepting campaign contributions from interests whom they have considerable jurisdiction over. You once said that even a “man from Mars could understand that was a huge conflict of interest.” How did your fellow Republicans handle that?

Smith: Not well. They moved my parking space to the dreaded Lot 9, cut off the air conditioning to my office in the Cannon Building, removed the anthrax detection machine from my district office, and prohibited me from eating in the members-only dining room.

Editorial board: You pledged to vote no on any bill that was not legitimately paid for, and said it was for the children who would ultimately pay due to “Congress’ immoral, depraved, and reprehensible behavior.” Wasn’t that like throwing gas on a fire?

Smith: (laughing hysterically at this point) Congress is perfectly happy to give future generations a far lower standard of living because it’s politically expedient. All Americans are benefiting from the unimaginable amount of debt we are piling on our children and the unborn. Talk about “taxation without representation!”

Editorial board: You once said that Americans are grossly undertaxed, based on everything they want from government. Do you stand by that statement?

Smith: Yes. I believe the following week, five people announced they were challenging me in the primary.

Editorial board: What did your one term in Congress teach you?

Smith: Two things. First, America is in big trouble because our politics and Congress are toxic, dysfunctional and cannot be fixed. Second, the elite’s interests always come first.

Editorial board: Can you elaborate on the second one?

Smith: Sure. The elites fight to maintain the status quo in D.C. because they have spent enormous sums manipulating and gaming the system to maximize their profits and interests through all kinds of complex chicanery. Any change or reform is often viewed as a mortal threat to the oligarchical model in which they thrive, so reforms must be squished like a bug. We see this in pharmaceutical, tax, health care, sugar, financial regulation, agriculture and immigration policy to name a few.

Editorial board: Any closing thoughts?

Smith: Are you hiring?

Tom Tillett, of Columbia, served as district chief of staff for U.S. Rep. Joe Pitts, who represented the 16th Congressional District until Pitts’ retirement in 2016.