Eugene Yu is a candidate in the 2014 Republican Primary in Georgia for the United States
Senate House of Representatives. Yu is a businessman, an immigrant from Korea, and a former member of the US Armed Forces living in Augusta, Georgia. Brian Underwood is a contributor to The Mendenhall.
UPDATE, 3/26/2014: In recent weeks, Eugene Yu dropped out of the Senate race and will be challenging Democratic incumbent Rep. John Barrow for his seat in the United States House of Representatives in Georgia’s Twelfth District.
BU: Initiating a political campaign is a protracted, expensive affair that requires a great deal of motivation to even begin, let alone seriously attempting to attain the office itself. What, then, motivated you to run? Why are you in the race?
I came to this country forty-two years ago from Korea with my parents. When I came to this country, it was the land of opportunity and it provided great opportunities to me and my family. Today, I see the American dream slipping away. I see Americans losing jobs, losing their healthcare, and the government trampling the free market. I believe that in order to change course America needs new leaders bringing new solutions to the table. Instead, we have been sending the same people year after year. They say that insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. That’s exactly what we’re seeing in our political system. It’s time for a change, and I think that I can bring that change to Washington.
BU: What is it, specifically, you hope to achieve upon reaching the US Senate? What’s your platform?
My platform is straightforward. I believe in bringing practical, common sense solutions to Washington: free markets, limited government, and a foreign policy carried out on behalf of Americans but with an understanding of the world we live in and the cultures of those we deal with. I believe that free markets can provide answers to our challenges in medicine and energy as well as in lowering the unemployment rate and getting our economy back to full speed.
BU: In recent years, so-called “standard” Republican candidates have had trouble winning general elections – whether party moderates like John McCain and Mitt Romney in presidential races, or members of the “religious right” like Todd Akin in Missouri and Richard Mourdock in Indiana (both states Romney carried). What makes you stand out from these kinds of candidates? Are you offering a new form of “Republicanism”?
I believe that I am uniquely qualified through my business experiences. For over two decades, I have run a company called Commercial & Military Systems, dealing with foreign governments and militaries as well as the Department of Defense. I believe that I would bring to the Senate a better understanding of our foreign relations. I believe that most of those who are elected to the Senate are qualified in many ways as businesspeople, attorneys, or government officials, but they don’t bring with them much understanding of the world outside of our borders, how America’s enemies and trade partners think and do business. I believe that I have that broad perspective and experience that is needed to do the job right.
BU: You’re a military man. As you’re surely aware, the country has grown war-weary in the past decade with prolonged military interventions in the Middle East, often those without a clear American interest defined. President Obama even asserted in relation to Syria that he possessed the power to deploy American military force without the consent of Congress, as he had already done in Libya and Yemen (and arguably is doing by arming Syrian rebels). How would you, as a Senator, work to reign in this sort of executive overreach, or do you feel this is an acceptable use of power? And further, how would you work to ensure that our armed forces are only deployed when there exists a clear and identifiable national security interest?
I believe that the safeguards and Congressional approvals you mention are crucial to making sure that our president does not engage us in conflicts for the wrong reasons and that the people, through their representatives, are able to oppose him when he does go too far. I believe that it is the responsibility of any US Senator to demand explanations and accountability anytime that the US military is engaged in conflicts overseas. As a Senator, I would push the president to always be accountable to the people of the United States in answering why our armed forces are being sent into action, for how long, with what end purpose, etc. The Senate is given unique powers to question the executive and to hold it accountable, but those powers are not very effective in the hands of those who will not use them. I intend to seek answers and accountability from the White House on behalf of the American people.
BU: The fallout from last year’s NSA revelations, due in part to the actions by Edward Snowden, has injured President Obama’s image on privacy rights, especially among Millennials. Do you believe these policies – based on what we know of them today – are proper uses of government power, and what changes to these policies would you work to promote in the Senate, if any?
I think that the NSA surveillance programs are violations of Americans’ privacy rights and should be taken very seriously. Unfortunately, I also do not believe that those kinds of invasions are completely new. I think that there is much we do not know about these programs and others that may exist. As for solutions, we are working to see what measures we might pursue in the future to protect Americans privacy while still empowering US intelligence agencies to inform our policymakers and promote national security.
BU: Currently, there are two bills before the Georgia General Assembly looking at the possibility of legalizing medical marijuana in certain cases. SR 756 by Sen. McKoon (R-29) would establish a study committee looking at potential legalization, and a pending House bill by Rep. Peake (R-141) would legalize medical marijuana outright in certain, prescribed cases. Currently, federal law bans marijuana and could conceivably trump the state laws were the DOJ to challenge those laws in court. Would you, as US Senator, work to address any of these federal laws should your state assemblymen move to permit marijuana usage in certain situations?
I believe that decisions on issues such as these should be left up to the states. I think that a lot of the hesitancy around legalization of marijuana has to do with the fact that it has been illegal for as long as most of us have been alive and people do not know what will come next, how it will affect them. I particularly support legalizing it for medical purposes. As for anything beyond that, I say leave it to states to decide for themselves.
BU: Our tax code is broken. It is a nearly incomprehensible mass of text that few can figure out. What do you believe should be done to fix it? A flat tax? The Fair Tax? What?
I support a program I call ‘Flat to Fair.’ First, we implement a flat tax, closing loopholes and saving Americans over $168 billion every year in compliance costs. Then, whether through Congress or through the cooperation of governors across the 50 states, we come together to repeal the Sixteenth Amendment and replace the income tax altogether with a national sales tax, or Fair Tax. Fair Tax advocates are right in believing that it is the best overall tax plan out there today but they are sometimes not cautious enough in discussions of how to implement it. We cannot just go implementing a national sales tax without first repealing the income tax. It would be careless, and Democrats would be sure to stick Americans with both as soon as they had a majority (along with some Republicans, for that matter). So a Constitutional convention is the only proper way. And I know that it is a difficult, likely long-term goal, but that is why it is important to push for a flat tax in the meantime. Too many Fair Tax advocates miss a great opportunity by not supporting a flat tax as an intermediate step. Why hold out for all-or-nothing? Government didn’t grow to this size all at once. It came in stages. Scaling it down will likely work in the same way. Let’s do what we can when we can.
BU: You’ve worked in business much of your life, and you have more experience than most regarding the crippling government regulations with which businessmen are often faced. If you had the chance to repeal a single piece of legislation (that is not Obamacare, as we will get to that in a minute), what would you choose?
I strongly oppose the system of regulations that create chaos in America’s energy sector today. Energy companies are regulated by the Department of Energy, the EPA, the Department of the Interior, and sometimes other government bureaucracies. The most offensive part of the situation is how the regulatory structure has been overtaken by the environmentalist agenda. They try to rig the game against fossil fuel providers while favoring ‘green’ energy sources. I say get government out of the picture and let energy sources compete. If the market chooses solar or wind someday over coal and oil, that is fine by me, but we have to get out of the way and let markets work. That is why I have supported the defunding of the Department of Energy and the EPA. I believe that whatever proper purposes they serve can be moved to other departments and the rest should be shut down.
BU: Obamacare – the Affordable Care Act – it seems to be an all-too-easy target for Republicans nowadays, but few are saying explicitly what they want to do about it. How would you address all the issues related to Obamacare and, more importantly, what do you think the government’s role in medicine ought to be?
As Republicans, I and my primary opponents can all agree that ObamaCare is a terrible and dangerous plan. There is no question about that. What we need, though, are real solutions. In the first Senate debate, I introduced my Five Point Plan for American Healthcare. Its proposals are simple and effective. First, we implement a flat tax (for the benefit of the whole economy, not just healthcare) that would close loopholes and end the third-party-payer system that encourages overconsumption in the health insurance market. Second, we end mandated benefit packages that require you to pay for coverage you don’t need. State insurance commissions require every health insurance plan to cover certain conditions and procedures that may never apply to the policyholder (such as maternity care coverage for men or pediatric dental coverage for people without children). Again, this leads to overconsumption and drives up the price of health insurance. Third, we have to allow competition in insurance markets across state lines. No reasonable argument has been presented against this measure and it has floated around as an idea for years. It stifles competition and keeps prices too high. It is time to get serious about pursuing it. Fourth, we have to pursue policies that expand the number of primary care providers– including allowing nurse practitioners greater independence to operate, as they already have in a third of the United States. Finally, we have to take tort reform seriously, lowering the cost of liability insurance and the cost of doing business to doctors.
Mine is the most free market solution presented in this Senate race so far. Other plans still rely on government providing tax credits and subsidies, approving and promoting one kind of group plan over another, subsidizing medical education when we already have an approaching student loan crisis, etc. The fact is that freedom works. Let’s allow capitalism to do for medicine what it has accomplished in so many other fields.
BU: People in my generation are very cynical about entitlement programs like Medicare and Social Security. You will often hear FICA taxes described as money “we’ll never see again.” Even my grandparents, in their mid 70s, recently told me over the holidays that they now think that they would have come off better never having been forced to pay into Medicare, and that they would have preferred to just manage their own retirement and to have kept the government out of the equation. Many politicians refuse to address the issue of entitlement reform, simply because they view it as a toxic issue, but what about a Sen. Eugene Yu? Would you work toward getting the government out of Americans’ “Golden Years”?
The coming entitlement crisis is real, whether those in Congress or the White House choose to face it or not. By some estimates, the US faces over $120 trillion in unfunded liabilities over the coming decades. The longer those in Washington ignore this, the less time we have to work together productively to avert it. Today, unfortunately, politicians do not want to face facts and tell their constituents difficult truths. They want to say that it will all work out, yet they offer no plan or explanation of how. They want to depict those who suggest changing the plans in any way as lacking faith in America or not being sufficiently committed to the cause. This is unfair and absurd. The fact is that in 1945 there were about 42 workers per retiree in the United States. Today there are less than three per retiree, and as Baby Boomers retire we will soon see retirees outnumber workers. There is nothing un-American about admitting that those numbers simply don’t add up and that we need to act quickly to find a solution, which may require changing the programs. Naturally, those who are retired or retiring soon should receive the full benefit of what they paid into Social Security, but one way or another the system will have to change and these programs will have to be looked at critically if we are to ensure that they do not collapse and drag this country down with them.
Doctors always tell someone facing an addiction, ‘The first step to overcoming your problem is admitting you have one.’ Unfortunately, Congress is addicted to expanding government programs and spending money. The first step and, so far, the hardest step, has been getting them to admit that our problems are real.
[DISCLOSURE: Slade Mendenhall, editor of The Mendenhall, has served as an advisor on various issues to the Eugene Yu for Senate campaign. All questions asked herein were written and presented as they appear by Brian Underwood.]