As the 2014 midterm elections are quickly approaching, a large amount of the nation’s attention has turned to North Carolina, a state that many consider a swing state after it flipped from blue to red between the 2008 and 2012 elections. The battle has mainly focused on Democratic incumbent Kay Hagan and Republican challenger Thom Tillis. There is, however, a third player in this traditionally two-party game: Libertarian Sean Haugh. The Durham, pizza delivery, man has gained a fair amount of attention thanks to his multiple YouTube videos, and currently has five percent of polled North Carolinians supporting him. Haugh previously ran for the US Senate in 2002 and had served as the national political director for the Libertarian National Committee.
I went to Durham to sit down with Haugh and discussed why he thinks he can win this race. In Part One of my two-part interview with him, Haugh and I talked about his motivation for running for Senate, how he would respond to multiple issues facing the United States currently and what makes this election so unique from his previous attempt to become Senator in 2002.
Alex Thomas: Why are you running for United States Senate?
Sean Haugh: Because I can’t count on the Democrats or Republicans to talk about stopping this state of perpetual war or spending more money than we have.
I had retired from politics in 2010, and I was very happily retired. But, as I saw this race shaping up, I thought there was a need for a really strong libertarian voice, especially now that we know my opponents are really not going to talk about much of anything besides their own kind of disassociating talking points.
I just wanted to walk into the voting booth myself in November and be able to vote for something besides more war and more debt.
AT: You did run for this Senate seat in 2002, a race which was won by Elizabeth Dole. Do you feel this election is different from that attempt? What’s your attitude towards this election compared to 2002?
SH: From their perspective, I don’t think things have changed at all.
Back in 2002, I thought it was very odd that, at the time, I had lived here less than 20 years and was a lot more connected to life in North Carolina than either of my opponents. I mean, Elizabeth Dole had to claim she was living in her mother’s house to run for this seat. This time, even though my opponents have better North Carolina credibility, they’re both still completely disconnected from how the average person lives.
For me, it’s just a completely different world compared to 2002 for two main reasons. One is that everybody knows what a libertarian is now. I don’t have to spend much time explaining to people what a libertarian is. We have a very favorable view to the point where we have a lot of people who aren’t really libertarian try to claim to be libertarian because it is cachet, so it’s nice in that aspect.
Also, one major thing that’s changed is social media. Back in 2002, we didn’t have Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, that sort of thing. So, in order for me to get my message out, I would have to drive all over the state. On some occasions, I would drive three hours to talk to a dozen people, then drive home afterwards. Now, I can do most of my campaigning from home with the YouTube videos and also on Facebook and Twitter. I’m very easily accessible. People can engage me.
Before, I would go do a talk radio interview, the show would end and I would be done. Now, listeners can continue to engage me after the fact. If people have any kind of follow-up questions or didn’t get a question into the show, they can ask me on Twitter or Facebook. That’s allowed me to be able to get my message out very inexpensively.
AT: Your career experiences range from serving as an administrative assistant for the Duke University Hospital to now working as a pizza delivery man. Have you learned anything from your diverse employment history that can help you win this race?
SH: Oh, yes. One thing I love about my job delivering pizza now is that it keeps me connected with people. I deliver to about 20 families a night, and we have a very diverse city here in Durham. As a result, I’m meeting people from all walks of life every night. It really keeps me connected to what life is like for most of us who are trying to make ends meet.
My job at Duke University Hospital was also very informative to me. I worked with people on their insurance, especially with Medicaid and Medicare patients. It just gave me a real firsthand knowledge of what it’s like to try to be on government benefits. All the bureaucratic Hell they had to go through just so they could keep up with the most substandard benefits that we offer here in the United States, and I’m sure in the intervening time it has gotten worse not just for patients, but for providers, too.
One odd job I had in the past was doing telephone surveys for the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) where some naïve researchers thought, “Oh, it would be a really great idea to poll doctors and see how they feel about Medicaid and Medicare and understand what they are facing. Maybe we can incorporate that into policy.” Of course, by the time that reaches the floors of Congress, it’s completely distorted from reality.
But, that experience also gave me a lot of perspective from providers on why a lot of them are getting out of taking care of Medicaid and Medicare patients, as well as why government makes it so difficult for people who need healthcare to be able to get it.
With most of the other jobs I’ve had in my life, that’s the common theme. Being out in public, being in the customer service role and really having to listen to people and get to know what their perspective is.
AT: Your campaign slogan is “Stop All War”. What exactly do you mean by “all war”?
SH: War has infected so much of our public policy. It’s not just the direct war and drone warfare that we are conducting all around the world, but it’s also how we arm everybody in the world. We really need to stop arm sales.
You look at the Middle East where everybody, friend or foe, is armed with our weapons and training. There is the possible exception of Hamas, but they can easily get our stuff second hand. The first thing we have to do in the Middle East is stop the flow of arms to the region.
But, “Stop All War” also involves the militarization of police at home as well as culture war, even though the latter isn’t really a federal issue. I don’t want the United States Senate to start ruling on matters on culture war.
The chance to be able to run for US Senate has given me the opportunity to talk about how this war mentality has infected all of our thinking. We have been so used to being at war for so long, that now we are really turning on each other. There is just no political solution that begins with the half of the country that disagrees with you dropping dead. I’ve been able to use the campaign as an opportunity to talk about how we have to talk and listen to each other, and sometimes agree to disagree. We’re all in this America thing together, and we’ve got to develop a mutual respect for each other again if we’re going to be able to solve any of our problems and move forward as a country.
AT: Since we are talking about the Middle East, let’s start talking about your position on multiple issues by discussing the threat of ISIS. Over the past few weeks, every political leader has been talking about what the United States and its allies should do to diminish ISIS’ power in the Middle East. If you were currently Senator, what plan would you advocate for?
SH: Well, not doing the same thing over and over again that created this Islamic state in the first place.
You listen to that debate between my opponents from a couple of weeks ago [September 3rd], and, to me, the theme of it was “Well, if you loved Iraq War I and Iraq War II, then you’re going to really love Iraq War III.”
They [My opponents] don’t have any solution besides more bombing, and that’s what really created the problems to being with. We have been interfering in the affairs with the Middle East for so long, we created this blowback with these groups who, again, are armed with our weapons and our training. We’ve just become more and more virulent when we think we’ve gotten rid of one threat and then much greater threat arises in their place.
So, the first thing we have to do is just stop interfering in the affairs of Middle Eastern countries and stop that flow of arms to them.
One thing that really upsets me is seeing John McCain on TV. I can’t believe anybody takes him seriously anymore. Last year he was saying we have to arm ISIS to defeat Assad, and now he’s saying we have to help Assad defeat ISIS. People will listen to him say this stuff with a straight face.
Then you look at my Democratic opponent. Senator Hagan is now trying to say, “Oh, I’ve been trying to warn President Obama we need more bombing months ago.” All they think of is that throwing more bombs fixes the problem.
There’s no magic wand we can wave to make this problem go away, but we can undermine it by going back to what Washington and Jefferson counseled, which was free trade with all and entangling alliances with none.
AT: One of the biggest issues that faces my generation is college tuition and, more specifically, student loans. Student loan debt has accumulated to around $1 trillion, which is second in consumer debt only to mortgages. What do you think needs to be done to make that number and the amount of students in debt decreases?
SH: Well, the first thing we have to do is stop flooding the higher education system with federal dollars because it’s just basic economics. If the federal government is going to put all of this money out there for it [an education], then the universities are going to raise their prices to suck up all of that money.
I went to Tufts University in the early 1980s, and at the time tuition was about $8,000 a year. The whole college experience for four years would probably be around $50,000. Now, it’s a quarter of a million dollars. It just doesn’t make economic sense anymore to go to college and take out loans for that.
One aspect of that that really bothers me is when people get out of college and they’re in this mountain of debt. That really restricts people’s freedom. You really don’t have the freedom to be creative with what you want to do with your life. Keeping people in all this debt is a way to control people. I’m in favor for forgiving a lot of student debt.
I don’t know if you remember a few months ago, but President Obama had this happy press conference about forgiving a bunch of student loan debt, and really that plan was just more corporate welfare. It was giving a lot of banks the full value of a lot of these outstanding loans which they will probably never collect. There are so many ways we use issues to transfer wealth to big business and large corporations, and that was one of them.
So, I think it would take a little bit of time, but just cutting off that flow of money from the federal government would not only make college more affordable again, but it would make more economic sense to go to college.
Stay tuned for Part Two of my interview with Haugh, in which we discuss the problems surrounding his two opponents, the episode in Ferguson, Mo. and his main method of campaigning: YouTube.