Terry Martin-Back is a former career NCO in the Army who is fed up with business as usual in the political world. He's shaking things up and taking things into his own hands by making an independent run for Congress in the Third Congressional District of Florida.
We spoke with him recently, as he launched his campaign on all fronts.
Q: Terry, on your LinkedIn profile page, you state:
Don't ask me, "What have I done", ask me, "What am I going to do for You?".
I understand the impulse behind this statement, but maybe you COULD just tell us a little about yourself. How much does your military service mean to you? How much has it influenced your life and outlook?
A: My military experience plays a major role in my life and how I run my business.
In the military, once you achieved an objective and the ground was secured you moved forward and planned the next objective/mission.
It's all about experience and planning and knowing who to get the correct information from. I'm not an expert in all areas of construction, so I have to have a field of reliable, (tried and proven), experienced sub-contractors to assist me with projects. The same goes with a military operation as a construction project, call upon those who have the experience, knowledge, get several opinions and make a decision on the best idea and follow through. Also, I have the understanding that things do not always go as planned and I have to remain flexible enough and have the courage to admit that alternatives exist or pull back and evaluate new options.
So what will I do for you? I will provide leadership, (I taught leadership at an NCO Academy and I practice it every day): Leadership, acting to influence others to accomplish a mission. Make timely decisions and be responsible for my decisions and look out for those designated my responsibility. Finally, set the example, no explanation needed.
Q: That's so true; set the example; team members observe and repeat. People learn in different ways, to be sure, but this method, relying on the immediacy of action and observation in pursuit of an important goal - to me, that's a winner.
You say you've taught leadership. Do you think everyone has the potential to be a leader?
A: I would like to say yes, but the answer is no. Not everyone wants or has leadership potential. Many people go through life just getting by, and that's ok, we need people in that mindset. We need people to do specific task and come to us leaders, ask what what the next task is, give them direction, supervision and insure that the task is understood.
It's up to the leader to seek out those who are avoiding the leader, give them direction consisting of task, condition and standards and insure those tasks were completed to standard.
Not everyone can look into the eyes of the worker, demand a standard and follow up when standards were not achieved and take corrective action. A leader has to have compassion but also the intestinal fortitude to look at someone and advise them they do not meet the standards established and need to move on.
Q: By the way, that's a heck of a biography you've got there. There's so much of your family history that speaks to the hard work and family orientation that has made the US such a success story over the centuries. May it always be that way for future generations.
Moving right along: Have you sensed any active opposition or hindrance from the two established parties?
A: If you would go to my antics section of my web site you would see that it's already starting. I got used to combat during Desert Storm, (after a while), and I look forward to the attacks from either party, they can not give me anything that I can't handle . I have nothing to hide, as a matter of fact, I'm kind of boring, but I have the love of life and every day is an adventure. So to the Dem's and the GOP, dig deep, real deep and let me show America how either of the parties can attack a Veteran.
Q: What are you doing to promote your campaign, to get the word out?
A: Right now I'm going door to door in neighborhoods and getting petitions signed, attending fesitvals with several volunteers getting petitions signed and handing out business cards. I asked many people, (prior to ordering campaign material), what would get your attention more than post cards and radio comercials? Their answer was the business card, they can keep it in their wallet, post is on the frig and it doesn't take up to much room.
I am running my petition drive as a military operation, establishing phase lines, objectives and getting in front of the people and answering questions and educating them about their district. Other events planned is doing car shows with my street rod and getting more petitions signed and handing out more business cards. I need 3778 signed petitions from registered voters in Florida's 3rd Congressional District.
Q: And when is the deadline?
A: Qualification is April 26-30th, 2010. The other option is to write a check from donations and buy my way into the election. My opinion is, if I can't get 3778 petitions signed, how do I ever expect to get enough voters to vote for me in the General election.
Q: That sounds completely reasonable Terry, but there may be people show up at the booth undecided; and who knows what the public attitude toward the two established parties will be then? At least you've got a beachhead that way, but I don't know how much it costs so it's easy for me to say. Moving right along, I read on your web site that you feel that having an independent in Congress, one who is not locked into a party line, creates a situation where you can put forward something that a Democrat or Republican can't, due to the party line. They can then (maybe) vote for it. It's kind of like providing them cover, isn't it?
A: There are some moderate/conservative Dem's and Repub's that feel they have to be loyal to the party, (after all, there are deals to work out for the pork), and with a third party at hand, maybe they can make the responsible decision and not put the pork into play. As an Independent, I will scream to the top of the ceilings about pork and not worry about a "Party", backing me! I believe if someone is there making noise, there will be less chance of running pork through on bills. Once that is in play, I guess I will be the scape goat or an excuse for not trying to pull fast legislation.
Q: Terry, in your platform, you state that you will "Work the needs of my district". Does that mean that, once in Congress, you will do the necessary coordination and coalition building that moves bills through the legislative process?
A: There are 25 Congressional districts in Florida and either party has to work for what's best for the State and the Country as a whole. That's not happening right now and and leadership needs to be affiliated within the ranks of the Representatives. One of my primary objectives, in looking out for the constituents of the district, is get the state re-draw the 3rd Congressional District so it make sense. People in Jacksonville have nothing in common with the people in the Ocala National Forrest or the west side of Orlando. The person that live across 23rd street, from their neighbor in Gainesville, have the same needs and does not need to be devided into another Congressional District, with less leadership. Leadership is looking out for the direct needs of your District first, State Second and Country after that.
Q: The good old Gerrymander. Computers have made it even easier to create these oddly shaped districts, as the ones doing redistricting try to shave every likely vote in locking in incumbents. In fact, incumbency is so much of an advantage that we have more partisanship than possibly ever before in Washington. This is not a good thing. Both parties used to have more of a spectrum within them, from liberal to moderate to conservative, something that would probably amaze many people reading this today.
Terry, on your web site, you state: "I am not a fan of the UN, ask me why!" OK, why?
A: During "Desert Storm", I was on a security cover mission for a water treatment task, on a swamp area outside a small town between Bahgdad and Basra. We got to know several of the towns people and they were curious about us and found out we were not as bad as had been portrayed to them. On the third day of the mission, a Republican Guard unit came into town with about 4-5 armored vehicles. The Iraqi soldiers called the people out of their homes and split them up and asked, "Who supported Sadam and Who did not"? Those that did not support Saddam were being executed on the spot and their homes burned. Some of the men ran and came to our security point and explained what was going on, (with the blood of a family member staining his white gament). I call for back-up and was told to stand-by, (it was after the surrender agreeement was signed at Sofwon), They had to get confirmation from the UN. The transmission that came back from the UN was, "It was a civil problem and we had no reason to interfere". After several hours of listening to the gunfire, the mission ended and we went back to base camp to drink coffee and watch the tracer fire go off into the night sky and watch buildings burn. The people had rights and the UN would not let us stand up for their rights. I was there and could do nothing but watch!
Q: That is just wrong; it reminds me of a scene in the movie "Three Kings" about Kuwait, with different players but same 'stand down' mentality. Also, the infamous example of Srebrenica in the bloody wars following the breakup of Yugoslavia after Tito died.
What are your views on the direction in which the state of Florida is headed?
A: There are a number of issues that come to mind, The first thing that I felt was a good move on the Governor was the tax cuts across the board a couple of years ago. If it had been any later, our state would be devastated right now. We still have to get Tallahassee on board with more tax cuts and tell local governments to tighten their belts even more. Real Estate sales are picking up and it's the investors jumping in and picking up some real bargins, but there is condo units that will be sitting for a while and the values won't be coming back till 2012 for them. For the person wanting to buy a home for long term, NOW, is the time to buy with low prices and low interest rates. Unemployment is the biggest issue we have right now. The problem we have, not only in Florida, but across this country, we don't make anything in this country anymore.
We need to re-think NAFTA and favored nation trading status. It's hard to compete with countries that pay $10 a day to workers, and our minimum wage is $7.35 here in Florida. We need to roll back minimum wage for teenagers and non-high school grad's in sub-level positions.
Lastly, our counties need to think about cutting taxes and cutting their budget even more. The more money home owners get to keep, the more they can spend in the city/county/Disney World. They need to get back to the idea of what the State/County needs are and not their wants and establish standards for social programs. Those ideas would give this state the kick in the pants it needs to get going.
Q: Terry, when you say: "They need to get back to the idea of what the State/County needs are and not their wants" are you saying maybe that personal responsibilty has faded and that we have too many people with a sense of entitlement, not participation?
A:That is exactly my thoughts! What is the government role to "We the people"?
It's to protect us, not take care of us. When you have 7-10% of the population recieving some sort of financial aide, (those are 2006 statistics), and the number is increasing daily....where is the end?
Q: Terry, I understand where you're coming from; I think some, I hope most, of the new recipients are going to move off that status ASAP, as they are resilient and proud people, so I don't see it going all in one direction. I think more social services are needed in such times, that's for sure, and that's unfortunate, but the expansion will hopefully be temporary.
Q:Terry, what are some of the things that you think are characteristically American?
A: Several characteristically American things come to mind, the love of our cars and traveling the open roads. Look at all the "Free Car Shows" on display across this country, on the weekends, that display pride in ownership of classic cars. Most people don't know this, but the car owners actually pay to display their cars and most of the money goes to a charrity. Secondly, property ownership and the ability to own property, sell and move to another state and do it all over again. We did that during my military career, many times, an always moved on with more cash in our pockets than when we arrived at each base.
Q:How do you feel about community colleges?
A: It's where I recieved the majority of my education, (while on active duty). Straight forward, limited junk classes to fill in space, a real time line for education/job placement, affordable and the ability to transfer to other state colleges. I like them and would like to see more people attending after high school, (a minimum of two years). The high school diploma is about the same as a GED was, forty years ago, (in my opinion). It's now to the point, if you don't advance your education, with the amount of people searching employment, you are already behind when it comes to getting your resume to be considered. People who attend Community College are the people who, "make things happen" in this country!
Q: What did you think of the recent Supreme Court case (Kelo) that strengthened eminent domain, and, some feel, took it too far?
A: Something near and dear to my heart, property rights. The ability of government to take private property for public use, I emphasize public use. I do not feel building a Walmart as public use, nor do I feel an airport as a public use, (unless it's an International Airport expansion).
Public hospitals, roads and utility right of way are public use. To use the power of government to take property and hand it over to a private developer, publicly traded corporation or private hospitals is wrong. I'm all for Walmart, private hospitals and major corporations bringing jobs into communities, but, not at the expence of any individual property rights.
I will leave you with this question and give you my answer; When you pass a neighborhood that you feel is not up to par, (in your opinion), and you think it would be better to tear it down, bring in developement, that would increase property taxes and make it a nicer community, (in your opinion), do you force people to sell so it's more pleasing to you?
Although I can see both sides of the question, it comes down to personal property rights. You, a poor community, slumlords and I, we all have the right to maintain our community in the manner we see fit or can afford. We already have codes enforcement in place to maintain minimum standards. My final statement is, if you don't like the community, don't buy in the community. If you don't like the way it looks, don't drive by it. If you think government should step in and force people to sell or just take private property... move to China!
Q: Don't hold back now, Terry! (chuckling)
Do you approach your possible tenure in Congress with any preconceptions about how you will be received?
A: I think everyone goes into the House of Representatives thinking they are going o be the one to turn things around with their agendas. I am very optimistic, my goal is to meet everyone, evaluate each individual, find out which ones I can work with and work my plan with their plan. I don't expect to be the "Fair Haired Child" of Congress, I will find the strengths and work with them. Things do not get done by youself, you need a team and that team needs to be working for the same goal. I think Congress is going to get a wake-up call in 2010!
Q: You are pretty outspoken. Do you ever think that you should 'tone it down' for a larger audience?
A: The problem we have now in the House of Representatives, (and across this country), right now, everyone is so soft spoken and afraid of hurting someones feelings with the truth. That's why this Country is in the state it's in! I was told by superior Officers and NCO's that I needed not be so straight forward, I don't know any other way. If something is wrong, and you have the proof, you bring it to the surface and show everyone! The same goes if something is right, you show the proof and bring it to the surface. With me, there is no guessing what's on my mind, if you want a straight answer, you'll get it. I do realize that sometimes you have to be soft spoken and walk around an answer to not hurt someones feelings when it's not a serious matter, (that's why my wife and I have been together for over 30 years).
Q: Amen on the marital front.
What are your thoughts on Cuba?
A: I believe that we will see formal relations with Cuba within the next decade. Once this financial crisis settles here in the USA, Cuba will still be suffering and we will begin diplomatic relations and start assisting the people and investing in the country again. They need us and we need them for energy, food production. I believe Cuba is a mine field that needs to be entered cautiously.
Q: How much effort and time have you put into this campaign, by your estimate?
A: My effort is growing as time goes on. Getting everything started prior to starting the campaign took a lot of time. Right now I'm working several days a week, specifically, working on the campaign. It's a hit or miss effort right now finding out what make the biggest impact. My Veteran organizations help get the word out and working the computor with Realtors, Contractors and friends. Since I announced my campaign effort in September, 4-6 hous a day, now it's becoming a full time effort. I still have to make time to assist my wife with the business and we're taking on additional people and expanding, so it's going to be some long days for the next year!
Q: OK then, Sarge. Let's wrap it up for now and let you get back to it. We will revisit your campaign from time to time to see what has happened. Til then....