His phone number in the Rayburn House Office Building is the same, and his congressional pin bears an uncanny resemblance to the one he received in 1995. Policy talk is still of budgeting and deficits, he received virtually the same committee assignments and he sees familiar faces in the Capitol’s hallways. But Rep. Matt Salmon, whose last stint in Congress ended 12 years ago, said this time will be different.
The Arizona Republican said the difference is the perspective he has gained. “I just have a lot more healthy respect for — I don’t know — for everybody,” he told CQ Roll Call in an interview. “It’s so easy to get sucked up into the process that you forget that lives hang in the balance. ... Everything that we do or don’t do has a consequence. I feel so much more the weight of the job. It’s not just debating on C-SPAN. These are issues that impact everybody’s lives.”
Salmon first entered the House as part of the Republican revolution in 1994 and then left to satisfy a term limits pledge. He was a part of a group of Republicans who led a coup in July 1997 against Speaker Newt Gingrich after becoming disillusioned with the Georgian’s leadership of the GOP.
Salmon has already tried to artfully show the current batch of Republican leaders that he means business: During the initial roll call vote to choose the speaker of the 113th Congress, he abstained — then changed his vote to support John A. Boehner of Ohio before the vote was closed. Salmon said it was to show that service in Congress is at the people’s will and is finite.
Known to speak his mind, Salmon was often combative during his first service. Now, he said, he’ll still fight for smaller government and fiscal responsibility. But he’s sick of the “motive-challenging,” as he calls it.
“I believe that many people on the other side of the aisle that are extremely liberal love their country as much as I do,” he said. “I know they do. But they have a different way of getting there. I am going to fight that. I am. But I would rather fight it with logic and reason than hate and name-calling.”
Salmon re-enters the House this year with Texas Republican Rep. Steve Stockman, who served one term after winning in 1994. There are 10 members of the GOP currently in the House from that 1994 freshman class, including Rep. Steve Chabot of Ohio, who keeps a framed copy of the Contract With America on his desk. Salmon says he’s excited about the work of Oklahoma Sen. Tom Coburn, who was also a part of that House GOP class, on issues of waste, fraud and abuse.
This time around, Salmon said, “the numbers are bigger, a little bit more daunting, but I truly do believe that if we all work together, we will get it done.” Salmon liked the Republican Study Committee’s budget proposals during the 112th Congress and wants to see a revamp of Social Security and Medicare that includes a change to the retirement age.
Fascinated by travel and fluent in Mandarin — he was a Mormon missionary in Taiwan in his youth — Salmon played a role on foreign policy issues during his previous terms. He’s the new chairman of the Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on the Western Hemisphere and will look for ways that the United States can assist in strengthening security and law and order measures in Mexico, notably against cartels. He also wants to gain perspective on economic development initiatives and pension privatization from places such as Brazil and Chile. Chabot is chairman of the Asia subpanel.
“A lot of time we use our foreign affairs to preach to everybody else on how they should be more like us,” Salmon said. “I think there are some opportunities for us to learn how to be more like them.”
After he left the House, Salmon worked as a lobbyist in Arizona, was the unsuccessful GOP gubernatorial nominee against Janet Napolitano in 2002 and then served as Arizona Republican Party chairman from 2005 until 2007. When Rep. Jeff Flake announced he was running for the Senate, Salmon said the calls came in for him to run. It was his wife’s support that tipped the scale.
Notably, Salmon said he learned from his previous term limits pledge. “I was a lame duck from the first term,” he said. Instead of granting him freedom, it took him “out of the game.” This time around, Salmon has no intention of staying out.