Andrae McGary is a Chattanooga city councilman, a homeschooling father of five young children, a former talk radio host at WGOW, a Presbyterian seminarian who converted to Roman Catholicism and is making a bid to keep his seat on the Chattanooga city council in elections March 5. He spoke with Nooganomics.com on Oct. 12 as a candidate for the Tennessee state senate as a Democrat. I published our interview Oct. 23, 2012.
Separately, a transcript of an interview with his Republican rival, Todd Gardenhire, is here.
My analysis of Mr. McGary’s optimism on the goodness and benefit of political force is here.
Self-determination in family life
David Tulis — Andrae, tell us a little about your homeschool experiences and adventures and how you got into homeschooling.
Andrae McGary — When my first daughter was born, who’s 9 now, my wife [Cheryl] and I, when she got to school age, we decided to put her in a public school. It turns out that we live in an area of town that is very impoverished. The ratio of homeowners to actually those who rent is actually kind of upside down. There more people who rent than who own homes in my neighborhood. The homes there, most of them were built in the early 1900s. I mean, some of them are dilapidated. Some of it is actually slumlord housing. A large substantial population of Latinos that live there. In the midst of a very transient group of individuals that come in and out.
So when we got there about seven years ago, it wasn’t our first choice as to where we wanted to live, but it was the best choice. We put bids on a lot of other houses, and every time we bid on a house we were outbid. We looked at this house, and felt like it wasn’t a perfect house; we looked at others, got outbid, started praying about it, said maybe we needed to go back and put a bid on that house and got it. *** Day 1, when we moved in, prostitution, drug use, the whole nine. We’ve been there, seen it. So we placed our daughter in the school which was about four blocks down from where we live. And at the time we knew it was about 60-40 — 60 percent Latino, about 35, 36 percent African-American, about 2 percent white. And we being believers in public education in order to, A, put our daughter in a school close to home so she could be in our neighborhood, and, B, we also wanted to be actively involved in her education. We do not subscribe to the idea of public education as babysitting. So we both committed to being actively involved. As such, my daughter was in kindergarten, she started her first grade year. And shortly into the second semester of the first grade year we got a letter saying that the school was placed on the failing school list.
Shift to Catholic school as family grows
And so my wife and I had to make a decision as to whether or not we were going to keep her in that school or move her someplace else. It was a very difficult decision for us. And so, we decided, because again I have five children — 9, 7, 5, 3 and 1 — my son, at this point *** is now school age, and he started displaying signs of giftedness. So my wife and I knew we didn’t want to place him in a public school, we also knew we didn’t want to place our daughter back in a failing school situation as far as a difficult choice that was.
So we said, “Why don’t we place them in private schools? We’re Catholic.” So we started looking at Catholic schools, and a particular Catholic school they had a Montessori program, as my son was displaying signs of giftedness. So, we wanted him to be challenged, stirred in kindergarten. So we placed them in OLPH, our Lady of Perpetual Help. Did that for about a year, a couple of years. And as you would imagine, at this point, my third son was now ready to enter kindergarten, so the costs are adding up.
And we said, you know, this is getting to a point where it is too cost prohibitive for us. *** We don’t want to place our children back in public school, however. Because at this point, because we had our children in Catholic school they were receiving a religious education which is very important to us. *** My wife and I decided we would homeschool. So that’s what we’re doing.
Co-op among Presbyterians for religion
David — How long have you been homeschooling?
Andrae McGary — So, this is the first year, the very first year. *** In the morning everyone gathers around the kitchen table and after breakfast school begins. For me as a dad watching this, and participating in the process of reinforcing what the kids are learning — my wife is a primary school teacher — of course, given my schedule, I reinforce. They’ll show me what they did in the day. I’ll ask questions, I read, that sort of thing. It’s really great to see everyone around the table. They’re all learning. My wife is a superstar and all this. Really. She really is.
We have some friends who live on Lookout Mountain, and so we entered into a co-op with them, for religion. So they learn Bible verses. No, my friends are not Catholic. They are actually Presbyterian. So that was important to us, too, that our children would be around other Christians, and not necessarily Catholic, although of course we do have Catholic friends. Participating in that co-op is very important, because this family has more children than we do. I think they have nine — nine children. So it was also important for our kids to be able to play with other kids. That was a component of it, too. And there are field trips that they do together.
David — Are there other children in the neighborhood who are — that you favor, of a friendly sort?
Andrae McGary — Sure. As I indicated, it’s very transient. In our seven years there, we’ve seen more people come and go than we care to admit. And so, for a long time, the houses in our immediate block, there were maybe one family that had small-aged children, but they lived further down the block. **** Fortunately there are enough other kids in the neighborhood right now.
David — What do homeschool families who read about your candidacy for the senate, how are they to view your views on education in general and — you favor public education — you’re a homeschooler. Is there a conflict? It looks like one.
Andrae McGary — I consider myself very fortunate that I’ve had a wide variety of experiences, whether it be public education, private education, now homeschooling. So I’ve seen it from all sides. My response to families would be very simple.
Not every approach works for everybody.
Tax money should go only to public schools, only option for many people
There are some families, like ours, that decided that public school is not the best route. There are other families that decide private schools are a better route. I do believe that having choice in this matter is very important.
However, from a taxpayer-funding standpoint, I do believe public education should be the only recipient of public dollars. I am not a proponent of a voucher program. I don’t think it’s realistic. Because the reality, many of the private schools in our area are all religious, and so you cannot force a religious institution to take public education dollars. Many of them have entrance requirements. You have to fill out application and do volunteer hours. You can’t force that school system to take that voucher *** and lower its expectations, or say to its parents that you no longer have to volunteer, which was a real requirement for us, particularly — if you didn’t volunteer for a certain number of hours, you were out of the school. Long story short: Private school is not realistic for everyone. Nor do I think that the government should be trying to make the private school an option for everyone.
So, I think our job, with taxpayer dollars, is to ensure that we have the best quality of public schools that we can, right, because that will be the option for many people. Not everyone will go into private school. Not everyone will go into homeschooling. A majority of people will find themselves in public school.
Uniform national schooling standards OK
So, I believe it’s important that we focus on the quality of teachers, which is why the whole issue of tenure is very important. I think also curriculum. That is why I am a proponent of common core standards. I believe it is important that, if my child gets a public education in Tennessee, I think it’s important that if he goes to Michigan he or she has the opportunity to enter into a school system that is on par with Tennessee as far as the standard.
David — Is anyone offering that here? Is that one of those the wealthy mountain offerings?
Andrae McGary — No, no, no no. It’s happening from the state level. Essentially what’s happening is that it’s being pushed somewhat by the federal government to where states would be — every state now as the opportunity to set its own curriculum, OK? So education, public education is created by the state. The state essentially says that you as a state, this is what you are responsible for teaching, which is why we have statewide testing — TCAP and so forth. As a result, you can go to different places around the country and they have their own standards. So, for example, I’m from Dallas. *** Dallas’ test is totally different than TCAP. Totally different. *** As a result, it makes it difficult as a nation to ensure a quality well-rounded set of standards that are out the door across the board, where every state makes their own.
David — So that is a diversity you don’t favor?
Andrae McGary — Well, no, not at this point. Here’s why. Race to the Top. One of the things I like about what [U.S.] Secretary [of Education Arne] Duncan has done is institute free market principles as a means to try to boost education. What did he do? He said let’s instill competition into public education.
So he said to state boards and state entities, here’s what we’re going to do. We’re going to put X amount of dollars on the table, and the dollars were half a billion dollars. Here’s what you have to do. You have to compete with other states in raising their standards. And the state that raises its standards the most drastically, the most thoroughly, the most comprehensively will be a recipient of these funds.
And Tennessee participated in that process, competed with all these other states, and we are the recipient of Race to the Top funds, $533 million in funds. So he used free market principles and competition to boost standards. So why is it that we had to enter into that situation. Because our state standards were so low. But we weren’t the only ones. There were other states that had the exact same problem. So it took a little jumpstart to get these states to recognize that, “Hey, look, your standards are lacking.” They may be 15, 20 some odd years old — right? You need to up your standards. I believe in expected excellence for kids. I think it was important that we raise our standards, that we have a common standard, across the nation.
Carrots of free money and the inevitable stick
David — So you’re not hostile to the idea of a foreign, i.e. federal, catalyst for that to take place?
Andrae McGary — As long as it’s done in a manner that is *** more incentive than is punitive, and more often than not when we talk of government programs, there is usually more of a kick than there is a kiss, more of a stick than a carrot.
I like the carrot. I operate on free market principles from the standpoint of the incentive approach. Let’s incentivize people to do it. And let’s make the incentive stronger than the penalty. Now, as with all things, you have to have some form of penalty to prevent people from abuse and waste. That’s just the way it is. But I don’t think the penalty should be stiffer than the incentive. Incentives should be far more enticing. In other words, there should be a lot more reason for a person saying “Wow, I want to do it for this reason” versus, “If I don’t do it, here’s what’ll happen to me.”
Gifted McGary child and dad’s view about character
David — Can you say something about the son, your son who shows signs of giftedness, can you talk a little about him?
Andrae McGary — Zion. He’s my first-born son. He’s 7. Early on he was showing signs of giftedness from the point of view of he picked up reading without any problem, basically going into kindergarten, he was reading on a first- second-grade level. He really picked it up. We really knew he would be advanced. ****
David — Do you think every child has a genius?
Andrae McGary — Yes, yes, I do.
David — Even assuming initially that they’re all average?
Andrae McGary — I don’t operate from a tabula rasa approach, the idea that children are born with blank slate. So, yes, this is part of my understanding of the God-given dignity of every individual, that we are all born with a set of skills and talents that are instilled. And part of the developmental process is to match character with talent and make sure they are working in tandem. I remember as a young man, when I was in Bible college, my pastor said one time, *** “My prayer for you, Andrae, is that God will raise your character to the level of your giftedness.” And I never forgot that. I just never forgot that. So I pray the same for my children. That is one of the things I look at as a parent, is to make sure that their giftedness matches their character.
David — Any regrets about being a homeschooler?
Andrae McGary — Not at this point, now that we’ve seen all sides. If we had only one child, from the standpoint of social skills, it would be very important that he or she would have the ability to interact with other children. That’s part of socialization. But since we have *** five total, they have that inbred community, that inbred socialization that is really important. ***
How the McGarys met
David — Give me a sentence of how you met Cheryl.
Andrae McGary — I met her at church. My wife and I both became Catholic later in life. So we were at a Baptist church.*** Cheryl was one of the greeters, and so she said, “Welcome to our church,” and she looked at me, and she said, “How old are you?” And at the time I was kind of put off by that, because I was coming to church to worship not to talk about that sort of thing. So sad to say, I wrote her off. *** [I learned] later that she had asked me my age only because I looked so young. People still say I look a little young. And she was asking that because she thought I was a boy genius or something, like, “Are you like 16 or something?” So I only found that out later. At this point, though, we had slowly become friends. *** A year after meeting her, we were engaged. Three to five months after engaged, we got married. We’ve been married now 13 years.
*** I was at Carver Bible College. I was a junior in Carver when I got married. So Cheryl is two years older than me so she was finishing at the State University of West Georgia in Carrollton. Her degrees are in computer science. So she was a software engineer for Home Depot’s corporate office for a little while, while I finished school. So when I finished school, we both went to seminary together, Covenant Theological Seminary [in St. Louis], which is a sister school to Covenant College, so it is the Presbyterian seminary of the PCA, the Presbyterian Church in America. So we were both in seminary, and were about a year and a half into it when Cheryl became pregnant with our first child.
More babies, New City Fellowship
So she was not able to finish. She said, “Andrae, finish as soon as you can.” I was in a four-year program. I got it down to three. We got out Covenant. Of course we’re having Imani in the process. Then some elders from the church came to St. Louis and offered me the youth pastorship at New City Fellowship Presbyterian church, and that’s how we came back. So did that for a couple of years, from 2005 to 2007. So I was at Covenant from 2003 to 2005 and New City Fellowship from 2005 to 2007, and at this point, about late 2006, early 2007, started realizing it really wasn’t a fit.
First taste of bureaucracy — not in government, but church
And one thing about seminary that is really interesting. You know, they’ll teach you to study the word, how to study the original languages, the Greek and Hebrew, they’ll teach you to preach, they’ll teach you a lot of fun stuff — eschatology, Christology, — wonderful stuff. But they really don’t teach you a lot about administration, paperwork — right? For many young guys like myself, you walk into that. And if that’s not necessarily your bent, if you’ve never really kind of done that, it’s overwhelming. So for me, I became inundated in this world that was very administrative — waiver forms for parents if you go on a field trip, planning mission trips, coordinating with this, in addition to speaking at youth groups and organizing volunteer training.
I mean, it was very administrative. And at the time it was very intimidating, it was overwhelming. *** Over time, I found myself becoming more and more disenchanted with all of it, not to mention having a young family growing at this time. So, after about a year and a half, I started struggling with whether I was going to resign, and that was the hardest decision that I had to make, because I never had quit anything. *** The more I did it, the more I said, “No. I can’t do it.” It’s not fair to my family that I’m emotionally distant, as I was becoming. I said, “There’s somebody out there who can do this job better than I can, someone else can serve these students better than I can. I need to move on and get out of their way.” So I resigned. ***
Readings from Mother Teresa
It was right at this time that I started praying and started thinking about what was the next step. So I started teaching, at Bryan, in their extension program, teaching theology courses, started doing that. It was at this time that I started reading a lot of Mother Teresa, which became some of the influences that eventually resulted in my wife and I joining the Catholic church. I read a lot of Mother Teresa and St. Francis, also, of course.
Mother Teresa had this saying that the poor will be your salvation, the poor will be your salvation. At the time I didn’t really know what that meant. So I started thinking and meditating about it and started working for a nonprofit that focuses on that, that works with low-income individuals, and really — hit a stride, enjoyed it. It was the nonprofit of New City Fellowship. Enjoyed it. I was program director there.
Christian charitable labors at 2 groups
What was really great was when I got offered my job the boss said, I want you to do this job. And my first question was, “Is it administrative?” And he said, “Yes, 95 percent administrative. I’ll walk you through it.” And that really made a difference. It gave me a skill set that I didn’t have, right. So I was program manager, so I had about a F$200,000 budget to work with. I was a summer program creator.
So I created curriculum for about 100 young people, 50 guys and 50 girls, ages 8th grade through — yes, that was 2008, right before city council, about a year and a half before that. I was responsible for creating the program. It was essentially a program on math and reading to make sure they don’t get behind. *** A major focus of this program is financial literacy which is what one of the fields we consider very important. *** So, that was a wonderful experience for me, to watch these young people develop learning to think about money from a long-term standpoint and not just short-term gratification.
David — What was the name of that program?
Mr. McGary — Hope for the Inner City is the name of the nonprofit organization. Did that for two summers, enjoyed it. I hired people, I fired people, trained staff, was responsible for staying on budget, hired people to cook for the kids, that sort of thing. I was really a wonderful opportunity to get some of the basic business principles. I mean, I how to look at a profit-loss sheet — I mean, the whole thing. *** I didn’t get any of that in seminary. So, did that a couple years and would be there even to this day except that they fell on some hard times, it’s a nonprofit, and of course I had a growing family, so I had to make some decisions, so that’s when I started teaching a little more, and then I moved on to the Homeless Coalition and became program director there.
Operations of grace within the civil government
And, again, this is all in keeping with whole Mother Teresa and the “poor will be your salvation,” working with poor people. *** I really found that I fit in those sort of environments.
It was right around this time that one of the ladies who went through my neighborhood came up to me and said, “I’ve been praying for 15 years that someone will run for city council, and I think you’re the man.” I was blown away because I just never would have expected that. ***
So I started going to neighborhood associations. And at this time, too, I am a neighborhood association president. So amidst all these other things I am doing that in my neighborhood. And that’s really kind of pivotal. If people know who I am, they should walk in my neighborhood because, it all is there. Because I am around some very unsavory things, a lot, and it’s very easy to be legalistic and judgmental. But that’s not the — my wife and I, in our seven years there, we struggle with this. We’ve had to wrestle and grow through it.
When we see someone doing something illegal, do you call the police immediately? Or is it a confrontation? What do you do? Learning to take it on a case-by-case scenario, it’s not across-the-board you do one thing. All these things you have to grow and learn. And that became the basis for understanding that there is an active role, a transformative role that you can play in society. A neighborhood level is where it began.
Toward the church of Rome; McGary explores libertarian ideas
And then as I connected with other neighborhoods, it became a kind of intra-neighborhood approach, inter-neighorhood approach. And that set the stage, that set the framework for looking at it from a city approach. If there is a way to be an active player, to be a transformative player in a city, by looking at the least amongst you while also working at society at large.
And I say it that way because, at this point, I am entering into the Catholic church. This is early 2009, and a friend of mine, when I was in seminary, he had a friend who was Catholic. So my first introduction to Catholicism was when I was in seminary. A friend of mine had a friend who was Catholic, and he was actually — he was a father, a priest; he was actually the founder of an order. And he also started what’s called the Acton Institute. The Acton Institute is essentially a close affiliate with the Cato Institute, and the Acton Institute is named after Lord Acton — “Power corrupts; absolute power corrupts absolutely” — and they were connected to the Cato Institute. And that is how I was introduced to Cato Institute and got introduced to libertarian thoughts and ideas.
So as far as kind of making the connection to a virtuous society, and no society can be free unless it is first virtuous — all those things were being, all that came in seminary, then it started influencing what my wife and I were doing on the community level. That was combining the theology, or the theory, with the actual practice.
We saw that on the community level. It branched out to city council, to a district of about 18,000 people in a city of about 150,000 people. *** [My city council term] ends in March 2013, so it’s been a four-year term.
Candidate for state senate
David — Thank you for the description of the spiritual landscape that you tread on. Let’s talk now about your candidacy and I’ve got some questions. Maybe you could tell me what good you want to bring to the state and its people by being in the senate?
Andrae McGary — Yes, yes. No. 1, first and foremost, I would hope that by my life and by my actions that I would show myself as a true representative. Too often, representation boils down to representing the majority that put you in office. So, case in point. There are 18,000 people in the district I represent currently. About half of them are eligible to vote. That’s 9,000 people. Of that 9,000 people eligible to vote, only 3,000 or so, 2,000 came out to vote in 2009. Two thousand of them. I get in office by getting 1,200 votes, that’s more than half. So as you can see, very, very very dismal voter turnout gets a guy in office. It’s easy for someone like me to say, well, that 1,200 people put me in office and all the rest of you didn’t vote, then I’m loyal to that 1,200 people and the rest of you don’t exist. That’s a very faulty view of representation.
McGary’s doctrine of representation
I believe first and foremost that it’s important to represent the district in the truest sense of the term. Republican. Democrat. Independent. They deserve to have a voice to know their voice can be heard by their representative. That’s easier said than done, of course. *** Being a representative is truly character check because what you deem to be in the good of all is ultimately what guides your decision-making process.
That is, of course, unless you are being bought and sold by special interests, which is a whole other thing. Assuming you’re not, your sense of what’s in good of all becomes the name of the game. And so your own moral and religious upbringing, your own set values chiefly informs what you do. So, I would hope that by putting forth my values and saying, here’s who I am and here’s what I’m seeking to do, that people will know where I am coming from as they come in with their various views and so forth, and we can interact in a true dialogue, and hopefully together we can come — and I say together truthfully, because I never claim to have all the answers. Ideas are born from constituents. Ideas are born from a wide variety of sources. So I would hope to able to take that and enter into such an enriching dialogue that from that we will be able to say that this is legislation that represents the community because it was created as such — by citizens, by conversations.
Let’s put it this way. If lobbyists are the only one creating legislation we’ve done something wrong. So one of the things I want to do. I’ll give you an exclusive.
Proposal for citizen boards to write bills
I want to create what’s called a citizen legislative board. I’ve already talked to some lawyers about this. And the goal would be to have lawyers essentially explain how legislation is created, in case someone has forgotten, and to say here’s how it works, and to do that in such a manner that people can say, “OK, if I want to create a bill here are the steps.” And you do it in groups. You have people talk about ideas, they work together and they seek to create legislation *** and they are doing it in concert with their legislator.
So the legislator is not the guy who stands up and says, “Look at what I’ve done. I’m the hero.” But now the community can say, “Now look, I’ve been actively involved in this process. I’ve also had a chance to contribute to how ideas are created,” and to me this is more than just a nice, neat, cute thing to do. I think it’s really a true reflection of how legislation should be created. *** What happens when that individual sees that legislation comes on the floor of the house or senate?
They now feel empowered that I can actively be a part of the political process. So I want to push that and see where it goes. I don’t know what will happen to it, but I think it’s worth a shot. *** I’m just trying to widen the circle here. It’s not to say businesses won’t have an open door. It’s just to say businesses are not the only community players. ***
Freedom is freedom to do ‘as I ought’
David — Are we a free people as the Tennessee constitution refers to us in Article 1, section 24, in the provision on the militia? It refers to a “free people.” To what extent are Tennesseans a free people, and to what extent are they not? Is that an important question, or is that just a question that comes from the libertarian perspective?
Andrae McGary — Let me answer the last question first. I think that it is heavily influenced by libertarian thought, but is the question is, “What’s the definition of freedom?” And so again, freedom is negatively defined when you say “the ability to do what I want.” That is not freedom. Freedom is the ability to do what I ought. So when we look at the definition of freedom, freedom is seen as the ability to do good and actually do it. That’s freedom. Because the ability to choose evil and to be involved in it is not actually freedom, it’s actually slavery.
David — Would you not think the definition of freedom is the absence of external constraint on a person or actor? That’s the legal definition.
Objection to ‘very narrow’ free market terminology
Andrae McGary — Exactly. But I think that is a very narrow definition, which is why I start first and foremost with the moral definition of freedom, the ability to choose good. *** But it starts first and foremost by my will and my volitional choice to choose good, the ability to choose good and do it.
So, in other words, if government is saying that I should not speed down the road, I should go 30 miles per hour. I choose to disobey. Am I free? There’s a philosophical, there is a theological and there’s a legal aspect to freedom is what I’m saying.
Tennesseans are, vis a vis their state, free
Ultimately, to your question, though, I believe yes, as Tennesseans we are a free people. The same constitution in article 1 says the power to establish government in Tennessee rests with the people. The power to abolish government rests with the people — to alter or abolish it. To the degree that we have the ability to establish a government that is for the people, by the people, created to serve the people, we are free.
David — And so you believe that a free people exist, and that is the people you wish to serve as a senator?
Andrae Mc Gary — Yes. Yes.
David — We’re not slaves?
Andrae McGary — No.
David — We’re not all subjects and in peonage or slavery?
Andrae McGary — No. And again, having gone through the Cato Institute courses and so forth, I have appreciation for libertarian thought, and I certainly understand it from the standpoint of what they are communicating — the Austrian school, von Mises I understand.
Concepts of liberty sometimes go in wrong direction
However, some of the metaphors the libertarian party uses are troubling. So the King George tyrannical government is always viewed and that sort of thing I believe is a very damaging metaphor because we are United States of America. We are a participatory democracy. We are a republic. And we are not in any manner, shape or form a monarchy.
We do not operate from a sole source of authority that is above the law, as most most monarchies traditionally were. So to use that metaphor, to me, is somewhat misleading. And the problem that I have with it is not only that it is theologically and cognitively misleading, but I think it is also emotionally pulling people in the wrong direction.
David — In which direction, away from what?
Andrae McGary — It pulls people away in the wrong direction towards — it’s exciting in them an emotional response that I don’t believe is actually conducive to actually solving the problem. It’s actually inciting an emotional response that moves them toward another paradigm, that of rebellion, or revolution. So instead of actively engaging in the participatory process, of actually being a citizen, the response seems to be, “Let’s pull away, let’s rebel.” To me that’s fundamentally a step in the wrong direction.
David — Anarchistic?
Andrae McGary — Very much so. Very much so. In its worst forms, yes.
Government should encourage human dignity, potential
David — What do you hope for the people, and what do you hope for government, and your role in it?
Andrae McGary — So, again, it all starts morally. I believe in the dignity of the human person (— some of the things I wrote about in my response to you.) *** I believe that government is not designed to act in place of man, OK? Which means that government structures and instutions that are designed to in any way, shape or form NOT lead to the development of the human person I think are destructive and are sinful.
So the goal of government is to create those structures which encourage the development of human potential and dignity. As such, I believe we should be looking at government from that standpoint, how does this, in the full definition of man, which again starts with what you think man is and what you think man’s destiny is — what sort of government action should be taken that is beneficial to that developmental process?
To the degree it’s not helpful, it’s destructive. So I would want to look at government from the standpoint of — and I hope to communicate this to people — that actions taken should be taken are actions that are carefully thought out, weighed on both sides, towards what is the ultimate impact. And we need got to be clear as to what the ultimate impact we are looking for.
Promises to be careful crafting bills
That’s the only way I can rationalize governmental action. *** I’m trying to give you a long answer to help you understand the short answer: I would hope to be involved in a governmental process that is be part of a set of legislators that take very seriously the act of legislation, and that they would not seek to create legislation in any form that is destructive to the development of the human person, both individually and collectively.
David — So that means you envision regulation for the good of the people and statutes which control things for the good of the people and also a measure of liberty and jurisdiction that belong to the people not touched by law or statute or police?
Andrae McGary — I start there first. So again, I start with the dignity of the human person. How do we safeguard and protect their development by, No. 1, by not encumbering them? That’s No. 1.
However, as the scripture clearly states, the leaders have been given the sword for a reason. So there is room for regulation. However, all regulation should be means tested, because there is the law of unintended consequences. It looks good on paper, it sounds good, but when it goes into effect there could be a whole set of consequences that were not initially envisioned. So we need to revisit regulation extensively. It doesn’t just go on the books and disappear. We need to be evaluating and looking at regulation from the standpoint of — is it doing what it was designed to do?
And that’s a conversation worth having, as well.
Christianity teaches that government is good
David — What do you hope for government, and your role in it? Have I gotten the answer?
Andrae McGary — Let me kind of condense it more. I would hope to shift the view from a very negative — I mean, there exists among Christendom, particularly certain sentiments of Christendom and elsewhere, a very negative view of government.
Government takes away. Ronald Reagan: Government is not [the answer] to the problem, the government is the problem. I think that’s a very inappropriate view of government. Again, all that was created was created by God. Government, therefore, is a created thing. Follow the syllogism. If God created all things, government was created by God, right, government was created by God, therefore government is good. That’s a logical syllogism. So, government is good.
David — That’s right.
Andrae McGary — Government is good. Therefore this very negative view that government can do no good, again, that tyrannical metaphor that’s out there, is very destructive. I would even say that in a very soft sense it’s blasphemous, right? You’re saying God has created something evil. To me, from a moral standpoint, I just don’t see why that’s necessary to have that point of view.
Wants to get citizenry involved in government
So I would hope to again, by this process of inviting people to be part of government, where they would see pragmatically that there are good things that are happening, and by showing by my decisions votewise *** that people will now begin to see there is good to be accomplished.
David — Do you believe we have the government we deserve in Tennessee?
Andrae McGary — I believe we get the government we deserve. And I believe when people take themselves out of the process or when a small minority, whether far right or far left, fill the vacuum because people don’t vote, then we get the government we deserve, yes.
Commercial government is not a real danger
David — Do you think, Andrae, we have too much commercial government that favors the rich, the corporate, the politically connected?
Mr. McGary — I don’t know if I would say too much. Uh, I would say that element is certainly out there. Why do I say too much? Because I don’t have the big picture, right. I try to be very realistic about what I know and what I don’t know. I’ve been inside government for four years, and I realize there are certain things I don’t know. Since I don’t see the whole picture, it’s very hard to have that comparative sense. Is it too much? Is it too little? Is it just enough? I know there are certain government decisions that certainly warrant an investigation and we need to revisit them.
But to say that this piece or that piece of legislation needs to be revisited — is that to say it’s too much? I don’t know. I kind of back off from those terms. I don’t know if it’s fair to say that.
Taxes are an investment
David — The news today, on Nooga.com for example, has the story about the state’s business tax climate index ranking Tennessee the 15th. **** How do you respond to that?
Andrae McGary — I look at it from free market business principles. A lot of people want to talk about taxation as take take take take take. I tend to use a different metaphor. I look at taxation from the standpoint of investment and capital. And it goes back to your question. We get the government we deserve.
If we do not want *** to pay for government, we get what we pay for. It’s that simple. I look at it in terms of investment. If I want to, as a businessman, I have to put investment and capital in my business if I want to hope something out. It’s just the way it is. When we try to nickel and dime government, we’re trying to constantly whittle away at it, then yes. It’s very difficult from my perspective to morally, going back to the education [theme], to stomach the fact that we’re 47th in the nation per capita of what we pay per child for education. How is that possible that we are creating and training the next generation of workers and citizens in our community, we’re asking our schools to run on pennies?
David — But you’re a participant in the free market sector of education. Private education, Catholic schools, are not very expensive. Two thousand dollars, two and a half thousand dollars —
Andrae McGary — Right.
David — a year is your cost, but a public school child requires F$7,000 worth of expenditure. Do you think that public education and the unions that teach these students need more of the state capital base?
‘Disconnect’ when people consider spending more for state schools
Andrae McGary — Let’s make sure we are comparing apple to apples and not apples to oranges. Again, having participated in private schools — they are run, they function, they have their own standards, it’s a totally different scenario, right — than, say, your public school. *** When we look at just the pure figure, and what it takes to educate a student in private school, there’s a reason why that figure is what it is versus what it is in public education. And let’s go back to the reality that private education is not an option for many, unfortunately. As I just described, we have five children, we put two in, and when we saw that third coming, we had to go. [Laughter.] There was no way we could do it. I don’t want to make this all about money. But I do want to say very clearly that we are not investing in our schools.
*** Let’s put it this way. If I’m Wacker or Amazon, if I’m Volkswagen, right, I’m not coming to your community unless you offer me an economic incentive. That’s the nature of the beast. They shop. They shop around. Property tax abatement? What about headquarter replacement? That’s exactly what Amazon did. That’s exactly what Volkswagen did. It was: Who’s the highest bidder. Those economic incentives come at a cost.
But we as a community have said it’s important for us to attract these particular businesses so it’s important for us to make an investments. And I see us as a community far more willing to make an economic argument in buying it, but for some reason when that same argument is made for education, there’s a disconnect.
So, all I’m saying is — I think it’s said best by one of the gentleman who said, “You can’t be pro-business unless you are pro-education.” And that makes a lot of sense. Because not everyone will be an entrepreneur. And if an entrepreneur is to be successful he has to have trained and skilled workers. The two go together.
Democratic party better exemplifies Christian grace
David — Are you pro-life?
Andrae McGary — Yes. I have five children. How can I not be? [Laughter.] ***
So, one subject that I think needs to be broached, and it’s a very important subject, you know, when people talk with me, they say, “So, Andrae, you certainly understand business; you certainly understand fiscal conservatism, you’re pro-life — why are you a Democrat?” [laughs]. It’s a very important question, more than any other questions I’m asked.
I enjoy the question because it gets right to the heart of my biblical faith. Please — God is not a Democrat. God is not a Republican. OK? So that’s not the argument. Nor do I believe that, as I’ve said many times before, I don’t believe the Republican party is the Christian party any more than I believe the Democratic party is the anti-Christian party, OK? There are elements of grace in both of the parties.
Why is it, then, that I am a Democrat? And, again, it’s my understanding of one particular point that I think makes all the difference in the world. And it goes back to what’s the greatest commandment. The greatest commandment, as was asked of Jesus, Love your Lord your God with all your heart, mind soul and strength. And the second is like it. Love your neighbor as yourself.
It’s that particular point that, I think, separates the wheat from the chaff, if you would, the goats from the sheep. When I look at the values of the Democratic platform, I believe it’s a more community approach to solving issues, and to me, I believe that some of the answers, let’s be honest, some of the answers put forth by my party are definitely not answers I would subscribe to. Right? At the same time, I believe the values behind what they are doing certainly line up with my understanding of the scriptures.
Value of papal encyclicals and radiating circles of responsibility
I also tie that in again (as I sent you the quote), I am a strong proponent of the encyclicals. For those who are not Catholic, the encyclicals are basically reflections by church leaders, more often than not the pope, who is reflecting on social issues, and in reflecting on social issues basically over the years — over the centuries, in fact, there has become kind of this corpus of information of teaching that is called Catholic social teaching. In that Catholic social teaching, they talk about the dignity of the human person.
They talk about solidarity, the idea that we should see ourself in our brother. They talk about the idea of subsidiarity, the idea that if you are — concentric circles, when you have a problem, you should look at the nearest circle to solve it, and move outward, not start from the biggest circle and work in. So, for example, if I have a problem the immediate circle [in which] I should look for solutions is my own family, not just immediate family, but extended family. OK? Then, I should go to church family. Then I should go to community. Then I should go to city. Then I should go to state. Then I should go to federal. Each circle moves out. That’s a principle of subsidiarity. That’s the principle within Catholic social teaching. That’s not to say that Catholic social teaching owns that teaching. but it’s certainly taught there.
McGary could have been a moderate Republican
So when I look at these sorts of principles — solidarity, seeing yourself in your brother, subsidiarity, looking to the smallest circle to affect change in moving out — I certainly see the Democratic platform as espousing more of those principles, but not all. So, not perfectly, and certainly not always.
But I certainly think from a standpoint, comparatively speaking, I certainly think there is more of that platform within — now here’s the other piece of that that I would qualify that. In each party there is more or less this idea that there is a certain component of that party that is deemed normal. For example, in Republican thought, the conservatives are now unfortunately deemed normal Republicans. So if you are a moderate or a liberal Republican, there is a sense now that you are not a true Republican, right? In times past, moderate and liberal Republicans were part of the Republican party. Same thing Democrat, right? You’re not a true Democrat unless you’re a liberal Democrat. So, if you’re a moderate Democrat or a conservative Democrat, as I am, then you’re not necessarily your party’s standardbearer, right? And so here’s the caveat: Moderate Republicans and conservative Democrats actually see more eye to eye than they do differences. There is overlap.
So people have asked me, they say, “Andrae, could you be a Republican?” I say, “a moderate one.” I wouldn’t consider myself a conservative one. So, there’s overlap as far as how it actually fleshes itself out partywise. But from the principled standpoint, what I just described remains.
Loving one’s neighbor an aspect of Senate bid
Why am I Democrat? Because I believe when it comes toward loving your neighbor, when it comes toward the principles I just described — solidarity, subsidiarity — I believe those principles have been better fleshed out from the Democratic standpoint than they have from [the Republican] — that’s not to say it couldn’t change. Remember. Parties are not static. Remember in the late ’30s, the parties switched platforms. So, it’s very organic. So you have to answer the question in time. Because that’s all you have. ***
David — Why should a free market-loving, libertarian-oriented Christian vote for you for state Senate?
Andrae McGary — No. 1, because my first experiences in political thought have been from the Austrian school. Hayek. Von Mises. You name it. So, certainly I understand and think along those terms. That’s No. 1. No. 2, I have made it a point to listen to all sides of an argument. I am very intentional on that. I don’t just buy into the first thing I hear.
So I hope that [voters] will recognize that I tend to be as much as possible as fair and as well rounded in my decision making process and that means that I am not into rash legislation. I am not typically into doing what the party says do. I recognize there is a wider, there is a higher calling [than] that. So their values, their point of view is certainly not foreign to me and certainly one that I take into account and seek to operate from. I think ultimately what I would hope to do, and we’ve already talked about this, is actually to invite people more into the process. and that’s really the biggest difference. I am not there to be a superstar or the go-to guy. I am there to be a facilitator.
Transforming society, ‘reorganization of community’
David — Let me ask you about the idea of local economy. The theory of local economy says that, like your concentric circles, your salvation, if you will, societally, is local, not far away. The solutions for problems, whether it’s an economic collapse or a recession or lack of credit, lack of capital, are local, not from faraway places like Washington or Wall Street. Is the idea of local economy — could you say something on whether it’s a good idea?
Andrae McGary — It’s something I’ve given some thought to. Here’s where I stand. So I believe one of the goals of Christianity, and one of the things that particularly again has really been an influence to me as a politician is to transform society.
And transforming society I think is a reorganization of community. Because I think, as you say, it starts from a smaller circle and works its way out. So certainly from that standpoint, if there are to be salvific, grace-centered institutions in our society, then they certainly have to start with the smallest level of society and work its way out.
It won’t happen on the largest levels and work its way down. So from that standpoint, yes, I do recognize that when we talk about, economically, right, things such as our food production, where we get our food from, food consumption, what sort of things we consume, when we talk about education, when we talk about a wide variety of things that affect how we live — these are — our banks, our — I could go on down the list — these are conversations I believe we need to be rethinking locally.
’Community-centric approach’ to problem solving
Which is why this whole idea — getting back to try to tie in the Democratic thing — this whole idea that party platforms govern and rule how we should [govern] — I don’t subscribe to that. I don’t think there is a sense that the party is giving us the answer as to how things should be run, right? There are principles that I think the party should be outlining, but the actual implementation of those principles — there needs to be something organic and free in that particular setting that is allowed to come into existence, and that doesn’t happen in a traditional, hierarchical, authoritarian type of forum. It comes in a more organic — it comes in a community-centric approach to our problem solving.
David — Thank you so much for your time, Andrae, and taking the trouble to talk to me.
My analysis of the McGary vs. Gardenhire race is here.