Here's a recent Q&A with Kelly, edited to clean up language and redundancies.
Who is Jesse Kelly?
I’m just a normal guy. I’m a Marine Corps vet, a businessman, I manage construction projects here in town for the family business, Don Kelly Construction.
Married, young son. Love my family, love my life, love my country, and that’s just about it. I’m a normal guy. A simple guy.
How’d you end up in Tucson?
When I got out of the Marine Corps in August of ’04, my folks had started a construction business in 2000. And they moved it down here because the ground’s frozen for six months of the year in Montana. And the family business was what I wanted to do. I love being a businessman and this is where it was, and I love the weather. After so much time in the desert with the Marines, I didn’t ever want to go back to the snow, so here I am.
So you grew up in Montana?
Born in Ohio and moved to Montana when I was 10 years old. They packed us up and moved us West. So I guess you could say I grew up in Montana.
What inspired you to go into the Marine Corps?
I just think that this is the greatest country in the world. I just think that it is. And I wanted to better myself. When I got out of high school, I went to a year at Montana State University and I hated it. Just absolutely hated it. I had a lot of growing up I needed to do, in my mind at least and I’m sure in plenty of other people’s minds as well. And I loved my country and there’s nothing that can grow you up faster than the Marine Corps. It just teaches you a lot about life and you have to grow up there. That was the direction I was going and I never considered any other service or doing anything else other than infantry in the Marine Corps. I was a recruiter’s dream, I guess. I walked in and said, “Sign me up.”
So you went to school for a year before that? What were you studying?
It was general studies, and not studying much. I was not ready for—I hated it. Absolutely hated it.
Why did you hate it?
I don’t know. Probably immaturity, to be
honest with you.
Why did you decide to get out of the Marine Corps after four years?
When I went in, I never intended for it to be a career. I was open to being surprised, but I had never intended on it being a career. They almost had me. When I was getting out, I was an NCO and they wanted me to stay. The war was still going on and they wanted me to go into military intelligence…. But they wouldn’t promise me everything I wanted. I wanted some intensive foreign language training and that kind of thing. They said maybe, possibly, and that wasn’t good enough for me at the time. And I said, you know what, I’m just gonna walk away. I still love it, I still love them, it was just time to move on to something else.
While you were in, what did you do?
Infantry. Just a grunt. I was a mortar man, out there pounding it and shooting at guys.
You were over in Iraq?
We were there for the invasion. Staged in Kuwait before the invasion, clear up to Baghdad and back.
What was that like?
It was crazy, as you might imagine. It was war. A lot of good, a lot of bad. Horrible memories and great memories from it. It’s not all bad. It’s not all that you see on the news, I can tell you that much. We were a little taken aback by the news stories we were getting. It was not like what we were seeing on the ground.
What was the difference?
Anybody who debates the merits of the war I can understand. I don’t fault anyone for that. But they really under-delivered on how happy the people were at the time.
The people of Iraq?
Yeah. We were greeted as liberators. We were. I mean, by the ones that weren’t shooting at us. It was a great thing.
So that was the difference between what you were seeing there and the perception that the news media was broadcasting.
Yeah, but I understand that it was an unpopular war.
Was it an unpopular war? I didn’t get a sense that it was unpopular during the initial invasion. I think it grew unpopular as it lingered on.
As it grew on, the American people just grew tired of war, understandably so. Every day, you’re getting casualty reports of our men and women dying over there and people get sick of it. We could see that while I was there. I was there for nine months and we could see the changes in the magazine stories and the news stories that people sent us from back home. You could start to see it creep in.
I think there were expectations, especially after the first Gulf War, you get in and you get out in under 90 days.
People had a lot of reservations about it, anyway. We didn’t have the support internationally. They didn’t find the WMDs, so all these things really make people upset. I understand that. I don’t hold any hard feelings.
What do you think we ought to do now?
I think we’re doing what we should be doing in Iraq. We’re proceeding out. We’re supposed to bring out another 4,000 troops. We’re getting out. They can handle their own business now. I think it’s time to leave.
How about Afghanistan?
We better win that war. We can’t fight it halfway. And that’s what I worry we’re about to do, is fight it halfway. Listen to the general, there are not as many troops as he wanted. Your guy, the expert on the ground, told you what he needed. It’s standard counter-insurgency operations they have to run and all that takes, really, is warm bodies. We need troops on the ground to prevent casualties. It doesn’t increase casualties. Let the villagers arm themselves, train themselves, and then we can get out of that place.
Was there a missed opportunity by not doing that sooner, back when the invasion first happened?
Possibly. I’m not Gen. Patton and I certainly wouldn’t pretend to be. There’s an argument to be made for that out there and I’ve heard that point. But hindsight is 20-20 and going forward, we need to do what’s right. We might have missed an opportunity, yes. But the bottom line is that if we fight it halfway or we yank out of the war, the Taliban will take over instantly and begin destroying that nation and it will become a terrorist haven again, to say nothing of the fact that Pakistan has nuclear weapons and they’re fragile and they’re right next door. We simply can’t afford to give up Afghanistan like that.
What got you inspired to run for Congress?
I love my country and I don’t like the direction it’s going in the very least. I know you may, but I do not and I think we are going radically the wrong way right now. I don’t blame that all on Barack Obama. Like some, I think he’s doing all the wrong things but I think this started under President Bush with these TARP bailouts and horrendous debt we are dumping on our children, with the national debt at $12 trillion dollars. Over 80 percent of GDP is unsustainable. We are bankruptcy this nation and we are spending more and spending more and we simply don’t have the money. We are broke right now and I want my son to grow up in the same America I did. Thus, I am running for Congress. I know that’s a big step from managing construction projects to run for Congress, but I feel that’s where the problem is, so that’s what I’m doing.
Was there something in particular that made you decide: This is what I’m going to do?
The stimulus bill was the final straw for me. We’re already seeing reports about the massive waste and fraud in that—over $1.5 million in this state going to districts that don’t exist. We’re already seeing it come out. We knew it would be that way. But that was just the final straw. This president and this Congress and this Senate have taken over and they expanding government. They’re expanding spending, they’re going to raise taxes, they want to tell you what kind of light bulbs you can keep in your house and what kind of health care you have to buy and that’s simply not America. America is a free country founded on freedom, and freedom may be unpredictable but it always produces the best in the nation as a whole and that’s what we need to get back to. They believe, I feel, that they can control the economy from Washington, D.C., and I believe that 300 million American people should be the ones controlling the economy.
When the whole bailout question came up in September 2008, that had a certain degree of bipartisan support. Both Republicans and Democrats believed the bailout needed to happen. What do you think would have happened if they hadn’t done the bailout?
A lot of pain and suffering. But we haven’t mitigated any of that now. We’re already over 10 percent unemployment and it’s rising, with 190,000 lost jobs last month alone. They didn’t stop or stem the tide of anything. All they did was increase the debt and we still have pain. They maybe slowed it, but they’re making it worse in the end. We are destroying the dollar right now. They are printing so much money and monetizing the debt. Maybe they stemmed the tide for a month or so, but it keeps getting worse. We were promised by this president that unemployment wouldn’t go above 8 percent. It’s at 10.2 percent. It didn’t work. That’s something they’re having a hard time even justifying right now. We know it didn’t work. The jobs are not there. We’ve already seen fraud and abuse. We need to stop it now and get back to freedom and stop spending money. Give people tax cuts. I know that’s a worn-out thing that people get tired of hearing, but it’s what stimulates an economy. Capital-gains tax cuts, corporate tax rates, income taxes—we need to be doing radical things like slashing those to give people more money in their paycheck because no one knows how to spend your money like you do. Certainly, no one in Congress, Republican or Democrat, can spend your money like you.
That was part of the stimulus—they did cut taxes.
Well, they gave a what—$400 tax credit? That’s not the kind of radical tax cuts we need. Giving a minor tax credit like that to individuals is not going to increase consumer confidence. Our society is so consumer-driven now that it’s not going to increase consumer confidence. You have to do that by expanding businesses and jobs. Businesses are not given breaks right now. Unless they’re given tax breaks, they’re not going to hire and they’re not going to expand.
Do you cut government spending at the same time?
Yes, massively. That’s the root of the problem and, again, this is a bipartisan problem. They always find a way to spend more than they take in. They always do. We need to find a way to scale that back. We need to start scaling back the bureaucracies. Government has grown too bloated, especially the federal government. I’m a big 10th Amendment guy. I want the states to make their own decisions. The federal government doesn’t get to make decisions for Arizona. The stimulus dollars we got here came with a lot of strings attached.
What are some of the areas that you’d like to see cut?
I’d like to see the bureaucracy cut by 20 percent. No question about it. And that’s all of them across the board. They’re unelected, they’re unaccountable, and that’s everyone. The EPA, the Department of Energy, all these different groups. We the voters have no access to these people, yet they’re given this regulatory power over our businesses, over our lives. The EPA right now, with this declaration by the Supreme Court that CO2 is a dangerous greenhouse gas, has the ability to run wild to regulate. We don’t necessarily need cap and trade for them to do so. We need to stop that and scale back the budget for the bureaucracy. And last but not least, we can’t forget entitlement spending. If we don’t start getting some entitlement reform in this country, we’re buried. Medicare and Social Security have a $104 trillion unfunded liability. People who are getting Medicare and Social Security right now have earned it, so that’s a big problem. They earned it. They worked their tails off their whole lives, so we can’t cut it right now. We’d better find ways to reform it and privatize it in the future. We simply don’t have the money. Social Security is about to bankrupt in 2017, Medicare in 2016, and those dates are getting closer because we’ve spent so much.
How do you go about reforming those?
That is the tough question. It starts with reforming our health-care system in this country, and not reforming it by offering a government option, which will just bankrupt the private sector. We need reform to offer individuals the same tax credits that we offer small businesses. When individuals can start owning their own insurance, then they’re in less need of Medicare in the future, thus getting off the public dole and staying on their own individual insurance. It’s one of the biggest problems that not enough people talk about right now. Individuals need to have the power of their own insurance. Otherwise, when you get fired, you do lose your insurance. Or you can’t leave jobs. I can’t leave my job today. My wife and son won’t have health insurance. It would be much better if we owned our own as a family. We need to give people the tax credits to incentivize them to purchase their own. Now there’s some of that out there, but it’s not near enough.
You could purchase your own insurance now, but it would cost a lot more money.
That’s exactly right. You need to incentivize that with tax credits so families can do that because families simply can’t afford that. Individual insurance is expensive, very expensive. And that, in turn, in the future, will help save Medicare dollars because you won’t be on the public dole and you’re phasing that out.
You’d have people, as they retire, continue to purchase their own health insurance rather than get on Medicare.
Yes. We’re talking in the future here. There’s so much that needs to be done to ever get there, and you may never get there. Ronald Reagan—my favorite, probably not yours—said the closest thing to eternal life on earth is a government program. That’s the problem with these. They only get bigger and you can’t ever get rid of them, especially now that people have earned them. People getting Social Security and Medicare checks have earned them. Now we have to pay it and we don’t have the money to pay it.
So you would look at eliminating the program over time. Not tomorrow, but eliminating it so there was no Medicare in the future and people would be responsible for taking care of their own health-care bills as they grew older.
Yes. But to say you’re going to do that instantly would be disingenuous and not realistic and not fair to the people who have earned it.
Same sort of thing with Social Security? Work toward eliminating it?
If you have any ideas on that, I’m all ears. I would love to eliminate the program. I’d love to take steps to let people opt in and opt out of it. Privatize it. The trust fund, as you know, is bankrupt. It’s not there anymore.
When you say privatize, do you mean you’d still pay Social Security taxes but you’d have the option of paying some of it into a private account that could be invested into the stock market?
Yes. I do think that’s a good idea. Now people may say, “Some people don’t know how to invest their money in the stock market.” And that may be true. But we don’t know that the individual can or can’t invest their own money wisely. We know the government cannot. They’re bankrupted it. They’ve ruined it. They didn’t invest anything. They took our money and spent it and now they don’t have it to give it back. They didn’t invest it in anything. They blew it.
What about military spending? Do we need to cut back on that?
Boy, that’s the question, isn’t it? Right now, it’s hard to cut back on that because we’re still engaged in two wars overseas. No, we don’t need to cut back on that. The military spending levels need to be maintained and, in some areas, actually increased because we can’t be cutting our missile defense as we’re doing right now. That didn’t just protect the Czecks and the Poles. That protected the continent of the United States from long-range missiles from Iran. We certainly cannot violate treaties like we’ve just done with the Czecks and the Poles. It’s not good. We’re alienating our friends and trying to befriend our enemies right now. I don’t care for a president apologizing for our country overseas and calling our nation arrogant. We’re far from perfect as the United States of America, but we’re close to it. We have helped more people in this world than any other nation ever has and we don’t have to apologize for anything. Apologizing for the United State to Egypt, which would be a German country today had it not been for the blood of American troops, is unacceptable. And we need to stop dancing around the issue on Afghanistan. We need an answer. The general on the ground called for troops in August. Make a decision. We need you to be a leader. Make the right decision.
Are there other areas besides regulatory agencies you like to see cut at the federal level?
Federal education spending. The federal government does not need to be influencing the states in any way on how they educate. States can and should handle that on their own. But as far as other cuts: I don’t know.
There’s a lot of talk that state Sen. Jonathan Paton may get into the race. One of the things that you’ve said is that you felt like you had to run because nobody else was stepping up. If he were to step up, would you say, “Maybe I don’t need to do this anymore?”
Absolutely not. We’ve come too far, worked too hard. Now we are the most qualified candidate, period. I am the one who can and will beat Gabrielle Giffords. If the senator wants to get in this race, by all means, the water's warm. Jump right in. I hope he's ready for battle. All that means is that I'll beat him before I beat Gabrielle Giffords.
What do you feel makes you more qualified than him?
For one, I’ve been running for Congress for 10 months. No. 2, we've done that before. We've run the safe politician that made sense from the state Legislature before. The American people are tired of that now. They want somebody new. The biggest benefit I have is that I'm not a politician. That's what qualifies me more. I’m not a politician, period. I love my country, I’m running for it, I believe in the Constitution of the United States.
You sent out an op-ed the other day expressing concern about big-government Republicans and how we don’t need any more big-government Republicans. Would you put Sen. Paton in that category?
That I don’t know. I would have to examine his record on that. I would have to see what Goldwater and all those other groups have to say about him. I’ve not combed through Sen. Paton’s records. I haven’t been running against Sen. Paton, but now maybe I’ll have to. I don’t know. But I do know that the American people are sick of big-government politicians. That’s Republicans and Democrats. That’s another bi-partisan thing. Just get out of our way and out of our lives. The American people can recover this nation. The American people can. No government can.
You disappointed at the expansion of government by the Bush administration?
Oh, yes. Very disappointed. Look, I’m a Republican because what I believe in most closely aligns itself with the Republican Party. But I am not a party hack, I am not a party guy. I love my country, period. And I’ll work with anybody—Democrat, Republican, anybody—who wants to come to me and expand freedoms and move that way. And anyone who wants to grow government, violate the Constitution, has no place with me. None whatsoever.
How long have you been a Republican?
In Arizona? Just recently I switched back to being a Republican. Now when I was 18, I registered Republican. I’ve been one my whole life. But when I got out of the Marine Corps in August of ’04, I was none too pleased with the Republican Party and how they were growing government, violating the Constitution and I didn’t like it, so I just registered as party not declared when I got down here. That was my own little “cross my arms and step aside and I’ll show you” thing to try to step away from politics and ignore it. And it didn’t do anything. It did absolutely no good whatsoever. It did no good for the country and it did no good for me. So I came back and wanted to change it from the inside.
Congresswoman Giffords has been a pretty strong opponent of the Rosemont Mine. Where are you on that?
I have absolutely no idea. I haven’t been out there yet. I’ll tell you where I am at on it: I don’t want the federal government involved in a mine in Southern Arizona. I don’t care if you’re a congressperson or the president of the United States, I do not acknowledge your authority to have any say-so in that mine, period. Whether you’re for it or against it. If you’re asking me personally, I don’t know. I still have to go out and take a tour of the mine. I still have to talk to the Save the Scenic Santa Ritas group.
The federal government is involved because they want to use federal land as part of their operation. The company is coming to the federal government and asking to use their land.
Why does a congresswoman care about what’s going on there when the local politicians and local officials can handle that? Why is she sticking her nose in that, when we have all the business in the world to take care of right now with the government, and she cares about a copper mine in Southern Arizona? The people will decide that, the local politicians will decide on that mine, period. I don’t like it that the land is federal land. I think that land should belong to the state of Arizona. Now, it doesn’t, and it is the federal government’s land. And they do have to go to the federal government to get permission to use it. And as result, the federal government is involved. I understand that. None of that should be involved.