By Nick HIldebrand
Herald News Editor/Weekends
NORTHWEST PA. —
U.S. Rep. Mike Kelly likens his re-election campaign to selling cars, the business he’s been in his entire adult life.
“The first time you sell somebody a car, it’s usually on price. The next time they come back to see you it’s if you serviced them in the right way,” Kelly said in a recent interview.
Kelly, 64, Butler, won the Third District seat in 2010 after voters bought his message that government was too big and too intrusive, was spending more than it brought in and loading up future generations with debt.
Nearly 23 months after he took office, little to none of that has changed, but it’s not for a lack of trying, Kelly says. One of the so-called “tea party freshman” that helped the GOP take charge in the House, Kelly has been a supporter of that movement’s small government, socially conservative agenda.
As a result he has cast hundreds of votes with the majority for bills that have gone nowhere. Kelly blames that on the Democratic-controlled Senate and a president he said is unwilling to yield or lead.
A case in point, Kelly said, is the budget. The federal government has been operating for three years now without an approved budget because the House and the Senate can’t agree on a spending plan. A series of continuing resolutions have kept departments funded, but Kelly said the lack of a long-term blueprint would be unthinkable in the real world.
Kelly, whose frustration over the situation he calls “bizarre” is palpable, supported a House budget crafted by vice presidential candidate Rep. Paul Ryan that cuts discretionary spending and includes a controversial voucher plan for future Medicare recipients that Senate Leader Harry Reid refused to put to a vote.
“We got a lot done. There’s a lot we could of got done. It’s impossible to pass it in the House and get it through the Senate,” he said.
He rejects the idea that Republicans won’t work with President Obama, who he said hasn’t put members of his own party on the spot.
“I don’t mind being held accountable but let’s make sure we get both the offenses in the room at the same time and tell them what they need to do for the team to win,” Kelly said.
Politics is a second job for Kelly, who identifies himself as a businessman, not a congressman, and eschews the beltway mentality.
“They think all the answers are going to come out of Washington and they’re not. They’re going to come out of the private sector,” Kelly said.
The owner of Mike Kelly Automotive – a large Butler car dealership started in the 1950s by his father that sells Chevrolets, Kias and Hyundais – he is one of the wealthiest members of Congress with a net worth estimated at $30 million or more.
The lion’s share of Kelly’s fortune came from natural gas. He and his wife Victoria made between $10 million and $50 million last year when they sold their shares in a pair of natural gas and oil companies founded by her family.
That windfall has led some to criticize Kelly for his legislative support for natural gas and other fossil fuels. Kelly makes no apologies for either his wealth or his advocacy for using what “God has given us.”
“What is it these people would like me to see me in? Of course I’m going to be a champion of natural gas in western Pennsylvania. We’ve got a chance to create 2 million jobs,” he said. “Who the hell wouldn’t be a champion of natural gas? Who wouldn’t be a champion of coal? Who wouldn’t be a champion of oil?”
Kelly said those domestic energy sources, along with tillable soil and potable water, are keys to reviving the economy. The biggest stumbling block to moving forward on the fossil fuel front, he says, is the Obama administration and its push for alternative energy.
“I’m all in favor of things that make sense for the environment and I think we can do it, but when you start shutting down coal-fired power plants ... We’re shutting down communites now. We’re not just shutting down power plants,” he said.
In his first term, Kelly has made a name for himself in the national media. Before he took his oath of office he was a guest on CBS’s “Face the Nation” and he’s become a regular fixture on Fox News.
Most of the time he’s offering up his perspective on investigations conducted by the House Government Oversight and Reform Committee into a variety of hot button issues, including the Fast and Furious gun-running program, Solyndra, Obamacare’s contraception mandate and the Sept. 11 attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya, that claimed the life of the American ambassador and four others.
A few of Kelly’s “rants” have gone viral, including an August speech on the House floor decrying regulation that earned him a rare standing ovation. A few weeks later, his remarks comparing the contraception mandate to Pearl Harbor and Sept. 11 created a different kind of stir. Kelly is deeply opposed to both the health care law and its requirement that employer-provided insurance plans cover contraceptive devices even when the employer is religiously opposed. Kelly rejected calls to apologize.
“I’m never going to be on the defensive. I’m always going to be on the offensive,” he said.