By SHELLY WILKISON
Fed up with the partisan bickering in Washington, and convinced that elected officials entrenched in the political system were partly to blame, a Liberty Hill man started an organization to clean House.
The U.S. House of Representatives to be exact.
While it may seem an overwhelming challenge, Tim Cox believes it can be done. In fact, he is so confident that he left a high-paying career as a systems designer at Dell Computers and designed a system to elect “citizen representatives” to the Congress.
“Get Out Of Our House” (GOOOH) is a grass-roots political organization founded in Liberty Hill by Cox in 2005 to replace “career politicians” in the Congress with citizen representatives committed to term limits.
“I heard a poll that 90 percent (of voters) were fed up with the bickering, too. My son said if I felt that way, why not do something about it,” Cox said. “He was right. I looked into how to solve the problem in a professional way by creating a system for it.”
Cox developed a system of grass-roots caucuses that would interview and choose candidates who agreed with their fundamental belief that congressional terms of office should be limited to two two-year terms.
“We take no position on any issue. Our only position is term limits,” he said, adding that GOOOH-backed candidates come from all parties and frequently have differing views on major issues.
Cox said he believes the Founding Fathers never intended for politicians to spend a decade or more in the Congress.
“For the first 150 years of our government, the average term was three years,” Cox said. “Now, it is 11-12 years. If after two terms, they still want to serve, they should go to another office.”
Cox said that it’s the system he is trying to change.
“We’re not saying everyone (all incumbents) are bad,” he said. “We want fair and honest competition. Yet in politics, (the system) does everything to discourage competition.”
Cox said so much money is spent to re-elect incumbents to Congress that it’s almost impossible to un-elect those who become entrenched in the system.
“It’s rigged so that is’s almost impossible to win a race and rally people,” he said.
Those who sign up for the task, like Republican Eric Klingemann of Georgetown, say the goal is worthy.
Klingemann is trying to unseat five-term congressional veteran John Carter, R-Georgetown, for a chance
to represent Liberty Hill and Williamson County.
“The process we have right now is not working,” Klingemann said. “Incumbents build their power and influence, trading ongoing promises for votes, which have forced us $16 trillion in debt.
“Imagine the vision of our forefathers, citizens came forward and represented their home districts for a period of time, then moved out of the way for the next citizen to represent, empowering the next with knowledge while the predecessor returns to his home to live under the laws in which he or she passed,” Klingemann said. “I have seen this work very successfully in the military.”
Klingemann is a native of Georgetown and owner of a small construction company there. With a background in military service and a degree in Aerospace Engineering from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point and a Master’s degree in Business Administration from the University of Texas, Klingemann started KC Commercial eight years ago. The company manages construction of water plants, electrical improvements and communication sites for public and private agencies.
Cox admits he has never spoken with Carter but believes they likely share similar political views on some issues. He said the attempt to unseat him isn’t personal — it’s just that he has been in Washington too long.
Some argue that elected officials with seniority are in better positions to do more for their constituents back home.
“We place little value on ‘political experience.’ In fact, if you judge any politician on accomplishments, even the ‘good ones’ have failed terribly,” Cox states on the organization’s website. He said the website, www.GOOOH.com, has logged more than 2.5 million visitors.
Cox says those who make the argument for experience are likely part of the system that perpetuates the re-election of long-serving incumbents. Businesses and organizations that lobby and spend money on “friendly incumbents” at campaign time influence that notion, he said.
“If we put in hundreds of citizen representatives, the chain of tenured committes goes away,” he said. “The whole seniority system would be shattered.”
Cox said if the Congress was term-limited, the result would be a more fiscally conservative government.
“I’m worried about the future of America,” he said. “When we started this (organization), the debt was $6 trillion and it’s higher today. This isn’t sustainable. We’re overwhelmed with debt.”
He said while he agrees with the principle of term limits at all levels of government, GOOOH’s
only focus is the U.S. House of Representatives. He said state governments and county governments “control their own destiny.”
“The story appeals to everyone,” Cox said of GOOOH’s mission. He said polls have shown that 70 percent of voters favor term limits for Congress.
But on Election Day, the numbers frequently tell a different story.
In North Carolina’s Republican Primary Tuesday, the GOOOH-backed candidate Richard Lynch was the second-lowest vote getter in the race for U.S. Representative District 9. He was among 11 candidates running in an open seat where more than 92,000 votes were cast.
Cox admitted that 95 percent of GOOOH candidates will lose when faced with an entrenched incumbent. He said most challengers recognize the odds when they enter the race, but are committed to the cause.
“But these people are committed to getting our country back on track,” he said. “This will work when we hit a tipping point. Something will happen to ignite the interest (in limiting terms).”
On the same day GOOOH’s candidate in North Carolina was wedged out in a crowded field of candidates, U.S. Sen. Richard Lugar, R-Indiana, was defeated after 36 years of service. The 80-year-old Republican was defeated by the Indiana State Treasurer with 60 percent of the vote.
Although GOOOH is focued on the U.S. House, the landslide defeat of the elder statesman goes to Cox’s belief that voters are growing more weary with “career politicians.”
Klingemann says the organization’s belief that a systemic change to a “citizen” congress is in line with his way of thinking.
“GOOOH provides a process where we can find a citizen selected candidate. That is so powerful and is what our forefathers intended in a Representative,” he said.
Klingemann, who has familial connections to Liberty Hill, said the GOOOH process “has been the core of my campaign from the beginning.”
Klingemann and other GOOOH candidates throughout the country responded to a 100-question survey that covered all types of issues. Cox said an individual’s answers are not that important, but the candidate must agree that once elected he or she will vote according to those documented answers.
Through a peer selection process in each congressional district, candidates are narrowed down until a single person emerges as the favorite in each of 435 districts.
Cox and his wife, a teacher at Bill Burden Elementary School, funded the organization in its inception. Members now contribute $100 each, which is used to support GOOOH-endorsed candidates across the country. He said the organization currently has about 100,000 members.
“We use our money to campaign for all of our candidates, to effect change all across the country,” Cox said, adding that the organization can contribute up to $5,000 in each race.
While Cox said party preference is not a consideration, GOOOH’s list of backed-candidates this year are primarily Republicans.
In addition to Klingemann, other candidates endorsed in Texas include Wes Riddle in District 25, Frank Kuchar in District 6, Eddie Traylor in District 10, Jane Cross in District 15, Richard Mack in District 21 and Craig Stephens in District 23. The organization has also endorsed candidates in Florida and North Carolina.
Cox, who has been interviewed by news organizations across the country, said he has not considered making a run for public office himself.
“What I do best is build systems for change,” he said. “I build the system and teach others to change things.”
Cox moved to Liberty Hill from Austin in 2004. He and his wife chose the community for its schools, and he has been an active parent volunteer in youth basketball.