Editor’s note: This is the second of three interviews the Daily Herald held with the Republican congressional candidates.
When Alpine lawyer Tanner Ainge first filed to run in the special election to replace former Congressman Jason Chaffetz, many people had little idea who he was.
A newcomer to Utah politics — or any politics for that matter — Ainge has so far spent his life working primarily in private equity and venture capital industry, a career he began at a firm in Sandy after graduating from Brigham Young University. But many people didn’t even know that — only that he is the son of Danny Ainge, a former BYU basketball star and the general manager of the Boston Celtics.
“My role was to evaluate $100 million to $300 million companies in a variety of industries,” Tanner Ainge said. “And pour through all the information I could find in the industry or the company — their financial statements, identify trends and determine if we should invest that amount of money into a transaction. After the transaction is done, help build and grow that company.”
From there, Ainge went on to attend law school at Northwestern University in Chicago before working for a health care company and eventually landing back in Utah about eight months ago.
Though the only candidate in the special election’s Republican primary without previous political experience — Chris Herrod spent six years as a state representative and John Curtis is finishing out his eighth year as Provo’s mayor — Ainge does not view that as a handicap.
Neither of his opponents have experience at the federal level of politics, Ainge points out, and he has poured over hundreds, if not thousands, of company’s financial statements in his line of work.
“I know how to identify waste and cut it,” Ainge said. “I’ve done it in the business world. I’ve had to live with that pressure of, if you don’t turn a profit, you shut down. Those in government seem to think there are other options — continue borrowing money, continue printing money. So I think that coming from outside the political sphere is helpful.”
But, he said, he didn’t follow his current path in order to develop some sort of impressive political resume. He could not have foreseen Chaffetz’s sudden resignation and the opportunity of a special election, but when it happened he decided it was a good time to get involved.
“Issues that have bothered me for a very long time are our spending problem and our national debt,” Ainge said. “And, I’ve complained about it and been frustrated with career politicians not getting the job done in (Washington) D.C., so I thought it’s time for me to actually step in and see if I can’t solve this problem.”
Ainge said he has no intent of becoming a career politician.
“When you start trying to preserve power, it starts having an impact on your politics,” he said. “Specifically with spending cuts, everyone has their pet spending project, but if you go and try to tackle that and you’re concerned about being re-elected, people might threaten to withdraw support from you … and I just want to make myself immune from that.”
The financial situation at the federal level is what keeps him up at night, Ainge said, and is part of the reason he decided to forego running for a lower office before jumping into a congressional race.
“I love what’s happening at the state level,” Ainge said. “We are one of the healthiest states in the nation … for me, where I can have an impact, and where I can use my skill set, is at the federal level.”
Returning as much power as he could to the states would be one way to put his fiscal conservatism to work in Washington, Ainge said.
“States can get more done with half the resources, on our roads and bridges for example, we’re collecting a federal gas tax that, when that money comes in is sent back to the states. When we build a road in our states, but it’s using federal funds, it’s costing 30 percent more than it would if we just use state funds. That’s just one example of waste,” Ainge said.
Ainge said another priority would be tackling tax reform — something he said he looks forward to working with the Trump administration on.
“We spend way too much money and way too much time, trying to figure out the nuances of this complicated code. It should be a much more simplified process. On the personal rates, we can reduce rates across the board, and go from seven tax brackets to three, and consolidate deductions to just those that are most important,” Ainge said.
The mortgage interest deduction, the charitable donation deduction and retirement deductions are a few Ainge noted should be kept in the simplified tax code.
But, he said, the United States has the highest corporate income tax in the developed world, something he thinks keeps the country from being competitive.
“We need to keep our tax rates competitive so we can continue to be the leading economy in the world,” Ainge said.
Bears Ears National Monument is a high-profile issue in Utah right now, and like many conservative politicians, Ainge supports dramatically shrinking or even doing away with the designation of the 1.3 million acres as a national monument.
Ainge called former President Barack Obama’s designation of the acreage a national monument a “dramatic overreach and abuse of executive power.”
“The Antiquities Act said you are supposed to take the smallest area possible, if you are going to protect it,” Ainge said, referring to the 1906 act that gave the president discretion to create national monuments. “And I hope that it can be rescinded or at least reduced.”
But Ainge wouldn’t stop there.
“I would introduce a bill to get an exemption for the state of Utah from the Antiquities Act,” he said. “Wyoming has received that, and so has Alaska.”
As far as the Affordable Care Act goes, Ainge said there is no doubt in his mind that it has been a failure and needs repealed and replaced.
“Regardless of how you felt about it at the time it was passed, it hasn’t panned out,” he said. “We were promised we could keep our own doctor, our own plan, and that hasn’t happened.”
Ainge said market forces, not government mandates, to enhance the choice, competition and quality of care. One tool to help that happen, he said, is the use of health savings accounts. This type of account allows someone with a high-deductible health insurance plan to save their own money tax-free for medical expenses.
If 30 to 40 percent of the market starts using HSAs, Ainge said, it would force health care providers to tell patients how much things will cost.
“If there’s two exams right now, one is $2 and one is $200, and they’re 99 percent the same, they can offer the $2 choice to those with HSAs,” Ainge said.
The Republican primary will be held on Aug. 15. The winner from that election will head to the general election Nov. 7 to face Democratic candidate Kathryn Allen and nominees from other parties.
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