Former NFL QB Heath Shuler Gains House Seat

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Melissa Block talks with Heath Shuler, congressman-elect from western North Carolina. He is a "Blue Dog" Democrat: conservative on economic issues and some social issues. Shuler says he believes government should be a force to help those who cannot help themselves.

MELISSA BLOCK, host:

One of the new faces in Congress in January will be 34-year-old Heath Shuler, a conservative Democrat and businessman from North Carolina. He unseated the eight-term incumbent, Republican Charles Taylor. Shuler is new to politics. Many know him as a former college and pro football quarterback.

He joins us now from Asheville, North Carolina. Thanks for being with us.

Mr. HEATH SHULER (Democrat, North Carolina): Well, thank you for having me on the show.

BLOCK: You've talked a lot about being eager to join the Blue Dog caucus in Congress, more conservative wing of Democrats in Congress. What does that mean to you? To be a Blue Dog Democrat?

Mr. SHULER: We live in an area that has certainly a lot of interest when it comes to fiscal responsibility, and so we have to be more fiscally conservative in a lot of the choices that had been made with the taxpayer's checkbook.

BLOCK: What about on social issues? I know that you oppose abortion, oppose gay marriage, support gun rights. Does that fit in as well?

Mr. SHULER: Well, it certainly is a reflection of my district. But, you know, I think there're so many other issues that have really come to play in my district. The areas that we've really came together on is the importance of protecting our environment. And although we may disagree on some of the social issues, when it comes to the environment we've really come together.

BLOCK: Do you think that you'll end up being somewhat out of step with the people likely to be in the Democratic House leadership?

Mr. SHULER: No, you know, I've had a very good conversation with a lot of our leaders, you know, before the election and obviously now afterward. I think there's a good understanding. I think if you look at the first 100 hours in Congress that you will see that it isn't about, necessarily, the social issues. It's about protecting American families and American jobs, making sure that, you know, we increase the minimum wage and that we do things that encompass the entire nation and that will bring our nation together.

And you know, we've had enough partisan politics. We certainly don't need that withinside our own party.

BLOCK: You talked about fiscal responsibility, but a number of the things that the new House leadership is proposing are spending plans, things like, you know, making college tuition tax deductible, universal access to health insurance. All these things cost money.

Mr. SHULER: It does, but if you look at some of the earmarks, I mean, we're building bridges in Alaska to nowhere. We're suggesting building roads, even here in my own district there was a half a billion dollars to build a road to the Great Smokey Mountain National Parks. That's just irresponsible spending. We need to make sure that we provide for our children, their education and their future, make sure that we protect our country and our God's great creation, be good stewards of our land. You know, and start providing healthcare that everyone can afford, have access to affordable healthcare.

BLOCK: Will part of your agenda, do you think, mean or necessitate rolling back some tax cuts?

Mr. SCHULER: Well, I think we have to balance the budget first. I mean, we can't make any assumptions until we actually look at the checks and balances to make sure that we have the necessary funding to be able to support the programs that's necessary before we can ever even discuss about taxes.

BLOCK: How would you describe what your vision is of the Democratic Party and what it means to you to be a Democrat?

Mr. SHULER: Well, it really goes back to my heritage. Growing up here. Some of the things that my parents taught, my grandparents taught was that a Democrat helped those who cannot help themselves. I mean, if you look at all of the, a lot of the social programs that were indoctrined by the party, the Democrats have been, to be able to lend a helping hand when necessary and when needed.

That's what's made me such a strong Democrat, is because it's absolutely embarrassing that one out of every five children in America are living in poverty. We're better than that, and we've got to do better than that, and the only way we can do that is to start joining together and stop this partisan politics and start having a bipartisan support and making sure that the interest of our families, the interest of the working people in this country are met.

BLOCK: Heath Shuler, it's good to talk with you. Thanks very much.

Mr. SHULER: Well, thank you so much.

BLOCK: Heath Shuler, newly elected to Congress from the 11th District in North Carolina.

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