Although Michigan’s Rep. John Moolenaar is considered one of the quieter and less flamboyant lawmakers in the 43-member Republican "Class of ’14," the Midland-area conservative nonetheless sports a unique background for a politician: his training and first job experience is as a chemist.
"Chemistry certainly gives you a perspective on things that’s very different from what you usually find in Washington," laughed Moolenaar, who holds a degree in chemistry from Hope College in Michigan, as well as a MPA (master’s in public administration) degree from the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard.
So it was no surprise to find freshman Rep. Moolenaar tapped for the House Science, Space and Technology Committee, along with the Budget and Agriculture Committees. A fan of the space program, he believes strongly that it needs to be revived and echoed the criticism of the late Apollo 11 astronaut Neil Armstrong that the Obama administration has been lax with the U.S. efforts to reach the stars.
While working as a chemist for Dow Chemical in the '80s, the young Moolenaar got interested in politics and volunteered for the first winning campaign of Republican Bill Schuette for Congress in 1984.
"It’s important militarily that we have an investment in science," Moolenaar told Newsmax, adding that NASA can play an important role in national security. "It might be a good idea to look at giving the private sector a greater role in the space program. That’s a model we should be looking at."
Examples cited by Moolenaar as to how space technology can assist in national security were the development of unmanned vehicles and more advanced cybersecurity. In his words, "It is better for the U.S. to make advances in these areas than rely on other countries already doing the research and development on them. We need a broader vision of the future, and that means an investment in science."
But before Newsmax got the impression the chemist-congressman wanted to sink unchecked billions into science programs, Budget Committee member Moolenaar quickly said: "We’ve got to pay our debts and that means making major changes before we go off on new programs."
By major changes, he explained, "that means reform of the way spending is done and dealing with nondiscretionary spending, and that includes entitlements. Everything has to be on the table.
"I don’t think President Obama mentioned debt once in the State of the Union address. Along with reforms of the process, the American people need to make a full commitment to the cause of ending debt.
"And the president needs to make the case for why we need to do this.”
Two years later, Moolenaar worked on the staff of gubernatorial nominee Bill Lucas, the first black Republican since Reconstruction to carry the party’s banner for governor anywhere.
Bitten by the political bug, Moolenaar himself became a candidate in 1990 and he sought the state Senate seat vacated by fellow Republican John Engler to run for governor. Freely admitting "I didn’t know what I was doing as a candidate at that time," he lost to state Rep. and Engler ally Joanne Emmons.
Undaunted, Moolenaar bounced back and won a seat on the Midland City Council. In 2002, he was elected state representative and moved up to the state Senate in '10. There, he worked closely with Republican Gov. Rick Snyder in advancing several reforms, notably the historic achievement of right-to-work legislation in labor-heavy Michigan in 2012.
"I was ready to run for re-election to the Senate until [House Ways and Means Committee Chairman and 12-term GOP Rep.] Dave Camp called to say he was stepping down," Moolenaar told us, "and he made it clear he would support me."
With the strong blessings of Camp and his predecessor, Schuette (who is now Michigan’s attorney general), Moolenaar was initially considered the heir apparent, his succession to Camp as natural as that of Cardinal Ratzinger to Pope John Paul II.
But as the campaign progressed, it looked that way less and less. Multimillionaire primary opponent Paul Mitchell sunk $5 million of his own fortune in the race, and wound up outspending the state legislator 5-1.
Moolenaar focused on a "grass-roots campaign," hitting candidate forums, county fairs, Kiwanis and Lions clubs and, as one Michigan Republican quipster put it, "He’d go to the opening of an envelope."
Moolenaar defeated Mitchell 51 percent to 37 percent.
Now 53 and a father of six, freshman Rep. Moolenaar is anxious to test and shape new ideas for reform in Congress — in much the same way he did in the chemistry lab.
John Gizzi is chief political columnist and White House correspondent for Newsmax.
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