By Camilo Smith
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By Sean Pendergast
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The candidate was very clear on at least one position, and that was his position on location. He certainly knew where he was.
What you do is take the third Conroe exit, weave your way onto Lewis Street and begin looking for the house with pink-and-green trim and the sign out front. And when you see the words "Off the Wall," you'll know you're at the headquarters of Daniel New's campaign for Congress.
"Let me ask you," he said to his visitor, "do you plan on interviewing all the candidates -- or just the human-interest candidate?"
New stood on the porch, smoking a pipe, a large, round man with a handlebar mustache. His campaign manager, Fred Watt, used to run a business here, and even though Off the Wall has gone under now, the sign advertising "unusual stuff" still remains true. Among the six Republicans vying to replace the retiring Jack Fields in the 8th Congressional District, Daniel New stands out. It isn't just his pipe, or his lack of political experience, or his faint resemblance to Lech Walesa. New is the human-interest candidate simply because his only claim to fame, as he has said, is to have "spanked the bottom of what some people call an American hero."
He still can't believe that was his boy, the Army medic who refused final orders to join a United Nations peacekeeping mission. Michael New created quite a stir last October and made his papa proud. Now, as one awaits a possible bed in prison, the other hopes for a seat in Congress.
"The whole concept of running for office is inspired by his example of leadership," said Daniel New. "What sort of father would I be if I left him standing out there alone?"
The candidate walked inside his headquarters then, and sat down on the other side of the room. When his visitor got up to sit closer, New scooted his chair away. His pamphlet declares "Daniel New will be THE STRONGEST VOICE in Congress," but he admitted he really doesn't like confrontation.
"I don't know if you had that impression," he said, "because I'm kind of a big, ugly guy."
He said he was raised to be proud of his country, and he couldn't recall ever not thinking of the U.N. as a national threat. That's how he and his wife, Suzanne, have raised their own children. After settling in Conroe in 1974, New supported his family with a landscaping business. He gave it up about five years later to join a Dallas organization called the Summer Institute of Linguistics. Affiliated with Wycliffe Bible Translators, the institute's basic mission is to take the translated message of Jesus Christ into the jungles. The News received their training and went abroad for ten years, saving heathens where they found them -- in the Philippines, in New Zealand, in Papua New Guinea.
In 1990, Daniel New returned to Conroe with seven children ("My vision of social security") and no desire to plant bushes. Whether he taught the natives anything about his god, they certainly taught him a new view of private enterprise. "One thing I learned in Papua New Guinea," he says, "money is not the source of happiness, and I don't need a lot of it."
Instead of a landscaper, then, New began calling himself a landscape consultant -- a euphemism, he admits, for "semi-retired." The work, or lack of it, left him with plenty of time, which led him to run last year for a seat on the board of Conroe Independent School District. His wife has taught their children at home for 13 years now, but New didn't see this as an obstacle to a school board campaign. He told voters there's too much multiculturalism and environmentalism being taught in the schools and not enough basic history and science. He told them he's willing to save their schools but not willing to sacrifice his own children there. Voters told him to stay home.
That's basically where he was last August, when Michael New began waving what his folks taught him about the Constitution in the faces of his officers, his president and the entire country. Ordered to deploy on a U.N. mission to Macedonia, Michael New refused, on the grounds that he couldn't lawfully be made to serve under a foreign commander.
The stand of a home-schooled, 22-year-old Conroe soldier caused all sorts of posturing among the middle-aged men of Capitol Hill. Some conservatives held a rally, demanding President Clinton provide constitutional authority for lending American troops to the United Nations. Tom DeLay, the congressman from Sugar Land, didn't wait for an answer before sponsoring a bill to prohibit such deployments. Representative Sam Johnson of Dallas rose to say that the issue was whether the United States wanted to be a free country or a nation under world control.
One of the few Republicans to speak against Michael New's decision was the soldier's own congressman. "Where we disagree," said Jack Fields, "is on the question of who decides when and where troops are deployed -- the commander in chief, whoever he might be, or individual soldiers themselves. The Constitution and more than two centuries of military history answer that question unambiguously."