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."
Outside the Montgomery County Courthouse, about 100 people gathered nonetheless to denounce the U.N. and praise Michael New as a hero. The rebel medic wasn't there, but his father was, and everywhere Michael's name has appeared, his father's has not been far behind. Daniel New has become a spokesman for his son. He's received hundreds of phone calls and letters of support, he said, and has been interviewed, mostly for radio, more than a thousand times. The John Birch Society, veterans groups, citizen militias -- "everyone wants to turn Michael New into a cause for whatever," Daniel New said, "but we're not interested in him being a cause for anything but the Constitution and national sovereignty."
And of course, his daddy. When Fields decided he'd rather stay home with his family in Humble than run for Congress again, Daniel New happily joined the race to replace him. "It's time for a 'New' voice in Washington," his pamphlet reads. The first paragraph speaks of the plight of Michael New; the second gives credit to Daniel New for making the case a national issue.
"I'm not a professional politician. I'm not a millionaire," he said. "I'm just a patriotic American, thinking this through as we go."
Fred Watt said the nice thing about Daniel New is he can disagree with you without being disagreeable. "What he means is, I'm big enough to beat him up, but I haven't done it yet," New explained. And, oh, they have some fierce debates, they said. Late at night, they've been up arguing which way the watermark should go on the stationery, and whether you should say nine o nine when you give the address, or nine zero nine.
" 'O' is a letter, and zero is a number," Watt said with authority.
"What are you writing that down for?" New said to the reporter.
"Oh, let him," said the campaign manager. ''That's the human-interest part."
Okay, then, serious business. What kind of funding do you have?
New reached into his pocket and counted his change -- $1.58. "Wait, I've got some," said Watt, and added $1.23.
Yeah, they were joking, but not by much. And they're not going into debt on this campaign, either. Drawing the line right here on deficit spending. It's going to be one of those grassroots campaigns.
So what will you tell the people, Mr. New? What is it you have to offer this country?
Well, he said, he's not really a conservative but a "constitutionalist" -- a protector of the Constitution everywhere except where it costs him money. This means he'd like to see a constitutional impact statement required on all proposed legislation, and he'd like to see the income tax repealed, and he'd like to see that bill passed making it illegal to force American soldiers to serve the U.N. And that's about it.
"We're working on developing a platform," the candidate said. "You can read the Republican Party platform, and I agree with most of it."
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The conversation could have ended there, but New was still talking. He began warning of the New World Order. There's no secret conspiracy to take over this country; it's being given away as a matter of public policy, he said. Gorbachev's out there right now closing U.S. military bases. He couldn't remember where he heard it, but he was sure it was a reliable source. Then it was back to the United Nations. He said the U.N. is not intrinsically evil, that he could understand the need for nations to come together, debate and seek mutual goals. But this bit of clarity only muddied the waters. If he accepted that much, why was he so terrified of the U.N.?
The candidate didn't know how to answer. "I want to get this right," he said, and for his position on the U.N., the candidate turned to his campaign manager. Alas, Watt couldn't really help. Finally, they cobbled together the statement: "It is the goal of the United Nations to govern a one-world government." Which answered the question of "why" about as completely as ''because."
It would have to do. Daniel New stuck his pipe back in his mouth and looked thoughtful. He has little funding, not much of a platform, few ideas and he doesn't want to argue about it. But he will tell you about his boy.
"What stronger message can the voters of District 8 send," the candidate said, "than the father of Michael New to Congress while Michael New is court-martialed?