Sunrise Solar founder: Politicians must ‘work hard to earn my trust back’

Michael Bastasch | Contributor

Sunrise Solar founder and president Bill Keith says he no longer trusts America’s political leaders to do what’s best for small businessmen and America. Instead he sees them caving to special interests and not honoring the pledges they made to the country.

“I don’t trust any of them anymore,” Keith told The Daily Caller News Foundation. “Someone is going to have to work hard to earn my trust back as an American small businessman, and as a citizen.”

“I want to be a patriot, I want to love my country,” he continued. “I want to stand there with my hand over my heart as I’m saying the pledge of allegiance or I’m singing the national anthem, and I want to be able to think that as I’m standing there, that I’ve got leaders in Washington that are equally interested in seeing me succeed as an American and I just don’t feel that right now.”

Keith became a sort of a poster child for American small businesses and for the solar industry because of the success of his company, Sunrise Solar, which makes solar-powered attic fans that are made with American-made parts without taking government handouts.

The Obama administration was attracted to his story, vetted Keith in 2008, and was asked him to attend a townhall meeting in Elkhart, Indiana shortly after the president was inaugurated. At the meeting, Keith stood up and asked Obama what he planned to do for small business owners like himself.

The question made Keith an idol for the solar industry and he began to be sought out for media interviews from places like ABC, and attracted him attention from both sides of the aisle as Republicans and Democrats heralded Keith’s story as an American success. Environmentalists even reached out to him and asked him for appearances at events. He also invited to many upscale political events.

“They were continually inviting me to these things called ‘advocacy days’ where they wanted me to meet with senators and congressmen,” Keith told CNN, noting how lawmakers would talk about “how I created a solar product, how it’s good for the environment, for business.”

However, now Keith feels he was just used as a political prop.

“When they invited me to these functions, it was flattering,” Keith told the DC News Foundation. “If I’ve done anything wrong it’s being a little bit naive and not realizing it seemed like they just wanted to use me.”

“They didn’t make me successful, I was already successful,” he added.

Keith has a reason to be frustrated as his business is now under threat from a recent Obama administration tariff against Chinese-made solar panels which the U.S. Customs Department accuses him of using solar cells made in China.

“To add insult to injury the White House knows I’m a small solar guy, they know me very well obviously. They didn’t even have the courtesy to send me a notice before this tariff got put into place, so I would have time to plan.”

In May, the Obama administration slapped a tariff on Chinese-made solar panels ranging from 31 percent to 250 percent, in order to protect domestic solar manufacturers from cheaper Chinese-made panels. The effort was largely pushed by large-scale U.S. solar manufacturers and was led by a german company called Solar World.

“My panels don’t contain Chinese solar cells, that’s what this whole issue is about. … I shouldn’t be part of this whole thing in the first place,” he said. “It’s only a miracle I don’t have Chinese cells because I never even knew that was an issue.”

He reached out to the White House for help nearly a month ago, got one response, but has yet to receive a concrete answer on what can be done, according to CNN.

“I’m already paying a premium for my panels, to pay anymore, kills my export business, and makes me non-competitive in the world,” he continued.

“If they hit me with a fine, I don’t know what we’re going to do,” he added. “I can’t tell you it’s going to bankrupt me, but it’s definitely going to put a knife in my back and make me wonder if I should keep going.”

Keith is also disillusioned by the cronyism he sees occurring in Washington, in particular with the government handing out loans to now bankrupt green energy companies, like Solyndra and Abound Solar. He says he reached out to the Obama administration, and Republican lawmakers as well, once news broke that both of these companies got government-backed loans, but he was ignored.

“This is a non-partisan problem. I hate to try and hang the president to out to dry because I alerted my Republican representatives as well.”

“I believe in a free market economy. You never think as quick on your feet, until you have a competitor,” Keith said. “When I found out about Solyndra getting money, I wrote emails to the White House that basically said, ‘Hey when Obama stood in front of me here in Indiana, he said at the townhall meeting, my administration isn’t going to allow for government waste, if you see a wasteful program, you let us know, and we’re going to fix it because we’re not going to waste tax dollars.'”

“It’s costing me a lot already to make my product here, when I make a profit, you’re taking 40 percent of it and then you’re taking the 40 percent tax you charge me and you’re giving it to these companies that just have political connections. It’s not right. If you’re going to give somebody a tax break, give it to me because I’m the engine that’s driving the economy right now,” he said.

With his business on the line and an election coming up, Keith only has one thing to ask of the nation’s future leaders, whoever they might be.

“Whoever gets elected, you better make a change that really helps the small businessman and don’t get out there and try to hoodwink us into thinking you’re doing it. Whether Obama wins or Romney wins, they better not lie to me like the last guy did.”

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