Does Mia Love’s record match her tea party label?

Alexis Levinson Political Reporter
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Saratoga Springs Mayor Mia Love, a Republican candidate for Utah’s 4th Congressional District, is getting lots of attention in the conservative blogosphere as a future conservative and tea party leader. But does her record actually match the hype?

If Love wins her bid for the seat, she will make history as the first black female Republican ever to serve in the U.S. House of Representatives. Love tends to downplay this aspect of her candidacy — she said that if elected, she would try to dismantle the Congressional Black Caucus, and she told The Daily Caller in January that “Utah won’t vote for me because I’m going to stand out, they’ll vote for me because of my policies. … Washington is going to be the one that makes a big deal out of it.”

Sure enough, Washington has made a big deal out of it. She has netted support from Washington’s Republican leadership —even though she is still in the middle of a Republican primary with other candidates — with House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, Rep. Paul Ryan, Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy and Chief Deputy Majority Whip Peter Roskam all donating to Love’s campaign through their PACs.

And the national media loves her.

She has appeared on Fox News, and The Daily Caller has also interviewed her. Thursday morning, Pajamas TV posted an interview with Love, pitching it as “Find out what Mia Love has to say and see why she just might be the next star of the tea party movement.” The video was reposted in the conservative blogosphere — by National Review Online with the headline “Mia Love: Rising Tea Party Star?,” on Reason, with “You just might fall in love with Mia Love,” and on Hot Air.

But certain aspects of Love’s record have raised questions about her tea party credentials.

The Salt Lake Tribune reported that during Love’s tenure as a city councilwoman and as mayor, property taxes rose and the city’s budget increased substantially.

In 2007, 2008 and 2009, as a member of the city council, Love voted for budgets that increased property taxes. From 2007 to 2008, property tax rates increased by 116 percent. From 2008 to 2009, they went up another 21 percent, and another 13 percent in 2010.

The result was a $792,000 deficit from 2008 to 2009, coming off a $315,000 surplus in the previous year. In fiscal year 2009-2010, spending almost doubled from $8 million to $14.59 million, and Saratoga Springs ran a deficit of $2,585,000.

Love explained in a phone interview to The Daily Caller that these changes were necessary because of the collapse of the housing market.

In 2008, she explained, the city was making money off of building permits, “and there was a surplus because there was so much growth. … The property tax was so incredibly low that when the housing market dropped we had a huge budget shortfall,” Love said.

Originally, Saratoga Springs had no municipal tax and a minimal property tax, because when it “was incorporated in ‘97, the city had two state roads, 1,000 residents, no public safety, nothing,” Love said.

“In 2008, the housing market dropped, and those building permits, what we were collecting in 2008 went back to the same amount we were collecting in ‘97, except the difference is we had 17,000 people, public safety, roads and infrastructure now,” she explained.

Love also took a salary increase when she became mayor, despite having voted for a 10 percent cut in the mayoral salary as a city councilwoman in 2008.

Love, who takes a part-time salary despite working as mayor full time, explained that this was the city council’s doing, and that it was done against her protestations.

“They wanted to give me a full-time salary,” Love explained because she was basically working full time, but using her own things.

“I used my own car, I used my own cell phone, I used my own computer, I used my own everything,” she said. “So I was finding I was going back and forth doing so much traveling from all of these other things — the city council said, ‘Hey, we want to be able to give you at least a full time salary because you’re working full time.’ And I said, ‘No, this is a service, I won’t take a full salary,’ and they said, ‘Well, ok, we’ll just barely cover your costs.’ And I still declined it, but the city council voted a small increase, and so now I take home about $800 a month.”

Tea partiers rarely find any legitimate justification for tax increases, but Love said her actions were not in conflict with tea party values.

“They’re not, because I understand what my proper role is. There is a role that government does play and that is to protect unalienable rights,” she said. The property taxes do that by paying for public safety, she added, noting that they’re still the second lowest in Utah. Even the local library, she said, is not paid for with taxes, but funded entirely through fundraising and manned by volunteers.

“I hope I’m a tea party candidate. I hope I’m everybody’s candidate. The tea party has done a lot of good for the country. And so I consider myself everyone’s candidate — my methods of fiscal discipline and limited government, I hope fits everybody,” she said.

But many of the conservative heavyweights appear to be coalescing around one of Love’s primary opponents — former State Sen. Carl Wimmer. He has earned the support of Citizens United, the Club for Growth, RedState’s Erick Erickson, Concerned Women for America and Ken Blackwell, among others. He also has the support of Utah’s junior senator, Mike Lee, a tea party stalwart.

Love dismissed Lee’s endorsement of Wimmer as meaningless, given the context.

“Mike Lee endorsed Carl Wimmer … before maps were even drawn for the congressional district, before anyone else is even in the race,” Love told TheDC in a phone interview last week.

“To me, that endorsement just said that ‘I’m helping a friend out who was there for me early on,’” she said.

The endorsements she was getting, she said, were more telling about her qualifications as a candidate because those endorsements came from people who had seen all the options first.

With that said, a nod from Lee probably means more in Utah than Love’s endorsements from House leadership, Utah-based Republican Strategist Doug Foxley said, because “Utahns by and large really don’t care what national Republican leadership thinks, they’re going to make their own decision.

It remains to be seen what Utahns will ultimately make of Love. Foxley noted that Love is still fairly untested and something of an unknown quantity. “I think she will either really take hold, or she’ll flop,” Foxley opined.

But the historic nature of her election would give her “a lot of momentum going into a race,” he said.

“If I were Jim Matheson,” he said, referring to the Democratic contender for district, a longtime house member who is surprisingly popular in the Republican state, “I would be scared to death if Mia were the Republican nominee.”

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