Morris discusses former political role
Prior to becoming a visiting lecturer for the Hart Leadership Program at the Sanford School of Public Policy, Martin Morris—Trinity ‘78—was the campaign manager and Chief of Staff for former U.S. Sen. Richard Lugar, R-In., from 1990 to Jan. 2013. While serving as Chief of Staff, Morris worked on the 1991 Nunn-Lugar Cooperative Threat Reduction Program, which is dedicated to securing and dismantling weapons of mass destruction in former Soviet Union states. The Chronicle’s Sangwon Yun sat down with Morris to discuss his role in politics and take on the modern political climate.
TC: When you were Chief of Staff for Sen. Lugar, what experiences were particularly memorable?
MM: The Nunn-Lugar project would be one. When the Soviet Union fell, Ukraine, Belarus and Kazakhstan countries became nuclear powers. And commanding control of those nuclear weapons was unknown. No one really knew nor seemed to care about how to deal with it. Rarely in American history has Congress taken the initiative, rather than the president, and this was that case. Sen. [Samuel] Nunn and Lugar wrote a bill that would finance the destruction of chemical, biological and nuclear weapons in the old Soviet Union. So it was like water going upstream. Kazakhstan is not a nuclear power now. Belarus is not a nuclear power, and Ukraine is not a nuclear power.
We then went further and started developing places where the old Soviet Union could downgrade their weaponry. The Nunn-Lugar program built a facility within Shchuchye that literally takes them apart and degrades the weaponry. Now, [with] the Syrian situation, what are we going to do if we get those weapons? One good idea—and I think Lugar would agree with it—would be to take them to Shchuchye. The United States and Russia together, with the UN overseeing it, are the two places that have the ability to take an enormous stockpile of weapons in Syria, and move it to Shchuchye where the Russians can downgrade it and make it safe.
TC: Why was Shchuchye chosen as the location for the facility?
MM: Now I have to be careful, because I’m working off recollection. The Soviets did not admit to having chemical and biological weaponry. Our CIA and some magnificent agents, one Andy Weber—he’s a true American hero. Andy would go over and meet with them. They would talk and bear hunt and do whatever they would do—drink vodka. And finally they would say, ‘Andy, we want to tell you about a place.’ Because Andy’s been constantly asking, ‘Where are the weapons?’ And they said Shchuchye.
TC: How did your role as chief of staff affect your political views?
MM: I see grey in everything. I don’t see black and white.
TC: Can you elaborate on that?
MM: Well, this is why I’m a Republican. I’m a Republican because I want everyone to prosper. And I believe that people prosper when the economy grows at a rate between 3 and 5 percent... [and] when we have small business and exports working. But I also believe in a safety net, that no American should fall underneath that. Now that will cause grey. I believe that my Democratic friends would like to redistribute wealth to help the poor, and they have a good reason to that, and I agree too. It’s just that my eye is first on the growth of the economy, but we have to have a safety net.
So I won’t sign pledges for “I’ll never raise taxes,” because that’s not how the world works. You’re in government, and you have to make it work. I’m tethered to the growth of the economy, but I’m also aware of things happen. We have recessions, even depressions. We have wars. They cost money.
TC: The Nunn-Lugar Act has been noted to be one of the most important pieces of legislation on which you worked. Can you tell us about your contributions to that piece of legislation?
MM: I saw it from the beginning. I knew that people from the left and right would say, 'Why in the world would we want to give Russia any money?' So as a politician, I had to work through that.... I was not trying to hide the issue but put it out front, and I was the mechanic who would be doing that.
Here’s an example. Let’s say you’re from the right wing on this, and you’re saying, 'Why are we doing this?' I would say, 'Well, why don’t you talk to the CIA about who’s taking apart the Russian missiles. We couldn’t even get near them, and now we’re the ones taking them apart. Our people are there looking at their technology. Isn’t that a benefit?'
With the left you would say, 'How in the world do you think we’ll ever get a handle on all this if it starts seeping out? What will happen to all those weapons at Shchuchye if we don’t destroy them?'To be very effective in public policy, most people at the pinnacle have one foot in politics and one in policy. And if you’re in a senate job, that’s what you do.
TC: What advice would you offer to student who are interested in a career in politics?
MM: Do the scholarship on the issues. When Lugar and I would get together before a campaign or before something, I would always ask, ‘What do you want to do?’ He would explain it, and then we would engage the up to the hundred people who would work for us in that direction.
I’m not seeing that so much anymore. I’m seeing people that are more inbox-outbox. Now what happens when you have inbox-outbox is you ask a politician, ‘What do you want to do?’ and they don’t know. They’ll see the bromides of their party, Democrat or Republican. They’ll go to a campaign, and the campaign will be defining the opponent. So I make him out to be the worst person in the world, and he makes me out to be the worst person in the world. The problem with that is that one of you wins. Then you have an inbox-outbox and you don’t have a reason to be there, so you might come up with “no taxes” or “the 1 percent—go get those guys.” And those are not productive. So the student of today needs to do the scholarship so that they’re able to say why they want to either hold office or affect office.