Editor’s Note: The Interview took place via zoom on 1/20/22.
Garrit: Can you introduce yourself?
Mark: Sure, my name is Mark Cuthbert. I’m running for House District 122. I was born and raised in the south side of Chicago to working-class parents. I was admitted to a great university with hard work, grit, and a little bit of luck, but I couldn’t afford it. I was lucky that the United States decided to invest in me through an ROTC scholarship. I graduated from the University of Chicago with a double major in physics and math. September 11th happened my senior year, and the next thing you know, I’m stationed with the 101st Airborne and deploying with them to Iraq. In 2005, I was based in Tikrit (Saddam’s hometown) and did my military service for a couple of years. When I got out, I went and got my MBA from Harvard. I was then a consultant at a top management consulting company for almost ten years—working with CEOs and boards on their primary strategic and business initiatives. I then decided to work at USAA—I wanted to get back to my military roots and support the military family community. I’m a senior executive there and excited about our work for military families. I’ve been involved in Republican politics for a long time. I started 15 years ago working on a presidential campaign. I was precinct chair for almost ten years and have worked on many campaigns over the years. I then decided it was time for me to serve in a new way, and when the position opened up, I looked at my wife and said, “you know, I’m concerned about the future of the state of this country. What’s going to happen with my four boys—we’ve got triplets?” So, I decided to put my money where my mouth is and get into the race.
Garrit: How did you end up in Texas?
Mark: I decided to move here. My father died while I was in service, my sister was killed while I was deployed, and my mom was alone. So, she wouldn’t leave Illinois. So, when I got out of business school, we moved back to Illinois to be close to her. I just got fed up with Illinois. The taxation and the politics were just too much. I decided it was time to leave, and I convinced my mom to move to Texas.
Garrit: What are the takeaways from moving from Illinois to Texas?
Mark: Well, today is the coldest day of the year—this would be a balmy spring day in Illinois. So, the weather is fantastic out here. The people are just amazing. The caring, the giving, and the openness is a breath of fresh air. Things work down here. There’s a vast difference between a state working and on the rise versus a state that wants to climb. You can feel it in the air, you can feel it in interactions with others, and you can feel it when you’re dealing with local businesses. It feels so much better. We love it here, my kids love it, and we have so much fun here. We’re outdoorsy, so we’re able to get out and do stuff. It’s a fantastic place.
Garrit: How do you think your experiences will transfer over to the State House?
Mark: So, my background growing up in a working-class area and my time in the military taught me how to work with, interact with, and support a full spectrum of people. I think that’s a skill set that I picked up both from my upbringing and the military that many don’t get an opportunity to do. Then I have my business experience. I’ve worked with CEOs and boards on major policy-level topics. So, I think I understand the Texas economy and our broader business environment uniquely and rarely. I’ve worked with Fortune 100 companies on location strategies and where they will move their people. So, from a senior top business leader’s perspective, I understand what they are looking for in a state and what makes us stay competitive.
Garrit: What exactly is your political philosophy?
Mark: I’m a conservative, and I believe the American dream that I partook in is unique in the history of the world. The free-market economy, our culture of civic engagement, and our approach to the balance of powers have kept government out of our lives and allowed us to take that big, deep breath of freedom. When I see government overreach, increasing regulation, ruinous taxation, and busybodies who have the desire to control people’s lives for no other reason than they have a call to power, it frustrates me. This is not what I fought for. That’s not the country that I want to live in. So, I joke that I’d love to get all the power and leave everyone alone. Let people live the lives they want to live, get the government out of their lives, provide the necessary services, and give a lending hand to help someone stand up, but don’t smother them in government programs where they can never step out on their own. Don’t introduce programs that aren’t necessary. The role of government is to provide basic infrastructure, provide a helping hand, and get out of people’s way.
Garrit: The district you’re running in has been represented by Lyle Larson for a while. Now, I don’t know exactly where you stand on Lyle Larson, but he garnered a reputation as being “Liberal Lyle Larson.” He is one of the most moderate Republicans in the State House. So, are you more in the mold of Lyle Larson, or are you going to be in the mold of one of the more conservative State Representatives?
Mark: So, what I liked a lot about Lyle—and I hear when I’m out knocking on doors—is the constituent services he provided. He was accessible. He was responsive. He lent an ear and was there for his district if people had an issue. I hope to be able to model myself after those constituent services and just how he’s approached serving his community. Now, I am more conservative than Lyle. So, when it comes to legislation, I will be more conservative than Lyle has been—particularly in the last couple of years.
Garrit: Would you vote for Dade Phelan for Speaker?
Mark: I would.
Garrit: Okay. So, there are four people in this race—including you. Why should the people of District 122 support you over anybody else?
Mark: So, I do believe I’m a conservative. The people of my district tell me that they’re craving for a stronger conservative voice in the House. Also, I’m a military veteran, and this is a hefty veteran community. San Antonio is not called “Military City, USA” for no reason. A lot of that military community does live in the district. A considerable number of people whose doors I knock on have served, their spouses served, their kids have served, or their parents have served. A veteran in a long time hasn’t represented us, and I think it’s time for this community to be represented by someone with shared lived experiences. Additionally, I don’t know if it’s the biggest employer; my employer is one of the big players in the district. So, I think the necessary aspects differentiate me from the others, and I think it’s resonating in the district.
Garrit: What is your top priority if you’re elected?
Mark: Without a doubt, the most significant concern of my district is border security. At almost every door we knock and every phone that we call, border security is the number one issue. People speak to the profound human tragedy occurring there—whether it’s sexual assaults, sex trafficking, kidnapping, drug smuggling, or the deaths of people crossing the border. It is just a human tragedy that’s unfolding in front of our eyes, and many don’t want to look at it. My district wants to fix it, and they want human trafficking to go away. I was talking to a voter who owns a private investigation company, and they said, “100% of their contracts are missing persons from people who’ve been trafficked across the border.” It’s outrageous, and it needs to be addressed without a doubt.
Garrit: Yeah. I hear from even people, even some Republicans, that the border issue is one that Texas really can’t fix because the border is federal land. They argue that Texas doesn’t have much authority over the border with Mexico. Do you agree with that?
Mark: As far as I know, there’s no federal land touching the border. Now, there is state land and private land. So, I do believe that Texas can do it. There’s something we can do. Texas does not own the land. Ranchers and others can invite the state in. I think it’s an opportunity for limited eminent domain use to provide a secure border.
Garrit: One of the issues you talk about on your website is “better government.” What do you think are some of the problems we have with our government here in Texas?
Mark: That’s a good question. You know, the role of special interests, lobbyists, mainly revolving door and taxpayer-funded lobbyists, is an issue that needs to be addressed. We also have this dynamic where the state’s business isn’t getting fully done and moving into multiple special sessions. I don’t think that’s good government. We need to get the state’s industry done in its defined period. We need an actual citizenship legislature. If you’re going to have people in session all year, then you got to treat this like a full-time job. I don’t think any of us want our politicians to be full-time.
Garrit: Do you think Dade Phelan is blamed for having multiple special sessions?
Mark: You know, I’m not close enough to know what exactly happened. I think only people in the legislature probably truly understand all the dynamics there. I don’t want to assume knowledge that I don’t have. Whether it was the agenda-setting or the Democrats, I think there’s a lot that went into that. It’s an area that we should focus on.
Garrit: Another issue you talk about is “community investments.” What do you mean by that?
Mark: Yeah. So, a study came out that said, “Bexar County is going to increase in a million residents between now and 2040.” That’s almost a 50% increase in the number of people that are going to be living in Bexar County. A good chunk of that will be in my district. I know a couple of things: we can remain in Texas and remain in San Antonio and digest a million additional people in this county. I know we can’t do that with our current infrastructure. Now, luckily, that million is only going to be about 500,000 housing units—because half of that will be families and kids. That means we will have to have 500,000 additional desks and chairs in schools to incorporate those new children. That means we’re going to have to have 500,000 additional housing units, and we’re only creating about 22,00 to 23,000 a year right now. That is not on pace to be able to digest that growth. Our San Antonio water company has 13,000 miles of sewer and water mains. Each foot of additional sewer and water is very expensive. So, how are we focusing our capital plan to provide water to increase growth? There’s also the issue of power production. Our CPS, which provides power to a large part of my district, is under considerable stress. They had difficulties last year during the snowstorm. They’re having a problem with some of their plants. Are they going to have enough power production to support an additional million residents? So, San Antonio is not unique. That level of growth is expected in Austin, Dallas, and Houston. I know one of the focuses in the next legislature will be a state infrastructure plan—so I heard. I think it’s high time we did that. So, I want to be part of an intelligent view around how we’re incorporating our areas’ natural and significant growth to balance our infrastructure needs.
Garrit: What are your thoughts on abolishing property taxes?
Mark: There is a three-legged stool for funding government services—there’s the income tax, a consumption tax, and a property tax. I am not for an income tax period. The debate around the property tax, I think, comes in a couple of areas. Can we reduce spending so that the abolition of the property tax isn’t painful? Can we increase consumption taxes to make up for the lack of property taxes? I’m very much in favor of doing what we can to increase the efficiency of government services. That’s where I want to focus first. When we get to a point where we have a line of sight to eliminate the property tax, I’m happy to entertain that conversation. But we’re far from that position right now. I’m not supportive of a gigantic consumption tax—I think that hurts those that are in deep need, it’s very volatile, and It’ll make it very hard to balance budgets from year to year.
Garrit: You have made “prioritizing life” an issue of your campaign. What are your thoughts on the Heartbeat Bill?
Mark: This is a heavily charged subject for many people, but I am pro-life. Keep in mind that I have four kids, including three triplets who were born very premature—as triplets often are—so I’ve seen firsthand the advances of medical science, the neonatologist, the incubation chambers that they have to keep those children alive. When a child has a heartbeat, it’s hard to argue that they aren’t alive. It’s hard to say that they aren’t human beings. There’s a lot of debate around this, but at the end of the day, if it’s got a heartbeat, then it’s alive, and we should protect it.
Garrit: Some lawmakers in the House would like to see the total abolishment of abortion. Do you think that we should stick with the Heartbeat Bill, or do you think we should go to the extent of abolishing abortion?
Mark: Well, I am pro-life. I come from the Catholic faith, and I believe that life begins at conception. We may have some exceptions, like with the mother’s health, but life is generally a life.
Garrit: Whenever we talk about abortion, there is another conversation about gender modification surgery on children. What are your thoughts on that whole issue?
Mark: You know, we have a legal difference between a minor and an adult for a reason. We as a society have decided at the age of 18, you are an adult, and you can make choices for yourself. Before that, you’re not an adult. So, I am not in favor of any kind of permanent or significant change to a minor before they’re the age of 18. When they’re a free adult, they can do what they want. We need to provide an environment for minors to develop and grow. When they become adults and can make fully informed decisions, they can do what they want to do. But I’m not for significant permanent life changes for children.
Garrit: What role has your faith played in your life?
Mark: It’s been interesting. I was raised Catholic. I went through all the sacraments and was confirmed. There was a period when I didn’t attend church. I wasn’t really engaged with the Catholic Church in any way. I realized that, at one point, most of my friends had been Catholic. My girlfriend at the time, now my wife, was Catholic. It all caused me to step back and reevaluate why I attached myself to many people who had a similar faith-based upbringing. It caused me to go deep into the teachings of the Catholic Church and theology. As an adult, I now have a deep understanding of the Catholic Christian that I didn’t have when I was in grade school. I have developed a deep appreciation for the theology. That’s what really reignited my Catholic faith, and we’ve brought that to my kids. So, it informs how I think and my way of life.
Garrit: The 2022 election cycle is shaping up to be very interesting. One of those races would be the governor’s race. That’s been heated, and I just wanted to know if you have any thoughts on the governor’s race?
Mark: You know, I’m focused on my race for the most part. I am working full-time juggling a family and executing a campaign. I’m excited that we’ve got choices. I’m supporting Abbott, but I’m focused on my campaign and the issues facing District 122.
Garrit: What has been the reaction to your campaign?
Mark: Oh, fantastic! If I understand it correctly, this district has one of the highest Republican turnouts in the state. This is a smart district, and it’s an engaged district. People are aware of the issues. People are aware of the candidates well before I expected them to be, and I get a lot of tough questions and support at the doors. As I mentioned, the veteran aspect resonates with people. My story resonates with people. Just making that personal connection has been influential. So, I’m excited about where we’re at and what we see in the district.
Garrit: Do you have any, anything else you’d like to say, as we end the interview,
Mark: I want to thank you for taking this time to interview me. I’m really passionate about what we can do for this district. I’m excited about this and the future ahead of us. I’m excited to see what the next 10-20 years bring to this district because the people are hungry. They’re ready to work hard, and they want to grow. We’re going to do pretty amazing things, and I’m hopeful that I can be one of their community leaders as we march down this path of progress. I’m excited about where we’re headed.
Editor’s Note: Check out Mark Cuthbert’s website at cuthbertfortx.com.