He's facing an unexpected primary challenge from an ex-lawman who believes Smith has little regard for the U.S. Constitution--and who plans to use those bills as a lever to pry his opponent out of a congressional seat he's occupied since 1987.
Richard Mack, an Arizona sheriff who retired to Fredericksburg, Texas, is a self-described "constitutional conservative" with a long history of supporting causes close to the hearts of Republican primary voters, including states' rights, individual rights, and Second Amendment rights.
Because Smith heads the House committee charged with writing copyright law, he's become Hollywood's favorite congressional Republican. The TV, movie, and music industries are the top donors to Smith's 2012 reelection committee, according to data complied by the Center for Responsive Politics, and Smith endorsed a 2002 proposal allowing Hollywood to hack into the PCs of Americans suspected of illicit file sharing.
Mack is hoping to convince Texas Hill Country voters that Smith is looking out for Hollywood rather than the interests of average Texans in the primary, which is tentatively scheduled for April 3, but is likely to be delayed because of an ongoing legal battle over redistricting. It will be a formidable task: Smith has $1.3 million in the bank to fund his reelection.
Mike Asmus, the campaign manager for Texans For Lamar Smith, sent CNET a statement saying: "A lifetime Texan and lifelong Republican, Lamar Smith enjoys a successful history of keeping the trust and support of the people of the 21st District as their conservative voice in Congress." Asmus noted that Smith is well-regarded by the NRA and the American Conservative Union, and that he suspended consideration of SOPA after last month's widespread protests, but didn't respond to questions about the Internet surveillance bill.
CNET interviewed Mack, who filed a lawsuit that led the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn parts of the 1993 Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act, yesterday about his efforts to unseat the influential House Judiciary chairman. Below is the transcribed interview, lightly edited for space.
Q: How much money have you raised thanks to the Internet and your anti-SOPA position?
Mack: There's no question that the SOPA craze has increased the frequency of our donations. And we're just barely tapping into it. So far I'm very encouraged by it.
Are you getting any other type of help from the anti-SOPA Internet activists?
Mack: They're working on my Web site. They're working on Twitter and Facebook for me. There's no question that SOPA has really given our campaign a shot in the butt.
You moved from Arizona recently. Why do you think you can win an election in Texas?
Mack: I've done a lot of work in Texas over the years that I've been an activist. One of the reasons that I moved here is that I've spent so much time here.
We fell in love with Fredericksburg and we decided to move out here. I think if you're going to stand for state sovereignty and state independence, there's no better place than Texas.
Are you a Tea Party Republican? A Ron Paul Republican? A libertarian Republican? How do you identify yourself?
Mack: I've spoken at over 120 Tea Parties around the country, so Tea Party Republican would be very accurate. Constitutional conservative would be very accurate.
Have you found many voters in the 21st congressional district in Texas saying they support Lamar Smith on SOPA and H.R. 1981? Not one of the four GOP presidential candidates does.
Mack: This whole thing smells of special interests. Certainly his connection with Hollywood makes that look like it's true. And it's amazing that he's allowed by the voters of this district to be more loyal to Hollywood special interests than he is to the companies in San Antonio like Rackspace that really make a living off of the internet.
Rackspace unequivocally opposes SOPA, with the Web hosting company saying it's "deeply flawed." Have you met with them?
Mack: I did take a tour of Rackspace. I think it's the most amazing company I've seen. They have 2,000 employees in San Antonio.
The bottom line with me is that I'm shocked that Lamar Smith hasn't pulled back from his stance on SOPA. He is not serving the needs and interests of his district. He is not serving the needs of the people of Texas. This is what happens when they stay in Washington, D.C. too long.
How about Smith's H.R. 1981, which would require Internet service providers to keep track of their customers, in case police want to review those logs in the future? It's backed by President Obama's Justice Department.
Mack: I'm a constitutional conservative. I guarantee you I have some libertarian views and this is definitely one of them. In a day and age when the American people, especially Texans, are asking for less government in our lives, here comes Lamar Smith marching in with House Bill 1981 that completely wants to take over the Internet and have companies monitoring customers for the federal government.
I want to ask Lamar Smith, "Where would you get such an idea?" Remember this: Anti-incumbent sentiment has never been higher. The approval rating for Congress has never been lower. Lamar Smith is showing us why.
Has there been a debate scheduled between you and Lamar Smith?
Mack: I've already challenged him, told him that I will debate him at any time, any place. You know that he'll try to avoid it.
He also knows that if he stands next to me in a debate, I'll prove that he's not the real conservative he says he is.
You showed up on Reddit recently and joked that Steven Colbert is "not as funny as I am." Most of the folks there aren't exactly like-minded constitutional conservatives. What do you say to them?
Mack: You can vote for Lamar Smith, the Big Brother government guy, or you can vote for the guy who really will fight to get government off your back. Lamar Smith is a tax, borrow, and spend guy.
I think it's astonishing that anyone would vote for Lamar Smith, who supports borrowing money from China so we can turn right around and give it out to countries in foreign aid. We borrow money from China to give to Egypt and Israel and third world countries. Mr. Smith, we don't have the money. Stop spending money that we don't have.
You're a member of Oath Keepers, a non-profit group of military and law enforcement officers who say their oath to uphold the Constitution means they will not obey unconstitutional orders, such conducting warrantless searches of Americans' homes. Does that make you too controversial?
Mack: We should be keeping our oath. Why is it a danger to anyone that you're an oath keeper? No wonder our politicians don't like that.
I would say that the Republican establishment is starting to wake up as well. I think most people realize that 24 years in Congress is enough. You've had your turn--you ought to step aside.
What's your position on drug legalization?
Mack: Decriminalization of drugs. And I'm willing to go back to the drawing board with law enforcement officials who are honest enough to admit that the drug war has been a complete failure and an exercise in futility. I don't believe that we're going to arrest our way out of the drug problem.
Would you have run against Lamar Smith if he didn't introduce SOPA?
Mack: That isn't his only problem. His tax and spend and borrow policies and his complete dearth of attention to spending issues in Washington, D.C. are others. And the attention he needs to pay to the role of the federal government.
I would have run against him anyway. He's a moderate, if not liberal Republican. His vote for the Patriot Act is another example of his unconstitutional beliefs. And the NDAA. He's supposed to be a lawyer and a conservative Republican and he can't recognize unconstitutional laws?