Douglas Carswell admits there’s some irony to becoming the head of the Mississippi Center for Public Policy.
The United Kingdom native served in the British Parliament from 2005 to 2017 and helped organize and lead Brexit, the UK’s movement to separate from the European Union. Speaking to the Columbus Rotary Club at its weekly meeting Tuesday, he referenced the Battle of Yorktown, which ended the American Revolutionary War against Carswell’s home country in 1781.
“Talking a little bit about Brexit while I was up for re-election, it comes across that I’m absolutely passionate about liberty, about self-determination,” he said. “I wanted for my country what you guys got for your country at Yorktown.”
Those ideals — along with a strong belief in American exceptionalism — led Carswell to Jackson, where he became president and CEO of the Mississippi Center for Public Policy, a conservative think tank promoting deregulation and other policies limiting government intervention.
Carswell said he had wanted to move to the United States and work in public policy. He looked at some jobs in Washington, D.C., he said, but ultimately took the position in Jackson because he felt he could be more effective on the state level, which he said is where many of the country’s best policies have begun.
He also said he felt Mississippi particularly could benefit from people fighting the “administrative state,” which he said is alive and well in Jackson.
“The business of Jackson is politics, and there are always commissions and boards,” Carswell said. “And the commissions and the boards trade in giving people permits and permissions to do things, and I don’t think that’s a good way of running the state. I think because Mississippi’s often been a one-party state — a one-party Democrat state flipping to a one-party Republican state — politics hasn’t had the competition that you’ve had in other states, where bad ideas and bad institutions get removed.”
For example, he said, after he moved to Mississippi, he purchased a crate of wine for a friend only to learn the state doesn’t allow for delivery of alcohol.
“I’m not allowed to spend $40 of my own money to ship myself a crate of wine, so I had to send it to a friend in Colorado,” he said. “This is ridiculous. Why can you not go online and buy (wine)? What do they expect you to do with it? Drink yourself insensible because you bought it on the internet rather than (in person)? It’s crazy.”
One recent win for the center was the state Legislature passing House Bill 1263, which allows those who hold occupational licenses from out of state to keep those licenses when they move to Mississippi.
“If you are qualified to be a hair braider out of state and you move to Mississippi, you shouldn’t have to go through all the processes getting the (license here),” he said during a question-and-answer session at the end of his talk to Rotarians.
Answering another question, Carswell said he is in favor of eliminating the state income tax, pointing out that nearby states like Tennessee have already eliminated it.
“States that don’t have an income tax are prospering,” he said.
Carswell stressed the center is nonpartisan — “We’re conservative, but we’re not Republican,” he said — and funded almost entirely by in-state donations.
“We make a point of that. We don’t believe in spending tax dollars unnecessarily,” he said.
Carswell also said he wants Americans — particularly young Americans — to learn about the United States’ history, and argued it is a nation founded on freedom and personal liberty and has, for the most part, spread those ideals throughout the world. If the United States were a hateful, divisive country as he fears many people believe, he argued there wouldn’t be lines of people outside American embassies around the world attempting to get into the country.
He pointed out that the United States helped end the world wars and the Cold War. Its science put astronauts on the moon and its entrepreneurs created smartphones.
“It was American science that put the first COVID vaccine in someone’s arm,” he said.
“America has not had a perfect foreign policy,” he added later. “Lyndon Johnson was responsible for one or two blunders in southeast Asia, but do you know what most great powers have had in terms of foreign policy? America’s record as a great power has been to spread human happiness and progress around the world. So don’t let people bully you into thinking that America is the bad guy in world affairs. America is the good guy in world affairs.”