Charlie Sheen isn’t exactly seen as a role model by many people, but for freshman Congressman Scott Taylor, the actor’s 1990 film “Navy SEALs” had an unquestionably positive impact. Raised by a single mother on the Eastern Shore of Virginia, Taylor was looking for direction in life after he graduated from high school — inspired in part by the film, he found it in the SEALs. He ultimately served from 1997 to 2005 in missions that brought him to locations across South and Central America and Iraq.
After separating from the military, Taylor worked as a defense contractor in Yemen and returned home to Hampton Roads, where became a real estate developer. Now, he’s one of a handful of veterans elected to Congress in 2016.
Task & Purpose caught up with Taylor, who explained why he thinks veterans have a pivotal role to play in the government, and what he hopes to do as a vet in Congress. “This nation has a tremendous history of veterans who have joined the political process, starting with George Washington,” he said.
A 37-year-old Republican, he hopes to uphold the core Republican values of fiscal conservatism and personal liberty, but also to depart from GOP traditions that, as he sees them, no longer make sense for the American people — particularly those he serves in Virginia’s second district.
When asked what made him run, Taylor joked, “I lost a bet.”
"I think it’s excellent to have veterans in office at all levels, because they understand serving something greater than themselves."
Did you always know you wanted to stick around the Hampton Roads area, even after joining the Navy?
[I had] no idea about that. When I was on the Eastern Shore, I wasn’t really focused on academics, my family didn’t have any money, I didn’t have super good grades. I was just an athlete, so I joined the military wanting to see the world. I wanted to be a Marine actually, but I read a Dick Marcinko book and watched a cheesy Charlie Sheen movie, saw what the Navy SEALs were, and decided that’s what I wanted to do. That brought me to Virginia Beach, and the rest is history.
Going back to your time as a SEAL, do you feel as though you broke the code of silence that special forces troops follow after service? Does running for office conflict with that?
No, I don’t believe so. This nation has a tremendous history of veterans who have joined the political process, starting with George Washington. I think there is genuine, legitimate criticism for some folks in the special operations community, who go over the line. But there’s not a SEAL who will separate and not put “SEAL” on his resume. My job is public, but you’ll never hear me talk about how great I was as a SEAL, specific missions and such.
What was your motivation to enter politics? Do you think it’s important for veterans to run for office, and why?
I lost a bet. Just kidding. I like to solve problems; I like to help people; and I like to use a little bit of our power to help folks that don’t have it. That’s why. And I think it’s excellent to have veterans in office at all levels, because they understand serving something greater than themselves. They are good at not being super partisan, and if there’s something that needs to get done, they get stuff done.
What about President Donald Trump? I know during your campaign you said you supported him. Have his policy changes since taking office altered your stance?
The president is certainly imperfect. I’m going to agree with him on many things, and I’m going to disagree. And I’m not going to be bashful when I disagree with him — particularly the immigration order that came down. I agree with stronger vetting, but I disagreed with him publicly on a Muslim ban. It’s unconstitutional. The implementation of this order was very bad. I’m on an equal branch of government, and we’re there to provide oversight of the executive branch sometimes. If I agree with the president, I’ll say it, but if I don’t I’ll say it.
As someone who has worked with special forces and the intelligence community, what is your take on the issue of immigration?
"The president is certainly imperfect. I’m going to agree with him on many things, and I’m going to disagree. And I’m not going to be bashful when I disagree with him."
We’re obviously a country of immigrants. A lot of us in the military who served have been personally exposed to the humanity that’s there, the tragic stories, and a lot of us would love nothing better than to take some of those folks back here right away. On the other side, we’ve seen the ugliness that goes on too. I believe this country should always have a door that’s open to immigrants who want to come here, respect our laws, respect our people, and who we are as a nation.
You’re a broken with the Republican Party on a particular issue, and plan to tackle discrimination against LGBT renters and homebuyers. Did serving in the military inform your views on this?
In the military, no one cares if you’re gay. Do you meet the standard? Are you going to save my life? It shouldn’t be a topic we talk about. To me, the military is a disciplined fighting force, and it should be as lethal as possible. As far as LGBT discrimination and real estate, I felt like there was a gap for a vulnerable population and I wanted to fill it. I think it’s the right thing to do.
Are there any other areas where you break with your Republican colleagues?
While I love the traditional Grand Old Party, there are some issues. I’m certainly more engaged on sea-level rise and flooding than some of my GOP counterparts, a big issue in Hampton Roads. I’m also for some criminal justice improvement, too. We’ve got to disincentivize the cycle of criminality. I definitely break with my party in certain ways. I am who I am, really.