DES MOINES, Iowa-No one can ever accuse Morry Taylor of not putting his money where his mouth is. Once the president of Titan Wheel International Inc. set his sights on another chief executive's job-president of the United States-he cashed in $15 million of his $40 million worth of Titan stock and hit the campaign trail last year with a fleet of six Airstream recreational vehicles in his quixotic quest for the Republican nomination for U.S. president.
Maurice M. Taylor Jr.'s no-nonsense style is the driving force that prompted Titan Wheel, along with its subsidiaries Titan Tire Corp. and Dico Tire Inc., to soar in the specialty tire and wheel business.
The Michigan native began his career in General Motors Corp.'s engineering department. He formed what is now Quincy, Ill.-based Titan Wheel in 1983 when he and a partner bought Firestone's shuttered steel wheel and rim operation there. The firm was then named Can-Am Industries and in 1986 bought out Goodyear's agricultural wheel-making assets.
Titan Tire was formed in July 1994 when Titan Wheel bought Pirelli Armstrong Tire Corp.'s farm tire plant in Des Moines.
The deal gave Mr. Taylor's company the ability to produce its own specialty tires to complement its farm and construction specialty wheels, as well as the right to use the Armstrong brand name.
As for the U.S. presidency, Mr. Taylor doesn't expect everyone to love him. He simply thinks he's the best man for the job.
However, his efforts have been all but overshadowed by a field of some half-dozen other GOP candidates, including another millionaire businessman, publisher Steve Forbes who, like Mr. Taylor, is financing his own campaign.
Nonetheless, Mr. Taylor spends 90 percent of his time on the stump, pledging to balance the federal budget in 18 months by cutting one-third of federal employees.
Among his other key beliefs: offer sterilization for welfare recipients and bring back whipping as a form of criminal punishment.
``I have no qualms in my mind, after I've met everybody, that I could do a lot better job for the American people than what we've got in there. That's for sure. I'd balance that budget,'' Mr. Taylor said during a recent interview at his campaign camp at Titan Tire's plant in Des Moines.
Never having held public office, Mr. Taylor, 51, launched his campaign May 6, 1995.
Preceding the announcement, he paid $77,000 for a full-page ad in USA Today detailing his ideas about government, some of which voters have never heard the likes of before.
``All everybody has to do is stop and think,'' Mr. Taylor said. ``. . . Whether you earn $30,000 or whether you earn $1 million, the government takes 40 percent.
``Now what do you get for that? You get the right to watch the bureaucracy harass you, take your money and everything else. I mean this is a joke.''
His solution to the country's enormous debt and the balanced budget crisis is simple: permanently furlough one-third of federal government employees, resulting in a balanced budget in 18 months.
The recent government shutdown furloughed 800,000 employees. ``Did you miss them?'' he asked. ``But (President Clinton) laid them off on the bottom. Morry Taylor would start from the top.''
Under the Taylor plan, government workers making $143,000 down to $50,000 would go-about 1 million people, he said.
``Is it going to be hard for them? Yes, it's going to be hard for those bureaucrats, but we've got to stoke this economy up so there's jobs for everyone, good paying jobs.''
And once he's balanced the budget, Mr. Taylor said he'd streamline what he calls the largest business in the world.
``Why are we closing military bases around the country and expanding the Pentagon?'' he asked. ``Mothball the Pentagon. Let's take the Pentagon and let's move the Army, Navy and Air Force back out to the military bases. They do not belong in Washington.''
He'd also move the departments of Education, Commerce and Agriculture all out of Washington, into areas of the country where he said most of the action takes place.
Simplifying the tax system is another step in his plan to streamline government. He proposes to break down tax brackets this way:
Taxpayers with income of less than $20,000 pay 2 percent.
Those with income between $20,000 and $35,000 pay 10 percent.
Those who earn more than $35,000 pay 17 percent.
It's a simple system with no deductions, no exemptions and no tax credits, according to his campaign. And everyone pays something, thus they can understand they have a stake in government.
Some of Mr. Taylor's ideas are a far cry from what candidates have historically presented to the American public.
``Day care. We've got mothers on welfare sitting home watching the soap operas because they've got all these little babies. Wrong,'' he said. ``Unplug the TV; march them down to the day care center. They can start helping take care of other working mothers of this country. Everybody's got to work.''
As for his views on sterilization, he's also put his money up front and personal.
After discovering his company's medical insurance didn't cover such options, Mr. Taylor offered to give any of his employees who wanted either a vasectomy or tubal ligation the cash to get the procedure done. It's a one-time-per-employee offer and is not guaranteed, he said.
He also believes the government should crack down on its treatment toward criminals.
``Jail should be hell,'' he said while doing a radio interview from his Titan office. ``We worry more about people who commit crimes than the victims.''
Instead of using taxpayers' money to house criminals who commit misdemeanors, he suggested maybe some should receive a lashing as punishment.
``Why should the people working in my plant have money taken from them to put someone in jail?''
Before Mr. Taylor can take a swing at untangling the federal government, he must cross a few electoral hurdles.
Early on he said, ``If I win Iowa and I win New Hampshire, I'll win it all.''
He didn't, and he hasn't.
In fact, he's finished at or near the bottom thus far in every primary or caucus in which he's run.
But in his typical no-nonsense bravado, he claims he's ``the only one that stands a chance to beat Bill Clinton.''
Prior to the Iowa and New Hampshire contests, Mr. Taylor had already spent more than $7 million. Brett Hall, his campaign press secretary, conceded that poor showings in those states might mean a downsizing of the Taylor campaign.
Holli Hartman, political reporter for the Des Moines Register, offered an opinion on the businessman:
``Because of his lack of political experience people don't view him as a serious candidate.''
Although Steve Forbes and Mr. Taylor are similar candidates-both are appealing to voters looking for a change-Ms. Hartman said the publisher is more polished than Mr. Taylor.
The tire executive differentiates himself, pointing out Mr. Forbes inherited his money, while Mr. Taylor's is a rags-to-riches story-someone who earned his fortune.
``It's pretty hard to understand you've got to make a payroll. It's pretty hard to understand you could lose it all,'' Mr. Taylor said.
``There's a difference. You're not aware of the dangers of what people have to go through and the pressures. I think I am.''
Why would a multimillionaire spend his money to run for what some think is a thankless job?
``Because no one else stepped up, did they?'' Mr. Taylor said. ``You show me one candidate for president that has created manufacturing jobs, has a real understanding of what the working men and women of this country are going through, (and) has traded internationally to see how bad off we're getting whipped.''
Mr. Taylor said his wife Michelle and three children support his run for the White House.
``My son, I think, is a little disappointed that his dad is spending all his money because I tell everybody it's his inheritance, which it is,'' Mr. Taylor said.
He readily admits he wouldn't be running if it weren't for Texas billionaire Ross Perot, who ran as an independent in the 1992 election.
``I give all the credit to Ross Perot,'' he said. ``He tells it the way he sees it, and I do the same thing.''
If elected, Mr. Taylor said he only would serve one term, claim-ing ``the ones hurting the process are the old-time politicians. If you can't do the job in four years, you don't belong in office.''
If Mr. Taylor can reach the majority of the American electorate with his ideas, he said, he has no question he would defeat any of the other candidates. His prediction: ``It would be a landslide.''
Last fall while on a campaign trip to Boone, Iowa, Morry Taylor, left, and his wife Michelle stopped to chat with Tom Whyte, owner of Whyte Tire Center, which carries some Titan Wheel products.
Photo courtesy of Boone News-Republican