Buddy Roemer, former congressman and governor of Louisiana, is running for the Republican nomination for president. But voters could be forgiven for not knowing that, in light of the dearth of coverage the establishment media has thus far given to his presidential campaign.
Allow me to do my part in rectifying that situation. Mr. Roemer was kind enough to agree to an interview request, taking time out of his busy campaign schedule to answer my questions at length. What follows are my queries and Mr. Roemer’s responses:
RJ – You were first elected to the US House of Representatives in 1980, and were elected governor of Louisiana in 1987. As a congressman you were a member of the Democratic Party, and you were still a Democrat when you successfully ran for governor. However you changed parties and became a Republican in 1991, near the end of your term in office. What prompted you to change your political affiliation after spending most of your career as a Democrat?
Buddy Roemer – Two things:
(A) The Democrat Party had changed significantly over time since I was elected to serve in Louisiana’s Constitutional Convention in 1972-74. I did not agree with its refusal to support a strong military. I did not agree with its refusal to replace welfare with workfare. I did not agree with its tax and spend national policies. I did not agree with its foolish pandering to the national education unions. In short, I found myself in disagreement with nearly every piece of the Democrat platform.
I ended up voting against Tip O’Neill as speaker of the House when I was elected to Congress in 1980. I worked with President Reagan as a co-founder of the Boll Weevils, so I became more and more of a “Republican” in practice.
Plus, Louisiana had an open primary system (unlike any other state) and I never got the “nomination” of the Democrat Party.
So my first reason is clear: I voted like a Republican and thought like one and organized like one and was elected like one.
(B) Louisiana in 1988 was a one-party state with 90 percent plus of its Legislature Democrat. A free society needs a healthy and spirited debate between two parties.
Louisiana was colorful, but corrupt. It needed two-party debate. I brought that to the table with all my other changes: balanced budget, bond rating increases (5 in one year), attracting new jobs (unemployment from 12 percent to 6 percent), teacher testing and a 30 percent pay raise to those who could teach, eliminating prevailing wage, etc., etc.
Changing parties 20 years ago was a natural reflection of my change and the Democratic Party changes, and establishing a strong two-party state was important to my state and its children.
I was only thesecond Republican Governor in the 175 year history of Louisiana. In the 20 years since I served, the governor’s office has been held by two Republicans serving 12 of the 20 years. We have arrived!!!
RJ – As governor, you had a reputation as a reformer, someone who battled corruption. One of your presidential campaign’s major themes is fighting against special interests. You have promised to refuse all political action committee (PAC) money, and not to accept any individual campaign donations larger than $100 (the legal limit is $2,500). Aren’t you concerned that this stance hampers your ability to raise the money necessary to run a successful national campaign?
Buddy Roemer – I am concerned that refusing the special interest, big-check, PAC money will limit our chances of victory, but something had to be done. We have a current system that is institutionally corrupt, where big checks mean more to campaigns than ideas or effort. It is out of control with corporations giving millions and amazingly paying no taxes and SuperPACs accepting $1 million payments in the shadows of no disclosure.
Money has always had a major impact on campaigns, affecting your ability to staff, to organize, to research, and to advertise. More importantly, the size and source of campaign money seems to impact your decisions when elected, i.e., insurance money, tort lawyer money, pharmaceutical money, Wall Street money, and big bank money. Check out the so-called Bank Reform and Healthcare Reform. Where is the reform?
The system is corrupt. Money is everything and there are no standards on giving or accepting. I have set my own, voluntarily: $100 limit, everything reported, no PAC accepted – none! Free to Lead.
I have never accepted PAC money in winning Congress four times and as governor against a man who had never lost an election and who outspent me by seven times! It’s tough, but if you are to clean up a corrupt system it must be done.
The $100 limit was a tough addition to the no PAC pledge, but it is designed to make welcome the average citizen who currently is a member of the 98 percent of the population who give nothing. A corrupt system has the top two percent giving all the money and getting tax loopholes and budget earmarks in return.
And it yields a president Free to Lead who can put the people ahead of the special interests.
It will take one million contributors in the primary to win, and five million in the general. It can be done in the age of the internet.
The system fights me. I am the only candidate running who has been governor and a member of Congress, and yet I have not been invited to a debate. Maybe no one wants to talk about the money they are getting, or at least begging for.
My contributions average $82 per contributor, and come from all 50 states and three territories. Our bills are paid; we have money in the bank. And after our announcement three weeks ago, we are slowly getting known across New Hampshire and the country.
RJ – Given the grave concerns the public has about the weak economy, high unemployment, massive budget deficits, the growing national debt, and other fiscal issues, do you believe your message of campaign finance reform will resonate with voters?
Buddy Roemer – It has not resonated yet, but it is early in the cycle. As people realize just how corrupt the system is (SuperPACs and $1 million checks), and as they realize how the special interest money keeps any real change from taking place (stopping unfair trade practices of a foreign competitor nation [China] for example), people will focus on the real problem: the influence of big special interest checks. And this will become the issue.
RJ – According to your website, your plan for balancing the federal budget “calls for an annual reductions in federal spending equal to 1% of GDP over five years” and reducing federal spending to 18% of GDP. This appears to be quite similar to Republican Congressman Connie Mack’s “Penny Plan.” What are the main differences between your plan and Congressman Mack’s plan? What are the advantages to your plan?
Buddy Roemer – My proposal was made in Iowa in my first campaign speech in February where I outlined a one percent per annum reduction in federal spending for five consecutive years, driving baseline spending down to 18 percent of GDP.
I proposed putting every program on the table and started with the elimination of the ethanol subsidy (big in Iowa), some $20 billion. Also oil and gas subsidies, unproven energy technology subsidies, and the Department of Energy itself; another $250 billion, if you add housing subsidies and agricultural subsidies.
I proposed tax reform as a separate operation designed to foster growth by very low marginal rates with the elimination of all loopholes, deductions, and exemptions bringing corporate rates to 15 percent and individual rates lower than that up to $125,000 of income.
I love the Fair Tax here for example. The key is simple, fair, no loopholes, putting the savings in lower rates making us a tax haven, rewarding savings and investment and doing away with the marriage penalty and AMT [Alternative Minimum Tax].
I have never seen Connie’s plan and he could have been before me. There is no patent on this simple, fair, businesslike approach which we did in Louisiana 20 years ago, when we inherited a huge deficit.
RJ – If your plan was implemented, would you want the budget cuts to take place across the board, roughly equally in every department and agency of the federal government? Or would the cuts simply total one percent of GDP, but with some areas of the federal government being cut more and some areas cut less?
Buddy Roemer – I have never cut across the board, but judged the waste and abuse and necessity of each program. Same here and there are plenty of unnecessary items.
Connie and I served in Congress together and will work together on this with no problem. We just need other people to join us.
RJ – There are a number of current and former governors running for the GOP presidential nomination: Mitt Romney, Jon Huntsman, Rick Perry, Gary Johnson, and of course yourself. What do you believe makes you a better candidate than the other four Republicans running with similar executive experience?
Buddy Roemer – I think being governor is the best preparation for the office of president. (President Reagan told me that in the mid-80s when I was first thinking of running for governor of Louisiana. He also laughed and said, “Changing parties is required as well!”) Executive experience building a team, hands-on budget experience, tax reform, jobs growth, the delegation of responsibility, and a 10 to 20 year vision; essential to being a great president.
Hard to compare among the governors, but some things are obvious:
First, Louisiana was in much tougher times compared to any other state in the late 80′s with the highest unemployment rate at 12 plus percent in the country (we brought it down to six percent), the worst paid teachers in the US (we tested teachers and those who passed got a 30 percent raise, and started a school accountability and grading system), a budget 30 percent out of balance (and we balanced it the first year and every year thereafter without new taxes), Louisiana bonds rated worst among all states and Guam (and we got five bond upgrades, no state had ever done that), had the worst air and water toxicity in the US (we cleaned it up by closing tax loopholes for offenders, very effective, and an Environmental Scorecard for tax credit eligibility and with strong enforcement with penalties), and passed sweeping political integrity legislation still in force which eliminates the busing and paying of voters and the uninhibited acceptance without disclosure of special interest campaign funds.
All the governors running seem to have good records. The difference is the extent of Louisiana’s dysfunctionality and the distance we climbed back in four short years.
Of course, the major two differences in the entire campaign are the successful battle against the corruption of special interests for which Louisiana was noted (infamous was the better word for its immoral crony capitalism) and the attraction of new industry and new jobs to a “plantation” economy.
These two differences carry directly into this campaign 20 years later: (1) The corruption of big check, special interest PACs owning DC, and (2) the stealing of America’s best jobs by unfair trading practices of some of our international competitor nations.
None of the other governors have talked about these two issues so far. They are the reasons I run.
RJ – What are your thoughts on the Tea Party movement?
Buddy Roemer – They have done a great service to America by being in the thick of November’s election last year when they gave the Republicans some backbone and the Dems some warning: Controlling federal spending is the battle. And it is essential that this battle be won now or the nature of our country will change to a European-style welfare state controlled by state bureaucrats. By the way, how are those Euros doing? Shrinking from excessive debt!
Thanks, Tea Party.
RJ – In the “Issues” section of your campaign website, I did not see any mention of hot-button social issues like abortion or same-sex marriage. Given that they are quite important to a sizable number of Republican primary voters and caucus-goers, could you tell us where you stand on those two issues?
Buddy Roemer – I am pro-life with protection of life of mother being allowed. I am against the use of taxpayer money to perform abortions.
I will protect Second Amendment constitutional rights to own and bear firearms, except for a record of abuse (felony) or a record of mental illness.
Gays are correctly protected by our Constitution, but marriage is determined by the churches which perform them. My church (Methodist) is traditional and performs marriage only between a man and a woman. I support this position whole-heartedly.
Civil unions are another proposition, and this is best determined by individual states and a vote of the people therein. In all cases, I support the traditional marriage bond, between a man and a woman, and I am opposed to the recognition of a civil union between individuals of the same sex.
RJ – What are your thoughts on the “kinetic military action” taking place in Libya? Do you believe President Obama should have sought approval from the Congress before committing US military resources and personnel to the conflict?
Buddy Roemer – I’m very cautious about these never-ending conflicts, even though it looks as if Ghaddafy will be deposed, which is a victory for the free world. Credit to Obama.
But I found Obama to be too slow to act initially (no no-fly zone for a month, for example) and too willing to hand the military operation’s keys to NATO. I do not think this is a good prototype for future actions.
Direct arms to the rebels is better with no US ground troops.
We have interests in establishing freedom, but we are a long way from doing that in Libya and giving the keys to NATO could prove us bound to an inept European leadership.
We should stop cash foreign aid, become energy independent, and be prepared to protect and support the “freedom” rebels when and where we can with armaments, wise tactical and strategic advice, and offer them “teach them how to fish” assistance.
Should the president have asked for Congressional approval pre-Libya? Yes.
RJ – Finally, what grade would you give President Obama through his first two and a half years in office? Why?
Buddy Roemer – “T” for terrible.
He is owned by special interests as evidenced by “bank reform” with “too big to fail” still the law and Obama taking cash on Wall Street at $35,000 a ticket, as evidenced by health care reform with no competition for insurance companies, or pharmaceutical companies, and no cap on tort lawyers. No revision to the tax code to stop the selling of American jobs overseas. GE pays no taxes on $5.2 billion of American profit and their CEO is Obama’s #1 economic adviser.
And he, just halfway in his term, has announced his candidacy for re-election and his intention to raise $1 billion, most from special interests or unreported at $200.
Obama is “T” for Terrible by making the recession permanent and jobs an afterthought. He has only one apparent goal: re-election.
It could be “C” for “Institutionally Corrupt” but you only allow a single grade, so “T” it is.