“My ideas are different. I talk about money, and its corrupting influence in politics. I talk about special interests, which do bank and healthcare reform but don’t talk about nation reform. And I talk about unfair trade, because I don’t think you can create jobs in America in the 21st century unless you get a level playing field. These are my issues and nobody else talks about them. I need a debate to get known what I feel about those things.”
– Former Governor Buddy Roemer on why he should be in tonight’s debate
An edited transcript of our discussion with Republican presidential candidate and former Governor of Louisiana, Buddy Roemer is below:
Chip Lebovitz: The guidelines for Wednesday night’s debate are that a candidate must have polled at four percent in a national poll since November 2010. Are those fair? Especially given the fact that candidates like Jon Huntsman and Newt Gingrich are averaging roughly 2 percent in the polls.
Buddy Roemer: Well it is arbitrary. No doubt about it. You know it; I know it. It could be higher; it could be lower; or it could be another test entirely. It could be activity in the primaries. If a candidate declares, is he active? Does he debate with other candidates? Does he meet in forums? Does he go town-to-town? There could be a determination of the veracity of a campaign. But they’re all arbitrary. I’m not overly anxious about it. I need a debate; there’s no question about it.
My ideas are different. I talk about money, and its corrupting influence in politics. I talk about special interests, which do bank and healthcare reform but don’t talk about nation reform. And I talk about unfair trade, because I don’t think you can create jobs in America in the 21st century unless you get a level playing field. These are my issues and nobody else talks about them. I need a debate to get known what I feel about those things.
Now, they don’t let me in, but I am growing. Depending on the poll, I’m at one percent and occasionally at two. I was once at three, and four weeks ago I was at zero. I am patient. This is marathon. The election is not tomorrow. I see candidates rise and fall weekly – I’m not into that. I’m into issue development, and I’m concentrating in New Hampshire. We’re building a precinct-by-precinct organization; it’s like I were running for Governor of New Hampshire. We have limited funds – One hundred dollars is my limit. We have to spend them wisely and well. We have money in the bank. Last week was my best campaign fundraising week – about 35,000, which is about one ticket to an Obama fundraiser (laughs). The debates are very important to me to get known after being 20 years out of politics. I am irritated (laughs) that I haven’t been asked, but I am patient.
Chip Lebovitz: David Weigel of Slate has argued that you and other similar candidates like Gary Johnson and Thaddeus McCotter suffer from this negative feedback loop. You aren’t in the debates because you don’t have the requisite support but don’t have the support because you lack the name recognition that comes with being in the debates. How do you break out of that cycle, in time for the September 22nd Fox News debate?
Buddy Roemer: I’m 67, so I have some experience at building banks, campaigns, and ideas. The tried-and-true method I’ve always enjoyed is persistence, patience, focus, and it will happen. Anytime I get a crowd, I do well. I went to the Tea Party Express in New Hampshire – I was the only candidate at all three forums, and I had a crowd, and I received such a terrific response. I must be opportunistic, flexible in my approach, but persistent. I work every day at this. I believe it will happen.
Chip Lebovitz: Onto the debate itself, what should the candidates be discussing that you think might not be brought up?
Buddy Roemer: Well the jobs issue has not been brought up too much. It’ll be brought up this time though, given now that a guy who doesn’t know much, knows we have permanent unemployment in this country. But no one will address unfair trade, except in headline terms. There will be no three-point plan to level the playing field with China, which I have done. There will be no confrontation. They’ll all talk about free trade and no one will talk about fair trade. That’s one issue that will not be dealt with.
The other issue is money in politics because they are all in the money basket. They’re all owned by special interests, and the way you look at it, is ask which candidate has a Super PAC. They’ll all raise their hand. They’ll always have a former chief of staff or former campaign manger running a so-called independent Super PAC, where people can give unlimited money and not be disclosed. They won’t talk about the PAC contributions they get. If somebody were to ask them, where do you get your money? What’s the average size of your contribution? Do you disclose by name and address, every dollar that you have received? Can America look at your finances and know who is paying the way? Not one of them can say yes. It is an embarrassment.
Chip Lebovitz: Along the lines of campaign finance, as a candidate you are restricting your campaign donations to $100 or less, how do you translate that stand against PAC money to legislation if you became president?
Buddy Roemer: Well you have a constitutional demand, and I think it’s a fair one; that money is speech. But the Supreme Court has ruled in its opinions that broad limits are possible, so you could address the area of Super PACs and eliminate them. You would reduce PAC contributions to the size of individual contributions. Right now it’s twice as great. There’s no reason for that. Number three: you could restrict registered lobbyists from sending or bringing a check. There would be no more money from registered lobbyists. They can bring information, ideas, requests, but they can’t bring a check. Number four: you can require that all campaign contributions be disclosed within 48 hours of their receipt – now it’s 90 days and sometimes longer. Five: you could require full disclosure by name and address of any contribution received.
Those are five ways to do it. There are other ways; I’ve been involved with this for years. Coming from Louisiana, which was at one time considered a corrupt state. There were no limits on giving; it was very dirty. When I ran for Congress, I took no PAC money. Of course everybody laughed, and I won. Then I ran for governor, I limited contributions and had a requirement of full disclosure. Everybody laughed, and I won. It’s now the law in Louisiana and governors like Kathleen Blanco, a Democrat, and Bobby Jindal, a Republican, have followed me very successfully away from corruption. The same thing will happen in Washington, if we do those five steps and add a requirement for full disclosure. I think you’ll see a different town Chip.
Chip Lebovitz: One question that is almost guaranteed to be asked at the debate is how the candidates plan to reduce our deficit. You personally advocate for cutting 1% of GDP annually, until federal spending reaches 18% of GDP. What makes this different from the Cut, Cap, and Balance plan that most of the rest of the field supports and would cut spending immediately to 18% of GDP?
Buddy Roemer: It’s just marginally different. I think you need a plan, so there’s no real difference. It can be plan A, B, or C. I’m not married to a plan. When I was in Iowa in February, I submitted the 1 percent thing. I was the first one to do that. My math is that’s about $141 billion a year. I’m very specific about how much that is. At $141 (billion) a year, it doesn’t differ a great deal from the view of others. Gary Johnson talks about doing it in three years; I talk, for example, about doing it in five years: so there’s a marginal difference.
What makes me operate on the budget – and I think a governor is the qualification to become president – is the specifics that I use. For example, I would eliminate all energy subsidies, all subsidies for unproven energy technology, and the Department of Energy in the first year. That’s 141 billion. I laid out five years. You can do it in any order; you can speed it up. I thought it would be not harmful to the economy as a whole to shrink back from government spending in a systematic way.
You and Governor Perry are unique in the primary due to the fact that you’ve worked with both parties. We are in an especially hyper partisan era, what benefit is there to having a president who has worked with, literally, both sides of the aisle?
Buddy Roemer: It’s to be determined, but I’ve always reached across the aisle. I try to honor my party, but honor my state and country foremost. I think it’s healthy – I don’t want to exaggerate – to have the experience and the temperament to build a team for success, to rebuild our nation. I don’t know what these other candidates in the Republican Party think, but this I know: it will require Democrats. Not all of them, and maybe not some of them never, but to build a nation, it will require the spectrum of interests: Independent, Tea Party, Conservative Democrat, Republican. I have worked with all those groups and done it somewhat successfully. I think that’s a plus for me, but it’s not the biggest deal in the world. It’s just a fact.
We’d like to thank Governor Roemer for talking to us.