On the second day of Washington Days, I got 15 minutes to discuss national and state politics with the only Democrat in the Kansas Congressional delegation. The interview with Barack Obama was transcribed and posted earlier
Q. Yesterday I got to speak with Barack Obama and there were two questions that I asked: what advice does he have as far as how he was able to take his very progressive message throughout the state of Illinois and what advice can he give to us about bringing the Democratic message statewide in Kansas, and the converse of that: what can we do to take the existing progressive and Democratic values that are here to Washington, moreso than we do now?
A. I think number one we need to start to join in discussion and debate on values, because I think a lot of Democrats are afraid to talk about values and I don't think we should be ashamed of the values we have and we should be more willing to talk about those. I think that when people hear what we really do stand for, I think a lot of people believe as we do in this state, probably a majority, especially if they really hear about it. For example, the President's budget proposal makes deep, deep cuts in several areas that I think people, if they really understood and know what's going on, would not be supportive of his proposal. Cutting back funding for child support enforcement for single moms who are living with their kids and trying to support their kids and don't have enough money, that's one place we shouldn't be cutting. Instituting co-pay for veterans for medical care – a higher co-pay – to me that's like a tax on veterans. And these people, they have earned our support and our gratitude and we can go on and on and on. We can talk about Medicaid cuts for poor children's health care, health care for poor children. And on and on and on.
And what they're doing this for, and they don't say this, is so they can have bigger and bigger tax cuts. I am a fiscal responsibility… I really truly believe in that. I'm a fiscal responsibility nut, I guess. But, what I don't want to do is try to balance the budget on the backs of veterans and little kids and college student loans where he's proposed cutbacks as well, and on and on and on. And I just think we need to balance, to have balance.
I tell people, usually the best policy is usually not on either extreme, but somewhere closer to the center. We can have some tax cuts, but we don't need to go all the way. Example. The President's got his proposal for permanent repeal of the estate tax. Well, in the best of all worlds, maybe that'd be fine, but we're not in the best of all possible worlds, we've got an 8.2 trillion dollar national debt. We've got a deficit this year, he says, of around 400 billion dollars. Actually, Secretary Snow put out a piece that said it was over 700 billion dollars when you do it by accrual accounting, not by cash basis accounting. And we, our nation is in a deep fiscal ditch right now and the people that are going to suffer are not me, it's you and our kids and grandkids. And we need to turn things around.
I sort of wandered there, but to me, values, the budget is a values document, and I'm on the Budget Committee, and last year, talking about the proposed budget last year, just an example It's nice to support our troops and put the little magnets on the back of your car, but the way you really support our troops is by providing health care when they need that. And I'm not taking shots at people who put magnets on the back of their car, that's fine, but the real way you show your appreciation is how you spend your money.
Q. Senator Obama also said "values" he said pragmatism without necessarily ideology. How does one distinguish between values and ideology? Because you don't strike me as an ideological congressman.
A. I do have things I believe deeply. And again, I think we have a special responsibility to four groups in particular I'll mention really quickly here:
children whose parents don't take care of them, and they have no way to, they need somebody to help
people with disabilities, because they need special assistance or help
senior citizens who for whatever reason are living in poverty. They don't have pension, they don't have retirement, all they've got to live on is Social Security and Medicare
and veterans, because they've earned it, I think. Veterans and their families.
So those are the four groups I look out for. And how can anyone in this country say "we're not going to help little kids whose parents don't take care of them? or people with disabilities? But, when it comes to tax cuts, I think… I said to these folks on the Budget committee, if the thing you value the very most is tax cuts, that's what we're going to have, and I want to balance the budget again, but I sure want to take care of these four special groups.
Q. Do you have … I'm not sure how I could answer this, but do you have a list of values in your mind? You've listed some groups that you want to protect, I wonder is there a general principle you can extrapolate from that, or is it sort of a …
A. (playing with the ubiquitous Blackberry) Can I show you something that I have put down here, I would like us to focus on these and these are quasi-values, because it all kind of overlaps, but I want to show you something here.
Q. I'm just interested in matching different people's lists…
…(Blackberry searching omitted)
Q. Partly this gets to … "not on either extreme" is right, and being in Kansas I've been … a Democrat in the New York area, where I grew up, is much different from a Democrat in Kansas …
A. Oh, absolutely.
Q. I sort of broadened out and gave me a different sense of what [being a Democrat] was. How does one choose? Sometimes, yeah, you have to stand ground, and sometimes it's worthwhile to say, "there's some middle here," there's some way to work together here.
A. Absolutely, absolutely.
This is the message I would like to see our party talk about nationwide. And again, we can talk all the ideology we want to, but if it's not something people are going to support, we're not going to win elections, and we're going to stay in the minority and I don't want that to happen. Because I think we have been taken down a horrible path in the last four years.
One more thing I would like to say. I tell people, and I really mean this and I say I'd hope I'd say the same thing if the tables were reversed. There's something to be said for divided government, where one party doesn't have total control. When one party controls the House, the Senate and the Presidency. If they stick together they can jam through anything they want to. And our system really has been built for the last two hundred years on checks and balances, and there's been no check right now, and no balance.
Q. On anything. I've been writing about the domestic wiretapping…
A. Oh, unbelievable, unbelievable.
The message I would like us to adopt, kind of, and this is not, probably, values-driven enough but these are some of the issues we ought to be talking about as a party. Security for America, national security, economic security, energy security, health security, and retirement security. I think that broad… and I didn't mention education, but I think that part of economic security is education, if you don't provide an opportunity for quality education for our kids, we're not going to have economic security in the future. So those are the areas that we should be talking about. And we could develop a great message to take to the American people on that and hopefully take back the Congress.
Q. Does the Party have that message now?
A. Well, they're still feeling around, I think, on the national level. I'm not talking about the state, I'm talking about Congress. The other thing I don't want us to do is snatch defeat from the jaws of victory, here. If we don't do this right, if we overstep, and if we're not careful… frankly, our friends across the aisle are doing a great job destroying themselves right now, and I don't want to get in the way.
Q. On the other hand, as far as building the Democratic party, you don't want it just to be… where the other guy (crosstalk)…
A. Absolutely, and that's why I'm saying we need a message where we can say, this is what we stand for, this is what we believe and we've got to focus on this, really.
Q. If you were giving odds, will we take back the House?
A. Honestly, it is a … I won't say a long-shot, but difficult, just because of the numbers right now. And I'll say this, if it had not been for what happened in Texas, and that's before the Supreme Court right now, I think we'd have a great shot at taking back the House. But the numbers are big. But it can be done, and I hope it will be done, because we need that check and balance again.
Q. Will we have another Democrat from Kansas in the House?
A. I sure hope so. Nancy Boyda's running again. She ran a good campaign last time, not good enough unfortunately, she just didn't make it, but I'm hopeful we can get one more. We need somebody here.
Q. What are the odds in the 1st and the 4th?
A. I don't know who's running. I met a gentleman last night, I can't remember his name…
Q. John Doll.
A. He's a pretty impressive guy, I thought.
Q. I like him.
A. And Jerry Moran is going to be a tough one. And I'm not saying this to put John down at all, it's just a huge, 64 or 69 counties out there in that district. It's a huge geographic area out there, and it would take a lot of money to get his name out there as well as Jerry Moran's is now. So it's difficult, but I'm not putting him down at all, and I'm glad he's running.
Todd Tiahrt, I don't know who's running against him…
Q. I think three people have filed in the last few days.
A. I don't know anything about that.
Q. And as far as your race? How worried are you?
A. In my district, which is highly Republican, you can never take it for granted, and I don't. I won't.
Right now there are two that are announced, Ahner and Schwab, and Schwab is a state rep for two terms. I don't know either one of them, I think I've seen them before, but I don't know them. I don't know how that's going to work. I feel right now in as strong a position as I've ever been. But again, I don't take anything for granted.
Q. Will you be campaigning for other candidates in Kansas, in the area, if it starts looking like it won't be too bad in the 3rd?
A. Maybe, but I've never had that luxury, so I don't know how that'll be. I certainly want to help other people if I can, and I've got to keep focus, too.
Q. If there was one piece of advice that you could give, whether it's to people running for the state legislature or congress or the school board, what's one piece of advice would help them get elected?
A. You're talking to candidates?
Q. To candidates or to activists who are trying to help them out. It can be a broad thing or something concrete.
A. Work hard, focus on the issues that you want the voters to get. It has to be fairly concise and I won't say simple, but pretty focussed on the message. Then work hard and raise the money that you need. If it's a small area or a local school board or something you're not going to spend the kind of money you would in other races, but do what you have to do. Meet voters and go door to door and ask for their vote.
My dad was involved in politics down in Wichita where I grew up and he always said, you have to close the deal and ask for their vote. That's what you have to do.
Q. Yesterday you said that you had worked with Paul Morrison [currently the DA in Johnson County, he switched parties to run as a Democrat against Phill Kline].
A. I hired Paul Morrison out of law school, he worked for me 8 years, I was district attorney for 12. After 12 years I decided not to run again, and Paul ran and won and he's been district attorney ever since. I think he's done an outstanding job, he is a true law enforcement – I think his undergraduate degree is in criminology – and we need somebody like that in the Attorney General's office, instead of somebody with a political agenda.
Q. When you heard that he was switching parties, were you surprised? Or did you sort of think "oh, yeah"?
A. Not really. I'll tell you why, and this might disappoint some of our Democratic friends, but I'll just tell you what I believe to be the truth. Paul, really his focus is not on party politics, it's on law enforcement, and doing that job, and I think that's what we, what all of us should want for that office. The worst thing I think is having somebody in there who's just a … in the worst sense of the word … a politician, who's focussed on a political agenda.
Q. A partisan.
A. We should not be playing partisan politics with that office.