December 5, 2011
Buddy Roemer, the outspoken former Louisiana governor and House member turned reformer, is trying to break back into politics after a 20-year absence with a long-shot bid for the Republican presidential nomination. The former Baton Rouge banker has been railing against the corruption at the nexus of corporate special interest groups and politics, but few have heard him because he has been shut out of the GOP debates. As a result, Roemer just announced he is considering waging a third-party challenge through Americans Elect, a well-financed organization that expects to gain access to the ballot in all 50 states.
A veteran of Louisiana’s rough-and-tumble political system, Roemer has plenty to say – about the state of national politics, the outrageous conduct of Wall Street and big banks, the nation’s growing income disparity, and the need to strike back hard against China and other trading partners for their highly protectionist policies.
As Roemer sees it:
- Politics has been completely corrupted by “Super PACs” and other special interest money, and the worst offender is former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, who received $1.8 million from Freddie Mac, the troubled government sponsored mortgage giant, for providing dubious strategic advice. “I want as president a woman or a man who is clean, who has the power to lead and who tells the truth,” Roemer says. “Newt does not fit those characteristics.”
China’s protectionist trade practices and human rights violations are an abomination, and as president he would retaliate so fast it would make Chinese heads spin while potentially igniting a global trade war. Roemer’s “fair trade” policies would be very specific: tit for tat retaliation for unfair trade practices. “If your goods come into this country, and they’re made by children or by prisoners, they will not be allowed in.”
The Dodd-Frank financial reform law is “a disgrace” because it formalizes the concept that mega banks like Citigroup and Goldman Sachs are “too big to fail,” regardless of whether they pursue reckless or unscrupulous practices. “The taxpayers will not support any more bailouts,” he says. “That’s [the view of] Occupy Wall Street. That’s the Tea Party. That’s Buddy Roemer. It’s America, and if the bank is too big to fail, then the bank ought to be disbanded.”
- While he’s counting on the Occupy Movement to boost his nearly invisible campaign, he disagrees with many of the activists that bigger government is the solution to most problems. “They don’t know how to get things done sometimes, but they always know when something is in trouble,” he says. “I think their solutions are in the wrong direction. They think government needs to be bigger. I think government needs to be better.”
Except for occasional appearances on MSNBC news shows, the 68-year-old has been forced to launch his salvos largely from the sidelines, because he can’t crack the lineup of GOP presidential candidates permitted to take part in the nationally televised debates. Roemer says he’s caught in a “Catch 22” in which he is precluded by sponsors from taking part in the debates because he can’t raise at least a half million dollars in campaign funds and garners no more than two percent in the polls. Yet he can’t raise the money he needs and move his needle in the polls without the exposure afforded by the debates — exactly what former New Mexico governor Gary Johnson has said of his own candidacy.
“Here I am, running for president, and I’m different,” said Roemer in a wide-ranging interview with The Fiscal Times late Thursday. “No big checks, no PAC money. That’s my issue. I’m successful at what I do, a successful businessman, the only congressman and governor running who had both experiences, and I can’t qualify [for the debates] because I can’t get a poll number, and I can’t get a poll number because I can’t get on the debates. How about that for shutting a man down?”
‘Romney’s Better [than Gingrich] – But He’s Bought.’
The one-time Democrat first won election to the House in 1980, the year Ronald Reagan was elected president. Roemer frequently supported Reagan’s initiatives and fought with the Democratic leadership. Riding a populist, anti-incumbent tidal wave in 1987, Roemer toppled the colorful but highly corrupt governor Edwin Edwards in a crowded Democratic primary field. As governor he pushed through reforms, eliminated a huge deficit and passed some environmental measures. But he frequently quarreled with the state legislature, made a lot of enemies, and lost a bid for a second term.
Today, the Harvard-educated Roemer seems most comfortable casting himself as a victim of a political system beholden to special interests and major corporations that has so far succeeded in keeping him off the GOP debate stage. That system, he insists, has co-opted much bigger name candidates, including Gingrich, former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney and Texas Gov. Rick Perry.
“Romney’s better [than Gingrich], but he’s bought,” Roemer said. “I saw Mitt Romney when he was running for the United States Senate …. He talked about PACs, about special interest money, and about how he was different from Ted Kennedy. Bullshit. With three [presidential] Super PACs, he already has received four $1-million checks.”
“These [Republicans] are decent people,” he hastened to add. “They can play a role in turning America around. I would ask them to lead. I would ask them to stand up. Stop what they’re doing …. Tell their party, my party: Let’s stop being the party of big checks.”
Roemer recently said he’ll be a candidate in the New Hampshire Republican primary early next year. “I’m not going to quit,” he says. “I’m going to stay a Republican, but by god the Republicans are going to have to answer this issue, as are the Democrats. Having been in both parties I find them united on one issue: They want the big check. It’s about the money.”
Roemer is running on a platform of political and campaign reform, tough “fair trade” policies, a progressive flat tax to replace the current federal income tax code, and banking reform including revival of the Glass-Steagall Act that barred commercial banks from engaging in investment bank practices. “This system is in trouble,” he says. “This country is headed in the wrong direction.”
Roemer’s Wit and Wisdom
Why He’s Running
“I love America. I think it’s heading in the wrong direction. I would begin with the overpowering presence of corruptive money. I watched it in Louisiana, and I ran against it and stopped it. We can do the same thing in Washington, D.C.”
On the Occupy Movement’s Political Potential
“Occupy will become more political, but I’m very optimistic. I went down to the street and listened for a day. They booed and pushed on me as a Republican, but then we began to talk, and at the end of it we were together. They realized you shouldn’t judge a person by his color or his party or where he’s from. I have the same concerns they do. I smelled it in Louisiana. It’s corrupt. And I define institutional corruption as when the big check takes the place of a good idea. That’s corruption.”
On Political Corruption
“Any line that forms in Washington for relief or for change or debate always has a person with a big check first in line. That’s not what America should be. That’s not what it used to be. And I think we can go back to a fair place again. Here’s what you do: You start by saying no to the oil money, the chemical money, the special interest money. You set a limit on what you will take.”
On New Gingrich
“Newt is the worst. He is the furthest candidate from me. He says one thing and does another. He is in up to his armpits in government and the corruption of same. I listened to him in Iowa defend the ethanol [subsidy], not realizing that that’s where he got his money from. I mean, this guy is on every scam in the world. He ought to clean up his own act because he has plenty of ability. Sharp as a razor. But you can’t have it both ways. You can’t represent little people and be in bed with the big ones.”
On the GOP Race
“This race is wide open… I don’t think there’s a president among them. They all have a Super Pac. I think Obama has three. Mitt Romney has two or four. Rick Perry has seven. Jon Huntsman has one, funded by his father.”
On the Economy
“When I was governor of Louisiana we took unemployment from 12 percent [down to] 5.6 percent, and we did it with a plan. We did it with balancing the budget. What I would do if I got the office: [I’d] begin with campaign reform. My second bill, HR 2, would be fair trade with China. Very specific. If your goods come into this country, and they’re made by children or by prisoners, they will not be allowed in. No, I don’t want a trade war, but I’m telling you right now, we’ve surrendered. There won’t be a war. There will be a resolution, and we’ll put people back to work again.”