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February 24, 2009

 

GOVERNOR BARBOUR ON CNN'S "STATE OF THE UNION"

 


Governor Haley Barbour spoke with CNN ’s John King on Sunday, February 22, 2009. The following is an excerpt from the interview:

 

KING: So let's get started. Some big tests ahead this week for President Obama. For the first time, he'll address a joint session of Congress and outline his budget plan. This after a week when more than 600,000 new workers applied for unemployment insurance, joining nearly 5 million others, an all-time high. Whether Mr. Obama's plans will create all those promised jobs or stabilize the housing market remains an open question, but the reaction in financial markets is unenthusiastic, to say the least. Wall Street this past week hit a six-year low. So will the Obama plans work, and what do struggling states need most? I'm joined by two governors on the fiscal front lines, Haley Barbour, Republican of Mississippi; Deval Patrick, Democrat of Massachusetts.

 

Gentlemen, I want to talk specifics about the economy first, but I want to start with a political question. We have a brand new poll out this morning with incredibly high marks for our new president. 80 percent of the American people view President Obama as a strong leader; 75 percent of the American people say he inspires confidence. And, yes, when you ask those same Americans, will President Obama's stimulus plan improve your financial situation? Three in 10 Americans, only three in 10, 31 percent, say yes; 67 percent, more than two-thirds of Americans, say no.

 

Haley Barbour, let me start with you. As a Republican governor, former national party chairman, why the disconnect between what people think personally of President Obama and whether they think his policy will work.

 

BARBOUR: Well, I think Americans want our president to succeed. You know, whether you're a Republican who had voted for John McCain, he's our president, and our country needs him to succeed, particularly in times like this. So I think that's part of it. At the same time, people are pessimistic about the economy. And think about what they see on the news, John. I mean, they get pounded and pounded and pounded with the bad news. And, frankly, I think most economists are right when they say we likely won't hit bottom this year. That's why states like mine are trying to be very conservative and prudent.

 

KING: So, Governor Patrick, pessimistic about the economy or also maybe have doubts about the specifics of this plan?

 

PATRICK: I think Governor Barbour has it right. It's pessimism about the economy. It's wide-ranging anxiety. It's worries about, you know, if you have a job, whether you are going to be able to hang on to it, whether you're going to be able to educate your kids.

 

And you know, our ideas through this stimulus bill, but not just through the stimulus bill, are to put people back to work. And there are a whole host of ways to do that. But we know and the president knows, government doesn't create jobs; businesses do. And so we need to be investing in all the ways that the stimulus bill enables us and others in order to get people back to work.

 

KING: You are about to get a chunk of change from the federal government. Governor Patrick, you wanted it. You have budget shortfalls. Governor Barbour, you weren't so sure about this program, and you have even said you don't want some of it. I was out in Michigan with another governor who will be at your meetings here in Washington this week, and Michigan has the highest unemployment rate. I stopped by to see Governor Jennifer Granholm, and she had a message she wanted me to deliver to you and other Republican colleagues, Republican governors who have said maybe I won't take this money. Let's listen.

 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) GOV. JENNIFER M. GRANHOLM, D-MICH.: The governors who are trying to decide whether they are going to accept the stimulus money or not -- we'll take it. We'll take your money. South Carolina, I'll take your money. Louisiana, we'll take it. We got plenty of work here, plenty of jobs that we would like to create here.

 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

 

KING: So, Haley Barbour, are you prepared to say no to the federal government, I won't take your money, and, Governor Granholm, would be grateful if you would take it, and then just write her a check?

 

PATRICK: Well, wait a minute, wait a minute. We're over here, too.

 

(LAUGHTER)

 

PATRICK: We'll take it too.

 

BARBOUR: Well, the truth is, I don't know any governor who's just talking about not taking any of the money.

 

KING: But you won't take some?

 

BARBOUR: There is some we will not take in Mississippi. If we were to take the unemployment insurance reform package that they have, it would cause us to raise taxes on employment when the money runs out, and the money will run out in a couple of years. And then we'll have to raise the unemployment insurance tax, which is literally a tax on employment. I mean, we want more jobs. You don't get more jobs by putting an extra tax on creating jobs.

 

KING: Is that -- is he right about that? That if you take this money, you're going to have to raise taxes?

 

PATRICK: I don't think so. I respectfully disagree. I mean, even before we went on camera, we were talking about you getting out and the show getting out, talking to people, learning from people outside of Washington, and frankly, outside of government. And everywhere across the country, certainly in Massachusetts -- and I'll bet it's true in Mississippi -- people want their roads repaired, they want their bridges repaired, they want a clean energy strategy and alternatives and real alternatives, and they want us to be candid with them about those needs. So whether governors say that they will or won't take this or that part of the stimulus bill in some ways is irrelevant. People want that help.

 

Now, I think that the point that the governor has made about what happens after the stimulus bill runs out is an important one, for all of us. And how we plan for that and how we are prudent about that is a challenge in states led by Democrats just as in states led by Republicans.

 

KING: One of the things... BARBOUR: I want to say, John, I think most governors from both parties wish there had been more money for infrastructure, more money for roads and bridges. But a lot of the money is social policy, in this particular instance. Our state would be required to pay unemployment compensation to people who are not willing to work full- time. We've never done that in our state. Most states do not do that. If we were to change so we get this extra federal money, then we would have to put in extra tax on job creation in Mississippi.

 

This is not about whether or not we're going to take money to build roads. This is about whether we're going to change policy to what the left wants, and then have to raise taxes on our employers to do it. It's a small item out of a big bill.

 

KING: There's an accountability challenge for the president -- this is his program -- but also for you as governors. And I want to go through the numbers. The federal government says Massachusetts will get $8 billion roughly in the stimulus program, should create 79,000 jobs is what the federal government says. Mississippi would get $2.3 billion, maybe you'll send some of that back, but the federal government says the stimulus should create 30,000 jobs in the state of Mississippi. Do you accept those numbers, and will you be held accountable, Governor Patrick, you first?

 

PATRICK: Well, first of all, I think the most -- the most critical element of accountability is wise choices in terms of how the money is spent. And we have created a position to oversee all of that, and also a website so that you will be able to follow every dollar for every project against its budget and timeline. And I think the people are crying out for that kind of accountability. The president accepts it. I accept it. I think it will be...

 

(CROSSTALK)

 

KING: To the point of nearly 80,000 jobs?

 

PATRICK: I think it's 80,000 jobs created or saved, and certainly that is aligned with our own independent initiative. So, yes, we want to do that.

 

KING: Do you accept his numbers?

 

BARBOUR: I think you're probably right about $2.3, $2.5 billion. How many jobs it will create or not create I think is an estimate. I don't take issue with it, I just can't confirm it.

 

But we in Mississippi, because of Katrina, have had the experience of getting a huge amount of federal money, kind of unexpectedly.

 

KING: Right.

 

BARBOUR: And you do have to put in structures to manage the money, to help the local governments, because the American people have a right to expect us to be good stewards of this money, and we're going to be. We learned how to do it with Katrina and we're going to do it with this money too.

 

KING: You mentioned your home state of Mississippi. I want to start with a headline here in a Sunday morning newspaper, "The Hattiesburg American." "Obama wants deficit halved." He will present his budget to the Congress in this coming week, and he says even though they are spending all this money on the stimulus program, all the money on the financial industry bailout, he will try to get about the business of cutting the deficit in half. One way he will do that, Haley Barbour, is by letting the Bush tax cuts expire. Americans who make more than $250,000 will pay more in income taxes. There are also some higher taxes on some investments in this plan. Is that the right thing to do in the middle of a recession, in your view?

 

BARBOUR: I don't think there's an economist in the United States that thinks when you're trying to get out of a recession and to create jobs, you ought to raise taxes.

 

KING: You agree with that?

 

PATRICK: Look, I think that what the people want is candor. They want us to be honest about what the cost of the services that they say they want actually is. That's what we're trying to do in Massachusetts. Just this last week...

 

KING: But you say -- I want to show this headline as you speak, Governor, because you're taking some heat back home. This is "The Boston Herald." My first job was delivering this newspaper many years ago.

 

PATRICK: Yes.

 

KING: "Just Gas-tly."

 

PATRICK: Look at you now, John.

 

KING: I tell everybody, get a job delivering "The Herald." Nineteen cent tax rip-off, they are calling it on the front page of "The Boston Herald." You have to make tough choices.

 

PATRICK: They are miserable choices. And it's not, you know, it's not a joyful decision, but it's that or substantial cuts in services in mass transit, as well as fare increases, or doubling of the tolls on the turnpike.

 

I have put all of that out there, and we are dealing, frankly, with 16 years of a lack of stewardship, where we took debt from the Big Dig project and stashed it away in all kinds of places and told people they could have things without paying for it.

 

That bill is now due. And so I am just trying to be candid with the people of Massachusetts about what our choices really are. And none of them are particularly pleasant. But grown-ups that know you can't have something for nothing.

 

KING: Much more of our conversation with both governors, just after a quick break. They will stay with us. We'll hear a lot more. Later this hour, we take you up close on a GM assembly line, where workers live in constant fear their job's in jeopardy. And they say middle-class America is fading.

 

In our 10 o'clock hour, outspoken author Bernie Goldberg calls the media's relationship with Obama, quote, "a slobbering love affair." Howard Kurtz puts that controversial claim to the test.

 

At 11:00 a.m., our provocative Sunday conversation with the best political team on television.

 

And at 12 p.m., California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger. He'll be here, live, to talk about the state of the economy and the Republican Party.

 

Much more of our "State of the Union" report, right after a quick break.

 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

 

KING: We're back now with the governors of Mississippi and Massachusetts, Democrat Deval Patrick and Republican Haley Barbour.

 

Gentlemen, I want to use the map, for just a second, and get your advice on what you think of this. President Obama, as he sells the stimulus plan, has been getting outside of Washington.

 

Here's some of the places he's gone. He's gone down to the state of Florida. He's been out to Ohio. He's been out to Indiana. He's gone to Virginia. He was out in Colorado. And he went down here to Arizona.

 

Now why am I circling these states? Let's just do this, take the Telestrator off. Let's remember these states here.

 

See the circles? Let's go back in time to the 2004 election: a red state, a red state, a red state, a red state, and a red state.

 

This state stayed red this time, John McCain's home state, but Barack Obama would like to change it next time.

 

Haley Barbour, you were once the national Republican Party chairman. As a salesman, rate the president in terms of how he does on the road -- you think he's going those places for a reason?

 

BARBOUR: Of course, he's going to those places for a reason, John. I mean, in the -- David Axelrod, who's his campaign consultant/manager/guru really is one of the brightest, most capable people in American politics. And so this is what we've become accustomed to, the perpetual campaign.

 

KING: I thought he said he was going to be different?

 

BARBOUR: Well, this is the perpetual campaign. I mean, that's...

 

(LAUGHTER)

 

I'm not going to try to get in an argument with the president or his people. That's not my purpose of being here. But this is the perpetual campaign. And I think, after awhile, people will get more focused on how are we doing, rather than on the campaign techniques.

 

KING: Governor Patrick, we had Senator McCain on the program last week. And remember, after the election, he said he wanted to work with Barack Obama. He was going to come back to the Senate; the campaign was over; he wanted to get things done.

 

But he said the stimulus debate has left him with a very sour taste. Let's listen to Senator McCain last week.

 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

 

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN, R-ARIZ.: It was a bad beginning. It was a bad beginning because it wasn't what we'd promised the American people, what President Obama promised the American people, that we would sit down together.

 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

 

KING: The president gives a big speech Tuesday night. He goes up to Congress for the first time. You're a Democrat. I'm guessing you blame the Republicans for the lack of bipartisanship, but let us put the past behind us.

 

Senator McCain says "a bad beginning." To get him and other Republicans, say, more open on the next fight, what should the president do...

 

(CROSSTALK)

 

PATRICK: Well, first of all, I have to -- I have to differ with that being a bad beginning. Yesterday was the four-week anniversary of this new administration. And in that four weeks, there's a great big new stimulus bill with, frankly, the largest energy bill in history in it, and a big, big step forward in terms of alternative energy.

 

I think that the Congress -- there are questions that regular people have about whether the Congress is ready for bipartisanship, whether people really understand the give-and-take in the Congress that the people out in the field really expect of all of us.

 

And you know, I had the -- had the honor of serving as master of ceremonies at the bipartisan dinner in honor of John McCain, right before the -- right before the inauguration.

 

It was a wonderful event. And I had occasion to say, there, that I hope that the spirit of that evening translates into the new -- into the new government. And I think it's learned behavior. And I think it will.

 

There's a lot to like, from a Republican point of view, in this bill. I heard Governor Barbour say, just a moment ago, that he wished that there was more infrastructure money dedicated in the bill. So do I. I wish I had heard that From Republicans during the debate, and we might have gotten more of that -- that infrastructure money in there.

 

But I think it's a process. I think the president is genuinely committed to it. I think a whole lot of people in the general public are ready for.

 

KING: Let's shift gears, a little bit. You are one of three African-American governors in this country since Reconstruction.

 

Your state has the highest percentage of African-Americans, I believe, in the country, 37 percent of Mississippi residents.

 

BARBOUR: And the highest percentage -- the most African-American elected officials in the United States are in Mississippi.

 

KING: OK. So our new attorney general, who is also an African- American, said something this past week that raised a lot of eyebrows, talking about how we deal with race in America. Let's listen to Eric Holder.

 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

 

ATTORNEY GENERAL ERIC HOLDER: Though this nation has proudly thought of itself as an ethnic melting pot, in things racial, we have always been, and we, I believe, continue to be, in too many ways, essentially a nation of cowards.

 

Though race-related issues continue to occupy a significant portion of our political discussion, and though there remain many unresolved racial issues in this nation, we, average Americans, simply do not talk enough with each other about things racial.

 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

 

KING: Haley Barbour, is Eric Holder right?

 

Are we cowards, and do we not talk about race enough?

 

BARBOUR: I think too many people in politics sometimes make race the issue. Race ought not to be an issue. I mean, Martin Luther King was right. We ought to judge people by the content of their character and not the color of the skin.

 

I'm a very conservative Republican governor. I've got African- Americans in the equivalent of what passes for my cabinet -- we don't call it a cabinet -- all through my administration.

 

I have a legislature that has 50-something African-Americans in it, many of whom support me -- all Democrats, but many of whom support me on various issues.

 

KING: Your party, nationally, though -- your party, nationally, was crushed among African-Americans in the last election.

 

BARBOUR: Not just in the last election. It goes back for -- for decades. But the fact is, I think, too often, things are made to be about race, when race is not what we ought to be thinking about. We ought to be thinking about what's the best thing for our state as a whole.

 

KING: So why would Eric Holder, then, if you agree with this, that it shouldn't be about race, why -- why those comments?

 

PATRICK: Well, you know, you just showed the most context I have yet seen for that comment.

 

KING: Right. Most people boil it down to the "cowards."

 

(CROSSTALK)

 

PATRICK: Just those few -- just those few words. Look, we have a real challenge in this country, and it goes back a long time, striking a balance between acknowledging the remarkable progress that we have made over the last 40 or 50 years, and, at the same time, acknowledging how much remains to be done.

 

Race is with us. It doesn't mean people in every setting are making every judgment on the basis of race, but race is with us. And in personal ways, in personal choices -- where we go to church and with whom, where we live and with whom, how we live our private lives, our social lives, how integrated or not our own personal lives are -- still a very -- it's very delicate in many, many quarters in this country. And I think that's what the attorney general is trying to get at.

 

KING: Governors, we're about out of time. I'll ask you quickly, and I can only give you about 15 seconds each. The state of your national guards. You are the commanders in chief in the state national guards. I spent a lot of time a couple of years ago looking at the deplorable breakdown of the equipment across the country. In Mississippi, you've had 10,000 members of your National Guard go for at least one tour overseas. In Massachusetts, it's 6,300. That's about 80 percent of your National Guard, essentially...

 

PATRICK: That's right.

 

KING: ... that have gone overseas at some point. Are they getting the resources they need, and are they still going off to Iraq and Afghanistan, and is it acceptable?

 

BARBOUR: I'm about to have 4,000 go back. And let me just tell you, the best way to answer your question, we're at 100 percent of our recruiting goals for the Army National Guard, we're at 100 percent of our recruiting goals for the Air National Guard. We have no vacancies, because people stay in, people want to serve. They love their country and they make great sacrifices, and their families and their employers make sacrifices. But we have no vacancies. I think that speaks for itself.

 

KING: Do they have what they need?

 

PATRICK: We have -- we have also a tremendous uptake in terms of the willingness of people to offer their service, and we should -- and I want to take the occasion to honor that service.

 

The equipment is another issue, and sometimes the equipment goes over and either doesn't come back or it does not come back in a state of good repair. And that is a concern of governors all over the country.

 

KING: Governor Deval Patrick of Massachusetts, Haley Barbour of Mississippi. Gentlemen, thanks for coming in this morning.

 

PATRICK: Thank you, John.

 

KING: You're welcome back anytime.

 

Courtesy of CNN