Kennedy, has run for US Senate twice before and for Attorney General, once, all unsuccessfully. However, as Treasurer, after switching from Democrat to Republican before his last US Senate run against Mary Landrieu, Kennedy has become somewhat of a folk hero among conservatives with his anti-big government and no-tax messages.
He will take that same message into the upcoming Louisiana legislative special and regular sessions, possibly one of the most important ones in state history since Louisiana is facing a severe budget crunch regardless of the actual numbers.
Yet, Kennedy, who insists that we can beat the budget by cutting rather than spending, by focusing upon making government smaller rather than making it a taxing agent for politicians, is operating under a totally different assumption than that of the current administration led by Democrat Jon Bel Edwards and Republican Jay Dardenne.
For one, the Treasurer feels the budget crises is not as severe as being presented by the Edwards administration, thus, cuts are more viable and he is the man with the plan. Edwards, however, insists that the budget is as bad as he is warning and climb to 3 billion by February of this year.
Who might be right could come down to the numbers presented during the legislative session.
With this as a backdrop, I interviewed Kennedy to discuss the reasons for his run for US Senate, his conservative credentials and the budget mess that he, running for Senate, will continue to discuss as a central part of his campaign.
SABLUDOWSKY: Treasurer John Kennedy, thank you for talking with me today and congratulations on your announcement and tell me what's he future and why should we vote for youfor U.S. Senate?
KENNEDY: Well, you need to start, it seems to me, every voter should asking a candidate why is he running..
KENNEDY: You'd be surprised how many candidates can't really tell you. I can only speak for myself of course. But, I'm running because I want my country back, I mean, I'm really scared that were losing it . I'm from a little town outside of Baton Rouge called Zachary, my dad, mom, were conservative people , my dad was a small businessman, owned a little lumber yard, my mom was a retired schoolteacher. They taught me conservative values. God, country, family, discipline, hard work. Education was very very big in my family and quite frankly, everybody has their own opinion, but I think that America is losing those values. Here's what I see, Steve, when i look around. I see too many undeserving people at the top getting special treatment and bailouts, and I see too many undeserving people at the bottom getting handouts and everybody in the middle getting the bill and we can't afford it anymore. Our health insurance is going up , our automobile insurance is going up , our tuition is going up for our kids --our taxes are going up and something's got to give and what all this means is --our kid's generation is at risk of becoming the first in America to be worse off than their parents. It really is, it's harder than ever to get ahead and is easier than ever to do nothing and so I'm going to talk a lot about what I consider to be the American dream, in this race.
SABLUDOWSKY: Okay, So as I appreciate what you saying, it's more sort of like in the middle . you concerned more about the middle class that you're focused, and my correct?
KENNEDY: No, I'm concerned. this is way I see things -- values are very important Values determine choices and choices determines your future. I did not support the bailout, I do not believe in too big too big, I do not believe in too big to jail, I think the expansion, the stimulus package, the bailout, whatever you want to call it, was an extraordinary expansion of power. I don't believe in the form of capitalism--that heads I win, tails, the government bails me out . I don't believe in it. I believe in the business values of Main Street and I think the Wall Street is supposed to represent, the best, the heart, if you will, of American capitalism. And I do not support what happened in 2008. That's what I mean when I'm talk about special treatment and bailout.
SABLUDOWSKY: sure, go ahead
KENNEDY: at the same time, I believe that free market capitalism has done more to lift people out of poverty then all the government programs put together. I think that welfare was intended to be a bridge, not a parking lot and into many respects, it has become a parking lot.
SABLUDOWSKY: Sure, now without pointing fingers, I mean obviously, the current administration took over from the former President Bush and the economy was tubing , so without the bailout one would argue, without the bailout, without the stimulus, who knows where the economy would be going-- and I'm just wondering how do you feel about that?
KENNEDY: I'm a free market guy. I'm not saying that we shouldn't have some regulations but I think the government ought to intervene in the economy as little as it possibly can..
Here's what I see that's happened in the last eight years. We had the great recession of 2008, the worst economic downturn since the great depression. We've had the most feeble recovery fom a recession in economic history. we've lost two wars. We have seen the stunning rise of China which is eating our lunch and stealing our jobs. This country has been embarrassed by Putin, we've been winkydooed by Iran , we've been attacked by terrorist here at home, and the world is on fire with ISIS . Now who's responsible for that? Ultimately what's responsible are the values chosen by our leadership in Washington and when I say our leadership, I'm talking about Pres. Obama, I'm talking about Sec. Clinton and I'm talking about the United States Congress , they cannot escape blamed from this
SABLUDOWSKY: sure, so Democrats and Republicans, am I correct?
KENNEDY: absolutely. absolutely. I don't support big government Republicans any more than I support Ritz-Carlton Democrats .
SABLUDOWSKY: okay. now some people are saying, Hey, why he running for U.S. Senate, "we've got a major problem here--2.6 billion, $750 million just coming up by June 30 of this year, "please, John , please , stay, stay , we need you"
KENNEDY: I'll do both jobs. I'll be very active in the legislative session. I'm accustomed to 80 to 100 hour weeks , I'll be very active in the legislative session , but clearly, serving in the Senate is something I feel strongly about , clearly it's the job I want. I'll be a good United States senator. Most of the people in Louisiana know me. They know what I stand for. I tried not to be rude, but I do speak my mind. I'm not part of the club in Baton Rouge. I don't want to be. My job is to protect taxpayers not seek approval of my political peers and that 's is the same attitude that I'll take to Washington
SABLUDOWSKY: And your the most popular person, elected official, by far, in the State of Louisiana, but since you speak your mind, I'm going to speak my mind, and please forgive me—but what does concern me is this, we do have a major problem--2.6 billion. Now I've heard you on radio and on Jeff's show etc., talking about cutting cutting cutting and I think everybody agrees with you we absolutely need to cut. I did some homework the other day, And my umbers may be off, I asked the governor about this yesterday. And basically, if we close all of the universities, it would be a savings of no more than say, $800 million
KENNEDY: We don't have to close the universities
SABLUDOWSKY: No, but my point is--how in the world can we cut ourselves out of-- , yeah, no doubt we're not "one cut away from prosperity", no doubt about that, but can we really cut..
KENNEDY: yes yes.. let me tell you how we do it
We've got 156 special funds, as you know, they're called statutory dedications . I'm not saying that all those expenditures are wasteful, but we've got no business spending money on the Polk Salad Festival or the sunflower Festival when we've got a fiscal problem like this. The governor needs to eliminate all 156 of those funds. That will free up without raising taxes about $488 million. Now some of the expenditures we'll probably do anyway, but they'll have to compete as part of the general fund, with higher education and healthcare. Number two, I don't think there is a single reasonable person in the Milky Way who believes that we need all 19,000 of our consultants. We just don't. Number three, 22%, these aren't my numbers, but the legislative auditor's numbers, 22% of all the managers in classified service in state government manage one employee. It's undeniable, Steve, that we have too many generals and not enough foot soldiers. There's savings that can be had there. Number four, last year we had 900,000 visits, not my number's, PAR's number to emergency, to emergency rooms paid for by taxpayers for non-emergencies, by Medicaid patients,. We just cannot afford that anymore. We've got to do what other states have done and say no. If you present in an emergency room and you want to be treated for acne or get a pregnancy test or see if you need glasses or have a wart removed or talk to somebody about losing weight, we will treat you under Medicaid but not in an emergency room where it costs five times more. And that they don't know how to do that, all they have to do is go over to you sent Houston and copy the "patient navigator program" at Houston's Memorial Herman Hospital. Now we just saved in those four measures, I think we saved a minimum, a minimum of five hundred million dollars and more.
SABLUDOWSKY: Ok, so..
KENNEDY: Ok, let me finish my thought..So I think we have a moral obligation, before we raise taxes on the people of Louisiana to the tune of two-in-a-half to three billion dollars, I think with got a moral obligation to try to get control of our costs. And we haven't done that
SABLUDOWSKY: I think everybody would agree with that and I believe that's one of the sources of your popularity, no question about that, five or $6 million is a far cry from 1.9 billion dollars upon the 750 million
KENNEDY: I don't think it's one point nine billion and I don't think it's 750 million. I think the numbers are inflated, I think that 1.9..
I'm not saying it's not serious, but I don't think is 1.9 billion and I don't think it's 750 million
I think it's more like 1.2, 1.3 billion and more like 2, to 3-400 million this year if that much. I understand politics, I understand trying to put pressure on on universities to lobby the legislature to give tax increase but I also know how to read I just don't think it's that high. That does not mean it's not serious. But I tell you this, I read a letter to the editor today here somebody commented, and I thought it was pretty significant, he said, "this isn't a crisis, this is a habit". They raised taxes last spring at 800 million dollars and we told it would fix everything. It didn't fix everything. You cannot fix this on the revenue side, you've got to fix this on the spending side and frankly, you've got to start with Medicaid
SABLUDOWSKY: Speaking of last year if I might, we had, with the session as you mentioned, we basically raised about $800 million on the backs of business whether it is reduced tax credits or, as Stephen Waguespack called it, taxes and that was in an election year. That was a time when Republican, Democratic legislators, they're looking at elections coming up just a couple of months later--now we're four years away from an election and I'm just... and we don't have a Republican governor and we have more of a Republican ..but not that much different , Republican legislature, and if we couldn't do it then, how in the world, I'm not saying that we shouldn't, but I'm saying, if we couldn't do it then and if the numbers actually are worse, if couldn't do it then--how the world can we do it now?
KENNEDY: We you know what, that's why everybody was elected Steve and I'm not just putting all of this on the governor. The legislature plays a big role in this too, as you know, Under our Constitution, they play a bigger role. But this is a way I approach it, does anybody really believe, if we passed every one of governor Edwards taxes, does anybody believe that three years from now, or four years from now or two years from now, they won't be back for more? Number two, has anybody--the focus of the governor--is on Government and its revenues. He's focusing on the private sector in the People's revenue, He's proposing to raise personal income tax, sales tax, corporate income tax, corporate franchise tax, telephone tax, a new Internet tax, cigarette tax, liquor tax, inventory tax, business utility tax and I probably missed some. I mean it's breathtaking. It could very easily tank this economy. We've got two areas right now that is growing. Ask Loren Scott. I've seen his numbers. Only two areas: Baton Rouge and Lake Charles. Everybody else is fat, flat rather or slowing. They better be careful with this economy. The government is not the only entity with the problem with cash flow. A lot of businesses are as well.
SABLUDOWSKY: One last stream of questions, and that is this--and you've probably have seen it in the papers etc. and different columns--some people are saying that the governor actually knew about the problem that we're having right now, with the budget. That he should've known or he knew. Others say "no", things really worsened around November with the revenue estimating conference. I'm just wondering, do you believe that he knew or should have known?
KENNEDY: I don't know. I know what I knew. number one, this house was on fire even before oil started dropping, We were starting to have problems because the prior administration as you know spent more than a took in, and then used gimmicks to balance the budget
KENNEDY: the price of oil has hurt
but it's not the only reason that were in the thick. I would admit it's a bit part of it, but it's not the only reason. You can't this just on the price of oil. You think back before the oil started dropping, we were having budget problems
SABLUDOWSKY: Sure, oil makes up about 20 -30% , as I appreciate it in terms of the overall budget shortfall