The straight-laced ambassador was reportedly horrified at the casual antics of the Governor, and the story shot around the Baton Rouge political establishment with the subtext that Roemer was just “not ready for prime time”. (It was an interesting turn of phrase that reminded most insiders that the Governor was usually unavailable for morning meetings because he insisted on staying up late to watch David Letterman—at his previous 11:30 perch after Carson’s Tonight Show—every night.)
More than twenty years later, re-invigorated from his time in the private sector, Buddy Roemer announced on Thursday, March 3, 2011, that he was more than ready to go “toe to toe” with ambassadors, foreign leaders, and members of Congress. The Former Louisiana Governor began, "Today I am announcing the formation of a presidential exploratory committee.”
“I felt compelled to explore a potential candidacy for president of the United States because I've never been more concerned about the future of our representative democracy.”
That Roemer made the statements from the offices of the financial institution he owns, First Bank in Baton Rouge, was not accidental. It was a direct effort to send a message about his fiscal management skills—and counter doubts about his foreign policy expertise.
Of the looming deficit, Roemer commented, “Our national debt is swallowing the promise of America, wrongly impacting our foreign policy, and robbing a generation of Americans of jobs and opportunity.”?
Roemer explained how he had seen first-hand the ways that special interest monies, particularly foreign lobbying funds, had corrupted US politics. It was a less than subtle reminder that Roemer has spent the better part of the last 15 years financing deals abroad, with much of the focus of his efforts centered around providing the seed funds for industrial and business projects in China.
The once jeans-clad governor now is more used to formal suits and speaking to international trade delegations. By the 2008 elections, he had become something of a national political power broker as well. Roemer served as Sen. John McCain’s man on the ground in the Presidential caucus states, often coordinating the '08 GOP Presidential hopeful’s turnout efforts. In the West Virginia primary, Roemer was specifically credited with convincing the Mike Huccabee supporters to cross the floor to back McCain—and, in doing so, stop Mitt Romney from winning any Republican delegates.
Like McCain, Roemer was an early supporter of Campaign Finance Reform. As Louisiana Governor, he passed through the legislature campaign contribution limits and financial disclosure from campaigns. Breaking from most of the other potential GOP contenders in 2012, Roemer has made campaign finance, particularly the reform of Political Action Committees, a center-piece of his bid for the White House.
Calling himself a “seasoned warrior against the special interest money”, Roemer, taking a page from Jerry Brown’s bid for the Democratic presidential nomination in 1992, said he would not accept any contributions of more than $100 and would not accept PAC money.?
?“Washington, D.C., is not up to the task of leadership because it too has become indebted – indebted to special interest money,” the former Governor continued. “At a time of national recession, Washington, D.C., never had it so good. Money has washed over it like a tsunami and drowned the voice of the people.”
Before reporters were even able to ask the question on everyone’s mind, can he win, Roemer stated,?"Electability should not be discussed in terms of who can raise the most money, but rather who has the best ideas to raise America. We can reform American politics and here is my pledge to help us start: I will accept only contributions up to $100 per individual contributor. No PAC or special interest money will be accepted. Only individual contributions with a name and an address, and all will be reported, although not required under the current law. Today, I declare my independence from moneyed special interests.”?
In 2008, Barack Obama won the White House, in part by abandoning his pledge not to accept PAC monies. He raised a billion dollars, an amount that most political observers consider the minimum necessary for a candidate to complete in this election cycle.
John McCain refused to take PAC money and lagged behind all the way through November. Roemer seems undaunted by that reality.
??"Special interest money has taken control of the key policy issues facing our nation,” the former LA Governor explained. “It is time to be brutally honest. If we pass a health care bill that does not address frivolous medical lawsuits, fails to make insurance companies compete or provide real choice to our citizens, has someone bought too much access? If we pass a financial reform bill that does not tackle too big to fail, harmful derivatives that shifts the risks of Wall Street's gambles to Main Street taxpayers, or fix the problems at Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, have we really addressed the causes of our financial system's collapse?”
“If we brag about cutting spending, while we fear touching entitlements for fear of special interest retribution, can we really put America's financial house back in order? ??We have traded access in the political system for guaranteed special interest outcomes,” continued Roemer. “This must stop. Name a problem or an opportunity – tax reform, spending discipline, jobs creation, Wall Street bailout, defense appropriations – and then follow the money and reveal its tentacles. Our political system, our decision-makers are indebted to all the wrong things -- access money, fund-raiser money, special interest money, bundled money, protection money -- all of it corrupt and all of it making real change just a nice tag line in a speech.”??
Roemer pointed to his experience in Louisiana -- and insisted that his background in the private and public sectors helped prepare him to serve in the White House. ?"I saw what special interest money can do to the voice of the people when I was governor of Louisiana, and I have the political and personal scars to prove I am not afraid to challenge politics as usual,” said Roemer. “I love America, but I detest what special interest money has done to American politics. To fix the financial crisis threatening our nation will require real leadership. I am the only person considering running for president who has been a congressman, a governor, a member of both parties, and a small-business owner. I appreciate the enormity of what we face, but I am not afraid of the fight.”??
Roemer becomes only the second announced Republican candidate for President in forming his exploratory committee. He joins Tea party favorite and African-American conservative radio host Herman Cain, the former CEO of Godfather’s Pizza.
(Almost simulanteous to Roemer’s announcement, former US House Speaker Newt Gingrich proclaimed on a Georgia radio program that he would “explore” a bid for the Presidency yet would stop short of forming a legal exploratory committee or announcing for the job. Legally, Gingrich is not a candidate as of yet, while Roemer and Cain are, having filed with the FEC. Still that did not stop Fox News from suspending both Gingrich and former Pennsylvanian Senator Rick Santorum from their commentary gigs due to their budding Presidential races. Fox News did keep Mike Huckabee and Sarah Palin on the payroll, however.
By taking on campaign finance, Buddy Roemer seeks to lead a political party whose activists have cheered the restoration of political contributions from corporations, and have cheered the striking down of most of the McCain-Feingold bill, as advancements of free speech. Like a fellow likely GOP candidate for President, New Mexico’s former Governor Gary Johnson, who runs in an attempt to end the drug war by legalizing marijuana, Roemer has predicated his campaign—in part—on a political stand that is anethma in establishment GOP circles. And, it is hard to raise money when you run against money in politics.
Clearly, the former Governor of Louisiana hopes that his message of special interest money corrupting the system will resonate with Tea Party activists already upset at the status quo in Washington—particularly with the TARP ballout of Wall Street that Roemer referenced.
To appeal to those same grassroots conservative voters, Roemer also touched on other issues, from backing a simplified federal tax code to more energy exploration in the U.S. and complete independence from foreign oil by 2020, from reducing spending in all federal departments to cracking down on illegal immigration.
Still, the former Governor must contend with a record in office where he specifically endorsed positions that would hardly play well with the conservative GOP electorate of the Iowa Caucus or New Hampshire primary.
In his first year as Governor, Roemer gave a passionate defense of Affirmative Action programs, and worked against legislative efforts to repeal racial preference programs.
Moreover, Roemer ran on reducing the size of state government, but his plan “to brick up the top five floors of the Department of Education and pay the teachers” never came about. Bureaucracy was larger when he left office, and he backed a gas tax increase as part of the TIME road construction budget. (Gas tax hikes for roads plagued Mike Huckabee in 2008, and has caused several economic conservatives to oppose the former Arkansas Governor's potential campaign for President this year.)
Most notably, Roemer, who declared a pro-life stand in his gubernatorial campaign, vetoed both efforts to outlaw abortion in Louisiana. When the first bill, authored by State Rep. Woody Jenkins, did not allow for exceptions for Rape or Incest, Roemer said that he would sign an abortion ban, but only if it contained those exceptions.
Surprising the Governor, the legislature sent him an amended bill that provided those exceptions (as well as one allowing abortions if the mother’s life was in danger).
He vetoed that bill as well. It was one of the only times in the second half of the Twentieth century that a gubernatorial veto was overturned by 2/3 majorities in the State House and Senate. (Ultimately, the federal courts struck the law down, under the precedent of Roe v. Wade.)
A pro-choice position is toxic in GOP primaries as former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani learned. At least, though, Giuliani had always been pro-choice. Roemer had said he was pro-life--and a Democrat when he ran for Governor.
Roemer was elected to the U.S. House in 1980 as a Democrat before running for governor in 1987. During his term, he switched to the Republicans in a White House ceremony, but the damage from his pro-life reversal was done. The Louisiana Republican Party’s convention endorsed GOP Congressman Clyde Holloway, specifically due to the abortion issue.
Holloway would draw just enough Republican support from Roemer that former KKK Grand Wizard David Duke would slip into the runoff with Democrat Edwin Edwards. The campaign gave Louisiana its signature political bumper sticker, “Vote for the crook; it’s important.”
Four years later, Roemer’s comeback bid for governor collapsed when most of the GOP rank and file embraced another Democrat-turned-Republican Mike Foster. Roemer came in a close fourth in the primary, behind then Treasurer Mary Landrieu and then Congressman Cleo Fields. The abortion issue haunted Roemer even then.
Now, the 67-year-old Baton Rouge Bank President is off to Iowa for another campaign. The Presidential aspirant does have friends on the ground. What little campaign John McCain had in Iowa was due in large part to Roemer. (Roemer’s organizing was so valuable to the Senator that many in McCain’s circle reportedly expected Roemer to be appointed as head of the Republican National Committee should McCain have won the White House.)
Whether Roemer can win, or even raise enough money to be a contender in a GOP field that contains former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, former U.S. House Speaker Newt Gingrich, former U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania, Gov. Mitch Daniels of Indiana, former Gov. Tim Pawlenty of Minnesota, Gov. Haley Barbour of Mississippi, U.S. Rep. Ron Paul of Texas, U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann of Minnesota, former Gov. George Pataki of New York, former Gov. Bob Riley of Alabama, former U.N. Ambassador John Bolton, and the aforementioned Herman Cain, remains to be seen.
Still, Roemer does not count himself out. In an interview with Politico, he maintained, "I would settle for somebody better than me, but I haven't seen them out there."
"You think I can get 4 million Americans to give me $100 each?" he asked Politico. "That's $400 million."
"I should be president or somebody better than I should be. And the only way to make sure of that is to make [my opponents] go around me, through me or over me in the primaries…I'm going to be independent from the Big Money, Wall Street money, special interest money; that's going to be my mark in this campaign."
Still, it was not enough of a mark to draw attention amongst the pundits on the Sunday after the announcement. None of the talk shows, from Meet the Press, to Fox News Sunday, to ABC's This Week listed Roemer amongst the potential or announced Presidential candidates. Herman Cain got a mention. Roemer did not.
He did get some press in the Huffington Post, saying he supports the right of state's to legalize Gay Marriage, comments that drew fire from social conservatives. He quickly backtracked and reiterated his support of the Federal Defense of Marriage Act as well.
Roemer made his first campaign appearance in Iowa on Monday at the Iowa Faith and Freedom Coalition dinner. Besides a mention, though, his press was limited.
By Christopher Tidmore, [email protected]
Tidmore is on the radio weekdays from 7-8 AM on 1560 AM New Orleans and 1590 AM Baton Rouge, online at www.gtmorning.com.