By Deborah Mcdermott
Former Louisiana governor and Republican presidential candidate Charles "Buddy" Roemer has not been invited to participate in any major debate, and said he may just have to consider becoming a third-party candidate to get noticed.
"If I'm going to be shut out of every debate, I suppose that's something I'm going to look at," he said. "I'm a proud Republican, but I'm a prouder American. This is not about my party, this is about my nation.
"I think people are hungry for the truth, and I want to give it to them," said Roemer, who visited with the Portsmouth Herald's editorial board on Wednesday.
The truth, he said, is that America is being run by a Congress "ripe for corruption," financed by corporations and "super" political action committees that are skirting the law.
"If you want the kids in Occupy Wall Street not to smell the stench, clean up the corruption," said Roemer, who this week slammed New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg for breaking up the encampment by police force.
"Everything's done on a wink and a nod," he said of corruption in Congress. "You retire as a congressman one day and you get a $2 million job the next. How will America grow jobs again if it's this corrupt?"
That kind of plain and passionate talk, seasoned with southern charm, was evident throughout his meeting with the editorial board.
Roemer said he comes by his convictions honestly. During eight years in the House in the late 1970s and early 1980s, he made a decision not to accept large campaign donations.
"I was told by Tip O'Neill that I was the only member of Congress that didn't accept PAC money," he said.
That practice continued when he ran for governor in 1987. While many of his competitors raised tens of millions of dollars, he raised $1 million, yet he said 11 state newspapers endorsed him.
"Why? Because I told people, it's not about me, it's about us," he said. At the time, Louisiana ranked at the bottom nationwide for teacher pay, bond rating and household income, he said.
The sitting governor, Edwin Edwards, who was later convicted of bribery, had left the state with a $500 billion deficit, he said.
Roemer eliminated the deficit by "reading the budget and deciding what was essential and what we could do without." For instance, the state's roads were in such poor repair, the federal government refused to give the state highway money. Poor teachers were weeded out, regulations were reduced.
He switched from the Democratic to Republican party while in office because "we were a one-party state, and a one-party state tends toward abuse of power."
For the past 20 years, he has been president of Business First Bank, which specializes in small businesses.
Last year, he asked for and received the federal budget, "and I actually read it. And I came to the conclusion that we are a country in decline."
The unemployment rate, he said, is "much higher than 9 percent, with 4 percent who want jobs but quit looking and 10 to 12 percent who are working part time and can't make it. I see 25 percent of the population in trouble. It's legitimate to call it the Great Recession."
His solution includes righting a "terrible trade imbalance. We're giving manufacturing jobs away. They're going to China," he said.
Of China, he said, "they don't believe in free trade. They are a dictatorship and manipulate trade and subsidize their industry.
"And don't even get me started on (General Electric)," which has invested heavily in China. "They fired 56,000 Americans last year and hired 48,000 Chinese. And they're the largest corporate giver to Congress. Figure it out."
Roemer said he looked at the field of Republican presidential candidates and "I didn't see anyone who would stand up to China."
America, he said, is "giving our wealth away. The net wealth of America is going somewhere else" through the trade imbalance, which includes oil from other nations.
He supports any source of energy that will reduce the country's reliance on foreign oil, including green alternatives, natural gas and nuclear power. And he'd open the federal nuclear waste repository at Yucca Mountain in Nevada, saying the reason the industry is considered so unsafe is because it's storing spent rods on site.
He would also revamp campaign finance laws. His fellow candidates "are all bought and paid for by special interests. They say, "it won't do any good to be as passionate as Buddy. I need to get elected.' How do you fight corruption if you're taking money from 'em?"
He would reform tax laws to make them more predictable and eliminate regulations on small businesses. "The big boys can take care of themselves. Mom and pop aren't producing now," he said.
He also said he's not running for re-election, and that's important. "You need a guy not worrying about re-election and a guy willing to make the tough decisions."