Buddy Roemer, former governor of Louisiana and Republican candidate for president, speaks to the New Hampshire Union Leader recently. (THOMAS ROY/UNION LEADER)
Republican presidential hopeful Charles “Buddy” Roemer is unusual in several ways. He was a Democratic congressman from Louisiana who supported then-President Ronald Reagan on fiscal matters and refused to take PAC (Political Action Committee) money. Later, he beat the entrenched, and crooked, incumbent Democratic governor, became a Republican, and was then ousted by the same man after a single term.
Roemer, who is renting an $800-a-month apartment in Manchester, is a Harvard-trained banker who thinks there is too much money in politics and insists that America can compete with the world if it will eliminate foreign tax credits, lower and simplify the tax code, and make other nations trade fairly.
“In 2008, the Obama and McCain campaigns got more money from lobbyist addresses in Washington than they did from addresses in 32 states,” he said in an interview last week. “The lobbyists are in control.”
Roemer will be 68 on Oct. 4 and is a Type 1 diabetic. He has had heart surgery but appears slim and fit and tireless.
“Watch me,” he says. “I can do this.”
By “this” he means raise enough money (he figures $100 million for the nomination, $500 million against “Obama's billion'' in the general) to win.
“Last week, I raised $35,600 at an average donation of $42. That's the price of one ticket for an Obama fundraiser,'' he says with only slight exaggeration. He relies on the Internet (www.buddyroemer.com) for many donations.
He says he has started three banks, sold two, and currently employs 93 people in the Business First Bank, headquartered in Baton Rouge, La. It is a commercial bank doing much of its work electronically.
He believes he knows the problem with public education these days. He notes that his daughter runs a charter school system. His son is an elected education official at the state level.
Do we need a U.S. Department of Education? he is asked.
“In a word, no,” he says.
“I've seen the Department of Education. I have never seen a school board meeting there. School boards might not do everything right, but they involve the mothers and fathers.''
He thinks his GOP opponents and others mislabel Social Security.
“It is not a benefit. We are taxed for it,'' he says, arguing that a simple, gradual increase of the retirement age and a switch to a more realistic inflation factor would solve its problems.
Roemer has been out of politics for 20 years. Why run for President now?
“I'm worried,” he says. As a banker and businessman, he says, he worries that America may be failing.
So what does a banker know about foreign policy and defense?
“I know that it ties to the economy,” he replies. “You don't fight Iran militarily. You do so economically,'' he says, arguing that much of Iran's oil-based economy ends up in the United States. Identify products made with Iranian oil and ban them, he says.
Roemer concedes he knows little about the intricacies of our defense deployment. He would seek the advice and counsel of Gen. David Petraeus and others. He believes “we need a strong defense'' but says we shouldn't have the military involved in nation-building.
“We need to rebuild our own nation,” he says.
“We went into Afghanistan, accomplished our mission. Why are we still there?'' he asks.
“We went into Iraq, accomplished our mission by not finding weapons of mass destruction. Why are we still there?”
Roemer counts U.S. Sen. John McCain as a good friend. In the House, the two opposed Ronald Reagan's move to send a small force of U.S. Marines to Lebanon. After many Marines were killed in an explosion at their barracks, Reagan withdrew.
“I told (Reagan) he should either put in a larger force or none at all,” Roemer says.