Buddy Roemer doesn’t have a plan to run for president. He’s going to see how things go. But the latest entrant into the Republican primary race is undeterred by naysayers.
“I don’t have a plan, to answer your question, about, you know, you mentioned plan,” Roemer told The Daily Caller. “I don’t have to be at point A, B, C.”
He may not have a plan, but Buddy Roemer is a man with a mission: he wants to “challenge the system” and reform a Washington culture that he calls “institutionally corrupt.”
Roemer served as a congressman in the 80s, elected the same year as Ronald Reagan. Back then, he was a Democrat, and he beat another Democrat to get there in Louisiana’s open primary.
“Man,” he reminisced, dragging out the word with a southern drawl. “Tip O’Neal was the speaker. I voted against him my first vote; only Democrat to vote against him. And he said, ‘Buddy, you just don’t understand Washington.’ I said ‘oh yes I do. I understand it exactly. It’s you scratch my back, and I’ll do something for you occasionally.’ And I don’t think it’s changed a darn bit.”
Now Roemer wants to come back and be an agent of change inside the beltway, a place he describes as “kind of like Disneyland. It doesn’t seem to be real does it?”
The former Louisiana governor thinks that Washington has lost touch with the rest of the country.
“I’m one of these C-SPAN addicts,” he explains. “When I come home my wife says, ‘please, Buddy, it’s 1 o’clock in the morning, turn it off. You’re not a member anymore.’ But I watch them, and I grimace, I just rebel in my inside. They don’t know what’s happening.”
“I mean the Tea Party, as much as sometimes they can be over the top, they’ve at least added a sense of the common touch,” he said.
But Roemer is running to change the way Washington works, starting with the way he says money buys influence, and, he contends, legislation.
“I think there’s not a problem that’s facing the country that’s not tied directly or indirectly to the fact that money decides the issues in Washington,” Roemer said. “Not plain people, not people in need, not people with a good idea. Special interest money.”
“I’m a Republican,” he continues, in answer to the question of why he’s running. “And proud of it. But I don’t think that one party has a monopoly on the truth. I want a president who’s a Republican, no doubt about it. But just as importantly, more so, is that I want a president who’s free to lead, who’s free to do the right thing. And that’s what the campaign is about to discuss. What is the right thing? And what would you do? And then you send Obama up there talking about change and nothing changes.”
“I finally came to the conclusion that nothing was going to change unless we changed the system,” he went on. “And you know, I carry the constitution in a little handbook and the Declaration of Independence in my hip pocket. I’ve done it for 40 years. And I guess I’d be called a conservative, which I am in most things. But I am unafraid of challenging the system.”
“I forget your question,” he concluded after speaking for a few more minutes. “I felt like giving a speech.”
By way of reforming the system, Roemer’s campaign will not accept donations of more than $100 per person, an amount he feels most individuals would have the ability to give. He will not accept special interest money or PAC money. He said he believes this is “the right way.”
“I’ve always thought about doing it this way,” he said, “and it was never possible. You know I would occasionally bring this up to John McCain when I was helping him in his campaign last time. And John says ‘it can’t be done, Buddy.’ And then he was right. Even as recently as three years ago. But I’m telling you, the world’s gotten faster and I like it,” he said almost salaciously. “I’ve always been kind of a warp speed guy myself.”
Roemer is confident he can raise enough money this way to fund a campaign. The donations had already started rolling on Friday, the day after he launched his PAC, and so far, he said, things were going quite well.
“I don’t know the extent of it,” he said. “But my guys are just smiling. They say ‘man, have you started a firestorm, Buddy.’ It’s awesome.”
He has certainly garnered a substantial amount of attention. “I have a schedule of meetings you wouldn’t believe,” he said. “People’ve called me, I haven’t called a soul.” On Monday he headed to Iowa, where he joined other presidential hopefuls Tim Pawlenty, Newt Gingrich, Rick Santorum, and Herman Cain at a forum hosted by the socially conservative Iowa Faith and Freedom Coalition.
While other candidates have been actively courting this demographic of the state with the first primary election contest, Roemer’s attendance was more serendipitous.
“I don’t know the event but it came up in a request for us, and we liked it,” he explained. “We like the timing of it, and they said there were other candidates gonna be there — I like that. You know, I want to see what they’re saying. How are they approaching this? Cause I’ve heard, I’ve heard nothing — in the months I’ve been reading about people talking about running for president — I’ve never heard anybody mention money except they wish they had more of it.”
On Friday, he said he wasn’t quite ready to answer questions about his stances on social issues.
“Well you know it’s a big question, it depends on what issue. I’m not really prepared to get there yet, you know, ’cause I concentrated on the money issue,” he explained. “That’s where it starts with me.”
“I think I would be described as traditionalist and conservative,” he continued. “But I frankly am not big on the government dictating how we live or where we live or certainly not what religion we belong to if any. I’m libertarian in that sense.”
In Iowa on Monday, he touted his pro-life credentials early on and thanked god for the Tea Party. His speech did not seem tailored to his socially conservative Iowan audience, however. He called for the end of ethanol subsidies in a corn state, and focused primarily on fiscal issues.
On the hot button issue of public unions that is inflaming the country at the moment, Roemer has very strong opinions, as he dealt with a similar situation as governor.
“When the teachers have a meeting and the children are not addressed, just their pay and their pension, the kids lose,” he said. “As a governor, I had this battle 25 years ago and it hurt me politically. It’ll hurt these governors politically; they will lose votes over it. But it must be done.”
Roemer knows something of political risk. Halfway through his term as Governor of Louisiana, he switched parties, joining the GOP in a move that lost him political capital with both parties. The official story is that Roemer switched parties at the behest of Vice President George H. W. Bush. But Roemer stands by the decision, explaining that he had ample motivation to do so.
First, he says, it was inspired by his “time spent in Washington” where he felt that “Democrats had become the party of government. I liked their civil rights — I’m always a big strong advocate of inclusion and civil rights — I liked that in the Democratic Party. But man,” he said dragging out that word in disapproval, “their economic policies. And their government size. They act like government’s the answer; it’s the problem!”
The second thing that motivated him to switch parties, he says, were his interactions with then President Ronald Reagan and Vice President George H. W. Bush. “I found both of them honest and honorable. They helped me a great deal”.
Lastly, he said, it was about improving the quality of Louisiana politics, which at the time was a predominately Democratic state. He already had some Republican tendencies: running as a Democrat, he said, “I got more Republican votes than the Republican candidate because I was talking about jobs and self reliance and limited government.”
“When I became governor, the legislature in Louisiana was 95 percent Democrat. And there was no debate. They were part of institutional corruption: that’s what monopolies have. So one party government’s not a good idea. And so about halfway through my term, I said, ‘Buddy, you want to make a contribution? You change parties. You have some Republican tendencies about you, and you love reading history about Abraham Lincoln and he started the Republican Party. Change parties, and you’ll change the debate in Louisiana elections, although it might hurt you running for governor.’ It did hurt me, but it was the right thing to do.”
Roemer knows he’s an underdog, but he’s undeterred. “It’s not about me,” he explains, “I’m sure I will be laughed at, scoffed at, attacked. I’m used to it.”
“I know I start off unmarked in a poll,” he continued. “I didn’t take a poll when I ran for governor, I won’t take one running for president. It’s not about that. I know what I believe. I think I know what’s right. I will listen in this campaign and I hopefully will improve my positions. I’m unafraid of doing that. But I don’t need a poll to tell me where I am; I know where I am. I am in America. Where all things are possible. That’s why I’m running.”