Among the 2012 candidates labeled by media pundits and opinionators as improbable, long-shot, third-tier comic-book characters are former Louisiana Governor Buddy Roemer, former New Mexico Governor Gary Johnson and Rep. Thad McCotter of Michigan. They don’t get much media coverage because they have low name recognition. (Of course, they have low name recognition because they don’t get much media coverage.)
Buddy Roemer’s campaign for governor in 1987 was my first successful campaign, so I am a bit partial to the man. But he has a perspective unmatched by the other candidates. A Harvard graduate with an amazing intellect, he has executive, legislative, and private-sector experience—which none of the “top-tier” candidates can claim. After serving four terms in Congress as a conservative Democrat who often voted with Reagan’s Republicans, Roemer led Louisiana as governor, switching to the GOP in his third year. He was a reformer: Unemployment in the state dropped by approximately half, the state budget was balanced all years even though he inherited a huge deficit, teacher pay was linked to performance, education accountability standards were enacted, government unions were challenged, and, most important, sweeping campaign finance reform legislation was passed. Roemer lost his reelection bid because he got caught in a pincer move between a crook and Klansman. Roemer then succeeded in the real world as CEO of Business First Bank.
Two-term governor Gary Johnson left office in 2003 with New Mexico as one of only four states in the country with a balanced budget, and a budget surplus. During his tenure, he cut more than 1,200 government jobs and grew 20,000 new private-sector jobs. He is an advocate for more efficient government, lower taxes, winning the war on drug abuse, protection of civil liberties, revitalization of the economy, and promoting entrepreneurship and privatization. Johnson supports legalization of marijuana, gay marriage, and abortion, and endorses the Cut, Cap and Balance legislation. His reasons for running: “Let’s talk about America. Today’s mess didn’t just happen. We elected it—one senator, member of Congress, and president at a time. Our leaders in Washington, D.C., have ‘led’ America to record unemployment, a devalued currency, banking scandals, the mortgage crisis, drug crisis, economic crisis, loss of our nation’s industrial might—and a long list of other reminders our nation is way off course. Why am I telling you this? Because America is better than this. And because I can help fix it. I’m a fix-it man.”
Thad McCotter, representing Michigan in the U.S. House, where he sits on the Financial Services Committee, was first elected to Congress in 2002. He has fought to reduce taxes and the size and scope of government, while promoting manufacturing and small businesses. His campaign’s five core principles show the more serious, thinking side to his quick wit and biting humor: “Our liberty is from God not government. Our sovereignty is in our souls not the soil. Our security is from strength not surrender. Our prosperity is from the private sector not the public sector. Our truths are self-evident not relative.” One of the most recent but probably not the last to jump into the race, McCotter says: “The public says they’re not happy with the field and they’re open to other messages from other people.”
Roemer officially announces his candidacy for president Thursday in New Hampshire, and will again commit to return power to the people. From his address to the Republican Leadership Conference in New Orleans: “I will attempt to beat the tyranny of the big check. If we don’t do this, the change that’s necessary to rebuild America will never happen. Because Washington is bought and sold.” On why change is needed: “Real people don’t have a voice in Washington, D.C. Special interest money controls the discussion... I will take no PAC money. I will take no special interest money. I will accept no contribution greater than $100. And I will report every contribution, however small, regardless of whether federal law requires it. I want a president who is free to lead. Free to control the federal spending that is bankrupting our nation. Free to strive for energy independence by the end of this decade and bring our Armed Forces home from ‘oil’ duty. Free to make the tax code simpler and to eliminate corporate and Wall Street welfare. Free to change the health-care law to eliminate money favors to insurance companies and pharmaceutical companies. Free to make sure Wall Street’s gambles don’t impact Main Street taxpayers.”
The press doesn’t just cover presidential campaigns, they influence them by making arbitrary decisions about who is “top tier” and merits coverage. Why shouldn’t Buddy Roemer deserve a place on stage at the debates?
Despite being ignored so far by the press, Roemer’s message is getting through nevertheless. Roemer now polls ahead of Tim Pawlenty and Jon Huntsman in South Carolina, the same state where he was refused an invitation by the media to the first GOP debate because he lacked high name recognition.
Roemer is doing things differently. He’s refusing to play by the rules and shake down moneyed interests to underwrite his campaign. He wants to be free to lead. A lot of people laugh at him. A lot of people laughed at him when ran for governor in 1987 under the same constraints on fundraising. He’s a gambler who likes to throw deep. Sometimes the long ball connects.
Roemer has an important message about the corrupt influence of money in politics. Because of his message, he isn’t being heard. Because of his message, he deserves to be.