Former NY Gov. George Pataki

The former three-term New York governor explains why he decided not to run in the 2012 presidential election, comments on Mitt Romney’s success on Wall Street in the wake of poverty and offers his views on the NY primary.

Before serving three terms as the governor of New York, George Pataki was mayor of his Peekskill, NY hometown and served in the state legislature as an assemblyman and senator. Widely known for his passion for environmental issues, he joined the renewable energy practice of a New York law firm after leaving the governorship. He also established a leadership and learning center to encourage citizens to be active in their community. Pataki was, at one point, considering joining the 2012 field of GOP presidential candidates, but opted to launch a super PAC to help Republicans in his state's congressional races.


Tavis: George Pataki served three terms as governor of New York, following his time in the state legislature and as a mayor. He joins us tonight from New York. Governor, sir, an honor to have you on this program.

George Pataki: Well, thank you, Tavis. It’s an honor being on with you.

Tavis: You were on most people’s list a couple of years ago as maybe one who would run this time around, so first tonight, why did you decide not to run, and do you regret it now that you see that a lot of folk in your party are having trouble coalescing around Mr. Romney?

Pataki: Well, let me start at the end there, the question, because I think there isn’t really a problem coalescing around Governor Romney. It was a very difficult, long, drawn-out primary process, probably too many debates, but I think there’s a consensus and a growing consensus.

We have our nominee. It’s Governor Romney and it’s time to get behind him and focus on the general. I did think about running myself, and to be perfectly honest, I love what I’m doing in the private sector. I am having just a great time, and I spent more than 20 years in public office.

I just thought I owed it to my family and to myself to have this privacy where I can go out, work hard in the private sector and enjoy what I’m doing.

Tavis: All right. So I take part of your answer, the part that you’re having fun, I accept that. The other part, not so much. I’m not so convinced yet. Let me try this again.

Do you honestly believe that the conservative wing of your party now really has started to line up behind him and he can convince them that he ought to have their votes? You believe that at this point?

Pataki: Tavis, I think you phrased it exactly right. They have started to line up behind Governor Romney, and I think that’s a good thing. But I think as the campaign continues to move forward as it’s no longer internal fighting among Republicans but a contrast between Governor Romney and President Obama.

I don’t think there’s going to be a problem at all with the conservatives in my party. I think they will understand that when you look at these last three and a half years, the policies in Washington, in my view, have been a disaster for our country.

Governor Romney clearly represents a tremendous improvement over those policies. So it’s a process that has begun. I hope it accelerates, but I have no doubt as to the outcome. We will have a unified Republican Party and hopefully a lot of Independents and Democrats understanding the need for hope and change, to coin a new phrase.

Tavis: Even you have said that Mitt Romney is not perfect. For that matter, neither are any of the rest of us. None of us are perfect.

Pataki: Right.

Tavis: But in the context, Governor, of your comments about Mr. Romney, tell me how you think he campaigns going forward, because as you know, great debate about Etch-a-Sketch, great debate about his being a flip-flopper.

How do you satisfy the conservative wing when we get the sense, at least, that he’s going to have to move toward the middle to try to placate or at least speak to moderate Americans?

Well, I think he has spoken to moderate Americans. He did it as governor of Massachusetts. There haven’t been a whole lot of Republican governors in Massachusetts, and I think during his campaign he’s had sound policies that appeal across the political spectrum.

But I do think particularly to me, one of the disasters of the last three and a half years has been the massive trillion-dollar-plus deficits that are on the verge of bankrupting our country and are stealing from our children and grandchildren’s future.

I think Governor Romney has an opportunity to outline a detailed program to reduce that deficit along the lines of President Obama’s own bipartisan commission, the Bowles-Simpson commission, that he basically threw in the garbage because it didn’t meet his ideology of expanding government and taking more from those who work hard and have small businesses.

So I think Governor Romney has a tremendous opportunity here. I’m confident he’s going to seize that opportunity, and I’m optimistic about November, not just for the election, but more importantly for our country. That’s what it’s about.

Tavis: Here again we’re doing 50-50. I agree with part of your answer; the other part, I’m still skeptical of. I absolutely –

Pataki: Well, that’s pretty good. If I’m doing 50-50 (laughter) I’m getting there, Tavis.

Tavis: I absolutely agree that Bowles-Simpson has been disregarded, it’s been disrespected. They have given us a way forward. The president put this commission together. He ought to take their recommendations; for that matter, so should the entire Congress. You and I absolutely agree on that issue.

I’m not so convinced that Mr. Romney can sell (laughs) – I’m not sure he can sell the American people, though, on deficit reduction at a time when there are three other issues more important to them; namely, jobs, jobs, jobs.

Pataki: Tavis, you’re absolutely right, but I think they’re totally related.

One of the big things that is looming over our economy, and one of the reasons people aren’t hiring is because of the uncertainty. People know you cannot continue to run trillion, trillion-and-a-half dollar deficits forever, and the one thing the president has made clear is if he’s reelected he’s going to massively increase taxes on small businesses.

So if I’m a small businessperson looking at uncertainty except for the fact that I will get clobbered on taxes, I don’t go hire those next two or three people at this point in time.

So I think by coming up with an intelligent plan like Bowles-Simpson, which not only closes the deficit, it lowers the tax rate on those small business owners, and at the top level of Americans.

Which is why President Obama had to throw his own commission’s report in the garbage, because philosophically it doesn’t result in redistributing money, which is what I think he wants to do.

So I think it is an opportunity for Governor Romney not just to resonate on the deficit issue but also on the jobs issue, because with a law like that, I think we’d see our economy take off, particularly in hiring, which has been one of the real disappointments, to say the least, over the last few years.

Tavis: You could give Mr. Romney, I suspect if he’s smart he’ll ask you your advice about this continuously throughout this campaign, and that is how he strikes the balance between the anger, the angst, the outright vitriol that so many Americans have at a place called Wall Street, housed, of course, in the state you were the governor of, as I said, for three terms.

How do you talk about a level playing field, how do you talk about income and equality, how do you speak to the issue of poverty in this country without demonizing Wall Street for a guy like Mitt Romney, who’s made a bunch of money there, but understanding that the American people are mad and that’s what Occupy in your state and around the country is all about?

Pataki: Again, Tavis, I hate to say it, but I agree with you again. There is that anger out there. It’s not just at Wall Street, it’s also at Washington. I think where they came together and where people’s anger is most intense is with those companies that got bailouts from the federal government, tens of billions of dollars; in some instances hundreds of billions of dollars, and yet have not been responsive to the American people when it comes to the pay that some of the CEOs that those government-owned or government-controlled or government-bailed-out companies are getting.

I think that’s an opportunity for Governor Romney, not to go against business, per se, not to go against some of the great financial institutions we have in this country, but the fact that we had this partnership, essentially, between big government and big finance where they made out like bandits and the taxpayer was on the short end of the stick.

So I don’t think you go demonizing capitalism, as some in Obama’s camp would do. I don’t think you go after Wall Street. It is an engine of job growth. But I think you can hold those who got billions of dollars from the federal government accountable, that they have a responsibility beyond to their company and their shareholders to the American people and taxpayers. I think that’s how you could draw a distinction there.

Tavis: On a personal level, how would you advise Mr. Romney to allegations he’s certainly going to hear time and time again, not just that he flip-flopped, about the way he made his wealth?

His father used to run General Motors, as we all know. His father made money producing products. Mitt Romney has made money making deals, and there are going to be arguments that he made money making deals putting Americans out of work.

How do you advise him on a personal level to respond to those kinds of allegations? Americans aren’t happy with persons who made money by putting others out of work.

Pataki: I think Americans, first of all, don’t resent success. This is an aspirational society, and people look up to those who have worked hard, played fair, and in the process done well economically in this country.

I think that’s the case with Governor Romney. Sure, when you are investing in dozens and dozens and dozens of companies, some are not going to succeed. But he can point to those companies that have grown, have been created, that created tens of thousands of jobs here in the United States.

And by the way, when Governor Romney’s investments went bad, they weren’t the taxpayer’s money. They weren’t a half-billion dollars of our money dumped into Solyndra, which went bad, costing us all money. It was his investors’ money, who understood the risk. That’s the nature of America.

When you invest, you hope for reward. You hope that hard work, creativity, the entrepreneurial spirit works, but if it doesn’t, you lose your money. Not when it’s Obama’s Department of Energy giving out these hundreds of millions of dollars to their cronies who had been donors in his campaigns. When they lose their money, it’s the taxpayer gets hit with the bill.

So I think there’s a real contrast between someone who has yes, been very successful, but doing it in the private sector with private investment, and this administration, which has lost hundreds of billions of our money investing in failed companies owned largely by their political cronies.

Tavis: Super-PACs are out of control. Why are Mr. Romney and Mr. Obama both playing the super-PAC game? We’re better than that, aren’t we?

Pataki: We’re better than that, but you have to play by the rules. And by the way, Tavis, no one had done this until candidate Obama in 2008 became the first presidential candidate to blow up public finance.

Every candidate from both parties until 2008 said, “We’ll take public finance, the matching funds, and live by the rules that Congress has put in place.”

In fact, in 2008 Senator McCain lived by public finance. Barack Obama did not. I think that has blown the doors off of what you can and cannot do, because Governor Romney can’t be in a position where the billion-dollar Obama buddies come in with a super-PAC and his supporters are unable to defend and balance the equation to the amount possible.

To quote President Obama, it’s about fairness. (Laughter) He broke the rules, and now we have to treat ourselves fairly in response to this president’s actions.

Tavis: We’ll debate that later, but if Romney’s raising $600 million and Obama’s raising $750 million, that’s about $1.4 billion between the two of them, and that’s not including super-PACs I think there’s too much money, period. We’ll debate that some other time.

Last question: Tomorrow, of course, is the big New York primary, which will put Mr. Romney, I suspect, one step closer to locking down this nomination. Today, though, he campaigned in the greater Tristate area, in Pennsylvania with a guy named Marco Rubio.

I’m not going to ask you to comment specifically on him per se, unless you want, but what kind of running mate should Mr. Romney be looking for this time around?

Pataki: Well, first of all I’m happy to say I think Senator Rubio would be an excellent choice as running mate. I think Governor Romney has a lot of options out there, Senator Rubio being one. There are a number of very excellent governors like Governor McDonald in Virginia. There are senators like Rob Portman in Ohio.

I think there’s one criteria, and that is you choose a person you believe if something happens to you can be a great president for this country. Then beyond that, can you work with them? Do they share your philosophy?

So I think Governor Romney has a number of very attractive options, and by the way, he’s going to clean up in New York tomorrow, and we hope that those remaining candidates still in after tomorrow will say, “Okay, he is the nominee. It’s time to focus on electing Governor Romney president.”

Tavis: Memo to Newt Gingrich and Ron Paul, I think I just heard. Governor George Pataki is a three-term former governor of the Empire State. Governor, always delighted to talk to you. Thanks for your time.

Pataki: Good being on with you, Tavis. Thank you.

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Last modified: April 24, 2012 at 2:27 pm