Transcript: Alexander discusses his presidential run
March 10, 1999
AllPolitics: Could you tell us why you are running for the Republican nomination?
Lamar Alexander I'm running to do three things. First, to fix public education. Second, to improve family incomes by lowering taxes and securing Social Security. And third, to strengthen national defense, especially against terrorists.
Above all I want to be a president on the side of parents raising children. I believe that about 90 percent of what a child needs to know to succeed in this magnificent country we have today the child learns best in a good school and a strong family.
And while at one time in our history fighting the communists was our top priority, and at another time balancing the budget was our top priority, I believe our top priority as we enter the new century should be to create the best schools and help parents be at their best.
And I've had the experience -- as a governor, a university president, a cabinet secretary and as founder of a business that offers work-site day care in this country, all over America -- to lead this country to be a country on the side of parents raising children.
AllPolitics: You talked about this a little bit in describing your top three priorities. Are these the issues you plan on highlighting during your campaign and during your announcement speech tomorrow?
Alexander They are. I hope that what people think of me when they think of Lamar Alexander is better schools and the best parents. We need to transform our public education system. Specifically, I would begin by sending the bureaucrats home and sending the Washington money back to local school boards and to parents in the form of a HOPE scholarship for children and let the parents choose the school their child attends.
Then I would lead a national movement, state by state, to transform our schools by paying good teachers more, by ending teacher tenure so no child is in a classroom with an incompetent teacher and by getting rid of the overhead in schools.
What I mean by that is teachers and principals are suffocating in union rules and government regulations and court orders. And we should give every public school the same freedoms that charter schools have. Charter schools are the thousands of public schools in the country that have been deregulated to give teachers more freedom and principals more freedom.
AllPolitics: For those individuals who supported your presidential campaign in 1996, and for those who perhaps didn't and want to take a look at your bid this time around, how is your message different from your 1996 presidential campaign?
Alexander Well, they're getting the same person. So they're getting the same message. But what people will hear from me differently this time is more about education and more about parents.
Four years ago, the Republican battle cry, and my battle cry, was less government. And I still believe in that. For example I believe that we should cut federal regulations in half and release the creative spirit of physicians and teachers and small business people who are suffocated by regulations.
But they will hear more from me now is a thing I care about the most and know the most about, and that is education. We have lost our position as the world's premiere educator and if we want to have a second great American century we'll have to get it back.
So, they'll hear a different message in that sense, about education. They'll hear from a more experienced candidate -- I've run before. And they'll hear from someone who, in this new generation of Republican candidates, has the most experience in executive leadership and on the education issue.
AllPolitics: Even before announcing his exploratory committee, and especially afterwards, it seems that Texas Gov. George W. Bush is receiving a groundswell of support from the Republican party, especially among the GOP governors who have already endorsed his candidacy. How do you plan on surmounting that hurdle?
Alexander Well, the way I plan to win the election is to present my message, is to offer the Republican candidates with a different message about education and parents, a different name then they're familiar with in the past and more experience than any of the other candidates have.
My national chairman is the governor of Iowa -- Gov. Branstad. And together we will make sure that I get one of the three tickets out of Iowa. Traditionally, after the Iowa caucus which is the first contest, there have been three who move on to New Hampshire.
I was one of those last time and I will be one of those this time. Then we'll move on to New Hampshire where I came within 3,800 votes of defeating Sen. Dole last time. And I will get one of the two tickets out of New Hampshire.
Then -- and I'm not sure who the other one will be -- we'll have a contest between those two candidates for the big block of delegates on March the 7th. And the winner on March the 7th will be the person who comes strongest out of New Hampshire.
So the way I plan to win is with the support of Gov. Branstad and other governors who are supporting me -- such as Gov. Huckabee of Arkansas and Gov. Sundquist of Tennessee -- by presenting my message, offering a message about the future instead of the familiar, and doing well enough in Iowa and New Hampshire to also move into the March 7 primary in a strong and winning way.
AllPolitics: But how do you feel at this point that you will distinguish your candidacy, given the fact that there is expected to be a crowded field, and such well-known names as George W. Bush and Elizabeth Dole are expected to be the beneficiaries of the front-loaded primary process.
Alexander I think the process is front-loaded but I think I'll be the beneficiary of it because I'm the best organized candidate. Here's the answer to your question: The differences are 1) I have more experience in a breadth and depth of experience. Some of the candidates have never been elected to public office, some of them have only served one term as governor. I've been a two-term governor, chairman of the governors, president of a university, the education secretary in the president's cabinet, and I've helped to start a company which is publicly traded today. So, I'm experienced.
Two, my message on education is different. I'll be the first Republican candidate to emphasize education so strongly and to emphasize helping parents raise children.
And third, I'm better organized in Iowa and New Hampshire than any of the other candidates are.
So for those three reasons I'm out to win the early primaries and then win on March the 7th.
Finally, I suppose, I start off with a strong fund-raising base -- 22,000 people gave to my 1996 campaign, including 8,000 who contributed $1,000, and I can start from there in terms of raising the amount of money I need.
AllPolitics: And how much have you raised so far?
Alexander Well, we will be reporting that at the end of the March -- I'm just getting the started. All of our events are scheduled for May ... our goal for 1999 is about $15 million. The most that has ever been raised in any presidential race, in the year before the election, is $20 million. So raising 15 would be a substantial achievement.
AllPolitics: Assuming that you do win the GOP nod, and assuming that Vice President Al Gore wins the Democratic nomination, what makes you the best candidate to face him in the general election?
Alexander Well, we're both from Tennessee and I know him very well.
Second, I believe I have the experience to stand up to him in debate. I've been through a presidential campaign and I have a much broader and deeper experience than any of the other candidates running.
Third, I can take him on on the education issue, which is the issue Democrats have beaten Republicans into the ground on year after year. Republicans have the answers but the public by in large think the Democrats do a better job. So I'll challenge Mr. Gore on education and point out that he trusts the government, I trust the parents. He wants Washington-control of public schools, I want local control of public schools. He is so tied up with the teachers' union that he won't pay good teachers more and end teacher tenure. I want to pay good teachers more and end teacher tenure. He won't deregulate the public schools because of his alliances, I want to deregulate all of the public schools and give teachers and principals more freedom to teach and to lead.
So having a Republican nominee who can challenge him, who's experienced enough to challenge Al Gore, who has been through a presidential campaign and who can go head-to-head with him on education, which is the country's major issue, would be my major advantage.
AllPolitics: Who would you say is the biggest threat or challenge on the Republican side to you winning the Republican nomination?
Alexander Well, that's hard to say right now. In the first place, most of all the names that have been talked about, haven't decided to run. [Well, let's assume they are going to run...] I known there is a big difference between people who talk about it and those who do it. I don't think it's my job really to try to evaluate the other candidacy.
I hope we have a number of good strong Republicans running. We need a contest in order to pick the strongest possible challenge to Al Gore.
So what I am going to focus on is not on the other candidates so much, but to focus on my message which is fixing schools, lowering taxes, about strengthening defense, going to Iowa as many times as I need to work with Gov. Branstad to get a strong showing in Iowa, a strong showing in New Hampshire and beat whomever shows up.
AllPolitics: There are some within the Republican party who would argue that the party needs a more conservative candidate. And also given the whole primary caucus structure that benefits are more conservative candidate. And some people would argue that your message is more moderate among those who may be entering the field and have entered the field. How would you respond to that?
Alexander I believe my message is for all Americans but, that it would appeal very well to Republicans who are looking for a strong leader and, looking for a winner.
My message is of fixed public education by deregulating the schools, giving parents choices and ending teacher tenure. Lower taxes by tripling the tax deductions for each child to 8,000 dollars -- that strengthens families. Deploy immediately a strategic missile defense to strengthen our defense.
I believe my message on fixing schools, lowering taxes and strengthening defense is squarely aligned with where the country needs to go as well as where most Republicans want to go.
In addition to that, I strongly believe that affirmative action should be based on need and not race. Affirmative action-- which is the government's helping hand -- always ought to be for everyone.
And I believe we ought to help children learn English on the first day of arriving to school and replace the federal bilingual education programs which prevent children from learning English.
So on all of those issues, I believe I not only fit well with the majority of Americans, but with the majority of Republicans who are conservatives.
Tuesday, March 9, 1999
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