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George W. Bush Holds News Conference in Canton, Ohio

Aired June 16, 2000 - 11:35 a.m. ET


BILL HEMMER, CNN ANCHOR: I'm Bill Hemmer, live at the CNN Center in Atlanta. We interrupt IN THE MONEY to bring you George W. Bush live in Canton, Ohio for a quick question-and-answer session here.


GOV. GEORGE W. BUSH (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: ... since the passage of the 1995 Safe Schools Act. You heard me during the discussion talk about how the Passages School here reminds me some of the alternative school systems we've got in place in Texas. And I'm pleased to say it's working.

It's very important for our classrooms to be safe and secure for -- so children can learn, but it's also important that there be alternative settings for children to learn. And that's what we did in the state of the Texas and the results bear out a good, constructive program.

I want to thank the teachers for recognizing the progress being made, and I want to thank them for their hard work in the state of Texas and around the country.

I'll be glad to answer questions.

QUESTION: Governor, what could you do as president to help schools like this physically...


BUSH: Free up money. I've got -- I can't remember the exact number -- $12 billion of additional increase in money over the next five years. Fund character education programs. Free up the Century 21 program, so mentoring programs and faith-based programs can access the money to provide character education for children after school.

But the really best thing to do is to provide maximum flexibility so districts and states can design programs to conform to their specific needs.

QUESTION: Governor, yesterday the vice president was challenged on high gas prices. It's now well over $2 a gallon around here.

BUSH: Yes.

QUESTION: Anything...


BUSH: Well, you know, I think the thing -- I think the administration is doing the right thing to look at the cause of higher gas prices. As I understand, this is an aberration, that most states don't have the, you know, the high price that for some reason Ohio does. I'd like to know the causes before I make a reaction to it.

I do know that there's very little energy policy coming out of the current administration. I find it amazing that the vice president, on the one hand, you know, goes to the state of Washington and Oregon, for example, and won't tell us whether or not the administration will breach dams, which is a part of the source for energy in America, and on the other hand, you know, talks about the need to be independent for energy. There's some contradictions within the administration about energy policy.

I think we ought to be exploring in ANWR. I think we ought to not be destroying dams in eastern Oregon and eastern Washington. These are sources of good clean energy, and we're energy deficient obviously today. I think the -- we need to be working with our friends in OPEC to make sure that the price of crude oil, which doesn't rise to continue to force the price of gasoline up, particularly as the summer season comes -- is upon us.

QUESTION: Governor, polls -- there's been some slight dip in the polls lately on the support for the death penalty, and there's growing concerns about the number of convicts that may be being sentenced to death wrongfully. As governor of a state that leads the country in capital punishment, do you think that this could hurt you in the election?

BUSH: You mean taking a principled stand and not letting polls and focus groups determine what I believe? No, I think people appreciate a leader who makes a stand based upon principle. And the principle that I support is that if the death penalty is fairly administered, and there's no question about innocence or guilty and it's -- then I think people ought to be held accountable for their decisions they make. And I think society would be a safer place for it.

QUESTION: There's been questions raised about the man who's going to be executed next Thursday. Do you have any doubt in your mind that he's guilty?

BUSH: I'm going to make -- I'm going to wait for the Board of Pardons and Paroles to decide, to make their recommendation. I'm going to treat this case like every other case.

QUESTION: Governor, has there been anything done in the last few months that's given you any reason to reassess, even if you still feel the same way, your position on the death penalty? Does the situation in Illinois, some of the reporting that's been done about the representation of the people who are on death row in Texas, have you had any pause or any -- a moment to go back and re-examine your position in light of this even if you still feel the same way about it? Or do you just remain confident that you know enough about the issue and...


BUSH: Well, I know enough about each case that I analyze. I take each case very seriously. I look at the facts of each case. I'm fully briefed by a staff of lawyers that have analyzed the case. And I'm confident we have not put to death somebody who didn't -- was innocent.

And secondly, the reports about, you know, certain cases being thrown out on appeal, it shows the system is working.

And obviously the DNA issue's an interesting issue. There was some doubt in my mind as to the guilt of a particular person that just came up on death row, and we gave him a 30-day reprieve so that we could make sure as to whether or not the man committed the rape of the 12-year-old stepdaughter. He was guilty of the murder of the 12-year- old stepdaughter.

And in my state of Texas, in order to be put to death -- it's a capital-murder state, you have to be convicted of two offenses. And the fundamental question is, did he rape the young girl? The DNA proved he murdered the young girl. And I felt like it was important for us to answer that question.

QUESTION: The teachers union just did a survey, and the number one thing they're all afraid of is the violence in the classroom, not having control over students and not being backed by the system to have that control. What types of things do you think that you would offer to teachers in public schools where this has been...

BUSH: Well, one, the understanding that the threats of a lawsuit oftentimes prevent teachers from maintaining discipline in the classroom, and I think there needs to be a federal liability law that says to teachers and principles who enforce reasonable standards of behavior and discipline in the classrooms you can't be sued under civil rights statutes; and secondly is to provide flexibility with federal money coming down so that the states, if they feel like the need to develop an alternative school system, have got flexibility to do so.

But it's up to the states to make these determinations. This is a state issue as far as I'm concerned. The federal government can fund schools. As you notice, I talked about -- I mean, fund programs. But we've got to trust the people of Ohio to chart the path to excellence.

QUESTION: Have you had a chance to look at Al Gore's tax cut proposals? What do you think about them?

BUSH: Really risky. No, just kidding. I have not yet.

Somebody told me -- I think I read where, you know, they were running a series of focus groups, and so he made a decision to expand his vision on tax cutting because of focus groups.

Surely, America doesn't want a focus group-driven presidency. America wants somebody that makes decisions based upon what's right.

And what's right is sharing some of the surplus with the people who pay the bills. If you're a family of four in the state of Ohio, under my plan you get a 50 percent cut; and you make $50,000 a year, you get a 50 percent cut in your federal income taxes. There's some principles in my plan that I think are every important.

The federal government should take no more than a third of anybody's check -- that we ought to drop the bottom rate from 15 percent to 10 percent, because the marginal tax rates on people who are on the outskirts of poverty is hire than someone who's successful in society, and that's not fair. And I believe we ought to eliminate the death tax.

These are principled positions I've taken. I've taken them ever since the campaign began. And I don't need a poll or focus group to tell me what to believe.

QUESTION: Do you use focus groups, though, in...


BUSH: I don't need a poll or focus group to tell me what to believe.

QUESTION: But you use them in your campaign.

BUSH: Maybe we are. If they do, they haven't bought the diagnosis to me.

It's like this -- somebody said, "Did you poll the Social Security issue?" And the answer is, absolutely not. I'm doing the right thing on Social Security. And if the American people don't like my position, then they've got an alternative for -- to be the president. But I believe it's right to give younger workers the opportunity to invest some of their payroll taxes in the private sector, otherwise we won't have a Social Security system. We won't have it conformed to the way it is today. It's going to require either a massive tax increase or a major benefit reduction.

And so, you know, they make test ads in front of focus groups. But I don't run a focus group, Robert, to tell me what to say and what to believe, and whether or not to expand my tax relief package or not.

QUESTION: Governor, with respect to Governor Taft...

BUSH: He's a fine American.

QUESTION: ... as you get closer to the Keystone State (inaudible) as a potential vice president. Where do you stand on that?

BUSH: This is a vice-presidency question? It's kind of an inside joke. It's all Candy (ph) seems to be able to talk about these day, in all due respect.

And by the way, I love you in yellow.

See, this is the way I try to avoid to answer your question.

The list? I'm still going through the process. I'm making progress. I talk to Dick Cheney on a regular basis. I'm not going to tell you what I talk to him about except it's the vice-presidency. And Tom Ridge is a good friend of mine. I like him a lot, and he's under consideration.

QUESTION: Is there a short list that you might have or that Candy (ph) may have as far as potential nominees?

BUSH: There is a list.

QUESTION: Is Governor Ridge on it?

BUSH: He's being considered, yes.

QUESTION: Governor, is Governor Taft on the list?

BUSH: He took himself off.

STAFF: Last question.


BUSH: Two.


BUSH: As you know, I used the tax cut to do such that. I mean, for example, education savings accounts is an integral part of my tax relief package. And refundable tax credits for working uninsured are an integral part of my package. Or allowing non-itemizers to deduct charitable gifts is a part of my package.

But I also believe that in order to have a tax relief package that encourages and stimulates economic growth, there ought to be a cut across the board as well. Everybody who pays taxes ought to get tax relief.

So there's obviously a difference of opinion. He wants to target all his tax cuts; I want to give universal relief as well as, you know, encourage families to save for education purposes or to help the working uninsured.

QUESTION: Could I just ask you, would the surplus -- apparently there are numbers coming out that show the surplus is a lot bigger than people thought. Do you envision any changes in your plans to make anything larger or smaller? What would you do...


BUSH: In a tax-relief package? QUESTION: In any of the packages that you advance...


BUSH: Yes, I can't imagine the tax relief package changing much. I told you this is going to be -- the plan I laid out in the primaries is the plan I was going to campaign on in the fall election. I'm not one of these people that are kind of trying to chase public opinion.

But we'll see, in terms of other things. I mean, if not, the money can go to debt repayment.

Last question.

QUESTION: On the adequacy of counsel question, if an innocent person has an inadequate lawyer and spends years either on death row or in prison before an appellate court lets him go, does the system not work against him? I mean, is that really the system working when an inadequate lawyer...

BUSH: It's a very hypothetical. Do you have a case in mind?

QUESTION: The fellow who had his lawyer sleep through the trial.

BUSH: Is there a question of his innocence and guilt? You said if an innocent person...


BUSH: Well...

QUESTION: ... one, say, someone who -- I mean...

BUSH: If you're suggesting should a guilty person languish on death row, if that's fair, I don't think that is. And that's why, as you know, we passed a law to speed up the process, to make sure that the innocence and guilt and the full access to the courts were granted as quickly as possible.

But the man you're talking about, I'm not so sure I...

QUESTION: I didn't have him specifically in mind.


QUESTION: I'm talking about the general issue of -- there is a question about at least a third of the lawyers who handle death row cases...

BUSH: In Texas?


BUSH: Well, Archie (ph), I think we better find out the facts before we speculate out loud. The only thing I can tell you is, every case that I've reviewed, I've been comfortable with the innocence or guilt of the person that I've looked at. And I do not believe we've put a guilty -- I mean, an innocent person to death in the state of Texas.

Last question.


BUSH: Next to last question.

I'll let you know after the pardons and parole board.

QUESTION: Governor, there's been some talk you're going to have a committee to go over the vice presidential prospects. Do you think it's going to be much more of personal decision...


BUSH: Yes, there's no committees.

QUESTION: Is it you and Mr. Cheney?

BUSH: Yes, somebody said we're running focus groups to determine who the vice president ought to be. Forget it, it's not happening. This decision process is about how I make decisions.

BUSH: And I'm a good decider, I know how to make decisions.


BUSH: Because it's going to be my vice president, and, again, I don't need a committee to figure out who is best to be the vice president. And I'm going to take my time, and I'm going to decide, and I'll make a good decision. And I haven't decided yet.

My body language would probably be different if I decided. You'll be able to detect it right off the bat. And then you'll be saying, you've decided but you won't tell. And nor have I decided when I'm going to announce. I'm going to take my time and make a very thorough decision.

Well, it's always a pleasure. See you later.

HEMMER: And with the developing press briefing out of Canton, Ohio with George W. Bush.



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