An Interview with George Pataki, Former Governor of New York
George Pataki served as the 53rd Governor of New York from 1995-2006. He graduated from Yale College in 1966 before launching a political career that elevated him from Mayor of Peekskill to the New York State Legislature. He is currently seeking the 2016 GOP presidential nomination.
The Politic: What would a Pataki White House look like?
Governor Pataki: Well I think it would look very different from where we are now. It would be one where we would focus first on making Americans safe and secure. And second on expanding and growing our economy. It would be dramatically different.
The Politic: Aright, now what makes you the best candidate to challenge Hillary Clinton or any other Democratic candidate for president?
Governor Pataki: Well I think that Americans understand that we face very serious challenges as a country: economic challenges, security challenges, financial, entitlement challenges. And there are a lot of people that say they’ll do this or do that, but very few have a track record of actually accomplishing it as I did. And I did it as a conservative Republican in a deep blue state, completely transforming our state. When I took office we were the most dangerous state in America, when I left we were the fourth safest. When I took office we had the worst credit rating, the highest tax rate in America and billions in deficits, when I left we had cut taxes by more than the other 49 states combined, billions in surplus, the highest credit rating since they kept records and the lowest unemployment rate since they’ve kept records. When I left we had over a million fewer people on welfare and almost 700,000 more private sector jobs. And I did this as a conservative Republican with a state assembly with a state assembly that had 103 Democrats and 47 Republicans. So it’s easy for people to say that if elected they’ll do this, they’ll do that. The American people are fed up with Washington just getting bigger, more expensive, more intrusive, regardless of which party is in power, because regardless of what they say during the campaign, there’s always a reason why those promises aren’t kept. My background is very different, and so is my record. If I had the chance to lead the country would be very different.
The Politic: You have been very critical of Donald Trump recently. Many of his supporters have compared him to Ronald Reagan. I’m sure you don’t agree with that assertion, so what would you say to his supporters to convince them that you are a better representation of the conservative values championed by President Reagan than Mr. Trump is?
Governor Pataki: First, I understand the anger and the frustration that’s aimed at the political establishment in Washington, I share that. As I was just indicating, it doesn’t seem that things change regardless of which party is in power. But Ronald Reagan is a classic case; he had to work across party lines to change America. He had Tip O’Neill and a Democratic House and yet was able to work with the Democrats on solutions. Ronald Reagan wasn’t an angry man. He was disappointed and angry at government, but he was a believer in the American people, as am I. And a believer that you can convince those that don’t necessarily share your views to give your policies a chance. He did it in Washington and I did it in New York. And just as an example of the outragessness of Trump’s policies, the idea that we will deport 11 million people is absurd on may different levels – logistically, economically, and from a humanitarian standpoint. Let me just point out that one of the barbaric consequences of his proposal. A 9, 10, 11 year old girl, born in America, speaking fluent English in fourth or fifth grade who’s never been outside of America and not to the country where her parents may have come form illegally, is going to be deported. We’re going to send police or soldiers into a classroom, drag her out and take her to the country she’s never been to. This is not America; this is inhumane. Again, Trump taps into the anger that we don’t control our borders, we should; taps into the anger that this administration releases illegal immigrants so that they’re charged with a crime that should not be allowed. But his solutions are un-American and inhumane, and I reject them.
The Politic: I think part of the additional appeal of Donald Trump is that he is planning on self-funding his campaign, ensuring voters that he will not be bought out by corporate interests. Can lawmakers enact legislation in the public’s interest, or are they limited to enacting legislation that favors special interests?
Governor Pataki: Of course they can act in the public interest. Trump is not part of the solution; he’s part of the problem. Here’s a guy who admits that he has supported candidates form both parties simply to buy influence. And the influence buyer, the guy who has spent money buying political influence is somehow not going to be subject to political influence? I just don’t see it. We need integrity in government, we need people who reject the whole concept that politicians are inherently corrupt, that believe in a democratic system where people choose leaders that reflect the views of the people. I’ve always believed it. You know cynicism and anger only get you so far – solutions and policies and governing successfully is what has been lacking in American politics and what we need in Washington.
The Politic: On the topic of conservative ideals, one issue where you do not agree with a large percentage of the Republican base is abortion. How will you appeal to conservatives to whom this issue is very important?
Governor Pataki: This is a classic case where for 42 years now we have politicians saying “I’m going to end abortion” and nothing has been done. The Supreme Court ruling is the law of the land and even Mike Huckabee, who is very pro-life, said, “we’re not going to amend the Constitution.” So, what I’ve always done is focus on solutions. What can be done are three things: first of all, pass a permanent ban on using taxpayer dollars to fund abortions. Second, we can defund Planned Parenthood. It’s disgusting that taxpayer dollars are going to fund an organization that shows such an abhorrent disrespect of human life that they would market the organs of babies. And third, I don’t believe that politicians should tell people and families having to do what they believe is religiously correct. I share the belief that life begins at conception as a Catholic, but I don’t believe that politicians should impose that belief on people who don’t share it. But what we can do is look at medical science. The Democrats are always saying Republicans reject science, but the Democrats reject science that says now at about 20 weeks there’s no doubt there’s a life that is sustainable outside of the womb. I believe that is a human life that we have not just a legal right, but an obligation to protect. So I support and proposed legislation banning abortion after 20 weeks. So you’re going to hear people talking about “I’m going to do this, I’m going to ban abortion, and I’m going to do that,” it’s not going to happen. Three things can happen, ban abortion after 20 weeks, defund Planned Parenthood, and a permanent ban on using taxpayer dollars to fund abortion. And a fourth thing can happen, we can have a president who appoints supreme Court justices who understand that the judiciary is not supposed to make the laws based on what they think is right, but to interpret the laws based on what the elected representatives of the people have passed.
The Politic: Something you brought up before was the fact that you brought New York from one of the most dangerous states in America to one of the safest. How would you respond to critics who claim that these policies created an atmosphere in police departments across the state that led to incidents such as the death of Eric Garner or incidents in which minorities were unfairly targeted?
Governor Pataki: It’s total nonsense. It is the minority community that benefited the most from having a conservative, tough approach to violent crime because it is the minority community in which a disproportionate level of violence crime has occurred. So my conservative policies were aimed at protecting those most vulnerable who often were low-income minorities. When you have an administration under Obama and Holder that has demonized the police force, and a government in New York City under de Blasio that has made demonizing the police a cornerstone of his electoral campaign, I think we are doing a disservice to people who put their lives in the line to protect our safety. Yes, in any profession there will be those who break the law. They have to be held accountable, but to demonize the police or to reject the conservative policies that have resulted in dramatic reductions of violent crime in the most vulnerable neighborhoods is absurd.
The Politic: How would you bring the viewpoints offered by the Black Lives Matter movement to the table in which their voices as well as opposing voices are heard fairly?
Governor Pataki: Well, there are a lot of great disappointments during the Obama administration. He had the ability as the first African American president to bring people together on racial lines, and instead he has polarized it, with Holder, for political reasons, beyond what it has been for the past twenty years. When you embrace a race baiter like Al Sharpton and invite him to the White House, when the attorney general attends the funeral of somebody in Ferguson, Missouri shot by a police officer when your own Justice Department’s investigation reveals the police officer was justified in shooting to protect his own life, but don’t go to the funeral of two police officers who were assassinated in the line of duty, that is sending exactly the wrong message. All lives matter, we showed that with my policies to protect life in the most vulnerable areas. I will do that as President as well.
The Politic: On a more economic topic, New York’ minimum wage is $8.75, while the federal minimum wage is $7.25. There have been numerous attempts to increase the minimum wage and to index it to some consumer price index factor. Would you support or oppose legislation to increase or index the minimum wage?
Governor Pataki: Raising the minimum wage sounds great. And if you poll it everybody loves it. But take a look at today in downtown Baltimore. African Americans between the ages of 20 and 29 have an unemployment rate of 37%. Raising the minimum wage does nothing for those unemployed, except increase their ranks. Every economist in America, left and right, understands that when you raise the minimum wage you reduce the number of jobs. Why $15, not $20 or $25? Because as you raise the wage there are businesses, companies, employees who simply cannot afford the number of employees they have. So what I did in New York is completely different and its one of the reasons we were able to reduce the welfare roles by over a million people. We handed people’s economic interests to take that first job for $7, $8, $9 an hour by putting in place health care programs that allowed them and their children to have health care coverage by putting in place day care slots so they didn’t have to worry about what would happen to the child when they went to work and by expanding an intelligent use of the earned income tax credit, which is basically a negative income tax. That way you expand the number of jobs available, you bring people into the workforce, you make it in people’s economic interest to take the job and you don’t pat yourself on the back by saying, “look at this great law I passed, doesn’t it feel good,” while in the process driving up the rents of the unemployed.
The Politic: You’ve called the Affordable Care Act the worst law of your lifetime. Based on the health care initiatives taken by you and your administration, what makes you the best candidate to repeal and replace ObamaCare?
Gov: First of all, I do think we have to repeal ObamaCare – it’s a disaster for us. It’s not only driven up health care costs unreasonably, but it’s one of the reasons that our economy is doing so poorly. There are anywhere from 6 to 8 million people working less than 30 hours a week who want to work full time. And I can’t tell you the number of employers who have told me they cannot let them work thirty hours a week because of the cost of ObamaCare. So yes, we have to repeal and replace it. I did have pre-ObamaCare programs to help the low-income working, uninsured, entrepreneurs, and people that work for small businesses. Family Health in New York provided hundreds and hundreds of thousands of people with access to low cost, or even no cost quality health care offered in the private market and supported by the state, so that they could take those jobs from employers that weren’t in the position to offer health care. Sadly, those programs had to be eliminated when ObamaCare came along, which is just an example of how bad that law is. I think for a lot of reasons, I believe that I am the best candidate because deep down I know that I can run this country well. It requires having a positive agenda that people can understand, and it requires making that agenda acceptable across party lines to enough Democrats so you can actually accomplish something, instead of using executive agreements which are often in violation of our Constitution which has happened under this president.
The Politic: You are one of nine governors running for the nomination. What separates your leadership style for that of your opponents?
Governor Pataki: I believe my accomplishments speak for themselves, whether its $143 billion in tax cuts, or the lowest unemployment rate, 4.3%, that New York state has had since they started keeping records, or having led New York through September 11th. No governor had to face the crisis I did on September 11th and in the days and months thereafter, we were challenged in ways no one could have anticipated. I’m proud of how much stronger and safer we were as we came though those hard times. I am also the only one who has had to deal with an overwhelmingly Democratic state assembly, and yet worked with them to allow me to advance my conservative agenda. The argument was very simple: “your policies are failing, give mine a chance, if they don’t work the people will throw me out and you can go back to yours.” And they gave us a chance, and they did work. I think that background, that testing under fire is something none of my colleagues have had to go through.
The Politic: My final question is about decisiveness. Obviously, being president requires decisiveness; can you share an example of your ability to be decisive?
Governor Pataki: The morning of September 11th, we were dealing with a horrible, horrible crisis, a security crisis, a human crisis, and what would become a financial crisis. That day, Mayor Giuliani was trapped under a building, and I had to deal with his deputy mayors. It wasn’t until around 1 o’clock when he called and said that he was okay, his command center had been destroyed and they were setting a new command center with all of the city commissioners, and I thought for about 2 seconds and I said, “we’ll be right down.” Not just myself but with all of my commissioners and key people and I think that was one of the most important decisions I’ve ever made. From that point on, the afternoon of September 11th, we didn’t have a city response to that catastrophe or a state response, or a federal response; we were all in the same room. I knew what the city was responsible for, the city knew what the state was responsible for, and when the feds came in they were in the same room and did not miss a beat. You contrast that to Katrina where the feds were pointing fingers at the locals, the locals were pointing fingers at the state, the state pointing fingers at the feds. When a crisis comes, you have to be bold and you have to be right, and fortunately I was.
The Politic: I would like to thank you again for your time and for allowing us to conduct this interview.
Governor Pataki: Thank you, I’m a loyal alumnus and I’ll tell you that my experience at Yale really changed my life. A mailman’s kid from Peekskill, New York that came from a public high school with limited academic stature to say the least, going to Yale exposed me to some of the brightest minds and people in America was something that changed my life. I will be forever grateful.