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Wed August 27, 2008
Michael Munger, Libertarian candidate for Governor
By George Olsen
New Bern, NC – ***transcript of complete interview follows script for on-air profile...
INTRO - You might not know it when watching political ads for the Republican and Democratic candidates for governor, but there is a third option on the November ballot. George Olsen recently spoke with the Libertarian Party candidate who, along with Republican Pat McCrory and Democrat Bev Perdue, is also seeking to take up occupancy in the Governor's Mansion.
When Michael Munger talks of the two major party candidates for governor, he tends to lump them together almost as one entity.
One of the difficulties that I have is the fact that the two state sponsored parties generally and the two candidates Bev Perdue and Pat McCrory are the same on almost all the policies that I find important.
So perhaps it's no surprise that when asked what would be the first thing he would do if he were to win the November election, the issue he initially speaks of is one that hasn't been discussed too much in Republican and Democratic circles.
So the first thing that I would do is declare a moratorium on capital punishment. I think the way North Carolina enforces capital punishment reflects I don't think it's active racism, but the way North Carolina enforces capital punishment is to make it almost impossible for wealthy white people to be executed, but if you're retarded, black, had inadequate legal representation, then you're likely to be, if you're charged with a capital crime, to have the prosecutor go for capital punishment, so it violates equal protection.
That's a viewpoint that may target Munger, who chairs the political science department at Duke University, as a holder of liberal views. But he comes back pretty quickly with viewpoints that would please a conservative audience, such as his belief that recruiting business to the state isn't best done with tax incentives.
The problem we have right now is relatively high taxes. Our income tax is one of the highest in the Southeast. Our gas tax is the highest in the Southeast. We have several other taxes including a food tax, for heaven's sake, a 2% food tax and our sales tax is quite high.
That certainly sounds more in line with the life-long Republican Munger said he had been until about 2003. Munger in fact was a staff economist for the Federal Trade Commission during Ronald Reagan's administration. But mid-way through the current Bush administration he left the Republican Party for the Libertarians.
I've been, in many ways, a traditional Republican and feel that they changed, I didn't. The Patriot Act, the enormous pork-barrel spending, the Bridge to Nowhere, the conduct of the war as well as the fact of the war in Iraq all together just struck me as these aren't Republicans anymore.
He was originally approached by the Libertarians for a gubernatorial run in 2004 but says election laws made that impossible, saying you couldn't change registration and run for office in your new party in less than a year. So here he is in 2008 as the Libertarian candidate for Governor. Despite his self-professed job one of a moratorium on capital punishment, if you view his website his most extensive comments revolve around public education. Among his proposals is lifting the current cap in the state of 100 charter schools.
The objection that is made sometime is yeah, but a lot of these charter schools are bad. What do you do if you send your kid to a bad charter school? Then you send him somewhere else. It means you have a choice. What do you do if you send your kid to a bad public school? You just despair. You think why is it that wealthy people have choices, why is it the state lets wealthy people make choices and the poor don't get to make any choices.
He also sees an inequity in the state's current method of deciding where to do infrastructure projects, saying roads are being built in a relatively small number of areas that produce money for developers who in turn make campaign contributions at the expense of needs of road and bridge needs in places that are poor. Toward dealing with that inequity he'd try to convince the Legislature to take road building from their purview for a three year period. He'd put together a panel of experts along the lines of the panel that examined military bases for the government, recommending which to close and which to expand, allowing Congress an up-or-down vote on the entire package. He'd do the same for all road projects being considered.
If I could get the General Assembly to cooperate, and they might I think a lot of them recognize that the needs of the state are not being served so we have to take politics out of the way we build roads for a few years at least until we re-build the road infrastructure around the rest of the state, so I would have a roads building commission that would come up with priorities, all the counties of N-C with an eye not toward political power but toward economic need.
That also plays into an economic formula he learned long ago while working as an economist in the Reagan years you ignore at your own peril low taxes, education and infrastructure. Michael Munger is the Libertarian candidate for Governor. I'm George Olsen.
Was there a specific incident that pushed you to run for office?
00:35 I believe all of us secretly believe we can do the job better but it doesn't usually move us to run because we don't believe others will share that opinion. I decided to get other people to share it by running for office sometime in 2003 when it became clear that the policies of the Republican administration in Washington, both the Congress and the President, were both so different from what I understood American conservatism to be. I'd been a Republican all my life. I worked in the first Reagan administration back when Reagan's rhetoric, at least, was trying to cut the size of government and the taxes and the regulatory pressures on small businesses. I worked with Mitch McConnell in the U-S Senate trying to prevent the passage of the McCain-Feingold campaign finance reform act. I've been, in many ways, a traditional Republican and feel that they changed, I didn't. The Patriot Act, the enormous pork-barrel spending, the Bridge to Nowhere, the conduct of the war as well as the fact of the war in Iraq all together just struck me as these aren't Republicans anymore. I don't know what they are and I have to strike out on my own.
How does that apply to the state of N-C? I can see how that might move you to run for the U-S Senate
02:00 You asked what my moment of zen was, that's when I decided to run. I'd always had some Libertarian sentiments and in 2004 I was approached by the Libertarian Party to run for governor, but it turned out the ballot access laws in N-C were such that it was impossible. You couldn't just change registration in less than about a year and run for office, so I just tried to work for the party, and it turned out that N-C is one of the three most restrictive states in the nation in terms of ballot access, so voters don't get to choose who they vote for and people don't get to choose what party they represent. The state decides for us. I decided I would run as a Libertarian as I learned more about the restrictiveness the state uses to protect itself, and when I say the state I mean the two state sponsored parties. They've formed a cartel. And let me say as a political scientist there's a lot of research that shows the competitiveness of the party system has a lot to do with the responsiveness of the individual parties. So if you look across states, those that are relatively open and allow access to third parties are also more open and responsive to the wishes of voters. In N-C what's happened is that both of our parties have moved to the center and kind of auction off different policy areas, so it's more a way of raising revenue for the parties than providing policies that the voters want.
After moving into the Governor's Mansion, what would be job number one for you?
03:55 I have trouble saying what job number one would be. One of the difficulties that I have is the fact that the two state sponsored parties generally and the two candidates Bev Perdue and Pat McCrory are the same on almost all the policies that I find important. So the first thing that I would do is declare a moratorium on capital punishment. I think the way North Carolina enforces capital punishment reflects I don't think it's active racism, but the way North Carolina enforces capital punishment is to make it almost impossible for wealthy white people to be executed, but if you're retarded, black, had inadequate legal representation, then you're likely to be, if you're charged with a capital crime, to have the prosecutor go for capital punishment, so it violates equal protection, regardless of what you think of capital punishment as a moral issue, legally the way we enforce it is unfair, it's unjust, so the first thing I would do is have a moratorium on capital punishment. Second thing I would do is have a review of all the roads bills that are passing through the General Assembly and look at all the road projects being considered and I would what I would want to do I'd have to have the General Assembly's co-operation, the reason I hesitate is I just can't do this unilaterally like I would with the moratorium on capital punishment but I think we need for three years to take road building out of the hands of the General Assembly. The Highway Trust Fund looks like a giant cookie jar to the General Assembly, so we don't build roads in places that are poor, we don't repair bridges in places that don't have political clout, we continue to build them in a relatively small number of areas to produce money for developers and implicitly for the legislators who receive campaign contributions from those developers so the way we hand out positions on the board for the state DOT is how many campaign contributions have you made to members of the General Assembly, powerful members of the General Assembly. So I would create something like a state-level base closings commission. The Federal base closings commission was a group of experts who said these bases we can do without, these we need to keep and the Congress had to vote up or down. So they were relieved of the political pressure of protecting their district, and we took politics out of it and just used a kind of rational policy. I would do the same thing for roads. If I could get the General Assembly to cooperate, and they might I think a lot of them recognize that the needs of the state are not being served so we have to take politics out of the way we build roads for a few years at least until we re-build the road infrastructure around the rest of the state, so I would have a roads building commission that would come up with priorities, all the counties of N-C with an eye not toward political power but toward economic need.
Is the money that we need to build the roads already there?
07:18 The state highway trust fund, every year the General Assembly takes out at least 200-million dollars and uses it for other things. All we have to do is use the highway trust fund, which is paid for by gas taxes, they're used for pet projects like for art in the main part of Charlotte. They spent 10-million dollars on art for the main part of Charlotte. If Charlotte would like to have art in their downtown, they're welcome to do that. They're a large city. I don't see why highway funds from poor people in the western part of the state where bridges are falling down are going to be used so bankers in Charlotte can have art of frankly questionable value. So yes, two-hundred million dollars a year in some cases is taken out by the General Assembly out of the highway trust fund. We have plenty of money. We just need to use it for roads.
The issue you discussed the most on your website was public education. What is the state doing right, wrong and what changes would your administration seek?
08:31 North Carolina has some of the best charter schools in the United States. My sons both go to a high school in downtown Raleigh Raleigh Charter High School which Newsweek ranked as the 8th best public high school in the United States not in North Carolina, but the entire United States. Raleigh Charter High School operates at a cost of about 2/3rds cost per student of a regular high school. They don't have lockers, they basically don't have sports teams, they don't have a cafeteria, and the students do their own janitorial service they don't clean the bathrooms, but they take out all the trash. Charter schools in North Carolina, some are excellent, some are much less so. First thing I would like to do if I could get the General Assembly to go along is raise the cap on charter schools. We're not spending any more money. All we'd be doing is saying we're going to unshackle the creativity of parents and allow the people who really care about kids, their parents, to take responsibility back for constructing new schools. A lot of parts of the state schools are grossly overcrowded, but we prevent charter schools by having this cap of 100 there's a cap the state has imposed for a total of 100 throughout the state, and if there were one per county, there are 100 counties, it wouldn't be so bad, but there's 20 just in Wake County. We don't distribute the charter schools evenly. I would raise the cap on charter schools as a way of allowing the creativity of parents in poor neighborhoods all over the state that are very dissatisfied with the quality of state schools to make some changes. The objection that is made sometime is yeah, but a lot of these charter schools are bad. What do you do if you send your kid to a bad charter school? Then you send him somewhere else. It means you have a choice. What do you do if you send your kid to a bad public school? You just despair. You think why is it that wealthy people have choices, why is it the state lets wealthy people make choices and the poor don't get to make any choices. I have to say that one of the interesting things I've found is my support is 30-to-40 percent higher among African-Americans than it is whites, and I think the reasons are I want a moratorium on capital punishment and I want to legalize competition in school choice. A lot of African-Americans are very dissatisfied with their educational system. It is true if you let people make choices some of them are going to make bad choices, but it won't be any worse than the terrible public schools they're already trapped in. At least they'll have smaller class size and the parents will feel that the schools and curriculum are more responsive to their own wishes.
How about higher education? There wasn't any mention of college education on your website. There's been some talk of providing free community college education? Is that something you'd support? Are college costs affordable?
12:28 The cost needs to go up. My son just started at UNC-Chapel Hill as a matter of fact. There are a lot of wealthy people who send their children to UNC-CH and to other schools across the state. I don't see why poor people whose children didn't have the test scores to get into UNC should subsidize the children of the wealthy who go to UNC. I agree that the Constitution says that. The constitution needs to be changed. Here's what we need to do about higher education. We need to have scholarship programs that make it possible for anyone who can't afford to go to be able to go without having to take out huge loans, but I don't see why the wealthy should get a free education at the expense of others. The French economist Frederic Bastiat said that the state is the fiction by which each of us can aspire to live at the expense of all of us. It's just not true that all of us put in taxes and get back even more than we put in. Bev Perdue doesn't want community colleges to be free. Bev Perdue wants other people to pay for community colleges for some people, so she wants to take money from everyone else and give it to those who go to community college. There's no such thing as free, the only question is who's going to pay for it. For community colleges I can see subsidies for poor people, for UNC-CH if you cannot afford to go I can see it. Why would it be that we're going to pay out of taxpayer dollars for kids whose car costs more than some poor people's house to go to UNC-Chapel Hill for free.
No state support for these schools, is that correct?
14:22 No, you said why didn't I have this on my issues. I obviously don't think it's very important. I actually think what we're doing is pretty close to right. UNC-CH charges a significant amount, more than it should be able to according to the Constitution, and they have scholarship programs. I wouldn't change anything. My preferred method is let's go with what we've got. As you pointed out I didn't mention it. I don't think it's an issue. We're doing fine.
Would you support drilling off the state's coast?
14:58 Well, the whole debate on that is a gimmick. I have a PhD in Economics and worked on energy issues in gas, oil and nuclear for 25 years. The only possible solution is a comprehensive answer in which the federal government plays a very important role. So the idea that by drilling off the coast of N-C or not is going to influence the price of gas for N-C taxpayers is ludicrous, and both of the candidates of the state sponsored parties should be ashamed of themselves. The only solution is we're going to stop we have a tariff on imported ethanol. We have big subsidies to ethanol to try to reduce the price of gas. We have a tariff on ethanol. So let's stop having tariffs on imported things that will reduce the price of gas. Let's break the production bottleneck at refineries. We haven't built a new refinery in 25 years. As a result the oil companies are able to charge enormous prices for gasoline even if the price of oil falls because we don't have enough refinery capacity. The federal government has been complicit in this by allowing the oil companies not to build more refineries. They're perfectly happy because it protects monopoly profits. There's a kind of conspiracy well, there's an active cooperation between government and environmental groups that don't want to build new refinery capacity and the oil companies that are happy to have their cartel prices protected. So the idea that by having off-shore oil drilling off the coast of N-C is going to affect anything other than maybe the price for Chinese consumers on the world oil market is a gimmick.
Your website discusses decriminalizing drug possession. What's behind your thinking on that subject?.
17:07 The U-S incarcerates a higher percentage of its population than the Soviet Union or China ever did, countries we portrayed as totalitarian, and a lot of the reason is we impose criminal penalties for what are essentially private behavior. So I think politically there's no support for the absolute legalization of drugs. A lot of people think that many drugs are dangerous. What we can do is change the way we sentence, so decriminalization of possession of a small amount would help some of the problem, but I would also like to change the way we sentence people who are addicts. Let's not put them in jail. Let's send them to treatment programs where they have some chance of being rehabilitated. Let's treat it as an addiction, not a crime, provided all they're doing is harming themselves. So I would do two things I would decriminalize, meaning just a fine like quite a few states do, possession of small amounts of marijuana, but more important for other drugs, even for heroin or methamphetamine, rather than sentence them to jail I would sentence them to addiction treatment programs, and, yes, if they flunk out of that then yes they can still go to jail, but let's try to rehabilitate. It's actually cheaper both in the short run and the long run, so I would say the centerpiece of my drug program would be to use alternative sentencing.
I assume from what you just said the money is already there to put this in place?
18:56 Yes, that's the answer to the question how would you pay for this. I actually think we could save money by sentencing that took into account how expensive it is to put people up in giant steel hotels, even ignoring the problem of recidivism. Certainly in the long run it'll be cheaper, but I think even in the short run it'll break even.
You urge no burdensome regulations on businesses. What regulations do you think impede business?
19:44 N-C does a pretty good job now of attracting business in terms of not having burdensome regulations. The problem we have right now is relatively high taxes. Our income tax is one of the highest in the Southeast. Our gas tax is the highest in the Southeast. We have several other taxes including a food tax, for heaven's sake, a 2% food tax and our sales tax is quite high. I think the problem we have in attracting business is we've ignored our road infrastructure, we've ignored our education system in making sure we have a technically trained work force that is competitive for 21st century jobs and our taxes are too high. So to the extent we're failing it's not so much we have burdensome regulations that's part of an economic formula that I repeat because its something I learned working for the federal government I think the problem is ignoring the big three education, infrastructure, low taxes.
What is your response to concerns regarding eminent domain?
21:04 My concern more generally is for municipal aggression. North Carolina is one of only seven states that allows involuntary annexation, and our policy on eminent domain is shaky. Involuntary annexation means that, suppose I live outside of town and don't wake up one morning and think darn it, I meant to live in town but forgot. I actually live outside of town on purpose, so the idea that the city can annex my property, basically taking my property inside the city like a giant amoeba against my will so they can charge me city taxes and improve their revenues is an outrage. I have no problem with annexation. What I object to is involuntary annexation. The second part is eminent domain. That's the way that cities take property within their city boundaries, and I have no problem with eminent domain as an old common law doctrine, the difficulty I have is the use of eminent domain for non-public purposes. The Kelo case in New London, CT which was accepted by the U-S Supreme Court said cities can take private property from one private owner and give it to another private owner. Now the way that private property goes from one private owner to another is called sale. If I want to buy your property, I have to pay what you want for it or I have to go somewhere else. After the Kelo case, it became legal where a developer comes to you and says I want to buy your land and put up condominiums and you say no, I don't want to sell. I want more money then you're willing to pay, no deal. So then the developer goes to the city and says just take this land, take it at gunpoint, so they use eminent domain to take it and they don't use eminent domain for any public purpose. They don't build a hospital. They don't build a road. They give it to the developer so he can build condos, and the reason is that the condos will produce more tax money than the old blighted homes that some poorer person, because this is almost always used in poorer neighborhoods rather than wealthy neighborhoods, and its more likely to be used in black neighborhoods than white neighborhoods. This is a mechanism for tyranny. So I don't have a problem with eminent domain so long as it's used for a public purpose. What I object to is using eminent domain for non-public purposes, for transferring property from one private owner to another, that's what I think North Carolina needs to not do.
Gay marriage you want marriage treated as a contract is that the appropriate one sentence synopsis of your view?
24:16 George & Martha Washington didn't have a marriage license. We didn't have government interference in marriage at all until people became concerned about miscegenation, the marriage between black and white people, so the reason that government is even involved is to prevent interracial marriage. Those laws are now being used to prevent other kinds of contracts. So to summarize my position briefly, I don't think the government should be involved in contracts between consenting adults. Marriage is a contract, so the state cannot withhold that contract between consenting adults. The state can also not tell the Baptist Church or the Catholic Church you must perform marriages. The sacrament, the rite of marriage, as a religious ceremony is wholly the province of churches. Under no circumstances can the state say churches have to perform gay marriages. But also and for the same reason it's the same wall churches cannot tell the state you cannot provide a marriage contract to same sex couples.