(Posting this almost two months after the fact, but here’s what happened.)
On March 23, Ohio Governor John Kasich spoke at the Snowshoe Club in Concord. The event was sponsored by the Concord Republican Committee and open to Republicans and Independents. (I am an Independent.) I asked him about the budget impact of government contractors’ political spending, using as an example President Obama’s huge budget for modernization of nuclear weapons. Gov. Kasich said, among other things, “If we’re going to reform welfare for poor people we should … reform welfare for rich people and we shouldn’t be giving out contracts just to make somebody happy.” He said that watching procurements is important in order to maintain U.S. military strength, and cited his record as a Congressman to expose inflated spare parts spending and to limit production of the B-2 nuclear bomber.
Regarding money in politics, he described how contractors spread spend procurement projects among many states and give PAC money to members of Congress. But he said he didn’t have a problem with special interests making campaign contributions and that he himself is never influenced by contributions. He said the ultimate solution is for elected officials to be of good character and not be influenced by contributions. He said he didn’t have any other solutions for the problem of money in politics. This was disappointing.
Reflections on my bird dog experience
I was happy with several things, such as being recognized for the first question and managing to ask it clearly. The AFSC bird dog training helped prepare me for this by teaching me the importance of several things:
It helped me formulate a clear question linking military contractors’ political spending, the federal budget, and nuclear weapons. My question also informed the audience about President Obama’s huge nuclear weapons modernization budget. There were many other questions I could have asked, but I’m especially concerned about nuclear weapons. Most people seem to have forgotten that there are still thousands of nuclear weapons deployed. They threaten horrible damage to hundreds of millions of human beings and the ecosystem if ever used, whether deliberately or by accident. (For information about current organizing, go to peaceandplanet.org which describes events in NYC at the end of April.)
As recommended by the trainers, I practiced my question out loud many times before the event. This gave me confidence. As a counter example, last summer I attended an event and asked a question I had not rehearsed. I thought it would be easy, but I choked on it. Now it’s practice, practice, practice.
To be called on, I sat near the front and raised my hand immediately after Governor Kasich finished speaking. But I did wait till he finished. I did not sit in a group with the people I came with.
Another person, using a tape recorder, recorded the Governor’s response while I listened. Written notes would also have been fine. Without this help, being nervous about asking the question, I would have forgotten the details of the response.
There were a few things that were difficult. I was satisfied with my question, but I did find it challenging to cover all the issues I was concerned about. It was a fairly long question and would not have worked in a more hurried situation, such as an encounter on the street or in a coffee shop. There are some quicker questions that could be asked, such as one about Lockheed’s use of taxpayer money to lobby for continuing its contract to run Sandia National Labs.
And while I appreciated the Governor’s response on controlling military procurement and ending welfare for the wealthy, his answer did not go far enough for me. In particular, I think it’s important to abolish nuclear weapons completely. But I’m glad to have raised the issue and gotten his views. We have to be out talking about these issues.
Transcript of Question and Response
Question by J. Elliott:
I’m really glad to hear that you have had an interest in military reform and in the budget. One of the things that I worry about is government contractors and the undue political influence that they have on our budget, whether it’s from huge lobbying budgets or election expenditures. Case in point, President Obama’s modernization plan for nuclear weapons is going to be way more expensive than he ever told us. We have some corporations… I have no problem with an honest profit, but some of the military contractors – Lockheed, Boeing, Grumman – are going to make huge profits off of this program. So how do we make sure that our budget is spent for the people and not for the corporations?
Response by Gov. John Kasich:
We should not have the Uniform Public Works Committee be running the Pentagon. You get what I’m saying? The Pentagon should be there and military expenditures should be there to meet the threat. That’s what it should be.
I didn’t tell you earlier, but well, my first experience was … remember the $500 hammer, screwdrivers and all that? I took that to Washington. There were a couple other people that found out about it, but I drove the spare parts investigation in the United States House of Representatives. I had a Democrat who had his leg blown off in a mine field in World War II. His name was Bill Nichols and he was the head of the investigations subcommittee, and he was a great guy. In fact, I delivered one of the eulogies at his funeral. And I went to see Mr. Nichols with a collection of the hammers and screwdrivers and all this. And he was a guy who just saluted the Pentagon, and when I walked in and I showed him all these items and I told him the colonel who gave them to me, he looked at me over his glasses, and he stared at me sitting out [there] and he said, “Your mama don’t have any more like you at home, does she?” The point of it was, he had never seen this before.
And I went to work on Pentagon procurement and it’s something we always have to do, because if we’re going to reform welfare for poor people we should also reform welfare for rich people and we shouldn’t be giving out contracts just to make somebody happy.
Now the other issue that I took on (beyond a bunch of other issues) was limiting the production of the B-2 bomber. They wanted to build 132 of these planes at a billion dollars apiece, and its job was to fly into the middle of the Soviet Union in the middle of a nuclear war and drop more nuclear weapons. And I thought to myself, I mean, just a couple of them would make for a very bad day, and why would we spend a billion dollars to buy a plane that’s going to drop more nuclear weapons? So I said, “Here’s what we ought to do. We ought to have a baker’s dozen.” John Sununu supported me in this, I think Judd [Gregg] did as well, and I said “You limit the number to thirteen.” Now when they build these airplanes, they put the windshield in one state, the wipers in another state, the wheels in another state. And this effort of mine took ten years long. Chris Shays is back here, my buddy, the former congressman from Connecticut. You were helping me on that and so what did we face? So here’s what happened. They would fly people out to California and show them the plane and they would give them PAC checks and all I would give them was a cold cup of coffee. And I was working with a Democrat on this who was very, very liberal and they called us “the odd couple” but we grew and grew and grew because it made good military strategy. At the end of the day when I left Congress instead of producing 132, I made a deal with Dick Cheney, the Secretary of Defense, that we would only produce 20. And that’s exactly where we ended up. And what I wanted to do was to take the money and use it to build stand-off weapons so pilots didn’t have to fly into harm’s way and they could shoot this stuff off at a long distance. Remember the Gulf War? That’s kind of what we saw.
Then we reorganized the Pentagon and I was involved in that to make sure that the services cooperated together. We can’t afford to squander precious resources because I have to tell you our defense budget is important, our military strength. We’re the leader of the world. We’ve been shrinking from our involvement. It has created doubt in the minds of our friends, and in some ways it has empowered our enemies, so we have to have a strong defense, but we can’t waste money.
Now, I will say one other thing to you. You know, I don’t have any problem with people who represent special interests. That’s fine, that’s part of the system. But if you give me something, that’s not going to make a determination about what I’m going to do. You go check me out. This is not a theory. You check my record. As governor, you’ve got to do what you’ve got to do, and you’ve got to … you don’t even have to explain to them, “Look, I’ve got a purpose here, I’m going to carry it out, can you help me? That’s great, but it doesn’t get you anything.” My friend, a Democrat, had a fundraiser for me in Cleveland. We raised a lot of money. And he got up at the event and he said (this is last year) “I’ve got good news and bad news for you. The good news is we raised a lot of money. The bad news is, whatever you did for John, you’re getting nothing in return.” And that’s the way we ought to run Washington, not just Ohio. It’s the way we ought to run everything.
Other notable things John Kasich Said at this event:
In response to a question by Republican Jim Rubens on money in politics, Gov. Kasich said he didn’t have any solutions. He said that the ultimate solution was to have public officials of good character who wouldn’t be influenced by campaign contributions they received.
Gov. Kasich advocated sending lethal aid to the Ukraine.