Exclusive Interview With Gov. Jim Gilmore

“One thing I don’t have to have — I don’t have to have a $100 million to convert myself into being a conservative,” Jim Gilmore told the editors of HUMAN EVENTS during an exclusive interview Wednesday. Gilmore, who served as governor of Virginia from 1998-2002, may not be the current frontrunner in the 2008 presidential race but we found no reason to question his solid conservative credentials.

During his time in HUMAN EVENTS’ office, Gilmore boldly addressed key issues ranging from immigration to taxes to abortion to the War on Terror to conservatism. He dismissed the records of current Republican opponents who are moving to the right for political reasons and made clear his goal to be the Reaganite candidate conservatives should support. The following is part one of two reports of the edited interview.

Jim Gilmore: My focus is on running for the presidency and I do it advisedly. Here’s the story: we looked at this somewhat in ‘06 but there were other Virginians in the race in ‘06. And it really didn’t look like something we could necessarily do but as the year wore on…we began to get out into the community and to talk to Republicans around the country…to find out whether or not a true, mainstream, Reagan conservative was needed in the race, and we concluded that that candidacy was the right thing for the United States and the right thing for the Republican Party so we began to enter into the race.

At the end of ‘06, we asked ourselves, what does this race look like? We knew that McCain was in the race, everyone knows John McCain but John McCain is not a conservative. John McCain has made his reputation as a maverick. He opposed the Bush tax cuts flamboyantly. He has put forth an immigration policy that is not good and we did not think that in the end that would be a good candidate for the Republican Party.

We knew Rudy Giuliani would be in this race but…Rudy Giuliani supported Mario Cuomo for governor. and did TV ads for him instead of (Republican) George Pataki. In addition to that, he’s pro-choice, pro-gay marriage and pro-gun control, and passed a provision in New York that said anyone that used government services up there that was in an illegal alien couldn’t be reported to the INS (The United States Immigration and Naturalization Service). I don’t think that looks like a candidate for the Republican Party unless we have so skewed the system that no one else can possibly, physically emerge.

We knew Mitt Romney was in the race, and he’s very wealthy, we understand all that but Mitt Romney’s been a liberal politician in the northeast and it’s all on videotape. He supported Paul Tsongas for the President of the United States and when he was asked why he did that, he said he was an Independent. And then when was asked again in 1994, he said he was no Reagan Republican. The question today is, can he convert himself wildly over to become an evangelical candidate? We just don’t think he can. There’s a need for a mainstream Republican candidate in this race and I’m that candidate and that’s why we entered the race.

One thing I don’t have to have — I don’t have to have a hundred million dollars to convert myself into being a conservative.

I’m already a conservative and always have been. My record’s as clear as crystal and I’m not going to shift now so that I can get elected President. I am the real thing and that’s what I am …and I don’t think it costs much money to do that.

Turning to the domestic front, can you summarize for everyone your record on taxes and spending and how that would translate to a federal approach on taxes and spending?

Gilmore: First of all, I believe that tax policy is fundamental to my entire public record. Fundamental to my track record as a conservative, a real conservative, one who has always been a conservative, since I joined the Republican Party in 1967, 40 years ago… The core of it is this: I understand the value of every person that works for a living. Their capacity to earn is equal to their liberty in life — they’re ability to have freedom from insecurity, freedom from fear that they are going to lose their job, fear that they can’t meet their bills, that they can’t send their kids to the right schools or colleges, that they can’t make their mortgage payments.

This liberty, economic liberty, is tied up with their capacity to earn. We, today, drain too much money from people through taxation. And deny them the ability to be independent and we deny them the education that gives them some sense of security by what it is to understand capital and how you operate in a way to create some independence.

We take too much money from people. I know this for a fact. Let’s take the Virginia example, I know what I pay. I pay 40% off the top. Between federal income tax, state income tax, and social security tax, you take 40% of every dollar right off that top. That’s before a 5% sales tax, and you start paying your gas tax, your federal, state and local, all the excise taxes and telephone taxes and all the other taxes…and after awhile so much money is drained away to support government that you just can’t any longer have the extra capital necessary to create independence. That is the foundation of my philosophy.

What have I done about it? Many people will come talk to your readers but they haven’t ever done anything. As governor of Virginia, I ran on a tax cut. As a matter of philosophy, now we had a particular one that we dealt with — everyone in this room is aware of it — the car tax. Cab drivers thank me everyday for the car tax cut. I have people on trains thank me for the car tax cut because it was meaningful to individual people around the kitchen table trying to make ends meet. And that is the fundamental principle I was able to drive home with the car tax cut.

I want to urge upon you all, there is value in keeping your word doing what you say you are going to do in public life…a very rare commodity today. If you say you’re going to do something to the people, you create a bond and a commitment with them and you actually do it.

Therefore, what policies do we follow? I have deep experience in this. I have been governor of a real state, 11th largest state in the U.S. in terms of population, I believe, and far vaster than that in resources and size — a major state. Our budget presently in Virginia is $74 billion…when I came by the way it was $34 million so I’ve made these budgets.

There are only three moveable parts in a budget—taxation, expenditure, and debt—and that’s all. And so you have to create a balanced budget. I created a balanced budget every year I was there. You project revenue and spend appropriately and that is the way you do things. Now what was my policy? My policy was number one, to build up the economy. We put in 300,000 new jobs during my administration — it was a record. Take a good economy and enhance it in order to create revenues. Revenues come in and once they come into the Commonwealth, there are only two vehicles for not spending all of it. The legislature demands at least triple the revenue — for their pork barrel or their special projects or what they think is most important to the public — so you make up a budget that is commensurate with your revenue.

There are two vehicles that exist in Virginia that prevent in the legislature from spending all of it and those are the rainy day fun, which we maxed out a billion dollars by the time I left government, and the car tax cut or the tax cut program we had in place. So as that revenue came in, the expenditures that we controlled were exactly according to what the revenue was except that we had two additional principles: we would not raise taxes, no shell games here, you take it over here, no fees…or at least I can’t recall if there were fees frankly but if so they were not part of any major program. The second program was to cycle that money back out the door again as a car tax cut to people, working people. It was a very successful program. We got 70% off during my four-year term. I remind all your readers you only get one term in Virginia and I would have cheerfully run for re-election if I could have.

Governor, this is a very strong record, and I think we’d agree on a state level–

Gilmore: It’s fundamental to my conservative foundation

And God bless. How does that translate to the 535 experts that live a quarter a mile away from here? You’ve got a lot of rather dug-in special interests. You’ve got entitlement programs. You’ve got pork barrel like heck won’t hold it. How do you translate your good philosophy into working with the boys and girls?

Gilmore: You start with the principle that you’re going to control federal spending in the same way we controlled spending in Virginia. We did control spending in Virginia. I don’t care if the revenue went up we were sending it back out and were denying giant additional expenditures….

Are you going to be “Veto Jim”?

Gilmore: I’d be cheerfully happy to veto… You cannot do any policy in the United States or any state either unless you have a conversation with the people about this. You must have a discussion with the people — about what you’re trying to do in government or you cannot implement policy. Sometimes there is thinking in the U.S. that all this vote stuff is just nonsense in today’s political world — that you can just get in there and do whatever you want and that translates into maximum possible taxation and expenditure. My experience is this is not right. You have to have a conversation with the people of the U.S. or you cannot implement policy. The President was right in trying to address the Social Security issue. That chicken will come home to roost and new people will have to deal with that…But his re-election was based upon the issue of terrorism — and just about all his conversation was about [that] at that time. You have to have a conversation with people about the value of their money in their pockets and what’s being taken from them right now by overweening taxation. If you can persuade the American people to this point, then you can begin to lay the foundation for true reform and begin to limit the expenditure of government and beginning to reduce taxes in a meaningful way for people.

Are you going to run on platform like that? That my program and my platform are to control these entitlement programs even if you don’t spell it out obviously in detail?

Gilmore: Yes, I’m doing it now.

Besides Social Security, you’re going to talk about the other entitlements?

Gilmore: Certainly. Medicaid is the one I have the direct experience with because Medicaid was the one that was thrown to the states… It’s only a matter of time until Medicaid breaks the states. It’s already placing such pressure on the budgets that we can’t perform other essential services, even with the $74 billion, and then at that point, inevitably — remember there are only three moving parts right — you must increase taxes unless you get control of the expenditure side. Watch out for any government programs that have no cap ever. More is better if you have that kind of principle — then the sky is the limit, there is no end to it. Then at that point, inevitably, one of two things must occur — you go into deficit spending or you have to raise taxes. And I think the American people are paying about all the taxes they can do right now. I think it’s too much and it’s preventing them as a matter of sociological advancement from being able to become more independent.

Do you have a general outline of a reform of Medicaid?

Gilmore: No, not at this time but we will be working on that in the fullness of this year and next year.

One of the things that’s very big on everyone’s minds is for any presidential candidate to describe how he will appoint judges. If you’re going to have the opportunity to appoint Supreme Court justices, judges to the courts of appeals — that reflects on everything from border crossing to prisoners of war to abortion to gun rights to everything else. If Jim Gilmore’s President of the United States and he’s given the opportunity to appoint someone to the Supreme Court — how is he going do it?

Gilmore: First of all, I’m steeped in the law. I graduated from the University of Virginia law school in 1977. I was a courtroom lawyer for 10 years myself. I actually went into court to deal with the evidence and judges and court evidence and so on and then was elected chief prosecutor and tried cases on behalf of the Commonwealth — tried 13 murder cases myself personally — as the Commonwealth attorney and managed a large number of other prosecutors. I became the attorney general of the state of Virginia and so I understand the law and I was trained in constitutional law. The direct answer is I’m going to appoint judges who will not make law from the bench and who will not carry out societal norms by virtue of twisting up the law and therefore undermining people’s confidence in the law. I will attempt to appoint strict constructionalists. I doubt seriously I’m going to direct them to rule in any particular way in any particular case or philosophy. But I’m going to look for somebody at this point that understands that the law is made by the legislatures, the Congress, based upon the traditions, values and history of the people of the United States… That’s what I expect to do. And finally — I actually have and while I don’t think it’s of great constitutional significance — I was the governor of a state and I had the chance to appoint a few judges.

And how did you go about doing that?

Gilmore: I looked at exactly what type of people I thought would carry out that type of philosophy and that were trained in the law and that were people who would do a good job — they were bench judges.

As governor, you promoted and signed a number of bills restricting abortion but what are your personal views on abortion?

First thing I’m going to do is I want to remind people of exactly what a friend of the right to life movement I was as governor of Virginia. My sense was that the right to life movement was being pushed to the margin. They were not having a fair opportunity to participate in the public dialogue and I wanted to enable that and I did every chance that I got. I was always friendly, warm, supportive, and gave them opportunities to push their ideas forward. The result — not of that — but of their efforts, which I think I assisted them in — during my administration [we] passed the 24-hour waiting period, we passed parental notification, we passed informed consent. I signed the partial-birth abortion ban which was later overturned by the courts as a matter of a fact –but I signed it during that time.

We had an identical case to the Terri Schiavo case in Virginia, the Hugh Finn case. And while I didn’t know that I was going to be embroiled in such a controversy when I went into that case I simply wanted to do a little timeout to find out what was going on with this guy. It turned out to be an explosive issue and people who were in opposition to the life movement came in and condemned me roundly and I still bear those scars here today. I became concerned about human cloning during my administration — it emerged as a scientific possibility — and I passed a law to ban human cloning in Virginia and it’s still on the books today as far as I know. And I want to say this: I don’t know about all the other candidates but I’m not aware of any other candidate in this race that has a better record.

That being said, my view is that after about a period of about eight weeks where there is time for a baby to form. After that period of time I think there should be no further abortions — because I think the child has emerged — except to save the life of the mother and situations of extremes. Those are my views…

The reason I asked the question is because a lot of anti-abortion people have said to me, “He’s good on a lot of things but he doesn’t want to outlaw abortion from the moment of conception”?

Gilmore: That has never been my position. My position has been historically the same, and it is never deviated. And I’m not going to shift or change simply because I am now a candidate for the presidency. But I think my track record is second to none…

What about the overturning of Roe v. Wade. Is that something you would support?

Gilmore: I don’t think I’m going to appoint a judge and tell him he’s got to go do that..

But you personally?

Gilmore: But my personal view was all the way back in law school we concluded that Roe v. Wade was wrongly decided…

You’re going to have to address other issues like same-sex marriage and embryonic stem cell research-

Gilmore: Which I can do…I’m not interested in sending a message of anger or hatred to anybody in this race — anyone. But I don’t support gay marriage. I think that the traditional marriage values that we’ve had over generations in America is the appropriate thing. The extent that people can find some way to build some kind of contractual relationship between themselves, fine, but I don’t think it should rise to a civil union which is really a substitute for the concept of marriage and I don’t support that either. But at the same time, I think that if people who are gay want to try to create some kind of relationship between themselves, I should probably be able to do that under American law.

As for stem cell research, if I ban human cloning its because I’m nervous about experimenting with people. I don’t like that. I think it’s a dangerous path to go down. I’d like to find some ways that we can do some of that work under federal supervision that doesn’t create people for the purpose of destroying people for experimentation. I think it’s dangerous.

Where do you stand on the 2nd Amendment, Governor?

Gilmore: I’m on the board of directors of the NRA (National Rifle Association).

How long? Just out of curiosity?

Gilmore: I think they elected me a couple years ago…

The only reason I ask that is because Mitt Romney — I was in a little group and he talked about being a lifetime member of the NRA — and I found out later that he’d just joined that month. I thought he was a lifetime member of the NRA.

Gilmore: Well all that being said, I gave you the short answer but truth is, if you look back on my records, you’ll find that my support of the 2nd amendment long long precedes my participation in the NRA…

You a hunter, shooter?

Gilmore: Yeah I’ve got shotguns and I shoot skeet and trap and that sort of thing — never shot an animal yet. I know a few that I might.