Originally created 09/26/00

Kent: A conversation with John McCain



(Editor's note: On Saturday, Phil Kent interviewed unsuccessful GOP presidential candidate Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., who is now campaigning for George W. Bush. The following are excerpts.)

Q: Senator, are your doctors happy with your progress after your (cancer) surgery? Did you have some 200 stitches?

A: Yes, and they think everything is fine. I had a pretty extensive operation. This has also made me a zealot to get everybody out of the sun, and to wear sun blocks if you are fair-skinned.

Q: We have a Bridgestone-Firestone Plant right down the road in Aiken County. Where do you think this tire recall controversy is going to lead?

A: I don't know because an investigation will be carried on by the National Highway and Traffic Safety Administration. My goal right now is to pass legislation that we got through the Commerce Committee to tighten reporting standards, to put in more severe penalties and make sure manufacturers in foreign countries have the same standards as those here.

It's a tragedy for everybody concerned. One hundred and four people have died as of last week, according to the experts.

Q: How do you see the Bush-Cheney campaign going?

A: I think the last week was good. This business of the new e-mails concerning the Buddhist temple just confirms that the Clinton-Gore campaign in 1996 would do anything to raise money for re-election. And the vice president's comments about his mother-in-law and his dog, and the cost of their prescription drugs, are just patently false.

But I still think it's going to get down to the issues and I believe that Gov. (George W.) Bush - particularly on education, Social Security, on the military - has the upper hand. I think he is arguing much more forcefully on all those issues. I'm optimistic. But I also think it is going to be a very close race.

Q: Are you happy with polls from the so-called battleground toss-up states?

A: Well, I was just listening to some results this morning from a friend of mine and a number of them are leaning two or three points to Bush - but at this point we still have a long way to go.

Q: Does the Republican Senate candidate in New York, Rick Lazio, have a shot at winning over Hillary Clinton?

A. Oh, I think so. Again, we just found out the Clintons are doing the same thing that they did in 1996. More than 400 people stayed in the (White House) Lincoln Bedroom in less than a year. It's a revolving-door bedroom. Many of them are money-givers, and it's a disgrace to take the bedroom of a revered president and treat it like Motel 6.

Mrs. Clinton refuses to renounce and not accept soft money. Congressman Lazio has agreed to do that. ...

(Note: Mrs. Clinton initially refused to accept a soft-money ban. However, ABC News reports Lazio and Mrs. Clinton came to a tentative agreement on a soft-money ban over the weekend.

Q: Do you know former Sen. Mack Mattingly, the Republican running for the late Paul Coverdell's Senate seat in Georgia?

A: I came in the same year in the House he was elected to the Senate. ... Mack Mattingly was a fiscal conservative. I remember his efforts on behalf of the presidential line-item veto. He was one of the first to come out for it and really led the Senate on that issue. Some of us who came in later took up his cause and we finally succeeded in 1995. Then the Supreme Court later threw it out, which I think was a terrible thing.

Q: What are the issues you hear most about as you travel? Is there any one main issue?

A: I think that Social Security and prescription drugs are two big specific issues, but I think education is the most important overall issue. People want their children to be able to work with the new information technology that is driving the economy. There's a growing digital divide, so we need better education and training.

Q: You have supported limited education vouchers. What do you think of (Democrat vice presidential candidate) Joe Lieberman's retreat on that?

A: It's ample testimony to the power of the National Education Association. One-fifth of the delegates to the Democratic National Convention were members of the NEA. You know where they were on that issue. That's why Gov. Bush has such an advantage. He wants to provide choice, innovation and teacher testing based on student performance. He is espousing major reforms and proposals advocated by many experts in education.

Al Gore, gripped by the teachers' union, has no program. It's business as usual and just spend more money. And we know that just spending more money isn't the answer.

Q: Isn't it incredible the U.S. Education Department is missing all that money and the Arthur Anderson company gave up on its departmental audit?

A: That was disgraceful. ... After the election there will probably be more criminal indictments and more people fired.

... It's the reason why we want local, state and parental control. It's compelling evidence of why we would want it. There's no accountability in Washington.

Q: Do you have much confidence in Richard Riley, the U.S. Education secretary?

A: I think he's a man personally committed to education, but he has the wrong ideas. I don't think his, President Clinton's and Gore's big government, government micro-management and more government decision-making is the way to go. I don't doubt these people's motives. I just strongly disagree with their philosophy.

Q: Senator, you invoked the name of an old conservative hero, Barry Goldwater, in your speech last night. Was he a major influence in your political life?

A: Yes. First, he was a marvelous conservative. But second, he had an extremely well-deserved reputation for honesty and candor. Barry left a legacy for all of us in the Arizona delegation to be candid and forthright even if some of these views weren't too popular - even in your own party.

He really has, in many respects, been a role model. Barry is the guy who wrenched the Republican Party out of the hands of the eastern Establishment and gave it to America. That's his enduring legacy. He got the Republican Party to adopt a reform agenda, and got it away from the hands of the special interests. He gave the party back to the people.

Phil Kent is senior editorial writer for The Augusta Chronicle. He can be reached at (706) 823-3327 or philkent@augustachronicle.com