Former Virginia Gov. Douglas Wilder On Sitting Governors Running For President
Four sitting governors are among the candidates currently running for president.
While they’re out on the campaign trail stumping and fundraising, they also have their own states to run.
Here & Now‘s Jeremy Hobson talks with former Virginia Gov. Douglas Wilder about the challenges of doing both things well. Gov. Wilder briefly sought the Democratic presidential nomination in 1991, while he was governor.
Does running for president distract a governor from running their state?
“Totally — and so much so that I announced that I was running in September and announced that I was withdrawing in December.”
“Virginia is a one term governorship. One term of four years — you have nothing else. Consequently, even those people who supported me strongly for governor thought that it would not be good for me to divert my attention, to give anything other than fullest attention to the affairs of the Commonwealth of Virginia. And I had to. I inherited $2.2 billion shortfall. You could imagine what that would be like today. I needed to make certain that we could weather that storm. As a Democrat it was expected that I would be raising taxes and that I was liberal and that consequently that would be the way out. We balanced the budget. We didn’t raise taxes a dime. I established a rainy day fund, put it in the state Constitution, every governor since that time has had to rely upon it and has done so.”
What about those that have run successfully — is it a mistake for a governor to run for president?
“Not at all. As a matter of fact, I thought that a governor would win in 1992 and as a matter of fact, he did — Bill Clinton did. Look at it this way — people coming from Congress and coming from the Senate haven’t been a success.”
What about President Obama (who came from the Senate)?
“Very, very fortunate. To the extent that he inherited a situation that was absolutely great for him. He was running against the Iraq War. He was running against the stagnation of the economy. And those two things, particularly when you consider that Hillary had not positioned herself sufficiently from the Iraq War, and she paid a price for that. … I was one of the earlier supporters of Barack Obama because I thought he had all of the materials, the ingredients, the smarts. And he had served long enough in the legislatures of the Senate in Illinois and in the Senate to not be jaded by the spirit of Washington. I think he is a remarkable exception.”
Will the states whose governors are running for president suffer?
“They don’t have to. In my case, they would have, because I thought … that I couldn’t run on a part time basis. I don’t see how you could do it part time. You’ve got to be out there pretty much full time.”
“The enemy is not the enemy with-out our country, it’s going to be the enemy within our country.”
“But you left out a name, and that is a former governor, Jeb Bush. And he is going to be most formidable. Donald Trump is not going to go anywhere away. He’s going to be an item to deal with … for the long haul. The people who are giving the soundbites of ‘We want to make America great again,’ ‘We want to get our country back,’ those sloganeerings are not going to make it.”
“Let me tell you one of the things that’s going to be on the agenda … The issue of race is going to be the 800 pound gorilla in the room even though it might not be spoken … because everybody’s talking about the enemy that’s going to be beating us. The enemy is not the enemy with-out our country, it’s going to be the enemy within our country. It’s not going to be ISIS, it’s not going to be al-Qaida, it’s not going to be the Taliban, it’s going to be the people in this country coming to have to believe that we are one nation, indivisible. We are not a police state that treats certain people as second class citizens. Governors have something to say about that.”
“I don’t know what’s going to be the top issue, but it’s going to be the issue relative to what we need to do to make our country strong. Yes, it’s a stronger issue than al-Qaida, ISIS, ISIL, Taliban and all of them together because if we are not strong within, then we cannot fight that which attacks us from the outside.”
“…if we are not strong within, then we cannot fight that which attacks us from the outside.”
Are the candidates saying what you want to hear as the first elected African American governor in this country?
“No, they are not. First of all, the African-American vote is taken for granted by both sides — one side says, well we’re not going to get them, and the other side says, well we don’t have to worry about them, so let’s concentrate on the Hispanic vote. That’s a big mistake. Take nobody for granted and be certain to understand that you can’t take people shot and killed because they don’t have a license plate on the front of their car, or …”
“I think it’s more important for the candidates to speak to how they regard race in America, how they see what’s taking place, and what they would do to offset some of the things that are taking … this vigilante mindset, and second class citizenship for some just by virtue of the color of the skin…”
“I think it’s more important for the candidates to speak to how they regard race in America, how they see what’s taking place, and what they would do to offset some of the things…”
You don’t sound like someone who is ready to vote for Hillary Clinton.
“I don’t sound like anyone whose ready to vote for anybody. I have a reputation that no one takes my vote for granted and I think that’s the way it should be, and I’m not suggesting that Hillary and I and her husband and I — we have great relationships — but we’re not talking about personalities. We’re talking about the nation. The country. The people. Where are we? People are saying ‘this exceptional nation.’ Who built the nation, what made the nation great? Who were the people that were enslaved and made others rich and then left to paddle their own canoes and pull themselves up by their own bootstraps, and then criticized for every little thing that goes askew.”
- Douglas Wilder, the nation’s first black governor, former Virginia governor.
Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.