A nation looking for a bipartisan unifier respected by both Republicans and Democrats as a moderate voice on issues of race, terrorism and the economy has only to look to New Jersey. NJTV News Anchor Mary Alice Williams and former Gov. Tom Kean discuss the current political climate.
Williams: Thank very much for being with us.
Kean: Thank you.
Williams: Can the divisions in this country be healed, and how?
Kean: It’s going to be enormously difficult. I don’t remember when this country has been as divided. It can be healed but everybody’s got to take part in it. Republicans, Democrats got to get along with each other, the president has got to reach out to Congress, Congress has got to reach the hand back and we’ve got to start to put things together again because if we don’t, I worry for the future.
Williams: For the first time in 52 years you skipped the Republican National Convention. The one that nominated Donald Trump. What do you make of his transition team choices?
Kean: I think there are some good ones — most of them I think, actually. They’re varied and experienced in background, some of them are brand new, there are some experienced hands. He wants to clean the swamp. There are some people who know how to drain the swamp that he’s nominated so hopefully they’ll do it. So, I think he’s starting out all right, he’s still got some important holes to fill, but so far so good.
Williams: And what do you see of the seriousness with which he’s taking this task on?
Kean: I think he’s taking it on very, very seriously. I mean he’s spending an enormous amount of time on it. He’s a guy who does work very hard when he works. He doesn’t require much sleep, as you know, he meets people at night, he meets them early in the morning and he’s making major judgments himself. He’s taking advice but he’s making the major choices by himself.
Williams: You represent a Republican Party when you were governor in the ’80s here in New Jersey that bears little resemblance to the Republican Party of today. Do you see the party swinging back toward a more centrist position than it is now?
Kean: I think it depends on the issue. I mean I think the party’s going to swing back a little bit on the environment. I see a lot of Republicans who understand global warming and the need to do something about it. I don’t think they’ll swing back on the economy. They believe in tax cuts, they believe in smaller government. That’s a key Republican belief and I think that’s probably going to continue.
Williams: And health care?
Kean: Health care, they’ve taken a position against Obamacare and that’s all right as long as you’ve got something better to replace it with.
Williams: And yet one out of four Republicans says they really don’t want to scratch all of Obamacare. They want to keep parts of it.
Kean: That’s right. Well, I think even the president-elect has said that. He said there are a couple of things bad about it — for instance the fact that kids are going to continue to live with their families and get health care, he believes in that and a couple of other things that he’s said “I want to preserve.” So, I think that there’s going to be a compromise in that area.
Williams: If you were one of his advisors what would you advise that he make a priority during his first 100 days, first four years?
Kean: Things you can get bipartisan cooperation on and that’s infrastructure reform — this whole country needs infrastructure reform. Republicans are for it, Democrats are for it, Trump has proposed it, they should be able to get together on that. And secondly, tax reform. Everybody knows the tax code is unwieldy that it’s unfair, that special people get privileges out of it, the every person doesn’t, that needs reform badly. Everybody knows it and we ought to be able to get a bipartisan agreement on that one.
Williams: The Supreme Court?
Kean: I know there isn’t going to be any bipartisan agreement on that. He ran on that. If he said, “I’m going to appoint a conservative,” he’s going to appoint a conservative —
Williams: But is that one of his priorities do you think?
Kean: Oh it has to be, because you can’t have a court of four and four. You’ve got to appoint a new justice and I assume he will and it’ll be in the mold of Antonin Scalia and it’s going to be the kind of court it has been for the last four or five years and I don’t think that’s a bad thing.
Williams: For the fifth time in America’s history, the winner didn’t actually win the popular vote. I think Secretary Clinton is ahead by more than 2.5 million votes and counting at this point. Is it time to step up to the Electoral College?
Kean: I like the Electoral College.
Kean: Because, we’re the most important nation in the world. Do you remember when we had Gore vs. Bush?
Kean: Remember that Supreme Court, the hanging chads and all that business? If you were to count the whole country you would have those kind of issues — in a close election like that — in state after state after state because every vote would count in a close election. It could take you six months to be resolved. We can’t do that in a democracy.
Williams: We’d be leaderless.
Kean: We would be. You’ve got to find a way to get this thing settled, know who the new president is and I think the electoral college — good and bad — lets us do that.
Williams: Very quickly, we’re going to get a new governor a year from now. What are the priorities for that person?
Kean: Fiscal, number one. I mean we’ve got bad bond ratings, we haven’t taken care of the pension system, you know we’ve got to straighten out that in particular, the state’s fiscal situation. Unless we do something about the pension problem, I wouldn’t want to be the next governor. It’s going to be too difficult for them fiscally.
Williams: Gov. Tom Kean, thank you very much for being with us.
Kean: Thank you, Mary Alice.