Although it's not right that millionaires have an unfair advantage in political races and that the Founding Fathers wouldn't like the idea of mostly millionaires sitting in Congress, Sen. Bob Bennett doesn't think the United States' political playing field will change.
Speaking at a press luncheon this week, Bennett, R-Utah, waxed political on a variety of subjects. Asked if it was right that he won his 1992 race spending about $1.5 million of his own money and that Enid Greene Waldholtz won the 2nd District this year spending more than $1.5 million of her own money, Bennett said no."But this is First Amendment free speech. If Ross Perot wants to spend a lot more than (Geneva Steel president) Joe Cannon and I on (Perot's) race for presidency, should the government say no?"
The alternative talked about is some kind of public finance of campaigns, and Bennett said he'd never support that.
"I would welcome a level playing field - I'm egotistical enough to believe that I could out-reason and out-debate my opponent. But how do you get there? This is a tremendously difficult question."
Former Sen. Jake Garn never spent a dime of his own money on his elections. But when he won his Senate seat in 1972, Garn was mayor of Salt Lake City and could demand free media coverage, said Bennett.
"No one knew me when I started" running in 1991. Until he could prove to news directors and reporters that he was a viable candidate - and it took his own money to do that - he wasn't covered much by the Utah press. Bennett said he had to create his own credibility, and that took a lot of his own money and TV and other commercials.
"You know, for their time there were a lot of `millionaires' in Philadelphia" when the U.S. Constitution was written. "But, no, they never envisioned" a system where millionaires would win most of the elections they entered.
"But today there are 600,000 people in a congressional district. In 1776 there were states that didn't have 600,000 people in them. Long gone are the days of Abe Lincoln where when he first won election to the U.S. House he shook the hand of every voter in his district. You can't do that now."
On other items, Bennett pre-dicted:
- The U.S. Senate will pass an unfunded-mandate law to help states get out from under the financial yoke of Congress. "But many governors believe a law isn't enough, they want a constitutional amendment."
- Congress will ease up on the administration of the Endangered Species Act. "We have to have good biology - what is a species and what is a subspecies?" Should federal officials require the protection of an endangered subspecies in some area if "there are gazillions of that subspecies living well enough somewhere else in the world?"
The act will ultimately survive the GOP-controlled Congress, Bennett believes, but EPA officials will be forced to lessen their grip, and for good reason.
- Congress could well decide to just junk the 1995 military base closure round, relieving many Utahns who fear Hill Air Force Base could be on the hit list.
"There are real cash flow reasons to dump 1995 and just review (closures) again in 1997," he said.
Some believe millions - maybe billions - of dollars could be saved by closing bases. "But we're finding that savings don't come after one year of closing a base, sometimes not for five or six years. It costs more money to close a base than to keep it open." In the new world climate, it might be wise policy to wait a few years to see how the U.S. military needs shake out, he added.
- Republicans will do just fine running Congress.
Sen. Jesse Helms, R-N.C., who said several weeks ago that Bill Clinton wasn't fit to be commander and chief and should bring a bodyguard to North Carolina because of base closures in Helms' home state, will be fine as chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Bennett said. Some Republicans, like House Speaker-elect Newt Gingrich, were used to so many years in the minority where they had to use rhetoric to be noticed by the news media, that it will take awhile for them to see how to act in the majority. But they will learn and be just fine, Bennett said.