Q&A with Ken Blackwell, Candidate for GOP Chairman
A longtime conservative activist, Blackwell served as mayor of Cincinnati as well as Ohio state treasurer and secretary of state of Ohio. He was the first African American to win statewide executive office in Ohio, and, in 2006, was the first African American to be a major party-candidate for governor in that state.
He is currently a senior fellow at the Family Research Council, chairman of the Coalition for a Conservative Majority and a commentator for Townhall.com.
He was vice chairman of the platform committee at the 2008 Republican National Convention.
A lifelong resident of Cincinnati, Blackwell has been married to his wife, Rosa, for 39 years. She recently retired as the superintendent of Cincinnati Public Schools.
Did you support banning same-sex unions in Ohio?
Blackwell: In 2004, I was the principle spokesperson for the constitutional amendment in Ohio that amended our constitution to say that marriage was a union between one man and one woman. I have been in the forefront as a member of the Arlington Group and as a fellow at the Family Research Council and in the pro-marriage movement. Our referendum received a half a million more votes than President Bush, who was on the ballot at the same time. (Bush’s) position on marriage versus John Kerry’s probably was one of the major contributing factors to his winning Ohio in 2004.
The 2008 Republican Party Platform supports a constitutional amendment to protect marriage as a union between one man and one woman. Do you support that?
Blackwell: The straightforward one-word answer is yes. The national party platform is the document produced by that party every four years by its representatives during its national convention. The platform declares to the public the party’s vision, beliefs, values, legislative plan and policy positions on important issues of the day. I was proud to serve as a vice chairman of the 2008 RNC platform committee. I stand by that committee as being constructively developed and representing a consensus of not only the platform committee but the RNC. And as one of the leaders that put that platform together, I stand by it wholeheartedly. The RNC is the flagship organization for the Republican Party nationally. That platform must have credibility and it only has credibility when we, from the grassroots up, live and behave in manners that are true to it.
On the sanctity of life, the Republican Party Platform says: “Faithful to the first guarantee of the Declaration of Independence, we assert the inherent dignity and sanctity of all human life and affirm that the unborn child has a fundamental, individual right to life that cannot be infringed. We support a human life amendment to the Constitution, and we endorse legislation to make clear that the Fourteenth Amendment’s protections apply to unborn children. We oppose using public revenues to promote or perform abortion and will not fund organizations which advocate it. We support the appointment of judges who respect traditional family values and the sanctity and dignity of innocent human life.” Do you agree with that?
Blackwell: Yes. I am a national leader in the pro-life movement. I had the good fortune of living in the same general area of Dr. [John] Willke [a longtime president of the National Right to Life Committee] and his wife Barbara. We have worked together tirelessly to (advance) the pro-life effort at the local, state and national level. Again, I say unabashedly that I am a pro-life leader that has done the grassroots work to build credibility as I go around the country promoting the pro-life ethic.
Do you support the overturning of Roe v. Wade (the 1973 Supreme Court 1973 ruling that legalized abortion on demand nationwide)?
Blackwell: Yes, I think Roe v. Wade is a bad law. And I think the efforts that we have been waging in the courts will ultimately result in that being overturned, that that amendment to the constitution being overturned.
In the presidential election, some people who described themselves as pro-life voted for Barack Obama, who is strongly pro-abortion. Many of them said the Republicans have been in (the White House) for eight years and nothing has been done to overturn Roe v. Wade. What does the Republican Party need to do to make that happen?
Blackwell: Again, we have a party platform that clearly states what our position is. The process can either be a constitutional process that amends the constitution or it can be overturned at the Supreme Court. I think that we are quickly moving toward an endgame as it relates to the court process. I have every reason to believe that within the next two years we’re going to have the constitutional showdown in the Supreme Court. That’s why I think that we must do everything that we can to make sure that we don’t get an attorney general who will aid and abet President Obama and his effort of put activist judges on the court who will further strengthen the abortionists’ world view.
Ronald Reagan and, most recently, John McCain supported eliminating the Department of Education. Do you agree?
Blackwell: Well, I believe in school choice. I believe that education ultimately is a parental responsibility and that educational policies should be established at the local level. Too many of our young people are assigned to dysfunctional schools and so I’ve been a leader of the school choice movement, working with the Alliance for School Choice and various school choice organizations in the state of Ohio. Nationally, I’ve worked with the Black Alliance for Educational Options and Dr. Fuller in a bi-partisan effort to make sure parents are empowered and that decisions concerning education stay at the local level. So anything that would empower national bureaucracy, that would empower unions as opposed to parents, teachers unions as opposed to parents, I have opposed.
I don’t think there is anything wrong with us having a national discussion since we compete in an international global economy, but on a day-to-day basis, I think having local control and principals (who) control the school building in consultation with parents is the best way to guarantee that we stay child focused.
George W. Bush’s No Child Left Behind program increased spending by the Department of Education. Did you support his No Child Left Behind policy?
Blackwell: I supported parts of it; those that broke down to what I call disaggregated data so we could measure the effectiveness of classroom instruction. I thought were pretty good. Those aspects of no child left behind that have solidified national bureaucratic control over the educational process I found to be disturbing and I opposed.
The Republican group rebuildtheparty.com has a 10 point plan with the No. 1 priority being using the Internet as a tool. Do you agree?
Blackwell: Yes I do. I have experienced bringing significant technological advancement to large organizations. In 2002, I received meritorious recognition from the Center for Digital Government and was recognized by Government Technology Magazine as one of top 25 public sector leaders in information technology. I have been president of the National Electronic Commerce Coordinating Council. More than 25 years ago I began my work using technology to help government fulfill its responsibilities and commitments to citizens. As a member of the board of directors of Public Technology Inc., located in Washington D.C., I am prepared to lead the RNC in a technological revolution to catch up with the Democrats and liberal interest groups.
Did you support George W. Bush’s Medicare prescription plan?
How does the Republican Party regain its standing as the party that wants to cut taxes and take care of the middle class?
Blackwell: Back in the 1990s, I was appointed by Newt Gingrich and Trent Lott to the National Commission on Economic Growth and Tax Reform. This congressionally created commission was led by my good friend Jack Kemp. We came up with a game plan and a roadmap to create economic growth through incentives to work, save and invest. We developed a set of principles that would allow us to move the present onerous tax system to one of simplicity so that everyone can figure it out. We advocated neutrality that let’s people not government make choices and we pushed very, very hard to let people know the cost of government.
For this I worked very closely with Grover Norquist, not only in Ohio, but across the country with Americans for Tax Reform. But I think we have to create a grassroots-centered demand for simplicity and transparency and we have to do it not only for the federal government but for state government, as well as county government and we have been pushing programs and policies and initiatives that do just that.
Did you support the comprehensive immigration reform proposed during the Bush administration?
Blackwell: No. I basically believe that it was still not strong enough in first protecting our borders. But more importantly than just protecting our borders, we have to have an approach to this problem that reestablishes the rule of law. If we have been anything as a country in our 232 years in existence, it is that we have been a country that respects the rule of law. So the guidepost for any approach to our immigration challenges, illegal immigration challenges, has to be the reestablishment of the rule of law. While I think we had a positive impact on the shaping of the final document, the job was not complete and it was not satisfactory.
What is your solution for the 12 million people who are here illegally?
Blackwell: First, I think what we have to do first is stop the bleeding, meaning protect our borders. We then must have a reasonable--within the construct of our budgetary limits--have a program that basically says we will go after illegal immigrants, particularly those we suspect are engaged in criminal activity and we will prosecute and deport them. We then will have a system that puts folks who have come here illegally but haven’t engaged in criminal activity at the back of the line. So, the message we must continue to send is that we will strengthen, at every turn, the rule of law.
What is the first thing you would do as the new chairman of the Republican National Committee?
Blackwell: I would congratulate the members of the RNC, who would have just elected me on the basis of my plan to move us from being an executive organization, with our reason for being attached to the executive branch, to becoming what I think we must become, and that is a 50-state grassroots party.
And I would begin by showing that I intend to flatten the organization inside the beltway and push resources and talent out into the 50 states. My revenue sharing plan would immediately go into play and my organization of young Republicans on college campuses, utilizing that talent to help us rebuild our organization from the precinct level up, as a way of demonstrating immediate action. Let me also say that one of the challenges facing the next chairman will be the 2010 Census. That’s going to be very important to how we conduct our reapportionment and redistricting processes in the 50 states.