- The Washington Times - Sunday, January 26, 2003

WASHINGTON, Jan. 26 (UPI) — Many eyes are on Colorado Republican Bill Owens, who is just beginning his second term as governor of the Centennial State. A former legislator and statewide elected official, Owens was narrowly elected to his first term with just 49 percent of the vote — making him the state's first Republican chief executive in more than 20 years.

In 2002 Owens was re-elected with 63 percent of the vote, the largest majority in state history. A number of national publications have labeled him a politician to watch for the future. National Review, the news and opinion magazine that often sets the tone of conservative politics in the America, has called him "the best governor in the United States."

A potential presidential candidate in years to come, Owens was recently elected by his party colleagues to a term as chairman of the Republican Governors' Association, the organization representing the political interests of GOP state chief executives.

On a recent visit to Washington, Owens met with United Press International editors and reporters for a candid discussion of state, national and world events.

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UPI: It's fair to say you're one of the rising stars of the Republican Party. How do you account for the results of the recent election, and what's the significance?

GOV. OWENS: I think that the recent election was an extremely successful affirmation of much of what President George W. Bush has tried to do as leader of our party. He's tried to broaden the base without moving away from our fundamental principles of lower taxes and less government and a strong national defense and a strong foreign policy. President Bush was able to put a human face on a party that hadn't had that sort of spokesman in some time.

Bush did nationalize the election. At significant risk to his administration, he chose to put himself on the line in states where it was not at all certain what the outcome would be. I remember 1972, when Richard Nixon chose to do exactly the opposite. Nixon would not help build the party and would only help candidates who were actually running ahead of him in the polls. When Bush went into Georgia for Saxby Chambliss, nobody thought Chambliss was going to win; and the same thing was true in many other states.

First of all it's a credit to his popularity and his willingness to use some of his political capital at some risk. Secondly you had a number of cases where a shift of 1 (percent) or 2 percent in a few states would have produced a different outcome. Two years before the GOP was hurt by a couple of close losses; this time we won a couple of close races.

I've read the Michael Barone piece on whether or not the Republican Party is building a base of significance for the future. He says, "Yes." The new book on the emerging Democratic majority says, "No." I think the jury is still out, though I am more optimistic today on the future of my party than I was a year ago. Part of it is Americans rally around their leader in a time of foreign crisis, and certainly we've seen that happen as well.

UPI: Some analysts expected there might be several billion more dollars in the president's stimulus package for states to deal with their crushing budget-deficit problems. Were you expecting that? What's your feeling about that?

OWENS: I wasn't expecting it in this package. We'll probably never know whether it was in and pulled out at the last minute or whether it was wishful thinking that became assumed wisdom, only to have the president say it was never a part of this particular package.

I think that his package is a tax and fiscal stimulus package. I don't believe it was designed initially or at the end to be the be-all and end-all to help the states with their fiscal challenges. I think that will come later in terms of transportation, in terms of Medicaid, in terms of some increased ability to enact waivers. I think we will see significant assistance for the states later in the year but I was not expecting it to be part of that initial tax package.

UPI: What kind of assistance would you like, if you could snap your fingers?

OWENS: First, a couple of underlying facts have be acknowledged as we have this debate.

First of all, state spending increased at twice the rate of growth of the federal budget from 1995 through 2001. In some cases states simply overspent and they're going to have a retrenchment based on that overreach of the 1990s — not in all cases, but in some.

Second, much of the fiscal impact of the president's tax package is caused because states have chosen to attach themselves to the federal adjusted gross income. States made a decision to make their state tax a percentage of the federal rate. We dropped it twice. Now, any change of the AGI has an effect on those states and some are saying, "Well, Bush's forced changes on us that will cut our revenue."

The president has a responsibility to do what's right nationally in terms of dividend policy, in terms of capital gains, in terms of the acceleration. Then the states have a choice: do they want to keep their tax code attached to the federal system or not?

We have a choice to make. It's not that President Bush sat in the White House and said, "I'm going to drive down state revenue." It's because states made the choice to attach themselves to the 1040 in the good times, and we have the same choice that we can make to deconstruct that attachment now.

UPI: Is there validity to the argument that states are being asked to do so much of the homeland security duties — guarding nuclear plants and so forth — that the federal government has to feed them more money?

OWENS: Yes and no. First of all, there is increased responsibility placed upon us. In the federal system, it's what we should be doing anyway. If there is a threat to a bridge or a facility, we don't want a federal police force to come in to provide the security. That's a function for local police and state agencies.

Having said that however, governors appreciate any financial assistance the federal government can provide to help us fulfill roles we are given. But I don't think we should pretend to wait until the federal government pays for something to take the steps we need to take to defend and protect our citizens.

The police are already on duty. They are already in uniform. It's a change in the focus of what that local government may have them do. It's not to say there's not increased responsibilities after September 11th, 2001, but, in many cases, it's probably on the margins.

Secondly, and boy this is important, I think the best thing we can do to defend ourselves is to go after the terrorists where they live and work and train. I have said from September 11th on that I can't guarantee that all the significant buildings are protected in Colorado all the time — every one of our bridges, our power plants, our refineries. I can't say that the Wells Fargo Building is hardened enough that somebody couldn't drive into its lobby and blow it up. The only way to really provide that level of protection in an open and free society is to go after them — in Indonesia and Yemen and Afghanistan or wherever they are.

I think we have been effective in doing so. Since September 11th there hasn't been a domestic terrorist incident that has caused a fatality. We have lost some lives overseas. I think that speaks to the fact that we have, in many cases, disrupted their supply lines and their financial means of support. We have clearly broken the official ties between some governments and the terrorists that they sponsored. Yemen is no longer officially helping the terrorists, as I believe they probably were prior to September 11th.

Yes, we could use additional help and I think we will get it but the real battle is being fought right now overseas, and with some effectiveness.

UPI: Let's go back to the spending issue for a second. A number of governors have come out, Republicans and Democrats, and complained about homeland security's financial burden, Medicare, welfare and the like. Colorado does not appear to have the same kind of deficit problems that other states now claim to have, yet you're all part of the same national economy with the same recession. What is different about Colorado that has allowed you all to avoid the crisis facing Connecticut, New York, California, and some of the other states?

OWENS: I think you're correct in the underlying assumption. We've weathered this downturn a little better than some other states. We've having to cut our budget by about 10 percent. That's significant, but it's a challenge not a crisis. I believe we're going to level off for a little bit, have a little bit of a retrenchment for about a year and then start back up again.

All across the country companies and industries change and use the market forces, efficiencies, etc. to pare down spending. Sometimes it seems like those of us in government assume we should be immune from that sort of economic cycle. In most cases, those of us who are governors have never had to face this before, because few of us were leading our states during the last downturn. In a political sense it is, to us, a new experience and we, some of us, think it's the end of the world and the first and only time it's ever happened which is, of course, not true.

Colorado is blessed with a Constitution that does not allow us to raise taxes without a vote of the people. It also does not allow us to spend more in any given year than in the previous year, plus inflation and population growth.

Since 1992 Colorado's government sector has only grown commensurate to the non-governmental sector, along with voter-approved tax increases, which are widely debated and not granted for frivolous purposes.

Our base has not expanded as much as some states. In the good years a lot of states had 10 (percent) or 15 percent spending increases compounded year after year. In Colorado's case, it was 6 (percent) and 7 percent year after year.

Our budget cuts are real but they are also commensurately less than in many other states because of that constitutional prohibition against tax increases or even spending the money that flows in automatically during good times.

UPI: Are you going to use your new position as the head of the Republican Governors' Association to recommend that other states adopt Colorado's approach: requiring popular approval for tax increases and spending increase beyond population growth and inflation?

OWENS: One of the great things about the 50 states is that we are laboratories for public policy. I've gotten most of my good ideas from other states. Colorado has no bonding capability as a state and we needed to build some roads — and in a very fiscally conservative way. I took ideas from New Mexico and Ohio about how to bond federal gas tax proceeds, which are very reliable and very stable. They provide a great bonding source and I could legally do it under our constitution.

I looked to Gov. George W. Bush in Texas for ideas on education reform. The Heritage Foundation says Colorado has the best system of state report cards in the country, and I based it on Texas. I looked to Michigan for ideas about Medicare reform. I don't come up with many new ideas. What I do is grab ideas from other states.

I am talking to a number of governors about what we've done in Colorado. During the last campaign I talked with several Republican gubernatorial candidates about the Colorado system for putting a rational limit on government growth. We're getting calls all the time from Republican governors on how it has worked. I think it is a good model and, insofar as other governors ask for advice, I'm proud to tell them what we've done.

UPI: Your state was one of the five states to come up with the blueprints for the No Child Left Behind provisions. Some states and educators are complaining that it's going to cost too much, it's coming at a bad time for the states, the mandates are inflexible and they face a timeline they don't feel that they can meet. What problems did you find, and how were you able to come up with your reforms as quickly as you did?

OWENS: We were one of the five states that were recognized at the White House (in January) as being the first five to be certified as being in compliance with that federal education initiative. The reason for that is because I looked at Texas, where I was born and raised, for ideas.

When I ran, I said I'd do three things, one of which was reform education. I looked to Texas, which is already perceived — and I think factually and correctly so — as a success in terms of helping those who were in danger of being left behind.

I did exactly what Texas had done. When George Bush became president, guess what he does? He decides to try to replicate that Texas success nationally. Colorado was already ahead of the game because I hadn't waited for the federal government to suggest it; I had done it.

As a conservative I'm always wary of federal mandates and federal edict. The "K through 12" system is typically so ossified and so resistant to change that I could support federal involvement. In some cases it may be the only way to get past the structural protections which the bureaucracy has built into the system.

I support a national testing standard based on state tests. The federal government has told us we have to test, but they've left it up to us. In Colorado I already had testing in place that's been certified as meeting the rigors of the federal mandate.

Lots of dollars are flowing with this. President Bush has increased K-12 spending by 40 percent in two years at the federal level, and we all understand that the federal government isn't typically huge into K-12. Nevertheless, I think the dollars are there to pay for these programs.

Some are critical because they are critical of the underlying mandate for testing. You are well aware of the national debate, the strikes by some students and parents. I think it's somewhat exaggerated. Most people understand that in order to improve, you have to measure. It's the only way to figure out which of our children, which of our schools need the focus.

UPI: Would you agree with the argument that an educator put to me, that for the last at least five or six decades, the emphasis in educational systems, the resources, went towards access and maybe a switch in focus on the resources towards proficiency needs to take place?

OWENS: We certainly emphasize proficiency and nobody is suggesting a change in access. By any measure we have dramatically increased K-12 funding each and every decade for the last 50 years. You can inflation-adjust, you can student-adjust. The real dollars per student are dramatically higher than they were 50, 40, 30, 20, and 10 years ago. And that's an assertion that I can back up. Now we have to focus these dollars on results.

That's where we sometimes lose our friends in education, because results are sometimes embarrassing. In Colorado a third of our third-graders are not proficient in reading. That ought to be something we know. If you don't know it, you're not going to be able to build the political support to take those tough steps to improve K-12.

Measurement is embarrassing. I don't know a corporate CEO (chief executive officer) that doesn't rue his quarterly reports because that's when people look at. They start to ask why aren't we doing better. The same thing needs to be true in K-12.

If a child isn't doing well because they are poor and come from a circumstance where there isn't education in the home, where they may not speak English, that's an understandable reason for that child not doing well when we measure, but it's also a very good reason for us to know about that child and then focus on him or her.

UPI: You been subjected to a considerable amount of criticism from people on the right for opposing the initiative in the State of Colorado to eliminate the bilingual education mandate. Some of them say they had a promise from you to support it. Why did you oppose it and what are your thoughts on bilingual education?

OWENS: I am a strong supporter of reforming bilingual ed as has occurred in California and Arizona. If the sponsor of our initiative had put the same language on the Colorado ballot, I would have supported it. I would have even supported the Massachusetts initiative.

The reason why I did not, in the end, support Colorado's was because it was far different than what the other three states considered. It angers me that Ron Unz (the initiative's sponsor) tried to put a provision in the Colorado language and then pretend it was exactly like what passed in other states.

In California and Arizona, Ron seemed to feel the system in all cases didn't follow the law; that they went around it after the voters approved the reform. I'm sure he's right; in fact, I'm absolutely certain.

Whether it's 90 percent followed and 10 (percent) didn't, or 95 (percent) and 5 (percent), there were people who I believe went around the clear will of the voters to try to continue bilingual education as had been forbidden in both states. In Massachusetts, a fairly moderate state, he put forth a regular tough initiative, and it passed by a large margin.

I have a strong record of support for education reforms, real ones. I sponsored Colorado's Charter School Act, second in the country, very effective act and not friendly to the bureaucracy. I sponsored Public School of Choice, giving our children the ability to go to any school in the state, regardless of geography. Because of my legislation every poor youngster in Denver can come out to the Cherry Creek schools where my kids go in the suburbs.

In Colorado, it used to be illegal to home-school. I sponsored the statute that said that parents have a right to home-school their children. My choice credentials are perfect. I support vouchers, sectarian or religious. I believe parents ought to be given choice.

Ron added a paragraph to Colorado's that was not in the other states. It said that, if as a parent I go my child's teacher and say, "I've decided that I want Monica to opt out of immersion and stay in bilingual," and you say, "Fine, Mr. Owens, I'll do it upon your request," then I have the ability to sue that teacher personally for 10 years. The teacher does not have the right to legal representation by the union or the school district. His addition made teachers personally liable for the decision and its outcome, even if it was a decision that a parent asked, even begged that teacher to make.

The upshot is there was no choice in Ron Unz's initiative because no teacher was going to put (themselves) in a position — first of all — to do what they probably didn't want to do anyway and, second, to put themselves on the line. Any superintendent of a teacher who allowed that to happen is also personally liable.

When I first heard the critics say this, I didn't believe them. I heard the criticism and thought it was interesting but I didn't believe it. Then I asked my attorney, a conservative Federalist Society attorney to check it. She came back and told me, "Governor, what they've said is right; here's the language."

I brought in both sides. I said, "Am I reading this language wrong?" It turns out Unz thought Colorado would pass whatever the heck he got on the ballot. In this one, he was going to screw it down to every student, not just to the 95 or 96 or 97 percent who'd complied because it's the law; he was going to get them all. How could I support that? Many conservatives in Colorado opposed it because, with that language, parents were being denied real choice.

It's frustrating to me because I'm strongly supportive of immersing our children in English. I think we need to do it as a country and as a culture. The best thing for children is for them to learn English quickly. But Mr. Unz, who I've only met once, changed the initiative for Colorado only. My question to him is, why was Colorado different than Massachusetts? Why were we different than California and Arizona?

UPI: How do you propose the system be fixed then?

OWENS: Here's the challenge. We do need to change Colorado's bilingual system but the voters just addressed the issue. When the voters have spoken, it is not right to immediately tell them, even under the right circumstances, that we're going to reverse what they've just done.

We just started a legislative session and we need to address the issue but I think the wounds are too raw right now. The voters have just spoken by a vote of 60/40. We should not casually dismiss what the voters have just done because Ron Unz gave them a flawed choice.

UPI: But if you assume that the voters were persuaded by the wisdom of your argument in opposition to that specific provision, if you took the Colorado language or the Arizona language and introduced it as a piece of legislation, don't you think that the voters would be more receptive?

OWENS: That assumes a significant level of precision regarding what the voters did. If "the consent of the governed" means anything, you've got to give some weight to what the voters have just done in the last fortnight.

In this case I don't fear the debate or the argument. I do respect the initiative process. I defend it. If we opened it back up right away it would give the perception that the politicians are trying to ignore what the voters just told them. I'm going to let a little bit of time elapse so we can show due deference to the voters' decision before going back.

I'm angry when school districts lose a vote to increase taxes, and four months later come back again, and come back again until they pass it. If you believe in the initiative process, you have to have respect for the outcome.

But I've also told the proponents of bilingual education, who now all say they're reforming, that one of the measures of success will be what they do now that the voters have given them another chance.

UPI: You said a few minutes ago that you were proposing to do three things. And you mentioned that one of them was education. I was wondering what the other two are.

OWENS: The first one was education and to add accountability and really force change. It really is working in Colorado. I can show you the data, I can show you the schools, and I can show you by pointing the white-hot light of public scrutiny. You all make your living telling the public what the public has a right to know. We've done that in terms of K-12. We have — every school, we give out a report card of about 300 different data points on that school to every person within that school's community. And now people are comparing. And they're saying, well, why is your school so much better than mine?

The second issue was transportation. I have doubled transportation funding in Colorado in four years without raising taxes. I really believe that when you build a 50- or a 100-year road or bridge, that to try to pay cash up front is not an effective use of your resources because, typically, the inflation rate on construction expenditures rises faster than your interest rate.

If you're trying to pay cash, you can never catch up to the need because the cost of the project increases faster than your revenues. I know as a conservative most people think of bonds as a liberal mechanism but, used properly, bonds for capital items are a fiscally conservative way to manage.

The third was taxes. Colorado was over-taxing four and a half years ago, and I have reduced taxes. Eighty-five percent of my tax reductions were in income and sales. So we've slowed — so even under the Taxpayers Bill of Rights, I've reduced taxes a little bit.

UPI: There seems to be a growing dissatisfaction, a real public anger about what seems to be happening to the American health care system. Is this an issue best addressed at the state level or are you going to have to have national help?

OWENS: I think it's going to be at both levels, and I think that it's a conundrum. If you poll people about how they feel about their personal health care, typically there's a fairly high level of satisfaction with the health care that they get. This actually includes people who are in various American HMOs.

Having said that, collegially everybody thinks that the system is broken for virtually everybody else, and it certainly is broken from an expense standpoint.

I have to be very careful how I outline my thesis but I would assert that polling and other survey data tells us that most of us are satisfied with our own personal health care — it doesn't mean we don't think it's way too expensive — but we think the system itself is breaking or even broken. As a middle-class wage earner, I can tell you that each year when my premiums go up, I feel it very directly.

A wealthy country like the United States is going to have a very expensive health care system. Nigeria probably spends $3 per person per year on health care, and we spend 14 percent of our GNP (gross national product). Why? Because we can. In some respects, that leads to the sort of cost-push inflation that we see in health care.

We have some fundamental problems in our system. I've seen estimates that 30 (percent) to 40 percent of health care costs are paperwork. When I go in to see my physician, he has a large staff of people doing the paperwork for the various health care plans that provide reimbursement.

Our Medicaid system provides, in most cases, a quality level of medical care, albeit a fewer number of physicians are willing to go through the paperwork to provide it and in many cases are unreimbursed for part of their cost.

The tort system plays a major part in the problem. Physicians simply get sued too much and can't afford the cost of protecting themselves any longer. I don't believe that West Virginia and Pennsylvania have measurably worse medical care than the other 48 states, and yet, along with Mississippi, why are the why are the malpractice premiums so much higher? I think it has to do with the court system in those particular states, not the medical system.

UPI: I was very struck when you said that the U.S.A. pays 14 percent of GDP (gross domestic product) on health care because it can afford to. Yet France, which has got better health statistics at every single level, spends much less.

OWENS: France may have better health statistics at every level, but let me put a caveat with that. There isn't a European country — maybe Germany — that takes care of undocumented immigrants like America does. They have a right in America to walk in the door and get, I think, world-class health care.

American health statistics are also skewed by the percentage of low birth-weight babies. If you took Americans who had lived in this country for 20 years or more and compared low birth-weight babies to France, you'd find us extremely competitive with any European nation.

UPI: It does seem though that one of the real tricks to the British system is they tend to front-load health investment and put large amounts of money into the first few months of an embryo's life and the first few months of a baby's life. In America, some figures estimates say up to 35 percent of every health dollar is spent in the last three months of the patient's life.

OWENS: Exactly. I believe that, in many cases, the failure of American investment in prenatal care is a failure of knowledge and education and willingness to take advantage of the programs that are available. I know that in Colorado one of our real challenges is outreach, to say to mothers-to-be, "Please come in because we have the programs available in nutrition and counseling and others to help you have a successful pregnancy." For whatever reason, we have difficulty getting to all levels of our population with that message.

In some cases, it has to do with the nature of the society. If you compare Minnesota's health numbers, you would find it is very comparable to Norway, Denmark, Britain, France. Part of the reason is, Minnesota has a fairly stable population. It helps people understand what social services are available to them.

In many cases our undocumented friends are afraid to come in for any help. They may have the legal right for assistance, but the last thing they want to do is come into a hospital where they feel that somebody may notice they're in town and then deport them. But our system includes them in our numbers.

I would not suggest that the British health care system is a model for the United States. In fact, I would suggest quite the opposite.

UPI: Do you have any thoughts about the other end of the life cycle? Do you think America is perhaps spending too much on the last few months of a patient's life?

OWENS: I think there are actually many people who are elderly who are now making the decision for a do-not-resuscitate order as was the case with my own father. I believe we're increasingly aware that a quality-of-life issue does exist. No one is suggesting, and I would strongly oppose, the sorts of euthanasia that we've seen in Scandinavia.

UPI: A rather narrow point about standards. Whenever you have educational standards, whether they're national or state ones, there's always a danger you'll produce a capture, that the people setting the standards also control the pressure groups so that the standards, eventually, don't perform their advertised role. Obviously that's a danger in all of these cases, but in the case of certain topics, like history, there's an additional danger that the standards that produce a capture will not just simply produce a capture, they'll have a political import.

OWENS: In Colorado the history standard was broad enough that it didn't get into, "Discuss the use of the A-bomb and whether or not Harry Truman was correct to use it." The standard is the student must "Understand World War II and the American involvement in it."

We had hundreds of meetings across Colorado with a lot of people, many historians and teachers of history helped shape those history standards and there hasn't been a concern over underlying ideology. They're tough enough we've had significant numbers of kids fail to meet them: 35 percent of our third-graders failed to meet the reading standard; 50 percent of our fifth-graders failed to meet the writing standard; and 60 percent of our seventh-graders failed to meet the science standard. It's not a question of dumbing it down to where everybody meets standard. It's quite the opposite; our standards are pretty tough.

UPI: What do you say to people who worry that, with the annual testing, that some schools, since they don't want to get to be labeled as failure schools since students can transfer elsewhere, will actually just start teaching for the test, a very narrow focus towards what the questions are going to be.

OWENS: We hear that all the time. It's a very legitimate question, yet it's one I think that it's incumbent upon us in the policy role to be able to address. First of all, there is nothing easier to do — and I don't suggest that you're doing it — but to say, well, all we're doing is teaching to the test, or that's all we're going to do. Well, if the test is designed correctly, and in this case meaning the standard — I had a superintendent, who was a pretty liberal superintendent, answer this by saying no, but we do teach to the standard.

The standard tells us that by the fifth grade, the kid ought to be able to understand the American role in World War II, and by gosh, in the fifth grade we do that.

I went into my sixth-grader's back-to-school night and went with him to the five or six classes. In every class, that teacher said, okay, here's what we're expected to teach this year according to state standard, and here's how I'm going to do it. And I walked out of there and I thought, "That is really cool."

They were able to show parents, on a month-by-month basis, the standard for what a child is to be able to understand in a given subject and when that understanding is targeted to occur. How on earth did we do it before standards?

I'm not a top-down Soviet-model guy but you do have to have standards, especially with high-mobility. Our friends in education sometimes use that as a crutch; "Our kids are coming and going all the time, so how are we expected to teach them?" If the test reflects the standard, it's because that is what we are trying to do — teach to the standard.

UPI: I just was curious. You said at the very beginning in answer to my question that obviously one of the major efforts that President Bush is making, and plainly you are making the same effort, is to broaden the base of the Republican Party. How, in your view, can that best be done? Because obviously how you do it is almost as important as doing it.

OWENS: National Review reported that I got a majority of the Hispanic votes in Colorado. For a conservative Republican, well I was very proud of that. I've worked at it. A lot of it was showing a willingness to listen and simply asking for their votes.

I haven't changed my view on quotas or on set-asides or on any of those issues. I have appointed good Hispanics to top posts. They represent 15 percent of Colorado's population and I have found many who have been willing to come in to my administration. I have spoken to that community directly and often. A lot of politics is showing up. I've gone to Mexican Independence Day; I have been in the barrios. By showing up, I have shown my concern that they're part of Colorado.

But I have also cut taxes. Hispanics benefit from tax cuts, in many cases more so than others because where you are on the economic scale affects how the impact of job creation affects you personally. I have to assume that Hispanics in Colorado are benefiting from our transportation. I haven't just passively sat back and hoped that they would understand that I care about them. I've reached out to them, but I haven't changed any one of my fundamental beliefs in order to attract favor from any ethnic or other group.

I think that there's a real opportunity. I think they see leadership from President Bush and, hopefully, from me. They're ready to join that American political mainstream by allowing each party to compete for their vote. And they benefit.

I think the Democratic lock on the African American vote in many respects has meant that there's not the competition there should be for the African American vote. In the Hispanic community, Republicans have a chance to get 30, 40, or 50 percent of their vote and we're very conscious of that.

UPI: Before we cut it off, do you have any thoughts on events around the world?

OWENS: Fortune magazine does a conference every summer in Aspen, Colo., much like what is happening in Davos, Switzerland, except it's much smaller. We had about 500 people from around the country come last summer.

By the time I spoke after the end of the three-day conference last final dinner, the level of skepticism about American foreign policy and America's role in the world is what you've seen and reported on and heard about. And it's real and it's significant.

It was frustrating to me, because I went to Davos two years ago, right after President Bush was elected, and when people asked me if I knew him, and I do and did. And they said, "You've got to tell him — please tell your new president — we really want America to be involved in Europe. You guys can't — I know this guy has a reputation as a cowboy; you can't pull out of Europe. We need you there."

"We need you in Central Europe. Please make sure the American president understands Bosnia and Kosovo and how without America's strength there, we're going to have that ethnic warring break out again. And had people from the Pacific — and my brother's an American diplomat in Australia" — they said, "Gosh, with Subic Bay, please keep the American fleet in the Pacific. I mean, with Singapore and South Korea and Japan, we need you there as the glue that holds us together."

Well, two years later, I'm hearing quite the opposite. This is what I told our friends in Aspen — no American politician wins any vote at any time on foreign policy, typically. Bill Clinton was not popular because of what he did in Central Europe. I supported it. But that wasn't for domestic American purposes, but because it was the right thing to do by a world power.

Our history has always been isolationist. There is a huge isolationist movement extant in America. There are a lot of people that say, "I don't want foreign aid, I don't want foreign policy, I don't want — I just want to be left alone."

The U.S. tried to stay out of World War I; we got in it when they kept sinking our boats. Wilson actually won the election in 1916 on the slogan "He kept us out of war!"

World War II was going on for more than two years before we got involved. Why? Because we were attacked. Hitler's huge mistake was to declare war on us, because I don't know how we ever would have declared war on him, with the war in the Pacific already under way.

The Cold War, which is my specialty, I don't believe we got involved with it, really, until '48, when Britain called and said we're out of Greece and Truman realized we've got to step in. Marshall Plan, NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization).

We're an isolationist country. I told our friends from overseas you may get what you want someday if you continue to belittle our efforts to try to help make this world a more peaceful place. I mean, who else do we want to deal with North Korea? Do we want Japan to do that? I don't think the world community really wants South Korea to deal with North Korea by itself. They want us, with China. I'm an internationalist. I believe that the world is a better place because of American foreign policy and that's been true for 50 years.

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