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INTERVIEW: Duncan Hunter touts border security & military expertise for 2008 run

EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the second part in a two-part series highlighting Southern Baptists running for the presidency. Last week Baptist Press featured an interview with former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee. Today, BP features an interview with Rep. Duncan Hunter of California.

WASHINGTON (BP)–Presidential candidate Duncan Hunter of California is the senior Republican on the House Armed Services Committee, one of the more powerful committees in Congress. He’s also a Christian and a Southern Baptist.

A member of Congress since 1980 and a Vietnam veteran, Hunter was saved at the age of 14 during a revival meeting led by professional baseball player Albie Pearson. He remembers it well.

“He was five-foot-six. He was one of the original Los Angeles Angels,” Hunter told Baptist Press. “A great Christian and a Christian minister, who now has a Christian home for kids who have suffered from drug abuse in California.”

Chairman of the House Armed Services Committee from 2002 until the Democrats took control earlier this year, Hunter is one of nine Republican candidates for president. Some consider him a long-shot, but Hunter hopes his experience in the military and on the committee will serve to attract votes, particularly with America at war.

He acknowledges his busy schedule makes it tough to find a regular daily time to pray and read Scripture, but says his faith nonetheless gives him strength. He has a particular interest in the faith of America’s founding fathers and currently is reading “America’s God and Country,” a compilation of quotes highlighting the nation’s Christian heritage.

“Like everybody in public life,” he said, “I think you have a constant challenge of serving your job, serving your constituents and at the same time serving God and trying to renew your service to God and your allegiance to God every day. Ensuring His principles are embedded in your service as a representative is a major challenge, but I think that’s something you have to work on every single day.”

A member of Trinity Baptist Church in El Cajon, Calif., Hunter recently spoke with Baptist Press about his positions on a host of issues, ranging from abortion to illegal immigration to the Iraq war. Here is a partial transcript:

ON ABORTION & JUDGES: “If a candidate for the federal bench can look at a picture, a sonogram, of an unborn child and not see a valuable human being, I will not appoint that candidate to the federal bench, period.”

ON ‘GAY MARRIAGE’ & JUDGES: “I think that the institution of marriage is probably the most important institution in our country. It is a building block that our entire society is based on because it shapes the character of our children. So, I’m very strong for traditional marriage and if it’s necessary for a constitutional amendment. I will support that. In fact, I’ve supported that in the past.

“Beyond that, I believe in strict constructionist judges. That is, if a judicial candidate feels that somehow people like James Madison and Benjamin Franklin and many other founding fathers didn’t get it right, that he’s going to legislate from the bench, that judicial candidate will never receive a nomination from me.”

ON BUILDING A FENCE ALONG THE BORDER WITH MEXICO: “I built the border fence in San Diego and I wrote the law that mandates its extension 854 miles across Arizona, New Mexico and Texas. And that law was signed by President Bush Oct. 24 of last year. Now, so far the administration has only built, at this point … 30 miles of that 854 miles of fence. My commitment to the American people is this: As president, I will build the border fence — all 854 miles — in six months.

“In fact, I’ve talked to the major contractors who would be constructing the fence. There are hundreds of fence contractors in this country who are capable of building fence, but what you do is, you give multiple contractors multiple sections of fence to construct. For example, contractor A — you give mile one to mile two, contractor B you give mile two to mile four — depending on the size of the company, and you build all those sections at the same time. You don’t have to start at one end of the country — like it’s a railroad in 1880 — and build it in a consecutive manner; you build all these sections concurrently. So I would have major construction projects going on in California, Arizona, New Mexico and Texas all at the same time.”

ON HOW HE WOULD DEAL WITH ILLEGAL IMMIGRANTS CURRENTLY IN THE U.S.: “They have to go home. And you know, most of them have homes and maintain homes in their parent countries. That’s one reason politicians in Mexico like the idea of an open border. Because people that are up here, for example, send billions of dollars in cash to their real homes each year in Mexico. Same in Central America and the same in Europe. Folks have to know that if they want to come into this nation, they are going to have to wait in line and they are going to have to knock on the front door.”

ON WHETHER CHILDREN BORN TO ILLEGAL IMMIGRANTS SHOULD BE U.S. CITIZENS: “There’s a debate whether the Constitution means that people who are born to folks who are here illegally are automatically citizens or whether it’s people who are here legally. [Rep.] Brian Bilbray of California has a bill that would clearly differentiate those two types of folks. So, that’s a question of law, as I understand it. I think people — for children to be automatic citizens of the U.S. — their folks should be here legally. And I think if we do that, that will take away one of the magnets that moves people to come into the United States illegally.”

ON HIS APPROACH TO IRAQ, IF ELECTED PRESIDENT: “I view success as the achievement of these goals: 1. The establishment of a country that is a friend, not an enemy, of the United States; 2. Having an Iraq that will not be a state sponsor of terrorism; 3. Having an Iraq that has a modicum of freedom for its people. We achieve those three things and maintain that government, that will be a successful mission in Iraq. Right now, we’re basically in the second phase in what has been historically a three-phase process that the U.S. uses in standing up free countries around the world. Number one, we stood up a free government, a freely elected government. Number two, we stand up a security apparatus and a military capable of protecting that free government. That’s the phase we are in right now. And number three, the Americans leave — because we don’t covet anything that Iraq has.

“My recommendation to the president, and I would carry this out as the president, is to ensure that every one of the Iraqi battalions, of the 131 battalions, get combat experience — that is get a three- or four-month stint or tour, operational tour in a contentious area in Iraq, like Baghdad, Anbar Province or the Sunni Triangle, where they have to engage in military operations. Once they are battle-hardened and have experience, they will be able to rotate into the battlefield and displace American heavy combat forces. And U.S. forces can at that point come back to the U.S. or go to other missions in central command.”

ON IRAN: “Iran is walking down the path to build a nuclear device. And they have installed, by their count, 3,000 centrifuges that are utilized to refine material that could be used in a nuclear weapon. They may have fewer than 3,000, but it’s clear and it’s agreed on by all intelligence agencies that they are increasing their enrichment capability. The United States cannot allow them to have a nuclear device. As president, I would ensure that they never get to that point. Now, we’d like to do that with sanctions, but if sanctions don’t work and preemptive actions are necessary, I would undertake them.”

ON HOW HE WOULD BALANCE THE BUDGET: “First thing is I would freeze what is known as ‘domestic discretionary spending’ — that’s non-defense discretionary spending. Now, defense spending, I think we are going to have to continue to increase to some degree, because we live in a dangerous world and right now, we’re spending about 4 percent of Gross National Product on defense. Under Ronald Reagan, we spent 6 percent and under John Kennedy, we spent 9 percent. We’re going to have to spend more to have a bigger Army, a bigger Marine Corps, more deep strike capability, more undersea capability, and very importantly, more capability in space, because the Chinese are going to challenge us in space.

“There are several other things that we need to do. One driver, of course, of the federal deficit is the increasing cost of medical care. And what I would do is move away from socialism, because I think as we go toward socialism, we’re going to see the cost of medical care skyrocket. A senior citizen came in my office one time and she had a little plastic wrist brace that she was wearing to protect a sprained wrist. And she said, ‘Congressman, I was told not to complain about the price on this because the government is paying for it, but my conscience wouldn’t allow me to keep silent’ and she showed me the price tag — the bill for it — to the government, it was $525 for a plastic wrist brace that couldn’t have been worth $10.

“If government pays for everything, we’re going to see lots of $500 wrist braces and we’re going to see a steep downgrade in the quality of medical care.”

ON REFORMING HEALTHCARE, PART 1: “The first thing I would do is I would allow people to buy their health insurance, their private health programs across state lines. Right now, the same coverage, the same policy coverage for an individual that costs $70 in Long Beach, Calif., costs over $300 in New Jersey. But the New Jersey citizen can’t buy the $70 program, because he’s banned by law from doing that.

“What that leads to is state-enforced mandates that make the cost of healthcare go higher. Let me give you an example: In some states the acupuncture industry has lobbied-in acupuncture mandates. That means that if you buy a healthcare policy in some states, you are forced to buy a policy that covers acupuncture, even if you don’t believe in it, you don’t use it. In some states, every policy is mandated to cover alcoholism treatment. Well, what if you don’t drink?

“There are now over a 1,000 mandates established by state legislatures for healthcare policies. … But, if you could buy your healthcare plan across state lines, then people will go to the less expensive states and they’ll buy the less expensive policies, they’ll be able to pick off a menu that gives them what they want. They won’t have to by these mandated treatments that they don’t believe in. That means that the insurance companies in the states where you have all the mandates, will go to their legislators, and they’ll say: ‘You know, nobody is using us anymore because you saddled us with all these mandates, you’ve got to unsaddle us.’ That will result ultimately in taking the mandates off.

ON REFORMING HEALTHCARE, PART 2: “We are following lots of very, very old protocols in medicine — doing things very inefficiently in medicine, and we can change those. Dr. Bob Simon, of the hospital in Cook County, Ill., has changed protocols in his hospital for a number of things. For example, if you have asthma, the standard protocol that’s used around America is that you go into the emergency room, they treat you and then they put you in the hospital for a couple of days. That’s extremely expensive. Bob Simon … established an observation room next to the emergency room, where people when they came in with bad asthma — serious asthma — would be treated in the emergency room, then he’d put them in an observation room for a couple of hours and treat them aggressively. He found that the great majority of them, he could send home and wouldn’t have to hospitalize. That saved millions of dollars. And if you extrapolated that, did that on a nationwide basis, you’d save billions of dollars.

“This was Simon’s proposal, and I’ve embraced it and it’s become part of my campaign: We should put a pilot program together in which we take four hospitals and we totally deregulate the hospitals, and we populate them with the very best doctors in this country, and we bring in all these new proposals for changing protocols — for modernizing medical protocols and medical procedures, and we allow the doctors to use these modern, new protocols that are less expensive and more effective, and the ones that work extremely well, we then embed in the Medicare system. The Medicare standard will always be the dominate standard because it provides for so much.”

ON FREE TRADE: “I’m not a free-trader. And I think that American industry has been pushed offshore by bad trade deals. I will bring back high-paying manufacturing jobs to this country…. Baby Boomers are now going to be retiring in large numbers. We’re going to have a smaller number of folks working in this country…. And over the last five years, we’ve lost over 3 million, high-paying manufacturing jobs in this country. We’ve lost over a million manufacturing jobs to China alone. I’ll bring back some of those jobs, and I’ll keep the rest of them from going [overseas]. So, that’s going to have a salutary effect on the deficit.”

ON REFORMING THE EDUCATION SYSTEM: “I think we’re going to have to inspire young people at an early age to get into the sciences, to get into math, to get into the disciplines that will tend to support a prosperous America. And that means that we’re going to have to push back against the credentialing that the teachers unions have embedded in our system. I’d like to see an educational system where folks who are engineers and physicists and pilots and folks who have had a career, but who aren’t necessarily credentialed teachers, can come into schools and inspire young people. … [W]e need to [give] what I would call ‘a new generation of teachers’ access to the schools who are capable of inspiring this next generation of students.”
Based on an interview by Will Hall, executive editor of Baptist Press. Michael Foust is assistant editor of Baptist Press.

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  • Michael Foust