If Bush Had Known Souter???

If the chief of staff to George H.W. Bush could have forseen how David Souter would have turned out as a Supreme Court justice, would he have tried to dissuade the 41st President from naming the New Hampshire jurist to the high court back in 1991?

“Of course,” John Sununu told me, “I would have fought much more aggressively for Edith Jones [the Texas District Court judge who was one of the leading runners-up for the appointment to succeed retiring Justice William Brennan that eventually went to Souter].” 

In an exclusive interview with HUMAN EVENTS, former New Hampshire Gov. Sununu, who was the elder Bush’s right hand man in the White House from 1989-91, for the first time voiced public criticism of fellow Hampshireman Souter, who announced his retirement from the Supreme Court last week.

“For the first six-to-eight months on the Supreme Court, he was the Dave Souter we had known back in New Hampshire as a strict constructionist judge,” said Sununu, who appointed Souter to the state Supreme Court as governor. “Then, I’m convinced, he caught ‘DC-itis.’  He started hearing nice things about himself from liberals and then drifted away from being the Souter he was to the liberal justice he is now.”

As to whether it was a mistake to name him in the first place, Sununu recalled how Souter “was interviewed by [White House Counsel] Boyden Gray and [Assistant Counsel] Lee Lieberman, both fine conservative lawyers.  Boyden and Lee are not gullible lawyers, either.  Based on their interviews with him, as well as his record as state attorney general and a judge of the Superior and Supreme Courts, we thought we were appointing a true conservative and that his appointment was the correct thing to do.”

Sununu also noted that Souter was one of a handful of candidates who was considered for the appointment to the Supreme Court in 1987 that eventually went to Anthony Kennedy and that “he made it through the vetting process then.  With the Senate in Democratic hands and three years after Robert Bork’s [unsuccessful] nomination, we were looking for a conservative who was confirmable.”

Although New Hampshire’s moderate Republican Sen. Warren Rudman championed Souter, Sununu also pointed out that many conservatives also weighed in for the Granite State jurists. 

“You remember Mel Thomson,” said Sununu, invoking the name of the state’s fiercely conservative Republican governor from 1972-78, “Dave was Mel’s attorney general and Mel was his biggest champion for the Court appointment.”

As for Sununu himself, “I never objected to Dave Souter and I was thrilled the appointment went to someone from New Hampshire.  But my first choice, and someone I pushed for, was [then-U.S. District Judge] Edith Jones.  She had conservative credentials and I felt President Bush should appoint a woman to a seat that was not considered a ‘woman’s seat.’  Judge Jones was one of the four finalists with Judge Souter, and was interviewed by President Bush.  My feeling at the time was he wanted to steer away from someone from Texas.”  [Jones went on to serve on a U.S. Court of Appeals and the New York Times reported in ’05 that she was interviewed for the Supreme Court by then-President George W. Bush.  A source close to Jones told me “she was never interviewed by Bush.”]
“Lawyers who wanted to be judges spend their entire lives preparing their credentials for an appointment,” Sununu added, “When I was governor, we had a ceremony in which I  named three judges at once in a ceremony in our Council Chamber [in the State Capitol].  The appointees and I were about the same height and, I joked that ‘no judge can be taller than the governor.’ Everyone laughed.  Later, my staff told me that a number of the lawyers in the audience were walking around hunched over to appear shorter.” [Sununu is 5’9” tall].”

“You can only read their decisions and listen to their answers to your questions,” Sununu said of candidates for the bench, “But, unfortunately, you can’t see into their souls.” 
Governator vs. Mike Reagan

“With respect to Mike Reagan, over $15 billion in spending cuts are already in place and are not impacted by the upcoming special election – they were passed by the state legislature and signed by the Governor. The legislature and the Governor also passed a set of budget solutions that include the proposition that Mr. Reagan mentioned will go before voters on May 19th.  The issues of spending cuts and the upcoming propositions are separate.”– Schwarzenegger spokesman Jake Suski

Almost as soon as my interview with Mike Reagan was published last week, the Republican governor’s spokesman was on the phone to me and politely but firmly taking issue with the syndicated radio talk show host’s characterization of a statewide initiative next month that will extend increases in the Golden State’s sales and income taxes and its vehicle license fee.

When I spoke to Reagan, he likened Proposition 1-A (which Californians will vote on May 19th) to his father being promised spending cuts for more tax dollars to keep Social Security solvent.  In his words, “Remember when my father was President and he was promised that, for every tax dollar allowed for fixing Social Security [in 1982], he would get $3 in spending cuts?  My father went to his grave not getting the $3 in spending cuts he was promised.”  

Joined by Rep. Tom McClintock (R-CA) at the “tea party” at the Sacramento State Capitol April 15th, the younger Reagan repeated his denunciation of 1-A before a crowd that (observers say) reached nearly ten thousand and said of Schwarzenegger: “Arnold, you’re no Ronald Reagan!”

But people from the governor’s office and his political action committee insist Reagan’s analogy does not fit.  The state legislature has already enacted the cuts and, in 1-A, the voters can only reaffirm or turn down the legislature’s separate vote to create a spending cap and extend an increase in taxes and the vehicle fee.  

Joel Fox, once a top official of the late Howard Jarvis’s tax limitation committee and a past political operative on Schwarzenegger-backed initiatives, explained to me that under 1-A, a 1-cent sales tax increase would be extended until April of 2011 and a state income tax increase of ¼ of 1 per cent (on all taxpayers) would be extended until the end of 2012.  The measure would also maintain a vehicle license fee increase from .65% of the value of an automobile to 1.5 %.

As for the spending cuts, said Fox, “they have already been decided on by the legislature — sort of a trade off with Gov. Schwarzenegger for the temporary extensions of the taxes.”

“And 1-A would also include spending caps to limit future state spending,” added Fox, “And it also includes a ‘budget stabilization fund’ [commonly known as a ‘rainy day fund’] to put away money for when the state runs into unexpected debt or other problems.’”  Fox also reminded me that, as governor in 1973, Ronald Reagan pushed a fiscal initiative known as Proposition One that included a ‘rainy day fund.’ (Proposition One was defeated at the polls that year).  

So what does Michael Reagan say?

“David Copperfield Economics”

“This seems like such a magic show!,” Reagan told me, “So they decided on the cuts already and now the people can decide only on the tax increases May 19th — and then the legislature can’t revisit those earlier cuts?” Reagan told me, “They’ve got to be kidding.  It sounds as though the entire package was put together by [famed magician] David Copperfield!”

Acknowledging that the spending cuts were in fact made by the legislature and are not directly affected by the vote May 19th, Reagan also fiercely argued that they could be easily revisited by Sacramento.  (In California, the governor can take a new look at the  budget in mid-year and make fresh recommendations; historically this has been done in May and is known in Sacramento shorthand as “May Revise;”  should Schwarzenegger opt for this avenue, State Capitol watchers expect he will do it in June rather than May because of the vote on 1-A).

“They revisit this and revisit that,” he said.

Reagan also made clear he was not impressed by the concept of the ‘rainy day fund’ contained in 1-A.  As to the comparison to a similar fund contained in his father’s unsuccessful Proposition One, Reagan pointed out that this was a small part of a larger measure that contained strict constraints on how taxes could be raised — in many ways, the forerunner of Proposition 13 that was enacted in 1978 and remains the law of the land in California.

“And don’t forget that Proposition One and its rainy day fund came at a time when the state economy was doing well and there was no crisis,” he added, “Go back to the one time my father did temporarily raise taxes and fees to get the state out of debt [1967-68] and remember what he insisted on doing with the surplus:  he didn’t put it in new programs or even a special fund but gave it back to the people in the form of a rebate.

As Mike Reagan continued to speak out against 1-A, the California Republican State Committee voted to break with Schwarzenegger and oppose the ballot measure.  “ The California Republican Party held a special emergency meeting and voted overwhelming to oppose Gov Arnold’s huge new taxes,” GOP National Committeeman Shawn Steel told me, who predicted 1-A’s defeat. “Those so-called Republican leaders who are promoting the largest tax increases by any state in US history should resign their leadership positions following the Tax Prop rejections. It’s time for Republicans to differentiate their image as a party on the side of the middle class….not corrupt government unions and state supported big business.”