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Los Angeles Times Interview : Mike Huffington : The Race for the Senate: A GOP Neophyte--and Proud of It

October 30, 1994|Steve Proffitt | Steve Proffitt, a contributing editor to Opinion, is a producer for Fox News and a contributor to National Public Radio's "All Things Considered" and "Morning Edition." He spoke with Mike Huffington during a campaign swing through Los Angeles

Call Mike Huffington a political paradox. The theme of his campaign has been "more government isn't the answer." Yet, he has spent about $20 million of his personal fortune attempting to win a seat in the world's most elite governmental club, the U.S. Senate. He's hired as advisers some of the most skillful political insiders in the business--including Lyn Nofzinger, Edward J. Rollins and Kenneth L. Khachigian. Yet, he portrays himself as a non-politician and an outsider. In stump speeches, he says private charities should take over the government's role in providing for the poor. Yet, since he refuses to release his income-tax records, voters have no way of knowing how charitable he's been himself.

But paradox or not, first-term GOP Rep. Mike Huffington has succeeded in persuading large numbers of California voters that he's a better choice for the Senate than incumbent Dianne Feinstein. Huffington, 47, appears to be running neck-and-neck with Feinstein in what--at $27 million and counting--is already the most expensive Senate race in history.

Huffington's father is of one of the richest men in America. Texas oilman Roy Huffington discovered and mined rich oil reserves in Indonesia. His son, a Harvard Business School graduate, worked in the family business, and, in 1991, after moving to Santa Barbara, spent more than $5 million to defeat veteran GOP Rep. Bob Lagomarsino in the primary and win a seat in Congress. Just eight months after being sworn in, Huffington announced his bid for the Senate.

Once considered a political lightweight by both Republicans and Democrats, Huffington's steady barrage of political ads has raised negative opinions of his opponent Feinstein and attracted voters who are angry at government and career politicians. He defends his meager record as a congressman--three bills, one resolution and eight minutes speaking on the floor--by saying the last thing the country needs is more legislation. And he bristles at attacks on his wife, Arianna, an author and cable TV talk-show host. Former Huffington staffers claim she is the brains behind the campaign, and her association with a New Age religious sect has been widely reported. While the congressman has been an ardent supporter of immigration control, late last week The Times reported that the Huffingtons had employed an illegal immigrant as a nanny.

Some believe it's telling that where Huffington is best known, he is least liked. He failed to carry his Santa Barbara district in the primary election, and a large group of prominent Santa Barbara Republicans have been raising money for his opponent. Feinstein calls him, "A Texas millionaire that can't be trusted." But he's betting there's enough disaffection and disgust among California voters to put him over the top, and into the Senate.

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Question: What do you see as the limits on the role of the federal government?

Answer: Government can't teach kids values. It can't be in the house, or the workplace, or in everyone's car to protect people from criminals. My feeling is that the federal government cannot teach our kids to read and write. Most of the social problems we have today--drugs, alcohol abuse, teen-age pregnancy, welfare--if we want to solve those problems, it gets back to the families of those kids spending time with the children while they're young. Reading with them at night, making sure they do their homework, teaching them virtues like hard work, courage, compassion, responsibility and faith. That part is really up to the family, not to the federal government.

We're just spending billions and billions of dollars that is going to waste. It's not helping the taxpayers, and it's not helping the recipients, either.

Q: Do you feel the federal government has any responsibility for things like education or helping the poor?

A: I would like to see the federal welfare system dismantled, and the funding that has gone into it be split into two parts--for deficit reduction and for block grants to the states. Those grants would allow the states to experiment with different programs to see what works, and have the states be responsible for welfare, with no strings attached from the federal government. Washington, D.C., puts a straitjacket on our 50 states and all of our cities and local communities. And, frankly, the best way you can help an individual is you, yourself, helping somebody in your own family, or a neighbor or someone else--we're getting away from the volunteer spirit by saying, "Uncle Sam's gonna solve all your problems, just give us your tax money and we'll do it for you." It hasn't worked. We've spent $5 trillion and just haven't been able to make a dent in poverty.

Q: Let's talk about immigration. What should the federal government be doing to control the borders?

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