US presidential candidate Duncan Hunter speaks to Wikinews

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Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Duncan Hunter

Duncan Hunter is an American politician who has been a Republican member of the House of Representatives since 1981 from California's 52nd congressional district in northern and eastern San Diego. It was previously numbered the 42nd District from 1981 to 1983 and then the 45th District from 1983 to 1993. Hunter was the chairman of the House Armed Services Committee during the 109th Congress. Hunter is currently seeking the Republican Party nomination for President of the United States. Below is David Shankbone's interview with the Congressman.

Running for President

This exclusive interview features first-hand journalism by a Wikinews reporter. See the collaboration page for more details.

((David Shankbone)) How do you handle juggling running the Presidential campaign, acting as a Congressman, and as a husband?

DH: It all works out well. I just talked to my wife, who is campaigning in Wyoming right now. She’s in Casper; I just saw her a couple of nights ago and I came back here [to Washington D.C.] for the votes [on the Defense Bill]. Our son just came back from Afghanistan on Thanksgiving. He’s a U.S. Marine and finished his third tour there in Afghanistan and Iraq. We’re all doing well. We’re all blessed and having a great campaign season.

((DS)) Do you ever at night say to yourself, “I can’t believe I am finding the energy for another day of this.”

DH: No, actually, listen, most of this stuff is done in air conditioning. [Laughs]

((DS)) [Laughs] That can’t help the sleep deprivation, though.

DH: Listen, I was looking out the window of the Capitol and I saw two guys laying pipeline across Independence Avenue and I thought all I have to do is straighten my tie and make another speech.

((DS)) Good point.

DH: It’s a lot of fun, it’s a privilege and we’re having a great time. It’s a wonderful family endeavor. I think we’re getting our message out, too: strong national defense, enforce our borders; we’ve got the other guys talking about border enforcement and building my border fence. Also, we’re talking about bringing back high-paying manufacturing jobs that we pushed off to China with bad trade deals. Also the need to keep this country strong militarily. I think it’s a strong message, and I think the message is catching hold well.

Immigration and the U.S.-Mexico border fence

((David Shankbone)) Presumably the primary reason one typically gives to run for President is because they think they can win and do some good things for the country, but would you say the second reason after that is for a chance to frame the debate on the issues?

DH: Certainly. I think you do that every day, so you’re accomplishing something every day of the campaign, which is getting your message out. For example, I built the border fence in San Diego and I wrote the law that the President signed last October 26 a year ago to extend the border fence—my San Diego fence—854 miles across Arizona, New Mexico and Texas. Across the smuggling corridors in those states. So every day we work that issue and energize the American people to build the fence, which is now the law. Every time we get that agenda to complete the border fence picked up by the other candidates, we are accomplishing something. We’re moving the ball down the field.

((DS)) The fence that was built in Israel is seen by many as divisive in an area that is far more explosive than the Mexican-U.S. border. How do you respond to people who say that a fence is more symbolic of divisiveness than a resolution of the issues that cause illegal immigration?

DH: Actually, I think the fence has received the approval of people who live on both sides of the border in my community, because before we built that border fence in San Diego—I don’t know if you read the book Lines and Shadows, that was a best-selling book by Joseph Wambaugh, who wrote The Onion Field—it was about the no-mans land that existed between Tijuana and San Diego before we built that fence. You had armed gangs, some of them with machine guns, that preyed on the illegal aliens, murdered a number of people, robbed people by the hundreds every night, and they preyed on people not only on the northern side, but in the northern Tijuana neighborhoods. When we built the double border fence, we took away the mobility of the border gangs, put them out of business, and we actually brought about a much better situation for people on both sides of the border.

((DS)) Is a fence the remedy for that, or is finding a remedy for the needs and causes of those gangs and for the illegal migration of people a remedy?

DH: Let me put it this way: until we built the border fence, nothing worked. We had law enforcement operations on both sides of the border, and the gangs ran wild. They used the border as a safe haven. If they were pursued in the north, they’d go south; if they were pursued in the south, they’d go north. So until we built the double fence—it’s two fences with a road between—and we took away the mobility of the border gangs, we weren’t able to handle that. So actually there wasn’t another remedy. There’s another reason that we need to have one, and that’s this: today we have 250,000 criminal aliens, mostly people who came across from Mexico, not to look for work or for a better life, but to hurt Americans. People who created and committed serious crimes against Americans. 250,000 of those folks right now in federal, state and local penitentiaries and jails. Unless you have—

((DS)) What were they coming here to do?

DH: Well, they came across to hurt people! Those people didn’t come across to find job, they came across to commit crimes, got convicted, and are presently residing in our penitentiaries and jails. That’s a quarter of a million criminal aliens.

((DS)) Where did they come from?

DH: Mostly Mexico. The vast majority came from Mexico and last time I looked 27% of the federal penitentiary population are criminal aliens. So there is a large criminal contingent that moves back and forth across the border, and we pay $3 billion a year to incarcerate those folks. One year’s incarceration costs would build a thousand miles of border fence. That’s another reason why you have to have a real border. The other aspect is that we have the biggest open door in the world, that is the biggest front door, the legal immigration system is very liberal in this country and very open, so it is only appropriate that when people want to come into this country, they knock on the front door.

Concentrating the political power in Congressional redistricting

((DS)) You were originally elected as part of the Reagan Revolution and you came from a historically competitive district—

DH: Actually a non-competitive district; it was 2 to 1 Democrat. It was so noncompetitive that my opponent announced two weeks before the election that it was so Democrat that Abraham Lincoln couldn’t beat him! [Laughs]

((DS)) But you won! So it sounds competitive.

DH: Well, it wasn’t competitive until 1980.

((DS)) Districts nationwide have become solidly leaning toward one party or another. Do you think that since our districts are being drawn in ways—and both parties do this—in ways that ensure one party wins, do you think that hurts our democracy?

DH: Well, actually, it’s always happened since the original Gerrymander by Governor Elbridge Gerry of Massachusetts, which they named the Gerry Salamander and then the Gerrymander. The district I ran in had been gerrymandered by the Democrats of the legislature to be heavily Democrat; I was just able to win it. You have the same thing now. You have very polarized seats, but it’s not much different than it was in 1980. In fact, it’s no difficult at all.

((DS)) But studies have shown that districts have become more concentrated, that the votes have become more lopsided toward one party, whereas it used to be more that you would find percentages of 47/53, whereas now it is 60/40 or 65/35. You consistently win more than 60-70% of the vote in your district.

DH: Yeah, well, that’s true, but that’s what the old guy used to get in my district in 1980.

((DS)) But then they changed it.

DH: Yeah, but my point is that the district was actually moved—the Democrat legislature actually cut my house out and moved it around and moved it into East County with a narrow connector. SO I have always been subject to the Democrat party controlling redistricting in California. They have done what is most expeditious for the party.

((DS)) Don’t you think this is a problem we have in the country with both parties doing it?

DH: Well, they have always done it. I guess my point is that it’s the same as it has always been. There have been a number of attempts in which referendums have been offered by the minority party, for example in California, to make redistricting more even, and those initiatives have always been the subject of mass media campaigns by the controlling party, and you’ve usually lost. So you end up in the end with the elective representatives of the party sometimes overseen by the judiciary, because you end up with judicial panels redistricting if there is a defective redistricting by the state legislature, but in the end the elected representatives of the states are the people who draw the lines. I don’t know what a valid substitute would be for the elected representatives of the state. I say that as a guy coming from a state that is dominated by the opposite party that tries to do my party in. On the other hand, those districts are drawn by people who have been elected by the majority of Californians. I like the idea of having judicial panels redistrict the states, but I think in the end under this democratic system we have, having the elected representatives do the redistricting is the way it has been done in the past and the way it is going to be done in the future.

Iran and nuclear capabilities

((DS)) The National Intelligence Estimate came out that Iran has not had a nuclear weapons program in years, but the Bush Administration has been warning us that Iran is a threat. Do you think these two pieces of information hurt our international standing?

DH: No, I don’t. First, I think the National Intelligence Estimate, which I have seen in classified and unclassified form, is flat-out wrong. Because a major part of a weapons program is the production of weapons-grade uranium. You presently have 2,952 centrifuges refining uranium in Natanz, which is three times as many centrifuges as our intelligence service has estimated until an actual inspection was made by the IAEA.

((DS)) But the IAEA and Mohamed ElBaradei have also come out and said that the National Intelligence Estimate jibes with their findings.

DH: What I’m saying is that the facts don’t support the facts as alleged—or represented by this last inspection—don’t’ support the conclusion that there is not a weapons program being undertaken. A major part of a nuclear device is the refined uranium, which constitutes the explosive matter in a nuclear device. If that’s a major part of the bomb, right now you have almost 3,000 centrifuges producing that material right now in Natanz, Iran, and not only haven’t they slowed down, but they have been increased to three times our former estimate and they are going—according to the last inspection—full bore. So if somebody is telling you they are disarming, the next question you want to ask them is, “Then why are your ammunition factories still in production?”

((DS)) Isn’t that just conjecture?

DH: No, it’s not conjecture at all. Natanz has been—the arms teams have been there and they have counted the centrifuges and they are operating at full speed.

((DS)) But there is no evidence that they are making any weapons with them, correct?

DH: No, they are producing the powder, the explosive material that is used in a nuclear device, which is the most difficult part to obtain. So they are proceeding at full pace with a part of a nuclear device. So the question to ask the Iranian is, “Why are you doing this?” There is no good answer. I think it is misleading to say they have stopped their arms program. They haven’t stopped that part of it.

Terrorism: the greatest threat to humanity

((DS)) What do you think is the greatest threat to humanity?

DH: The production or the securing of a weapon of mass destruction. There are several species of threats, but I would say in terms of the war against terrorist—

((DS)) You think terrorism is the greatest threat to humanity?

DH: No, I’m going to give you several broad categories, and then I want to give you a sub-category. But if look at the terrorist threat, which I think right now is perhaps the greatest imminent threat that we have, the securing of a nuclear device or another weapon of mass destruction, and its detonation in a large population center,

I think that’s the greatest—

((DS)) Are you for nuclear non-proliferation, then?

DH: Well, I’m for nuclear non-proliferation to terrorist groups, and for technology control.

((DS)) What is technology control?

DH: It means controlling the subsystems that can be utilized to develop a weapon of mass destruction. You have technology control with respect to chemical and biological weapons, but also nuclear weapons. So you have a regime that includes the nuclear suppliers group, you have several international constructs to keep those systems from getting into the wrong hands. So technology control is a very important aspect of securing and preventing the acquisition of nuclear weapons capability by a terrorist group or a terrorist state.

((DS)) Do you think we should begin entering into agreements with other countries to disarm the nuclear arsenal worldwide?

DH: No, I don’t think the United States should eliminate our nuclear arsenal because I think that manifests a deterrent against others who might move aggressively against the United States at some point, or might move aggressively against our allies. I think there is a deterrent factor to having a nuclear weapons capability for the United States, which I would describe as a responsible nuclear state. Nor do I worry about Great Britain’s, nor do I worry about France’s. But what I would do is everything possible to prevent a regime with nuclear technology from falling into the hands of those who would use it irresponsibly, and that would include of course Iran, obvious North Korea, which has some nuclear devices, and other countries.

((DS)) It seems like it is a difficult thing to argue that we have nuclear arms, but other sovereign nations can’t have them.

DH: Yeah, I think that would have to fall under the category of the real world. You don’t want to have countries which have what I would call non-stable leadership, or anti-American leadership, developing the means to kill large numbers of Americans. That may not seem fair, that’s not Marquis of Queensbury rules, but it’s in the interest of the United States.

((DS)) Does it not worry you that governments can change quickly? You had Shah Pahlavi, who was very pro-Western for a long time, overthrown in Iran. President Musharraf in Pakistan, which now has nuclear weapons, is also unstable with his hold on power and has nuclear capabilities.

DH: Yes, but I think in both those cases you will see that we did not give nuclear weapons capability to either one of them, and would very much prefer they didn’t have it. So I agree with you, but I want to remind you that we haven’t given and we have been very much against nuclear proliferation to those states.

The United Nations

((DS)) You are a critic of the United Nations and it would seem like out of any foreign body that is positioned to assume global leadership on this issue, it would be the UN. Do you think it is wise to take an antagonistic view of that body when it seems necessary to have the global cooperation it embodies?

DH: Well, I’m not antagonistic toward the United Nations as much as I am realistic about the United Nations. I think the United Nations is good, as I have said, for inoculating babies and for operating refugee camps and refugee centers, but they should not be relied upon by the United States for our security, and I think that has been proven time and time again. So the United States needs to have independently the means for maintaining its security.

((DS)) One of the things you said was, “Rest assured no treaty that infringes the sovereignty of the United States…”

DH: You said you saw a quote that said ‘a trip to the waste basket’? That’s not a…

((DS)) That’s not an accurate quote?

DH: I like what you said, but that’s not a phrase I generally use, but I am not supportive of the United Nations for U.S. security.

((DS)) If you’re concerned about infringing on the sovereignty of the United States, but the concern doesn’t extend for the sovereignty of other countries, how do you form a foreign policy principle that doesn’t make it seem the concern is only what is good for us?

DH: Listen, I need to go to a conference right now, can I call you back?

[Break for Congressman Hunter to attend a conference]

((DS)) Hi Congressman Hunter. How was the meeting?

DH: Very good. We wrapped up the defense conference. That was with Senator Kennedy and Senator Levin, and they agreed to take the hate crimes bill off the defense bill, so we are going to move it forward and pass it, so it was good news.

((DS)) That happens a lot where they put disparate bills together in the hopes of moving them together. What are some of the positives and what are some of the negatives of doing that?

DH: We do pass out-of-scope legislation in the defense bill sometimes; but the problem is putting in legislation that wouldn’t pass independently. The downside is passing legislation that probably wouldn't pass or wouldn't be signed by the President otherwise.

School prayer

((DS)) You support school prayer?

DH: Yeah, I support folks having a place where young people can go to have a quiet time after their substantive activities and have a prayer.

((DS)) Not a school mandated prayer?

DH: Not a state-enacted prayer.

((DS)) More a moment of silence?

DH: Not a moment of silence, but having a place where young people can go and prayer and still having that availability to do that.


((DS)) You sponsored the Parents Empowerment Act--

DH: I wrote it. I was the original author of it.

((DS)) That Act would allow parents or guardians to sue in federal court anyone that disseminates material harmful to minors.

DH: Yeah, pornographic material that hurts young people. That's one way to get to people that put out dirty images. The key is that if they disseminate it in a way they can expect minors to see it, then they should be held liable for the damages of that material. I came to that conclusion after watching the FCC operate in a very very haphazard and sluggish manner, very rarely responding to complaints. And very under-manned even if they did respond energetically to complaints. It gives parents the ability to hold pornographers liable for the damage to their children. That's the only way you are going to stop them, to hit them in their pocketbook because they obviously don't care about the children. They just care about their pocketbook.

((DS)) Can you explain how that does not limit free speech, especially on the Internet?

DH: Yes, certainly. Free speech, for example--nobody disagrees that somebody has a right to yell "Fire!" in a crowded theater; we all agree on that. And nobody has the right to put pornographic literature in front of children or in the public, and from my perspective, that should be an actionable right that parents would have. It empowers parents to go after people who are putting filth in front of their children, and to hit these people where they live, which is in their savings account or their check book.

((DS)) What about a pornographic website?

DH: Absolutely it would stop a pornographic website, if it is put out in a way that children should reasonably be expected to see it, it should be banned. I think this: the trauma that is caused by young kids--and studies show now that a fairly substantial amount of young children are exposed to pornographic websites now--just sighing and saying that's life in modern America, well I think we should keep it from happening.

((DS)) Are there any studies that show it actually harms children?

DH: Oh, absolutely! That pornography harms children, there's lots of studies. Don't you think pornography harms children?

((DS)) I've spent time in Europe, and I have spent time here. It depends on what you are saying pornography is. For instance, in Europe women are allowed to be bare-chested on the beach or in some places on television. It doesn't seem to harm children there.

DH: If you've seen some stuff on the websites, it's much worse than that. You're aware of that.

((DS)) Sure, but what is the bar for pornography, then?

DH: I think that is a matter of judgment and the court is going to have to make the judgment whether that is pornography or not. That has always been a question of fact. Once it is established and once a community--jurors--agree that it is pornography, that it has harmed children, then the people who spread it are going to be held accountable. You have to be held accountable for what you throw out in front of children.

((DS)) Would a website with a message at the front saying that a user confirms they are over 18 before they enter the site, would that be sufficient?

DH: I think that's a question of fact for the jury. They are going to have to decide whether the key element in the Parents Empowerment Act, which is whether or not the purveyor of the pornography could reasonably expect children to see it. It might be argued to the jury that there are movies which put restricted labels and don't go with the General Audience label because it actually intrigues young people and sometimes has proven to draw higher attendance if you have a label that implies there is something risque in the movie. You've seen that. Movie makers avoid the General Audience label.

((DS)) They also try to avoid the X label.

DH: It depends on what the case is and what the jury believes. If the jury believes it was truly put in there in a way that the purveyor of the pornographic image set up his site to attract children, then he is going to be liable. But it's a question of fact.

Gay Marriage

((DS)) Do you consider yourself States Rights?

DH: I think so. I think that's a general philosophy. Federalism. I don't think it's absolute; I think there are some issues in which the country as a nation has an interest.

((DS)) Why would you support the Federal Marriage Amendment if you are for States Rights?

DH: Because of what I just told you. I think that states rights are important, but there are some issues in which the nation as a community has an interest, and of course the Marriage Act, one of the fears has been if you end up with one or two states that support homosexual marriage, what you'll end up doing is producing a flow of people going to a particular state, receiving their marriage license in that state, and then due to the Full Faith and Credit Clause of the Constitution, having those marriages recognized in the state where the marriage is banned.

((DS)) Doesn't DOMA prevent that? The Defense of Marriage Act?

DH: Well, if you end up with a federal act that prohibits it--that's what I'm saying, if you prohibit it on a national basis in a Constitutional Amendment or on a federal act, then you eliminate the process of having one or two states generating homosexual marriages and then demanding they be recognized under the Full Faith and Credit Clause. Do you understand what I'm saying? If you have one state that allows it, then you have a recognition requirement of the other states.

((DS)) But didn't DOMA prevent that? Massachusetts currently has gay marriage. So didn't DOMA prevent that from happening?

DH: Prevent what from happening?

((DS)) Prevent a swell of people going to Massachusetts and getting married, and then taking their marriage to another state that bans it and forcing them to recognize it?

DH: What's your point? I think that's good. That it does prevent it.

((DS)) So do you no longer support amending the Constitution is my question.

DH: No, I think it has still yet to be fully decided as to whether a few states can at some point basically become proliferators, if you will, of non-traditional marriage. Here's my position: If it is necessary to amend the Constitution, then I think we will need to do it. I think you need to have a Defense of Marriage on a uniform basis in all fifty states. What it takes, in terms of satsifying the federal courts to do that, should be done. So if it is required that it is necessary to have an amendment to the Constitution to do that, I would support that. But doing what it takes to have a uniform treatment to defend traditional marriage across all the states.

((DS)) Essentially you would want to revoke Massachusetts' ability to have gay marriage?

DH: Yes.

((DS)) So that would be anti-States rights to a degree?

DH: Well, that's your argument. But my point is that when I said I'm for states rights, I'm also for recognizing the fact that there are some issues in which the nation has an interest.

((DS)) Why do you think gay marriage is one of those issues?

DH: I think that's a center piece, the most important institution in our country, is the marriage. The traditional marriage. Its most important role is as the protector of children. I think central to the American family, which is the most central institution in the country, is the marriage between a man and a wife. I think we need to elevate that traditional marriage. Support it, promote it, elevate it. Not devalue it.

((DS)) How does gay marriage devalue marriage?

DH: I think that it devalues it by rendering it less than what it was, by making it something that is not a function of the Judeo-Christian tradition, which most of our laws are built on.

((DS)) Although we are not a Christian nation--

DH: As you start to devalue the traditional marriage, people would ask why can't it simply be a contract between a number of people? What's special about two people? What's special about a man and a wife? I think there is something special about a man and a wife, and in a way the traditional marriage is different than many institutions. It is not a governmentally-formed institution. It is an institution that has a religious element to it. It's a part of a our Judeo-Christian tradition.

((DS)) The argument against that is should government be involved in it at all then.

DH: But it is recognized, and protected, by government. So that makes it an unusual institution.

((DS)) What about when two Muslims marry, then? Because that's not Judeo-Christian.

DH: Well, I'm saying that was the basis of the traditional marriage in our society that made it an important institution in this society. That doesn't mean it is restricted of one religious group, but that it has been a function of Judeo-Christian religion and has become thereby a part of our laws.

((DS)) Since it exists in all societies, just because it is practiced by a Judeo-Christian society does that make it a Judeo-Christian institution or a human institution?

DH: Well, I think you can argue that, but--

((DS)) You don't believe that?

DH: No, I said you could argue that, but in this society it has been a function of the Judeo-Christian religion, although it is supported similarly by other religions, and by diverse numbers of ethnic groups. On the other hand, that's not a reason to not support it, to not elevate it, and not to honor it.

((DS)) Some Christian churches such as the Episcopalians conduct gay marriages.

DH: Listen, you might have all liberal types in this country to undo what is essentially the traditional marriage. I don't agree with that. I think that is an underpinning to the most important institution in this country, which is the family, and so I don't agree with those who would tear the traditional marriage down, or think it is without value, or that it can be changed and should be changed. I simply don't agree with that.


This article features first-hand journalism by Wikinews members. See the collaboration page for more details.
This article features first-hand journalism by Wikinews members. See the collaboration page for more details.