Smart Decision 2012: Jim Higgins, Libertarian for Governor
ST. LOUIS - Libertarian Jim Higgins, 64, is a first-time gubernatorial candidate but has a two-decade history of running for political office. In 1992 and 2000, he was the Libertarian candidate for U.S. House of Representatives District 2, and in 2002, he represented his party as the candidate for House District 1. Higgins graduated in 1971 from Ohio University with a Bachelor's of Science degree in Civil Engineering. Since 1998, he has worked for Systems Analysts, Olin Corporation. He is a self-described proud husband to LaDonna Higgins and father of two daughters. He has professed if he were elected Missouri Governor, he would employ Libertarian principles as an advocate for free market and individual sovereignty while working to reduce government regulations and promote innovative K-12 public education. KOMU 8 sat down with Higgins at his home in Ladue to discuss his platform and positions on several hot-button Missouri issues affecting voters in this General Election.
KOMU: Firstly, I want to set politics aside for a moment and ask you to tell me/tell our viewers, characteristically who is Jim Higgins?
HIGGINS: Well, I guess the number one defining thing is that I'm a Libertarian. I've been a Libertarian for almost 40 years-almost as long as the party's been around. As soon as I heard the ideas, I just sort of, it hit me, you know. And I've been doing a lot, lots of things in the party-petition drives and stuffing envelopes, working fair booths just about anything the party needs me to do. I ran for Congress a couple time sin the ‘90s, but other than that, I've got two daughters-they're grown, and they're moved out of the house, so my wife and I are proud of them. I like to do outdoor stuff, basically.
KOMU: Can you tell me truthfully, what inspired you to pursue politics? You mentioned you ran for Congress a few times, but what got you interested in politics?
HIGGINS: Well, I really wasn't politically oriented. I just discovered the Libertarian ideas, and I assumed, like everyone assumes, the government has its faults, but it's out to help us. As soon as I discovered Libertarian ideas, I thought that might not be the case. A lot of these laws that are written favor special interests or favor corporations. It doesn't have us in mind when they do that, so the more freedom that people have-freedom, that's hard to describe, but freedom is just like a breath of oxygen. That's what kind of struck me.
KOMU: Briefly, how would you essentially ‘sum up' Gov. Nixon's first term in office as Governor?
HIGGINS: Well, he gets good grades. I'll give him credit. He's kept a lid on taxes, and he even fought the Republicans, in some cases, to keep a lid on taxes. But, he's in the pocket of big labor, and he's influenced by special interests and things like that, so you know he falls, he loses points, for that. Overall, I don't dislike him or anything.
KOMU: Before we get into policy specifics...why you for Governor? Why do you think you're more equipped than your opponents for this position?
HIGGINS: Nixon is a politician. He's been in state government for a long time. He was Attorney General. Dave Spence claims he's an outsider, but really, he's got a lot of connections with businesses, and so he's not as much of an outsider as he says he is. I am, and I actually want to change the direction of government. We had a four percent increase in the annual budget last year. That's more the inflation, that's growing government. We have to turn that around, and that's what I would do.
KOMU: And would you consider yourself a serious candidate, or are you more hoping to put out your ideas, your message?
HIGGINS: I think we are a serious candidate. We're getting a little more exposure this time around, but we are thinking past the next Election. The other two are thinking in terms of the next Election. We're thinking more long-term, where down the road, we've got a better percentage.
KOMU: Can you explain to me your position on expanding Missouri's Medicaid program under the federal healthcare law?
HIGGINS: I don't see how we can, even if we want to, I don't see how we can. Medicaid is broke. It's worse off than Medicare or Social Security. It's broke. It's paying out more than it's taking in, so we can't even expand it because we're going to lose more money. We're going to go more broke. We can't continue the way we're doing it.
KOMU: Despite statistics, you and your opponent(s) have drastically different views on the current state of the economy. What is your take on the current state of Missouri's economy?
HIGGINS: Nixon and Spence, they have different opinions on that, and I don't really want to take sides. There are a lot of factors outside of Missouri that influence the Missouri economy. Some of them help us, some of them hurt us-it depends on what's going on at the time. So, I don't think the governor has that much effect over the economy. The governor should just step aside and let the free market work. That's the best way to deal with things.
KOMU: If you were elected Governor, how would you create jobs? Although Missouri's unemployment rate of 7.2% is below the national average, how will you further reduce that rate? What is a feasible unemployment rate we can expect to see in the next few months/years, if you are elected Governor?
HIGGINS: I wish there was some magic button program. If I could wave a wand and reduce unemployment, I would do it, but you can't. You might be able to subsidize one company and create jobs and say, ‘OK, I created jobs here, but you drained capital out of the rest of the economy, and you've lost jobs in the rest of the economy, which is harder to measure. So, for the most efficient use of capital, we need to have a fairer playing field, a level playing field and let all companies, all different types, compete without having special privileges or favors from the state government.
KOMU: According to the Missouri Commerce Department, Missouri's economy barely grew in 2011 but has maintained a AAA bond rating and balanced budgets. What is your current opinion of the state of the economy and the crux of your plan to move the economy forward?
HIGGINS: Just reduce regulations and stay out of the way. Let business do its thing. The governor really doesn't create jobs. Private companies have to do that, and we have to let them do their thing and have faith in the market, and it will happen if we do that.
KOMU: Your premise for K-12 education, as stated on your website, suggests schools should have quote more flexibility in school curriculum. Explain that to me.
HIGGINS: We send all our money to the state, all our education dollars to the state. The education K-12 is about 24 percent of the budget, and then there's a big political battle to get it back. Then, when we get it back, there are lots of strings attached and mandates. The best thing to do is don't send your money to Jefferson City. Keep your money local in the local school districts and give teachers more flexibility in the classroom. Don't strap their hands with mandatory curriculums and things like that. Each teacher has their own style, and let's be a little innovative in the education system and try different things.
KOMU: In light of what has happened this past year in both statewide in Wisconsin and in Chicago with unions at odds with government, I'm interested in getting your take on unions and how you intend to formulate/maintain good relationships with them and work effectively with them to prevent these types of situations?
HIGGINS: Unions, for public employees, really don't make sense. Maybe for a private company, you can negotiate, and you know how much a worker is valued based on the market and fair wages for others, in comparison, but for state workers, for public workers, there really isn't any market involved. It's a political move. It's really hard to determine how much they're worth because it's tax money. You're not selling a product or trying to compete with other companies. It's tax money, and they're out to get as much tax money as they can, and it just doesn't seen to work. There's no way you can determined how much to pay them. There's no barometer to go by.
KOMU: If you were elected Governor, how would you work effectively with Democrats in a majority Republican legislature?
HIGGINS: First of all, I would make it clear that they're not going to be able to spend more money. They each like to spend money for different reasons-they each have their favorite programs, and so I would make it clear that the Democrats have to give up some programs, and the Republicans have to give up some programs, and the governor has a lot of discretion on what to cut from the budget, so I would just kind of level it out and make sure that I don't really cut one or the other programs too much, just equally on both sides.
KOMU: On your website, you state, "Historically, all attempts at big government have failed" and that a free market will being "order and stability to the economy." If elected, what would your plan specifically be to reduce the current size of the government?
HIGGINS: There's a lot of low-hanging fruit. The first thing that comes to mind is the historical renovation-there's tax credits for historical renovation that started out at $20 million four years ago, and now it's up to $300 million, and most of them are for old houses of old dead guys nobody's heard of. So, that's an easy one. We can just cut that. I don't want to specifically take away any specific program. Maybe just for starters, cut a percentage across the board, and then we can take a look and see what programs we can cut further, but...as soon as you pick on one program or something, people get angry, so to keep it fair, just across the board.
KOMU: What is your position on the death penalty?
HIGGINS: I don't think the Libertarian Party has taken a position on that. Personally, my opinion is I don't think we should have it. The DNA testing has shown that juries do make mistakes, and so even after all the appeals or anything, we're not 100 percent sure that we've convicted the right person, so for the state to take on that responsibility, I just don't think we should, and actually it's cheaper in the long run...to lock someone up for life rather than to send them through all the appeals for an execution.
KOMU: What is your current opinion on gay marriage? Is it plausible that regardless of who obtains office in November, we could see in the next few years the legalization of gay marriage? Even with a majority Republican legislature is it possible that Missouri will follow suit with Illinois in legalizing civil unions?
HIGGINS: I think Missouri voted it down once already, and Missouri seems to...have a religious streak in it, so I'm not sure, as far as getting voter approval for it. Personally, and I think the Libertarian Party has a stance that same-sex marriage should be allowed. If two people want to become life partners and legally do that with the benefits involved, they should be allowed to do that.
KOMU: Let's talk about your views on gun rights under the Second Amendment.
HIGGINS: We believe in the Second Amendment. We believe in all the Bill of Rights-the 10 Bill of Rights. You have a right to defend yourself. I don't think there's much disagreement among politicians on that. Guns can be used for good and bad, and I think in a lot of cases, they're a deterrent to crime, but bottom line is you have a right to defend yourself.
KOMU: This past July, Gov. Nixon neither signed nor vetoed abortion legislation, thereby allowing the identical bills to restrict abortion after 20 weeks of pregnancy to become law. Would you have signed these bills had they come across your desk? What is your current view on abortion?
HIGGINS: I don't know of anybody who likes abortion, but the fact of the matter is unwanted pregnancies happen, and a lot of them-I was surprised at how many there are. It's not the ideal situation, but...my position is that it should be kept safe and legal, and if we can educate people, or if we can have not a government birth control program. But, some of these anti-abortion people, if they would provide birth control-there's been a recent study that if birth control was readily available to women that there's a lot less abortions, so I would go that route.
KOMU What about late-term abortions?
HIGGINS: I would keep it (the law) the way it is (restrictions on abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy). You have time to make a decision before that, so I would keep that in place.
KOMU: Lastly, what's the first issue you would tackle if you were elected into office? What is the most important premise for you to deal with if you were elected?
HIGGINS: Going back to the economy, there's a lot of favoritism involved, which is not fair. That's where a lot of these campaign contributions come from. Both Dave Spence and Jay Nixon spend millions of dollars on their campaign. Where does that money come from? It comes from corporations and contractors who, once they're elected, they expect some favors to come back to them, and that's not fair. We need to have a fair playing field for everybody, and so we need to just kind of clean all that up, and the economy will be much better off because of it.
KOMU: If you want to look at the camera and say something specifically to our voters-last words-you're welcome to do that.
HIGGINS: The Libertarian Party has been working for 40 years to return individual liberty to people, and so if the less you rely on government... Government has grown, I don't know, 30 or 50 years, and if government was the solution, then all of our problems would have been solved by now, but they're not. They're getting worse. Health care is now 16 percent of our Gross National Product. It used to be something like five [percent], so anything the government tries to fix makes it worse. If you have more control over your life, more control over your pocket book, you'll be happier. If you're more independent and can make choices for yourself, you'll be wealthier, and you'll be happier, and you'll be better off all-around.