This is a rush transcript from "The Journal Editorial Report," March 24, 2007.
PAUL GIGOT, HOST: This week on the "Journal Editorial Report," Mitt Romney up close. Can the one-term Massachusetts governor, turned Republican presidential candidate, successfully position himself as a true conservative in the race? We'll examine his record.
With polls showing many Republicans looking for other alternatives, is there room in the GOP field for a dark horse candidate.
Good news for thousands of students trapped in failing public schools. We have details after these headlines.
GIGOT: Welcome to the "Journal Editorial Report." I'm Paul Gigot.
As Mitt Romney transitions from one-term governor to presidential candidate, his economic achievements in Massachusetts are taking center stage, with his first television ad touting him as the Republican governor who turned around a democratic state.
One man familiar with his record in the Bay State is David Tuerck, economics chair and executive director of the Beacon Hill Institute at Suffolk University. He joins me now from Boston.
David Tuerck, welcome to the program.
DAVID TUERCK, EXECUTIVE CHAIR, BEACON HILL INSTITUTE: Thank you, Paul.
GIGOT: You have watched the governor's record. What do you think is his single biggest accomplish in the Massachusetts that would recommend him to become a president?
TUERCK: Well, he did, in fact, hold the line on taxes in every significant sense. He gets at least an A-minus for that. And he did some reorganization of government, which helped make it work better here. Held the line on the growth of jobs.
But certainly his single biggest accomplishment is his health care reform package.
I would hasten to say there are many critics of that. And I have been among the critics. Yet, at the end of day, it was a very, very significant accomplishment, especially when they consider the political culture in which he brought it about.
GIGOT: Let's take those one at a time a time, particularly the fiscal record. He claims — the governor claims that he closed a $3 billion fiscal gap, budget deficit without raising taxes. So did he raise taxes to do that or not?
TUERCK: Well, he did. He raised some taxes in the form of closing corporate loopholes, as he called them. That's something like $295 million in new revenue. And then closed — raised fees, which raised, depending upon who you want to believe, somewhere between $260 million to $500 million in revenue. But this is small change in a state that collects $20 billion in taxes.
Most significantly, he kept the tax rate going up further. It had effectively been raised by the legislature before he took office. And he was able to keep the legislation from pushing it up higher. And there is a lot of pressure in the legislature and from various associations' places in the state, including ironically some big business forces, to push up the state tax rate. So he deserve as lot of credit for holding the line on that.
GIGOT: One of the criticisms of President Bush is that's he's not been unwilling to use his veto pen to reign in spending. Was Governor Romney willing to use his veto pen to do that in Massachusetts?
TUERCK: He most certainly was. He vetoed you hundreds of millions of dollars in spending. In many indications the vetoes were overridden, but that's understandable in light of the fact that the Democrats of a veto prove a majority in the state legislature, and the fact that many of the Republicans are disabled for supporting a veto registered by a Republican governor. He deserves credit on holding the line on taxes.
GIGOT: On health care, the former governor made a big deal of this last year standing next to Ted Kennedy at some point touting health care reform. How does that look a year later? Because there are a lot of complaints out of the state that the price of insurance has not gone down, and that the market for insurance has not been liberalize the way the governor thought or broadcast?
TUERCK: Frankly, I think his health care reform plan is in trouble. I think, in a way, it was hijacked first by the state legislature, which didn't give us any relief on mandated benefits, except a few instances. And now the so-called connector authority raised the level what have they call minimum credible care so as to make health insurance more expensive than before.
But I don't think Romney should be blamed for that. He tried to come up with a health care plan that would be economically viable, and if he had been succeeded by his lieutenant governor, who ran for governor but failed, I think the plan might be doing much better today.
GIGOT: Is it a model, though — It is a kind of health care model that you could sell to the rest of the country? Or is it just going to be limited to Massachusetts?
TUERCK: I think it has limited transport ability. The Massachusetts has some characteristic that make it peculiar. For one thing, the fraction of the uninsured of the total of the population is relatively low in Massachusetts. It is something like, say, 10 percent or so, where as in other states, on the average, it's around 18 percent.
And also there was an issue in Massachusetts about getting some federal money, which was uniquely available here, which they obtained and thus made that part of the package that allowed this health care plan to be created.
And then, too, in Massachusetts, it was possible to get additional state funding from a legislature that might, in the light of surpluses, created under Romney, have instead cut tax in other states.
I think it has limited applicability elsewhere. Yet it did do a big service for Massachusetts and, indeed for the rest of the country, by putting a halt to momentum behind a health-care-for-all plan that would have led to a state take over of health care.
Many people don't give Romney credit for that. If he hadn't of intervened with his plan, we would have gotten something far worse from the point of view of conservatives and free market people like me. So he did put a stop to that.
GIGOT: All right, David Tuerck, thank you so much for that perspective and thanks for being here.
TUERCK: Thank you.
GIGOT: More on Romney's record when we have come back.
Plus recent polls suggest Republican primary voters are looking for other options. Is there room in the race for a dark horse candidate? Our panel weighs in when the "Journal Editorial Report" continues.
GIGOT: Welcome back. As Mitt Romney works to position himself as conservative candidate in the GOP field, a recent poll finds six in 10 primary voters looking for more choices in the race for the Republican presidential nomination.
Joining the panel this week, "Wall Street Journal" Columnist and Editorial Deputy Editor Dan Henninger, Editorial Board Member Jason Riley and opinionjournal.com Editor James Taranto.
James, what do you think Romney's main appeal is as presidential candidate? What are the themes he is running on?
JAMES TARANTO, WSJ OPINIONJOURNAL.COM EDITOR: I would think his main appeal is he is somebody with administrative experience, that he has run a state, that he is competent. But he seems to be running as the social conservative candidate, which seems to me an odd approach for him to take because it seems fake.
I don't know if you have seen this 1994 video of him debating Ted Kennedy in which he talks about why he is in favor of abortion, and he seems so some sincere and convincing. He talks about this family friend who had to have an abortion. Oh, he was so happy she didn't have to go to the back alley and so forth.
I mean after that, I was set to go out and march in a pro-choice march. And now he's the pro-lifer. It seems like he has been all over the map on this stuff.
GIGOT: Shouldn't presidential candidates or any politician get credit if they convert to a belief or cause and then stick with that cause? Ronald Reagan, for example, was not a pro-life candidate when he started in politics. And I think he signed pro-choice legislation in California when he was governor. But then as a president candidate, he became a solid pro- life conservative. Don't you get credit for seeing the light?
TARANTO: Well sure, but voters will have to judge whether this is a really conversion or whether it is fake.
JASON RILEY, WSJ EDITORIAL BOARD MEMBER: You're right. And it is not just abortion. It is gun control. It is gay rights. It is affirmative action. He has moved to the right on all of these issues.
It is interesting to contrast his approach in appealing to social conservatives with Rudy Giuliani's approach. Because Giuliani came out and said I am not a social conservative, but I will appoint judges who you are, so vote for me.
Romney is, in fact, taking a different approach and saying I am now what I used to...
DAN HENNINGER, WSJ COLUMNIST AND DEPUTY EDITOR: Well, you have to kind of come to grips with the fact that the idea that voters are a little bit upset or dissatisfied with the candidates they have now. I think it is a function of the artificiality of the campaign starting as early as it has. Why is this can campaign going on now?
For one reason — campaign finance reform forces them to go out and start raising money in $2,000 increments so they can get up to $20 million or $35million. So they are out there trying to appeal to different factions inside the party in a way that simply does come across as artificial. And I think it is the campaign financing.
GIGOT: Do you credit Romney's new beliefs, or do you think like James that it is artificial.
HENNNINGER: I agree with James. Remember George W. Bush — everyone wondered why he was succeeding. He was succeeding because he seemed to believe what he was saying. And you felt he believed what he was saying. You don't quite feel that with Romney.
GIGOT: There is this hole in the field now for a genuine conservative. As Jason pointed out, Rudy Giuliani is not a natural social conservative. A lot of economic and social conservatives don't trust John McCain. So why shouldn't Romney try to fill that gap in the field and try to persuade those voters?
RILEY: One guy out there is Sam Brownback, who's a true social conservative. But he doesn't have the name recognition. He can't raise the money. So you have a problem.
What I find interesting is the left tells you social conservatives are the tail wagging the Republican Party. But they have to sort of hold their nose and vote for one of these frontrunners as things look now.
So if James Dobson is running the Republican Party, he's got a funny way of showing it.
TARANTO: The anecdotal evidence I hear is that a significant number of social conservatives, not all, by any stretch of the imagination, really respect Giuliani for being straight with them and also for promising to nominate conservative judges, which is really the most important thing to them.
And one other point we have to look at here, this is the first open Republican presidential nomination since 9/11. They say 9/11 changed everything. We don't know how it changed Republican presidential politics. But I suspect it changes in ways that helped Giuliani.
GIGOT: Let's look at a poll, recent polls. Ivey (ph) poll showed — with Giuliani ahead, McCain in second place. But Fred Thompson, who is not even a declared candidate, tied with Mitt Romney at 9 percent.
Dan, do you think there is an opening in the field for a Fred Thompson or a Newt Gingrich to enter later this year?
HENNINGER: Thompson, yes. I think Thompson does convey the sort of personal belief and credibility that I was noting earlier.
Secondly, you have to come to grips with that Giuliani number. Rudy is the one candidate associated with fighting the war on terror. And the war on terror, in poll after poll, remains the number one concern of the American people.
It is odd the other candidates haven't done more to get a piece of that subject.
RILEY: And the other reason there could be an opening for someone is because this process has started so early. And I think a Gingrich or even a Mike Bloomberg, another dark horse candidate possibly, could be counting on the fact that people will get fatigued of these frontrunners and look for a new face.
GIGOT: All right, Jason, we'll be looking for that new face.
Coming up, 2,100 kids in one struggling school district are about to get lucky. We have details as a major boon to the charter school movement — when the "Journal Editorial Report" continues.
GIGOT: The charter school movement got a big boost last week with news that the Knowledge is Power program, or KIP, will receive $65 million to create 42 new schools in Houston.
Founded in 1994, as an alternative to the failing public schools there, KIP now serves 12,000 students in 52 schools nationwide. More than 80 percent of KIP students are low income, yet they regularly out-perform traditional public school counterparts in math and reading tests.
Jason, you have been following the education reform movement for awhile now. Why is this KIP story important?
RILEY: It's important because it is nice to see a successful model be rewarded by the nation's philanthropists. And that's what they did in Houston last week. They put up $65 million, some of the wealthy families, the Walton family, the Gates, the Dells — to KIP, these two guys, David Levin and Mike Fienberg, that started KIP back in 1994.
And KIP is going to be able to expand to 42 schools. And they deserve it. They produced results. Standardized test scores, well a held of their traditional counterparts in Houston and around the country. It is nice to see a successful model expand this way.
GIGOT: Charter schools are public schools. These aren't voucher schools. They are public schools. But they're free from union rules and the bureaucratic rules that public schools have to operate in.
How is the movement doing nationwide?
RILEY: Pretty well. There are about 4,000 charter schools now in the country. And they enroll more than a million students nationwide. And the nice thing is — not all of them are great. Not all of them are up to the KIP standard. But the ones that aren't good go away, unlike bad public schools.
GIGOT: Which stay forever and ever?
RILEY: Forever and ever. What's nice is the innovation. Charter schools are — the people that run them, the administrators are able to try and see what works and be nimble. If a curriculum isn't working, if they want a longer school day, a longer school year, they are able to experiment. And it's working.
HENNINGER: And the problem is that none of those things is possible now in the average public school because of union rules. The public school is not your father's public school.
These unions are running the schools like you would run a coal mine or an auto factory. They are like industrial unions. They are just simply in the grip of a straitjacket that is does not allow principals to choose teachers and put them where they want. And as a result, they're in decline.
GIGOT: There is a backlash, too, in some parts of the country, by the unions, being fed by unions. In Ohio, for example, the new Democratic governor, Ted Strickland, is trying to stop growth in charter schools from the 300 or so they have in New York State, which has a cap of 100.
There are a million public school students in New York City and there's a cap of 100 schools in the whole state.
TARANTO: Jason makes the point that charter schools that don't work go away. If the teacher unions had their way the schools, the charter schools that do work would want to go away.
You know, Paul, as you know, I'm an optimistic guy. But I find this subject of education unremittingly grim because here we are, sitting on television, talking about how wonderful it is that there are a few schools, here and there, that are actually able to educate children. Something is terribly wrong with education in this country.
GIGOT: There is some good interesting evidence, too, Jason, is there not, these charter schools and voucher schools, when introduced into a school district, really do help the public schools improve. The competition, Caroline Hoxby, the Harvard economist, has done some studies of the impact of vouchers in Milwaukee, for example.
So competition isn't just a zero sum game where only the charters or the vouchers are helped. The public schools can also...
RILEY: Yes, they don't want to lose students. So their fear of losing students can, in some cases, help them improve.
GIGOT: Is there anyway politically, Dan — the teacher unions are so powerful in the Democratic Party — can we beat them in a public policy sense?
HENNINGER: It is hard for me to see how. In Ohio, they supported Ted Strickland. And Strickland got elected. And as a result, he is cutting down the voucher program in Ohio.
I really have gotten to where I think the public school model is irreparably broken, because any potential reform gets gridlocked by politics now. And I think probably we're going to have to try to go to a more independently based school system.
GIGOT: All right, we'll be watching that. Thanks, Dan.
We have to take one more break. When we come back our "Hits and Misses" of the week.
GIGOT: Winners and losers, picks and pans, "Hits and Misses," it's our way of calling attention to the best and the worst of the week.
Item one, former Governor Jeb Bush is snubbed by the faculty at the University of Florida — Dan?
HENNINGER: Yes, the faculty Senate at the University of Florida has just voted, 38-28, to deny outgoing Governor Bush an honorary degree. This, despite the fact that, as he was on his way out, he set aside $20 million for the University of Florida, which the president was going to use to hire 200 new faculty members.
What's the explanation? Two reasons: A, his last name is Bush. B, he is a Republican.
Now, we have to figure out a solution to this impasse. And I think we have got one. I propose an exchange program. Let's send these 38 professors down to the University of Havana in Cuba. And let's import 38 professors from Cuba's prisons to Gainesville where they might do some good.
GIGOT: All right, Dan, thanks.
Next, some new strategies in the fight against malaria — Jason?
RILEY: Yes, the "Economist" magazine reports that a couple researchers at Johns Hopkins University want to fight malaria by genetically modifying the mosquitoes that carry the disease. I wish them well.
But I have a better idea. They should spray the pesticide DDT everywhere they can. It is the most effective way to prevent the disease. We know this because it is how we stopped it here in the U.S.
I was in Africa, in sub-Sahara Africa, in Ghana recently, reporting on malaria, which kills about a million people in the third world every year, mostly women and children. And they can't wait for genetically modified mosquitoes. People are dying now.
The only opposition to DDT is political from environmentalists. But there is absolutely no evidence that DDT sprayed, in the amounts needed to stop malaria, harms the environment or humans or anyone else. We should be using DDT.
GIGOT: All right, Jason, thanks.
Finally, an aide to Senator Jim Webb finds himself in hot water — James?
TARANTO: Yes, Paul, Jim Webb is a newly elected Democratic Senator from Virginia, and a strong Second Amendment advocate. When he is home, he packs heat.
His aide was arrested this week for apparently accidentally trying to bring a briefcase that contained the Senator's gun into the capital.
What amazed me about this story is, it turns out, Congressmen are actually allowed to bring firearms on to capital property, whereas ordinary residents of the District of Columbia aren't allowed to have guns in their homes for self protection. It seems there is a disconnect here. Congressmen shouldn't be a privileged class, should they?
GIGOT: They are in other ways, aren't they? I guess this means Jim Webb is in favor of the recent D.C. circuit Court of Appeals decisions, overturning the gun laws.
TARANTO: On Second Amendments grounds. Yes, I would think so.
GIGOT: All right, James.
Thanks to Dan Henninger, Jason Riley and James Taranto.
I'm Paul Gigot. And thanks to all of you for watching. We hope to see you right here next week.
Content and Programming Copyright 2007 FOX News Network, Inc. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. Transcription Copyright 2007 Voxant, Inc. (www.voxant.com), which takes sole responsibility for the accuracy of the transcription. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. No license is granted to the user of this material except for the user's personal or internal use and, in such case, only one copy may be printed, nor shall user use any material for commercial purposes or in any fashion that may infringe upon FOX News Network, Inc.'s and Voxant Inc.'s copyrights or other proprietary rights or interests in the material. This is not a legal transcript for purposes of litigation.