Redefining Core American Values -- Jack Carter, NV-Sen
by Timothy D. Smith for ePluribus Media
08 June 2006

ePluribus Media correspondent Timothy D. Smith interviewed Jack Carter, who is running as the democratic nominee for Senate against Republican incumbent John Ensign in Nevada. The following is an edited transcription of Smith's June 8th interview with Carter at his campaign office in Las Vegas. Visit to learn more about Carter's Senate campaign.

Jack CarterTimothy D. Smith: I'm here with Jack Carter, who is running for Senate in the great state of Nevada.

So why Nevada? This is not your home state. I happen to know where you're from...

Jack Carter: Well. I moved out of Georgia in 1981, and went to Chicago -- to the Chicago Board of Trade. Then I met my wife Elizabeth, in 1992 -- I was working at Citibank at the time -- and she was living in Cleveland -- although she's from Cleveland, Mississippi.  And when we met, it was one of those explosive kinds of meetings, and we met on Lincoln's birthday in 1992, February 12th, and after both having sworn off marriage forever, we got married three months later.

We merged two kids from previous marriages. But then she was living in Cleveland, and I was in Chicago.  And by the time we could both live together and get jobs, the next morning I was in Bermuda with Invesco and she was running the investment department over at the Bank of Butterfield.  So we stayed there for a while and wound up setting up our own business where we showed derivative-type investments to big insurance companies and things like that.

And then she bought a condo on the internet in 2001, right here in Vegas...

TDS: Which hotel? Was it one of the hotel condos?

JC: No, this was five years ago. They didn't have hotel condos back then.... It was in Summerland, just some condos -- townhouses where you have a one story, connected to a two-story, then another one-story, and you repeat it 80 times... We got a two-story one. Anyway, she bought it over the internet, and we moved out here about a year later.

TDS: Set up shop?

JC: We ended up reopening our investment company over here under new rules and regulations, and that's what we do here.

TDS: When you're not running for Senate.

JC: Well, I didn't decide to run for Senate until October. It was not one of my goals in life.

TDS: What drove you to that?

Unlike your father, who is quite well known, you haven't been a political person, not really, so why this sudden launch into the fray?

JC: What it is, is this: When I decided to run, I had this really uncomfortable feeling about what was going on in our country. And as I run and talk to people, it's developed somewhat more, but it's basically something like this and this is how I describe it at this particular moment:

I grew up in a small town, and in a small town, it's more diverse than the big city for at least one reason because you have to live with people you don't agree with. Same thing happens in business. You have to deal with people you may not agree with. But what you do is you could sit around and argue all the time, or you could just say, "Okay, we're not going to talk about it. I'm not going to talk about religion and politics with Charlie."  

When you do that and you take those ideas or whatever it is we differ upon off the table, we're left with the things we agree on.  And those to me are core American values. What I thought about was maybe me and Jerry Falwell in a room, we couldn't talk about the issues that we differed on, what would we agree on? But I think Jerry's probably on the other end of the spectrum from me. There are things like democracy, freedom, rule of law, and there's loving your family and respecting your neighbors and taking care of the old and weak and the educating your kids and business things like paying for what you buy or getting good value for the things you sell, things like that. But those are things that make us Americans.  And they particularly put a center around things that make us really Americans -- center around the freedom that we got.  And this administration has been squeezing my core American values for quite some time, for instance, the content.

TDS: Are these your personal values, or in general?

JC: Oh, it's in general, I'm an American! There's an awful lot of discomfort out there, among the American population, things like:

Pre-emptive war, that's a new concept for us, maybe we sort of take it as Star Wars, but it doesn't wear well, because that's not really what Americans do.

Torture -- I mean, I don't care how you define it, whatever you are going to be using it for.  It's something that makes Americans uncomfortable.

Fiscal--the fiscal deficit that we got. That doesn't fit in with what we do in our own daily lives and what we've been taught all our lives.

Those NSA [warrantless] wiretapping, now, and again, I want to make this plain, I am sort of against wiretapping in general, but the real problem isn't the wiretapping.  It's that the president violated the law that was on the books at the time by not using the FISA courts and doing what needed to be done. And if it had been restricted on him in some way, he could have there's a procedure to do that kind of stuff. And that's the disturbing thing to me, and that's not the only time that's he's done that in this administration.

For all these things to have come together, it ultimately made me decide that I had to run, and I think I'm pretty much an average guy in a lot of different ways. You know, I've got some things in my life...but the one place I'm not average is that my Daddy was President of the United States. And that gives me sort of a different kind of perspective about the halls of power in Washington that I think..

TDS: You have a familiarity with them...personal.

JC: That's right. And even though I'm not a politician or whatever, I've sort have been close to power without having to do all that, without having to worry about that...

TDS: How old were you when your dad was governor?

JC: Probably 25 or so.

TDS: So you were out of the house, but still...but even before that...he was...

JC: Yeah, but he wasn't famous before that.

TDS: But what I mean, as a statesman, as a political leader, you've at least got something, and I'm sure that you're still talking now about it.

JC: Oh yeah.

TDS: I've seen pictures of you two together recently, and I'm sure he's given you at least a couple of notes...on how you might...

JC: My daughter even got to turn him into a blogger for a little bit.

TDS: I anticipated that... in're not afraid of the internet.

JC: I love the internet...

TDS: What do you think about the Netroots? If you look at this past Tuesday's results, [bloggers] had the tough loss by Busby to Bilbray in San Diego [CA-50] -- which you can really point to the national party not giving her a hand --- but if you look at Jon Tester's really stunning win in Montana and the Secretary of State race in California, these were strong progressive candidates with a strong net presence. You seem to have adopted the same sort of strategy that they had. You're not afraid to ask us for help or even look for answers.

JC: Well, the simple answer is that I have a daughter that understands it and sort of led me through. I've read the blogs before, I can't remember what they had back in '02.

TDS: Probably Atrios.

JC: I remember Atrios, but I really got in to him in '04.

The first thing the net brings is a powerful group of opinions, but the other thing they bring is a powerful investigative ability. If you're used to dealing with chaff, you can figure out what the wheat is, and I've really been impressed by that. You can go and throw something in there, and in the course of...

TDS: They throw back a loaf of bread?

JC: Exactly. And that's a great thing for me. The other thing is there's a readership that is targeted, particularly in the political field, in terms of finding out what the issues are, who's doing what, and they're actively seeking out people they can support. And to the extent that you feel that you're part of that group or that you appeal to that group, it behooves you to go on there. I don't see any negatives at all about being on the net. I like it. I do it all the time.

TDS: So why should I vote for you rather than [current Republican Senator] John Ensign?

JC: Well, in the first place I'm independent; John isn't. The Congressional Quarterly puts out -- there are 40 or 50 votes the administration puts out there with their stamp on it.  And the Congressional Quarterly keeps up with how people voted and John Ensign has voted with the administration -- I think I calculated somewhere in the neighborhood of 96 percent of the time over the last five years, though I haven't kept up with it since December -- and so he's very much a pawn of the Bush Administration.

TDS: So he's pretty much a poster boy for the problems you outlined earlier.

JC: That's exactly right. And I'm an independent kind of person. I've only been in Nevada since 2002, but I don't owe anything to the party here, any individual here, or the power structure, and that's a plus and a minus.

TDS: I was going to ask how they feel about that?

JC: I think that they respect the opportunity that we've got here to beat Ensign, and Ensign is pretty much the power structure here, so I think we've got a great chance to go around him and beat him.

TDS: You have an interesting problem, I think, in the northern part of your state. Utah is about as Red as you can get; the approval ratings for the president are still 70 to 80 percent; and my guess is that while the line on the map sharply divides the two states, the line between the two populations isn't nearly as clear. Am I off on that?

JC: I would say a little bit. I'll illustrate it by [using] Kerry [as an example]. Kerry only lost this state by 20,000 votes. It was just the second lowest spread that Bush won by - only Ohio was lower. So here's how it breaks down between the [more]populated and [less]populated areas. He carried Clark County, which is most of Las Vegas, about 25,000 votes. He broke even in the city of Reno, in the county around Reno he only lost by 9,000 votes. But the rest of the counties, which only include about 110,000 votes, Kerry lost by 45,000. He lost by a 70%-30% vote out there. So when you take a look at people -- the only time somebody loses 70-30 in today's day and age is when they just don't contest something. People just aren't that polarized here. And what happened was, if you go out there and give the people a chance to see you, then you might have a 58%-42% happen instead.

TDS: You can start to break through that wall?

JC: That's exactly my strategy. I come from Plains, Georgia, and when I heard how the vote broke down I told Elizabeth, "I'm more rural than Kerry ever thought about." I can go out and talk to those folks.  And like I told you earlier about rural people dealing with people they disagree with all the time, it's significant in this race, because if you disagree with somebody, but that's not what you focus on, and you focus on the part that you share...

TDS: And find common ground?

JC: Then it becomes whether he's a good guy or not. And that's when it starts to get down to those reasonable meetings. Now I don't expect to win all of the rural counties.

TDS: Well, you know how to talk to them. You know how to talk about dirt.

JC: I've been in a lot of dirt.

TDS: Well, you do have a real appeal to rural folks.

JC: Well, I grew up in a peanut warehouse; then, I was in the grain business later on when I was grown.

TDS: You know these people.

JC: They are my people. Let me make it clear, I am one of them. I just don't know them.

TDS: There are some interesting things that have been going on that I'd like your take on. There was a test bomb that was recently postponed here in Nevada, and it's unknown now if they'll ever go ahead with the blast. What's your take on that?

JC: The question I've had since it began was 'Why would you want to know about 700 tons of explosives in it?' I mean it has to be some sort of nuclear weapon or something like that, and I don't understand why you would be testing something like it. Plus it's been so secret, and that's something that's bothered me with this presidency. Somebody said this, I think it was a blogger... Who's the guy Green? The constitutional...

TDS: Glenn Greenwald?

JC: That's the guy. He wrote in his book that the President is the Commander in Chief, but he's the Commander in Chief of the Army and Navy. He works for me. He works for the people here. And when I ask him a question, I want an answer from the guy. And he can tell me through my representative.  And if it has to stay secret, I understand sometimes that's how it's done.  But I'm convinced, having watched this guy, that he doesn't tell me because he doesn't want me to know. It has nothing to do with security.

And this is one of those times I think that people, as they learn more about the possibilities about how the explosion might kick up radioactive dust, that you see it less likely that it will happen. But this atmosphere of secrecy has created an atmosphere of distrust.

TDS: You've got a flyer here in Spanish that says, if I'm translating this correctly, that you want to be the voice of Nevada in Washington?

JC: My campaign slogan is that John Ensign is the voice of Washington in Nevada, because he represents the Administration, and I want to be the voice of Nevada in Washington.

TDS: What do you think you can do for Nevada?

JC: Well, of course I bring a very varied background and I know a lot of people outside of the state, and I believe I can bring an ability to solve problems that we've got here. One of the problems we have in growth, with water problems for instance, is a big issue here. Some of that has to do with government land -- there's water on government land and how do you apportion that, how do you take care of it?

TDS: You mean you don't want to build a pipeline from the Great Lakes?

JC: Well, those are the kind of issues that need somebody to take a firm look at and [who] doesn't have a bunch of baggage going back to the people who've lived here forever.   And that's one of the things I can bring.

Also, I think a lot of issues that affect us today affect Nevada directly. Military spending for instance.   Nellis Air Force Base . . .we've got a lot of veterans coming back from the war, and they're not being taken care of. Because the first thing that happens when you've had a security issue, ... instead of taking care of a security issue and treating it as if it were a real problem, they cut a bunch of money out of the budget because they want to give people a tax break. Well,  that affects the quality of life of the veterans coming back here, since this is a popular retirement state. So these are some of the things that have affected Nevada directly.

TDS: Is there anything you wouldn't change in current policies and what's been done?

JC: You know, I honestly think an awful lot of what is going on in the United States is good stuff. I'm pretty much a free trader. I think that free trade keeps us nimble and competitive. We put up barriers to things that cause weaknesses.  So that aspect of this particular government I don't have a problem with. I think that the government should, and does it very well.

But I have a problem with the bulk of it.  And if I didn't think it was a problem I wouldn't complain, but I have some serious problems with a lot of the things this administration has done, including their attitude.

TDS: The other big monster is this: If impeachment were to come down, how do you think you'd react?

JC: I'm certainly not for impeachment now. I really don't know what's happened here. If the president for instance violated the law, which I think he did, then I want the courts to go through that. He may be dealing on one sort of legal theory as opposed to another one, and I don't think that's grounds for impeachment; I think it's grounds to make him stop doing it and abide by the law.

TDS: But you're in favor of having hearings and investigations?

JC: I said it before - I want to know what's going on in this government, and he's been entirely too secretive about it. This national security deal, for example. If he tells a bunch of senators what's going on, I trust them. They're my representatives, and if they go in there, then come out and say we understand why they're being secretive and we can't tell you, I would trust them.

But he doesn't. He goes in and tells a couple of his cronies going back 30 years who have supported him without question.  And when they come out, I don't believe them, because he hasn't told the right people. And if he tells a couple of our Democratic senators, and they release stuff that's deleterious to the national security, then I'll be aggravated with those guys. But I don't like what's going on in our government because it's not working the way I want it to.

TDS: There seem to be a lot of shrouds obscuring the view.

JC: And they're doing it on purpose.  And this NSA stuff that's going on with [Senator Arlen] Specter right now is a prime example. You've got Cheney going around saying "don't investigate this. Don't investigate this," and he's arm-twisting the senators on the committee to keep them from looking into something that obviously should be looked into. And he acts like it's not going to be checked into, but as soon as we take over, it's going to be, because it ought to be.

TDS: There's a little poem on the wall in your staff's office back there [Editor's Note: the poem refers to John Ensign never being at the Senate, but always playing golf.], so I have to ask this: Do you enjoy golf?

JC: No, I don't play golf.

TDS: You don't play golf?

JC: No. I did a long time ago, and I enjoyed it when I played, but it takes a lot of time, time I don't have to do that. I'd rather be working for our country.

Discuss this interview . . .

Other Photo (copyright 2006) Timothy D. Smith.
Transcription: Dania Audax
Other ePluribus Media contributors include: cho, Standingup, JeninRI,
Newton Snookers, Amy Warren

Transcripts of other candidate interviews done at Yearly Kos 2006 include John Laesch, running against Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert in the Illinois Fourteenth Congressional District, and Charlie Brown, running against John Doolittle for the California Fourth Congressional District.

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