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2008-08-26

Former US Senator Jean Carnahan and Missouri Secretary of State Robin Carnahan on the 2008 Race, Their Role as Convention Delegates & Voter Registration

Guests

Jean Carnahan, Former US Senator, the first woman to represent Missouri in the Senate.

Robin Carnahan, Missouri’s Secretary of State.

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As we continue our coverage of the 2008 Democratic National Convention, I am joined now by two Democratic delegates from Missouri who also come from one of the state’s most storied political families. Former Senator Jean Carnahan served in Congress from 2001 to 2002. I am also joined by Jean Carnahan’s daughter, Robin Carnahan. She is Missouri’s Secretary of State, where she has focused on voter and consumer rights. [includes rush transcript]

Transcript

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN:

As we continue our coverage of the 2008 Democratic National Convention, I’m joined now by two Democratic delegates — actually, one, a superdelegate. They’re both from Missouri. They come from one of the state’s most storied political families.

Former Senator Jean Carnahan served in Congress from 2001 to 2002. She won the seat after her husband, former Missouri Governor Mel Carnahan, died in a plane crash just weeks before the election. The crash also killed Jean’s son, Randy, and a campaign aide, Chris Sifford. Mel Carnahan’s name remained on the ballot. He beat out then-incumbent John Ashcroft. Jean Carnahan was appointed to take her husband’s seat, making her the first woman to represent Missouri in the Senate.

I’m also joined by Jean Carnahan’s daughter, Robin Carnahan. She’s Missouri’s Secretary of State, where she has focused on voter and consumer rights. Along with Robin’s brother, Congress member Russ Carnahan, the Carnahans are believed to hold more Democratic delegate spots from the same state than any other family.

Jean Carnahan and Robin Carnahan join me now here in Denver. Welcome, both, to Democracy Now!

ROBIN CARNAHAN:

Well, it’s nice to be here.

AMY GOODMAN:

It’s great to have you with us. Now, you’re a delegate, Senator Carnahan.

JEAN CARNAHAN:

Yes.

AMY GOODMAN:

And Secretary Robin Carnahan, you’re a superdelegate. What’s the difference?

ROBIN CARNAHAN:

As I tell my friends, we have a cape. To me, there’s no difference. I think that, certainly now, the delegates are going to be coming together to nominate Barack Obama, and that’s going to be what we do going forward, so I don’t really see, at this point, that there’s any difference between the delegates.

AMY GOODMAN:

Did you support Senator Barack Obama from early on?

ROBIN CARNAHAN:

Mom, why don’t you answer that first.

JEAN CARNAHAN: I did. I was among the first in the family. Actually, I should go back and say that my son in Congress was probably much earlier. And it was my children who got me involved. And I’ve often said that we have to listen to our children sometime. They are thinking about the future, and so they were the ones who got me involved in — just before the Missouri primary.

AMY GOODMAN:

So, you supported him early on?

JEAN CARNAHAN:

Yes, I did.

AMY GOODMAN:

And Robin Carnahan?

ROBIN CARNAHAN:

As Secretary of State, I have a habit of not getting involved in primaries, so I didn’t come out either way in the presidential primary, as in other primaries. But once the nomination was clinched, that was the point at which it seemed pretty clear that we could all go out and be unified behind Obama.

AMY GOODMAN:

Not every Secretary of State takes that position. For example, Secretary Blackwell of Ohio, right, was, I think, the chair of the Bush-Cheney reelection campaign.

ROBIN CARNAHAN:

Right. And, you know, I think that’s inappropriate. I think people who are charged with overseeing the elections ought not take that active of a role in chairing election campaigns, and so I don’t do that. I am a Democrat, so I have been out supporting the Democrats, and I don’t think people are upset by that, but I’m not somebody who’s in charge of the campaign there.

AMY GOODMAN:

Senator Carnahan, can you talk about how the conventions work? I mean, one of the things that has happened increasingly is the level of corporate support for these conventions, and I’m wondering if you’re disturbed by this. In the coming days, we’ll talk more in detail about this. I interviewed Senator Salazar of Colorado yesterday about this issue. But right now at the Democratic convention, we’re talking tens of millions of dollars is funneled in through a loophole, the Federal Election Commission. You can’t give, you know, unmonitored money to a candidate or to a party, but when it comes to the conventions, under the ruse of giving money to the host city — it’s going to be the same in St. Paul with the Republican convention — we’re not going to find out about what money what corporations gave until around Election Day. What are your thoughts about this?

JEAN CARNAHAN:

Well, you know, somebody has to pay for these very, very expensive conventions, and I think some of the corporations give to both. They want to see the process go forward and handled in a very democratic fashion. So I think that’s why they do contribute, and I think that’s why you’ll see that they continue to contribute.

AMY GOODMAN:

Well, they’re definitely equal-opportunity contributors, in terms of the Republicans and the Democrats, but the level of lack of transparency — like the other night, I went over to the AT&T party for the delegates and lobbyists. They didn’t allow media in. But there were the lobbyists, there were the delegates, walking right in at the Mile High Station, with the Mile High security outside. I mean, they dwarfed the place. And they were serious about how they were keeping the media out. But these are delegates, going through, many of them young elected politicians, learning how the system works. They come here, and who are they hobnobbing with? Whether they want to or not, it’s lobbyists, sometimes outnumbering them at the parties.

JEAN CARNAHAN:

Yes, there certainly is more lobbyists than certainly we need in Washington, and I think this is one of the things you’re going to see in Barack Obama. I think you’re going to see someone who goes to Washington, he’s going to stand up to the special interests and the lobbyists. I really feel like he will. He’s not a part of that. He’s not taking their money. And so, I think we’re going to see a little bit of a change there, and I think it will be one certainly that’s welcomed.

AMY GOODMAN:

What did you think of Michelle Obama’s speech last night?

JEAN CARNAHAN:

Oh, she was terrific. I thought she was just terrific. She makes you feel like you’re sitting around a kitchen table with her. I think people can relate to that. And the way they incorporated the family at the end there, I thought that was just very warm, and I think people can relate to her and what she’s trying to do. She’s very articulate. And I’ve met her several times, and I think she’s terrific. She’ll be a tremendous First Lady.

AMY GOODMAN:

I tried to ask Senator Biden, now the vice-presidential nominee, a question last night. Maybe I made the mistake, when he came out into his box, of saying that I have a serious question to ask, so he sort of ran in the other direction. But he was very much featured on video, though he wasn’t granting interviews, especially when Ted Kennedy was honored. But you knew Senator Biden. In fact, I heard you say yesterday at a women’s event that he was the first senator you met when you became senator.

JEAN CARNAHAN:

That’s right. I was being sworn in, and he had been sworn in just before me, because his name started with “B” and I was with a “C.” And so, he was sworn in and stepped down. And as soon as I was sworn in, I stepped down, and he had waited for me there. And he came up to me and took me by the hand, and he said, "Jean, you know, I came to the Senate back in the ’70s, right after my wife and daughter were killed in an automobile accident.” And I said, “Yes, I remember that.” He said, “So I know what you’re feeling right now, what you’re going through. So if there’s any time you need someone to lean on, just come to see me." And I always remembered that, and I always thought that was a wonderful, warm thing for him to say.

AMY GOODMAN:

Talk about what happened then and how you came into political office. Of course, in Missouri, it is very well known; perhaps, these years later, in the rest of the country, not as well known.

JEAN CARNAHAN:

Yes.

AMY GOODMAN: But your husband, Governor Carnahan, running for the Senate.

JEAN CARNAHAN:

Yes. He was running for the Senate against John Ashcroft, and it was within three weeks of the election, and he was killed in a plane crash, he and my son, Randy, and our longtime political adviser, Chris Sifford. And they couldn’t get his name off the ballot at that point. It was still on there. And so, they asked if I would serve if he were elected. And it was a very difficult decision to make. We had both fought for things for so long, and looking back, I know now that I did the right thing, that I would never have forgiven myself had I not done it. But people went out on Election Day, and they did something they had never done before. They voted for him anyhow. And —

AMY GOODMAN:

So, John Ashcroft was beaten by a man who had been killed a few weeks earlier.

JEAN CARNAHAN:

Yes. But I think people wanted something to survive that plane crash, and by voting for him, they caused that to happen, and I went to the Senate for two years.

AMY GOODMAN:

And what was your political experience before, and how did you make that decision? You’re not only making an enormous decision to be the senator, but you’re doing it in the midst of the most painful time of your life, losing your husband and son.

JEAN CARNAHAN:

Yes, but, you know, sometimes when you have a reason to get up in the morning, that helps the pain. And certainly, I felt that way when I went to Washington. I was so busy. I had fourteen-hour days all the time. The others who went there at the time I did — Hillary Clinton, for instance, went there the same year I did — they could kind of relax a bit. They had six years. And I had to start right away, getting ready for the next election, which would be in two years for me. So it made it a little more difficult. I was having to do — operate on two fronts. I was having to campaign; I was having to learn something new. But it was a very difficult time. Senator Daschle wrote a book entitled Like No Other Time, and it was, that we had the anthrax attacks, we had the 9/11. It was just a very, very difficult time. Then the war, of course, too. So, it was a very unusual time to be there.

AMY GOODMAN:

What was the experience you brought with you, and especially for young people, young women, who are listening now?

JEAN CARNAHAN:

Well, I started helping my husband with all of his campaigns. I imagine we were in over twenty-some campaigns in my — in our lifetime. And I would help him, and back when he couldn’t afford staff, I was the staff. I would clear off the dining room table and bring in the old electric typewriter and set up a card file. I’d write speeches, do the campaign literature. I was the scheduler. I did all the things that we couldn’t afford to have done. So I worked with him every step of the way through his many offices, and as in the state legislature, as lieutenant governor, as state treasurer and as governor, and then served for First Lady for nearly eight years. So I was there with him every step of the way, until I felt like it was only natural that I should go ahead and sort of pick up the flag, so to speak, and go on.

AMY GOODMAN:

Robin Carnahan, today Hillary Clinton will address the convention. It’s a very significant day. Michelle Obama talked about it last night. It’s the eighty-eighth anniversary of women’s right to vote. Your job as secretary of state is very much tied to the issue of voting. But before we talk about the politics of that, go back to that time yourself, why you chose to go into politics at that point. You, like your mother, experiencing the death of your father and your brother.

ROBIN CARNAHAN:

Well, I ran in 2004, so I had a little more time to get life back in order and had helped Mom during the time that she was in the Senate. But the opportunity came up for the secretary of state’s office. It was an open seat, and I decided to run for that, being involved in elections, both locally in Missouri but also internationally. I had done a lot overseas after the Communist fall and the fall of the Berlin Wall. I was over there helping in Hungary and Czechoslovakia and some other countries at that time. And so, I knew a lot about election law. So it was a great opportunity to be able to put some of that knowledge to use back home.

AMY GOODMAN:

And how did you do this at the same time as losing half of your family?

ROBIN CARNAHAN:

Well, as Mom said, it’s good to have a reason to get up in the morning and have something to focus on. You know, public service is something we always talked about around the kitchen table at home, and so that was just sort of a natural part of our lives, and it wasn’t something that, you know, died when they died. And it was something we wanted to all continue. And I’m very grateful that I was elected by the people of the state, and I’m having a great time in office, because I think you can really make a difference, particularly in a job like this. People don’t always know what the secretary of state does.

AMY GOODMAN:

So tell us. And talk about guaranteeing voting.

ROBIN CARNAHAN:

Well, you know, in my state — states are all different, so that’s part of the confusion. But in my state, the secretary of state oversees elections. It’s important to note that elections are run locally by our local election authority, so we just oversee that process and encourage and help them do the right thing and know what the best practices are. But we enforce the state’s securities laws. And just last week, I was able to reach a settlement with a company called Wachovia on an auction rate security matter that got $9 billion returned to over 40,000 investors, and so that’s an important part of our job. We work with all the corporations and entities in our state. We have the public libraries and archives. So, lots of interesting stuff.

AMY GOODMAN:

What about the issue of voter registration, the fact that we have some of the lowest voter registration in the industrialized world? When others are granting national holidays for a voting day, making it possible to register wherever you go in public spaces, here in the United States there are many obstacles put in voters’ way.

ROBIN CARNAHAN:

You know, that’s one of the things I’ve tried to focus on as secretary of state, is what can we do to make it easier to vote. Obviously, we all want security in our voting and for the elections to be fair. But we also need to make them convenient. I’ve talked to you before about why we vote on Tuesdays. And it was because it was an agrarian society back when they decided to do it on a Tuesday, and it was convenient for people. But now we need to change that, I think, and we ought to change it on a national level.

AMY GOODMAN:

Well, explain. Why was it convenient for people on Tuesdays?

ROBIN CARNAHAN:

Well, because — you don’t remember that story? The reason is because Sunday was church day. It was an agrarian society. People had to come into town by horse and buggy. It might have been a day’s drive. Sunday was church day. Wednesday was market day. So, Tuesday was convenient. And so, what I think we need to do is get back to that notion of making it convenient for people to vote, including to register. You know, right now, if you move, even across town, you have to reregister to vote, or else you might have to vote a provisional ballot, and in not all states do provisional ballots count the same way. So all these things, technology makes it a lot easier. We just need to get up to date with that and make it easy for people to register and vote.

AMY GOODMAN:

I wanted to ask you about this headline story we had a few days ago, the major electronic voting company acknowledging its voting system contains a critical programming error that can cause votes to be dropped or lost. The company is Premier Election Solutions, formerly known as Diebold. And it said the problem has been part of its software for ten years, but has only recently been rectified, the flawed software on both touch screen and optical scan voting machines made by Premier, which supplies voting machines in thirty-four states. Do you have them in Missouri?

ROBIN CARNAHAN:

In Missouri, before I became secretary of state, each county — there was a decision made that each local election official could decide on its type of machine, so we do have some of those machines in the state. We also have other kinds of voting machines in the state. So you can be sure that this is something all the local election authorities want to get on top of and make right. And quite frankly, I suspect Premier and Diebold want to do the same thing.

AMY GOODMAN:

There are a lot of concerns about the election being counted accurately. People had questions about what happened in 2004 in Ohio, had questions about what happened in 2000, of course, in Florida.

ROBIN CARNAHAN:

Right.

AMY GOODMAN:

So how do you guarantee that the votes are actually being counted?

ROBIN CARNAHAN:

Yeah, you know, this is an issue that, really, from the beginning of time and beginning of voting, has been there. And before we had machines, it was paper ballots, and people worried about stuffing ballot boxes and all those sorts of things. And I will say that we need to just bear in mind that elections aren’t something that somebody else does to us. They’re something that we do, ourselves, and people need to participate in that process.

And so, there are two parts of it. One is a sort of mechanical part with machines, and we need to make sure those are secure and accurate and do all we can to take those steps. But the other part is people. And you know those folks who check you in on Election Day? Those are the election judges and poll workers who actually run elections, and each of us, as citizens and voters, has the opportunity to do that and help make the system work. That’s why I’m working hard to recruit new poll workers, younger folks, putting extra money on the table, so we can hire 40 percent more poll workers in my state this year, and I hope that we can get folks, in addition to the average age — seventy-two, is our poll workers in my state — get some younger people, including students, to come in and participate.

AMY GOODMAN:

Ex-cons, felons — what’s their right to vote in Missouri?

ROBIN CARNAHAN:

In Missouri, once you’ve served your time, done parole and any kind of time that you’ve served, you can be reinstated.

AMY GOODMAN:

Jean Carnahan, what are you doing now? You lost by a very small percentage point to Jim Talent.

JEAN CARNAHAN:

I did, yes.

AMY GOODMAN:

Were you concerned about the counting?

JEAN CARNAHAN:

No.

AMY GOODMAN:

Your daughter wasn’t in charge at the time.

JEAN CARNAHAN:

No.

AMY GOODMAN:

She wasn’t secretary of state, so she couldn’t guarantee —

JEAN CARNAHAN:

No, by that much, I was not. I did not feel that way at the time. But you asked what I’m doing now. I am doing some blogging. I have a state blog, state political blog, and we’re here at the convention now, live blogging the convention. So that’s exciting for us to do. I’ve been doing that since 2005, and so that keeps me up on a lot of things. And I’m writing another book and doing some surrogate work for Barack Obama, so I’ve traveled around to eight states so far. And so, that’s exciting to do and to see how things are progressing in other states and to be a part of that.

AMY GOODMAN:

And, Robin Carnahan, Senator Obama fighting to put Missouri in play?

ROBIN CARNAHAN:

Absolutely. You know, we’ve never seen anything like it in Missouri, in terms of presidential campaigns. They’ve got more than a hundred paid staff on the ground, thirty-seven offices. They are fighting for votes in rural parts of our state. I was in the town called Lebanon the other night, a small community, not something that’s ever been really in play in presidential campaigns before. And he’s got an office in that town. And so, I think it’s a sign of respect. It’s a sign of fighting for every vote, and I think it’s something we, as Democrats, should do across the board.

AMY GOODMAN:

Finally, final words for young women who are interested in going into politics, but see it corrupt, see the corporations capturing the parties, wondering if they can make a difference?

JEAN CARNAHAN:

Certainly, you can make a difference. I have always believed that. And I think we have to be a part of making sure the system is not corrupt, because it will be, if we’re not — don’t get in there and do something about it. So, our family has certainly been involved in trying to do all we can, and continue to do that. I often say that it is a genetic defect that we have continued to be in politics all these years, but as my daughter often says, we don’t want the bad guys to take control, so we keep working at it.

AMY GOODMAN:

You’re blogging?

JEAN CARNAHAN:

Yes, I’m blogging.

AMY GOODMAN:

Your website?

JEAN CARNAHAN:

Firedupmissouri.com.

AMY GOODMAN:

I want to thank you both for being with us, Jean Carnahan, former US senator, the first woman to represent Missouri in the Senate, and Robin Carnahan, Missouri’s secretary of state. She’s a superdelegate, and Senator Carnahan, former Senator Carnahan, is a delegate. This is Democracy Now! , on this eighty-eighth anniversary of the women’s right to vote being finalized, the amendment to the US Constitution.

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