Patrick Kennedy on Election 2000, the Mass Media, and his Yacht Incident

Congressman Patrick Kennedy appeared on "10 News Conference" on November 12, 2000 to discuss Election 2000, media coverage, and his yacht incident. The following is a transcript of that interview.

Jim Taricani: Congressman Patrick Kennedy from RI's first District spent most of the campaign season away from his home state. He criss-crossed the country hoping to raise millions of dollars for his fellow Democrats in hopes of taking control of the House of Representatives. He failed. The Republicans still hold a slim lead and the Senate is dead even. Will Kennedy be shuttled off to East Siberia in Congress, and can he be effective in a House controlled by the opposition. Good Morning, I'm Jim Taricani. Congressman Patrick Kennedy easily won reelection here in RI as he has done in the past. But, can he be effective and what about that boat he rented and he's getting sued for. The Congressman is our guest on 10 news conference today. You did travel across the country. You spent almost all of your time away from the state campaigning for your fellow democrats. You still haven't been able to rest control of the house away from the republicans. Why did you fail in that effort?

Patrick Kennedy: Well, it's frustrating Jim, you know that the people of RI who care about prescription drug coverage, who care about a patient's bill of rights, who care about hate crime legislation, who care about more funding for school construction, all know that if we had had a democratic majority these things would have been on the agenda. So they know by campaigning around the country, I was really campaigning for RI because I'm representing the concerns for my district when I am fighting for a Democratic majority. So that's very important. Let me just say we want gun safety legislation. I can't get that when the Republicans control the place. That's why I was fighting so hard to get colleagues selected. Now, we came up short but we did pick up three seats and the fact of the matter is we were outspent even though the DCCC under my leadership, we raised three times the money that we did in the last cycle and it was extraordinary. And even my counterpart Tom Davis calls me the most effective chairman of the DCCC they ever had. None the less, with all the money that we did spend the pharmaceutical industry alone according to the Wall street Journal the other day spent over 80 million dollars. That's more than we were able to spend and that was just one industry group. That did not include the Chamber of Commerce ,which ran over 40 or 50 million dollar ads, which I might add counted the labor independent expenditure but, ...You have the 80 on top of that. Then you have the insurance industry and on top of that the NRA pulled out all the shots. The NRA spent millions organizing. So, I must say despite all of that we did still pick up three seats.

Jim Taricani: How are you going to get all these promises that you made during the campaign about prescription drugs under Medicare and so on and so forth when you don't have control of the House and Gov. Bush gets in as President ? You guys have got big problems. Where are all these promises and how are you going to meet the promises you made?

Patrick Kennedy: Two things could happen. The Republicans could pass their agenda, which we as Democrats have been fighting for years and the American people can finally see what they're in for. Basically Democrats stopped the Republicans from cutting the meals on wheels program, stopped the Republicans from cutting the Dare program, stopped the Republicans from slashing student loans and Pell grants. So, if the Republicans are successful in doing all those things and passing tort reform, and passing big tax cuts for the very wealthy people, and not doing anything about prescription drugs.. Guess what, the American people are going see the difference in very stark terms. The reason in the last six years, the people in this country have not fully appreciated how the agenda the Republicans is so adverse to our interests here in Rhode Island especially, is because we as Democrats, have saved the Republicans from there worst mistakes. We stopped them from implementing their worst cuts. So, I might add if they are in charge of a whole thing then you know what maybe the people will get a chance to see what the republicans are truly about. Let me just say on the other side what can happen is George Bush can work in a bipartisan basis like he's been talking about most of the campaign and if that's the case, we're anxious to work with him. And let's see him come to the table in offering a real prescription drug benefit for seniors. Let's see him come to the table and offer real targeted tax cuts for the middle class.

Jim Taricani: Not just well you know that's not going to happen.

Patrick Kennedy: Well hey listen George Bush. I mean that's kind of a interesting. Most of the Republicans who ran this cycle and who won ran basically on our issues. If you look at all the campaigns out there you had all the Republicans touting themselves as champions for pharmaceutical assistance for seniors, even though that was a phony bill that they were touting. They were champions of insurance reform well even though that was phony. And we hear Bush talking about education all the time. So they confused the American public into thinking they're really for our agenda. But, you know what I think it will become clear as you pointed out that they really aren't for our Democratic agenda.

Gene Valicenti: Congressman, congratulations on your election.

Patrick Kennedy: Thank you.

Gene Valicenti: Now you're saying that you're not in Rhode Island. The reason why you are not in Rhode Island so often is that your sowing seeds with other people in other states. You're actually doing the people of Rhode Island a favor by not being here.

Patrick Kennedy: Well yeah, they sent me to go to Washington.

Gene Valicenti: Doesn't that seem a little odd.

Patrick Kennedy: Well not at all, how could can I be for them if I just stay around here and spin my wheels. Why not go to Washington do what they elected me to do and that is fight for more things for Rhode Island. I'm not going to accomplish that by spending my weekends, which I might add, which is what I'd rather do. You don't think I'd rather enjoy my weekends in RI, and enjoy getting a decent night s sleep instead of crisscrossing the country in a rubber chicken circuit. I'm able to do that now and I'm doing it because I know it matters to our state that we have a Democratic majority and that's what they elected me to do, was to represent them. The people in this district who have been good enough to elect me , and they count on me to fight for them. Now I am using my discretion I'm saying that I think that I can do the most for Rhode Island by fighting for them around the country by fighting for other votes that will vote in concert with our interests in Rhode Island. Mike Honda is a friend of mine, recently elected member out in California, a wonderful guy. This guy is going to vote as I would like him when it comes to a crucial issue if I really press him and if it obviously is not against the better interest of his district. But, I might imagine I have. I've been out campaigning for him three times already. We have a relationship. Now, I would not have had that relationship now if I spent my weekends back here in Rhode Island.

Gene Valicenti: And I understand this now the critics who say you have to be in Rhode Island to understand the problems of Rhode Island . If you're only here ten days, a quarter days here, five days, six days here you know. You don't dispute that, that you don't know what the problems are.

Patrick Kennedy: Well, I think the people demonstrated in this last election that they have confidence in what I've been doing on their behalf. They reelected, I'm proud to say by a 67 percent of the vote. That's the same as I got last election and roughly the same as the election before. I feel that I have a pretty strong base. People know what I've been doing and I think they support what I do.

Dyana Koelsch: Right now as we sit here today on Friday we're taping this show we don't know who the next President is going to be of the United States, a very unusual circumstance. There is call today for Al Gore to step back for the good of the country from Bob Dole this morning. He said that after all the recount is done, Yes, it's still a very slim margin a couple of hundred, three hundred votes separating the votes. But Bush is ahead and Gore shouldn't let this drag on any more. Don't you think that someone., I know you're shaking your head no, maybe not today but, at some point, for the good of the country one of these two men has to step back .

Patrick Kennedy: First let me say, the reason we're all talking about Gore sort being the spoiler here. You know like the one Bob Dole would like him, everyone, to think he is trying to spoil the election get a recount is because the media called the state for Bush. So in people's mind the state and the election they already called. I remember watching election eve and they said and the next president of the United States George W. Bush. So in everybody's mind , Dyana in this country, they started thinking George W. Bush is the president.

Dyana Koelsch: I don't think so. Everyone was asleep by the time they called it.

Patrick Kennedy: Most of the people in this country think Gore is behind and is spoiling the election for George W. instead of looking at it in this way.. That Gore is ahead in the popular vote and that it is because of the media that this whole election is now looked at being something where Gore is trying to take it away from Bush. It's not that perception at all. This is actually an election where Gore is leading in the popular vote. That the only reason that we're talking about Florida being something that Gore is spoiling for is because the media called it for Bush when it's not clear it is for Bush.

Dyana Koelsch: Ok but, the popular vote. As you and I both know and the Presidential candidates both know is not what determines the next President in this country today. If you want to talk about the Electoral College,

Patrick Kennedy: Let me answer the other part of your question. Is it good for the country if we finally get results?. We have until January 21st I think it's good for the country that we're engaged in all of this because you know quite frankly, Dyana, we've seen the lowest turnouts in an election since the beginning of this democracy. And it's really troubling. The fact that we're now getting a civics lesson for every American in terms of how much importance there is in everyone's voting. I think it's very very important, Diana, I think this election and it's historic nature is a good thing for our democracy because it's educating people in terms of how important their vote is.

Dyana Koelsch: Would you also then support recounts in Wisconsin, where Gore won by the small margin that Bush now is making some noise. Is that ok, you want to do Florida, now lets go over here.

Patrick Kennedy: The meaning of this country is that we are a nation of laws. And this is going to be a process that goes through the court system and I might add it will be a very good education.

Dyana Koelsch: Recounts don't go through the court system, they just go through the electoral system.

Patrick Kennedy: No, exactly but the challenges that are going to be posed by the Gore campaign in terms of the discrepancy in votes down in Florida.

Dyana Koelsch: Do you think they should be allowed to revote?

Patrick Kennedy: It should be noted that Palm Beach County, Buchanan got such a big number of votes, well beyond his average state wide. And its clear from that ballot that it is very confusing. That Gore is the 2nd down but the 2nd vote is Buchanan.


Jim Taricani: The people also ruled that in Florida. It's up to the voter to read the ballot. Take their time if they don't understand everything. Go ask a question. And these ballots were approved by Democrats and Republicans before the election no one raised any questions about it. Where's the beef?

Patrick Kennedy: The fact of the matter is there has been a whole bunch of discrepancies beyond this and all I'm saying is this is an important decision. It should not be rushed. It should go through the legal process and I don't think that we, if there is anything other than our impatience, to say that we ought to rush through a decision. I think that we can wait. Our democracy can work its course. It can go through the court system. We can get things resolved because I don't think it's healthy for this democracy for us to rush this process through without being sure that the election was a clear and honest election.

Dyana Koelsch: What about this thing about opening a can of worms going through Florida and another state and another state.

Patrick Kennedy: Those states will be dismissed if there are frivolous requests for recounts and if there are recounts and we have the time. What is the trouble in recounting?

Dyana Koelsch: Is it time to get rid of the electoral college?

Patrick Kennedy: I think that obviously should be debated. I haven't yet myself determined whether it's something that needs to be replaced. Obviously, I think the popular vote in most people's minds should be the one that decides the election. But keep in mind the reason why we have electoral colleges is because we don't want some leader of the country to only represent part of the country or a geographical region. We want them to get votes throughout the country. That's the purpose that electoral...

Dyana Koelsch: But Rhode Island will lose its voice, or one piece of its voice?

Patrick Kennedy: The point I'm saying, I'm not decided on it. I'm pointing out the advantages of the electoral college. Even to us, like you pointed out, it forces the candidates to campaign all across the country.

Gene Valicenti: We have a recount now. That will be certified in a couple of days. Beyond that, what is it you want to do?

Patrick Kennedy: There's nothing I want to do.

Gene Valicenti: What would you favor?

Patrick Kennedy: I would favor whatever the legal system demands so that we in this country can have confidence that the election is a fair and straightforward election.

Gene Valicenti: If that means going to court in Florida, that's fine with you .

Patrick Kennedy: We're all trying to anticipate what's going to happen. I know we're very anxious to get to the bottom of this but, I think it's worth being patient. We got until the 21st of January. This is an important decision. I think we ought to get it right.

Jim Taricani: When should one or the other pack it in? At what point?

Patrick Kennedy: Well, I think that we shouldn't pack it in so to speak just to allay peoples anxieties about getting the election over with. We ought to pack it in when it is clear that one or the other has won and at no time before that.

Jim Taricani: When we come back, we'll be talking about Patrick Kennedy's Imperfect Storm. Last summer Congressman Patrick Kennedy had a rare weekend off. He rented a yacht out of Mystic, CT with some friends to sail over to Martha's Vineyard and when the yacht came back it's owner claims there was damage and he sued the congressman and the congressman plans to counter-sue. Congressman Kennedy is our guest today on 10 news channel. I have to ask you a question and I want you to be very honest now. Who was on the yacht? By name? Did you do any damage to the yacht and are you going to compensate?

Patrick Kennedy: First of all that's none of your business.

Jim Taricani: Why isn't it?

Patrick Kennedy: Because that's my vacation and it has nothing to do with anything. That's just your prurient interest into my private life and that's out of bounds. Second, this is a legal matter. Much like anything else in our society having insurance companies grappling over how things are going to get resolved. It will get resolved and we'll have to move on.

Jim Taricani: Did the Coast Guard ever respond to that yacht at any time that you had rented it?

Patrick Kennedy: No, I called Seaco. Which is the Seaco 800 number, you call them up and they come out. They towed me to Menecha which is right near Martha's Vineyard. They towed me in there and unfortuantely all the boats in the whole shipyard were full so they couldn't bring me into the dock.

Jim Taricani: And why did you call them ?

Patrick Kennedy: Because the boat was taking in water and the engine had broken down and the sails weren't working.

Jim Taricani: Can you tell us how many people were on the boat without naming names besides yourself?

Patrick Kennedy: Well at different times, different numbers of people.

Jim Taricani: Between Mystic and Martha's Vineyard different people?

Patrick Kennedy: Yeah, people came on and got off of the boat. I rented the boat in CT. I sailed up, for example, and met some folks in Mystic, and I sailed a bunch of different places. I don't understand where you're trying to go with this. This doesn't have anything to do with anything, Jim, you know it and I know it.

Jim Taricani: I'm not saying it has anything to do with anything. But, the fact of who was on the boat.

Patrick Kennedy: We're spending your program here which is about news talking about you know who is on the boat. It's like clearly tabloidesque. You're trying to stir up some kind of controversy.

Jim Taricani: That would be absolutely correct. That would be absolutely correct.

Gene Valicenti: Along the same line, you seem to have from time to time stories that hit the news. Some of us in the news business might see it a troubling pattern with security guards, yachts, what's next? Do you see it that way?

Patrick Kennedy: Well, I let's take it one at a time.

Gene Valicenti: I don't mean to nit-pick but I want to look at the larger issue of this, this, this, and this.

Patrick Kennedy: That's the thing, media like to encapsulate things in easily describable vignettes and sound bites. They say it's a pattern of something and so let's take each thing in each individual case. What you have in the LA incident is something that is inexcusable and uncalled for and my behavior I apologized for. I was in a rush for a plane. Ok nothings come of that she hasn't sued. No ones reported that they keep bringing this thing up. The boat was an honest dispute over who had the responsibility to the boat. I think the boat was a bad boat. He thinks that I was responsible for it. We'll resolve that. That's what we have ....That's what we use courts for and so your assumption is that there's something more to it and.

Gene Valicenti: I didn't say that.

Patrick Kennedy: You are implicitly implying that because of these things, you're sort of suggesting very blatently to people that there's something amiss and I'm saying why don't you take these things individually, and analyze them and we'll find out that because I'm in public life and all of them are public. You know people get this notion. That this is all they hear about. That's because the media that's all they report about.

Gene Valicenti: I don't mind being the punching bag but all I simply said was that some of the media even across the country see a pattern. And I'm just asking for your response to that.

Patrick Kennedy: My thing is instead of your passing a broad net and saying do you see a pattern. You're once again, the media making an assumption that there is a pattern. You're giving this impression to people that there is. Why don't you take things one by one, and we'll answer them.

Dyana Koelsch: Isn't it because you're last name is Kennedy and because the Kennedy men,

Patrick Kennedy: Thank you, Dyana.

Dyana Koelsch: even your own cousin John when he was alive in his own magazine made reference to it. Are you shattered by that? Does that bother you?.

Patrick Kennedy: There are pluses and minuses to my name and I think in both cases there are a lot of exaggerations. People say he is going to be president. You should do this that and the other. That's exaggeration. They also say you know in the radio talk shows that I'm this really bad person. That's an exaggeration. Um.. I'm like anyone else. I've got pluses and minuses. And because of my name those things get exaggerated and I might add, .you're right I have to kind of, people have this preconceived notion because of my family history and the fact that my family has been involved unfortunately in too many different scandals. That gets kind of heaped on and people have this expectation that I have to explain for all of that. And if they see me do something wrong, Then somehow there's no room for error because I'm stuck in this kind of image that people have of well that must mean he's like this or that instead of just taking me for who I am. I'm not perfect, I make mistakes and that's you know, that's life.

Jim Taricani: Well we're out of time. I'd like to thank Congressman Patrick Kennedy for being our guest this morning.