BRIAN LAMB, HOST: Governor Mark Warner of Virginia, are you ready, if you run in 2008, for the kind of personal scrutiny that gets to your personal life?
GOV. MARK WARNER (D), VIRGINIA: Well, Brian, that‘s a great question. I‘m a long way from making that decision with my family, whether to take this plunge.
And you know, you think back in your life, about what you‘ve done, what you‘ve not done. I‘m not I‘m sure there are things along the way that if I had over I would have done differently. You know, but that will be part of the decision-making process I‘ve got to go through.
LAMB: How old are the girls?
WARNER: My three daughters are 15, 14, and 11. I‘ve kind of move from dad to jerk that moved them down to Richmond a few years ago. Now that we‘ve moved them back home, Lisa and the girls have moved back up to Northern Virginia as they restarted school here for the fall, you know, it‘s a trying time with girls at that age.
LAMB: What is it going to take for you to decide that you‘re going to go for the presidency?
WARNER: Well, Brian, most importantly it‘s going to take one, finishing this job as governor strong. Two, it‘s going to be, as I try to be part of the debate to move the Democratic Party back to where it can be competitive in more than 16 or 17 states. And three, at some point, a gut sense of whether you‘re capable of taking on applying for the job that‘s the most important job in the country, if not the world at this point.
LAMB: Back to the beginning. I know you were born in Indianapolis. How long did you live there?
WARNER: I lived in Indianapolis for the first 11 years of my life. My folks were from Indiana. My dad came from a farm family. My mom‘s grandfather was actually my mom‘s father was an aluminum siding salesman.
Public schools all my life, moved from Indiana to Illinois. My dad worked for an insurance company later so we ended up moving to Hartford. The first person in my family to ever graduate from college, went to George Washington undergrad and then went on to law school at Harvard where while I graduated and did all right there, I quickly determined probably being a lawyer for my career was not in the cards.
LAMB: At some point I read that you were president of your class for three different years.
LAMB: What years were they?
WARNER: Well, I was actually, I had always had a little bit of a political interest. And I‘m not sure, my parents weren‘t political. My dad is a pretty active Republican. My mom is an independent, but I was I guess I was president of my class in Illinois and then up in Connecticut for three years in high school.
LAMB: Do you remember why you ran for those offices?
WARNER: Well, I was I often like to think, particularly in terms of high school, I‘m 50 years old right now, and I was kind of coming of age in the late ‘60s. That was an incredibly, you know, potent time to be coming of age.
I often think that I was old enough to be touched by the idealism of the ‘60s, but not old enough to be jaded by it. And, you know, I thought the whole notion of change, and at that point it was, you know, how do you get a student on the school board? How do you have a voice in terms of education policies at the high school level?
It was what really kind of got my juices flowing back then.
LAMB: Pick a moment when you were president in one of those three years that you remember that taught you something about politics?
WARNER: Probably the idea, as we would organize, part of the whole notion of class president was also organizing how you raise money for your class. And we had a various set of kind of social functions. The added responsibility that you then had to say, all right, it can‘t just be about helping folks go organize skating parties or whatever it is, you‘ve got to worry then about the safety of people in terms of drinking and driving and everything else that go along with it.
I mean, the responsibility of having both not only organizing the party but then organizing the some of the sense of safety for all of the students who are going to event, it was a layer of responsibility that maybe before then I didn‘t think through enough.
LAMB: The reason I ask you about the class presidency, as you know, they say about this town that there are about 4,000 or 5,000 class presidents running around this town, all competing against each other.
WARNER: I think it‘s probably the case.
LAMB: Are you ready to get into that? I mean, you‘ve had a political background all your life, but you‘ve watched presidents, why do they succeed and where do they fail?
WARNER: Well, I think in terms of our nation that there have been obviously over the last 40 years a series of points in time when a president at his best can be somebody who brings the country together.
I mean, I didn‘t agree with a lot of the things that President Reagan did, but he truly made Americans feel proud again in the early ‘80s. I think President Clinton was willing to step up in the early ‘90s and add that little bit of truth to things some of the challenges we faced in the ‘90s, from getting our deficit under control to this whole sense of how we, you know, reposition American politics with a more forward-looking approach.
And I think one of the things that we struggle with in this country, and particularly now, is how we move from a country that seems dominated by politics dominated by partisan politics or even internecine battles that are going on now inside the Republican Party, to agendas that are more about governing and less about politics.
And I think the best presidents have been those who have been good at governing.
LAMB: The state of Virginia is what they call, I guess, today, a red state. You‘re a Democrat. You raised taxes.
WARNER: When I came in in Virginia, was I found that the budget shortfall in Virginia was about five times greater than what my predecessor said. As a matter of fact, I always remember 10 days in to the transition, the shortfall was supposed to $700 million, the real number was $3.8 billion.
My people now saying, Governor Warner soldiered on. I have to tell you, Brian, my first reaction was, gosh, is it too late for a recount? It was an enormous challenge. We had a structural deficit. Virginia, like most states in the late ‘90s, assumed that the go-go days were going to last forever and built a financial plan that made no sense.
And states all across the country did it, whether they cut taxes too much or they started too many government programs that couldn‘t be sustained. In Virginia what we did was we did three things.
First, we went in and we cut. We cut more Virginia state government than any governor in Virginia history, eliminated 5,000 positions in state government, closed down eight agencies, eliminated 70 boards and commissions.
Second, we went ahead and then looked at the whole question of how you can use this as an opportunity to reform government. And Virginia has been recently named the best managed state in the country by Governing magazine and Pew. Part of the reason was reformed our IT system, we looked at our procurement system, we looked at our real estate portfolio.
And then three, even after closing a $6 billion deficit, we still had the structural deficit. So we ended up with a tax reform plan of 2004 that everybody said would be, you know, dead on arrival and a state Democrat with a two-to-one Republican legislature.
But a funny thing happened, much to the surprise of the pundits. We were going to have an honest discussion about what people in Virginia were willing to pay for state government and what they would get back.
So we laid out a plan that said we‘re not going to start new government programs, we‘re just going to meet our obligations, meet our commitments in education, public safety, health care, and people stepped up.
And at the end of the day we lowered some taxes. We got rid of the sales tax on food. We lowered the income tax for every Virginian. We changed some deductions. Yes, we raised the cigarette tax and we raised the sales tax a half penny, and it netted out with some additional dollars.
I‘m very proud of that. And it only got through because there was massive bipartisan support for it. And as opposed to driving Virginia kind of into the ditch the way some of our opponents predicted, Virginia kept its triple-A bond rating. It spurred some of the best economic growth.
We‘ve now got one of the lowest unemployment of any major state in the country. We have, depending on the month, somewhere between the third- and fifth-fastest growing economy.
And I‘ve actually found that as you attract jobs, companies like to come to a place that has got its fiscal house in order and it‘s making investments in a quality of workforce.
LAMB: If you were to leave office today, you would leave with an 80 percent popularity rating. The poll I read just before this one came out was 74 percent of the Mason-Dixon poll, the highest of any governor they‘ve ever rated. How is this how did you do this? I mean, they say you never can raise taxes and survive. So how did you do it?
WARNER: Well, Brian, you know, one of the things I found in Virginia is a little bit of truth goes a long way. We told the truth. We said, here you go, we put in place things that seem to rational to me as a former business guy but maybe weren‘t so rational in politics.
We put a requirement for a six-year financial plan. And I did 50 town hall meetings, I even went straight to the people and said, all right, here‘s where we have cut and now remember, we started with cuts, we didn‘t start on the revenue side. We started with cuts, then we went to reforms.
And then we said we‘ve got to end up with a way that says we can either lose our triple-A bond rating, not meet our minimum requirements to public schools, or we can end up with tax reform that‘s going to have us pay a little more.
Now Virginia is still a very low-tax state. We‘re somewhere between again how you slice it dice it, between 38th and 41st in the nation in tax rate. But I think the reason why I‘ve got these approval ratings is not necessarily the tax reform plan, but I think it has been more the approach.
One, I‘ve got a very bipartisan administration. I remember when I got elected, about a third of my cabinet, a quarter of my cabinet was Republican. That made the Democrats mad because I wasn‘t putting just Democrats in. It made some of the hardcore on the Republicans mad because it was peeling off a lot of the moderates.
Most of what we‘ve tried to do in Virginia, whether it‘s our education reforms, our revitalization in our rural communities, hadn‘t been Democrat or Republican, it has been what is in Virginia‘s best interest?
And every time that we‘ve that appeal people in both parties have stepped up and we‘ve managed to work together. And the thing that I feel best about in Virginia, you know, those numbers may be ephemeral about whether they go up or down, but there‘s not a day that goes by that people don‘t come up to me and say, you know, Governor, I‘m proud of where Virginia is at now, or, I‘m proud of where Virginia is headed.
That‘s a very different feel than most folks would say about where our country is headed at this point. And I think that is because it has been about the state‘s interest first and not mine or the particular party.
People want government to deliver and they want it to do it efficiently and they like when actually your elected leaders don‘t spend all their time fighting each other.
LAMB: How long have you lived out here in Alexandria, Virginia, in the suburbs?
WARNER: I moved to Alexandria in about ‘86. My wife was living our there at that point. We got married in ‘89. I had been active a little bit in politics before. Actually ran one other time for the United States Senate in 1996 against John Warner, managed to confuse the heck out of everybody in Virginia, Warner versus Warner in kind of a strange twist of fate, even though we ran against each other.
John Warner, since I‘ve been governor, who is the senior senator from our state, has been probably my best partner, I mean, on every major initiative, we‘ve worked together. And, you know, he serves our country well.
LAMB: Senator Abe Ribicoff, Connecticut.
LAMB: When did you work for him?
WARNER: I worked for Abe Ribicoff back in 1973 and 1974. Freshman in college, I managed to get a job, my job was to open the mail at 7:30 each morning. I was a freshman at George Washington University. I would ride my bike up there.
You know, I had my polyester leisure suit on at that point, which was good if you‘re riding your bike up because you could kind of squeeze it out afterwards. I thought I was the coolest thing around because I was working on Capitol Hill as a freshman in college.
It gave me a little bit of exposure. I then managed to get a job with, at that point, Representative Ella Grasso who subsequently ended up becoming the first woman elected governor in her own right in 1974.
LAMB: What did you do for her?
WARNER: Well, I actually worked I moved from opening the mail to answering the mail. You know, kind of the low-end legislative correspondent, and then I worked for Chris Dodd where I actually became, in effect, one of his junior legislative assistants. And, you know, I ended up taking my courses early in the morning or late at night and worked close to 30 to 35 hours a week while I was going to school.
LAMB: So in those early days, you are learning things about Capitol Hill, about politics, what were they?
WARNER: Well, I learned and this was more in retrospect, I want to keep some of it hopefully in perspective. I‘ll always remember working for, at that point, Congressman Dodd. And, you know, I worked like heck and we got an amendment that I had actually worked on through the legislature, through the Congress and passed into law.
And it was an amendment that added the construction industry to the Metric Conversion Board. And when it passed, I was thinking, my gosh, here I am, a 19-year-old kid helping making law in the United States.
You know, in retrospect, recognizing that about 1975, there was this metric conversion bill that passed that was going to make sure our country completely converted to metric by 1985, and he we are, 30 years later, and we had never 40 years later and never made that conversion, puts a little bit of it in perspective in retrospect.
LAMB: What about the way Senator Ribicoff or Ella Grasso or Chris Dodd treated people that worked in their office, did you learn anything from that?
WARNER: Well, I did. I you know, with Senator Ribicoff, he was at the tail-end of his career and I didn‘t really have much interaction with him. Ella Grasso was tough. She was, again, somebody that was pretty unusual at that point, a woman in Congress who was running for governor on her own right, breaking new ground. Chris Dodd and I became and are still friends. I mean, he loves to remind folks that the governor of Virginia used to be his driver.
I also saw some of the pressures that these members of Congress were under, and, you know, the family pressures, the time pressures, the need to spend time with your spouse or with your children.
And trying to strike that balance, listen, I‘m still trying to figure out how to strike that right balance now being in politics for the last 10 or 20 years at least tangentially.
LAMB: Now all three of them are I don‘t want to overdue this, but they‘re all three liberal, at a very least, Democrats from Connecticut. You are known as a centrist in Virginia. Your father was a Republican, you mother an independent. Where did you when did you become a Democrat?
WARNER: I became a Democrat in that time frame in the late ‘60s. I think in 1968, in eighth grade, I was the Nixon surrogate still in terms of the you know, our class debate. From somewhere from eighth grade through, I don‘t know if there was any particular moment, but with the war in Vietnam, with the notion at that point that, you know, young people were going to change the world, an emergence of issues around the environment, to see the civil rights movement and the death of Dr. King and Bobby Kennedy.
You know, it was not too long after that that I felt that the Democratic Party, for and I still believe this, for all its occasional excesses, you know, still brings out the best in America. It still is the party, when it is at its best, that plays on our hopes and aspirations.
It‘s one of the challenges I think the Democratic Party has right now to move and shift this debate from the traditional framing, liberal versus conservative, left versus right, to a framing that‘s more future versus past.
Because I honestly believe that those are the issues that we‘ve got to confront. When I decided that after, you know, years in business to say, OK, I‘m going to take the plunge, I had always had some interest, but then to go actually put your name on the line I thought, you know, what would the value-add I could be I could bring?
And my value-add I hope, and I hope it still has been as governor, is that having had a background in the technology field, and seeing what I think this kind of an historic inflection point we‘re at in terms of the fundamental shifts brought about by globalization, by the free flow of information, by technology that‘s going to change everything in our lives, either positively or negatively, I thought I had some perspective on that that might be non-traditional.
And back full circle to the Democrats. The Democratic Party has always been at its best when it has been the party of the future. Unfortunately, I think for in many Americans minds, the Democratic Party today is still viewed as the party of the status quo, even though the Democrats don‘t control any lever of federal government, and for that matter, don‘t even control the majority of the governorships.
LAMB: You ran Governor Wilder‘s campaign?
WARNER: Yes, sir.
LAMB: What year?
WARNER: 1989. I was kind of had gotten involved in Virginia politics to a degree, I had settled in Alexandria. I was very intrigued by the idea and I hadn‘t really known Doug Wilder that well. I hadn‘t known him at all before I got involved in the campaign.
And could an African-American be elected governor in Virginia? I was a donor to him and then about the middle of the summer and was running his Northern Virginia operation middle of the summer there was an as in every campaign, there was a moment of turmoil and he asked me to come down and serve as his campaign manager.
People often ask why was that the case. And Doug is a frugal conservative, I was willing to do it for free and still be a donor, and then I was his transition chief.
LAMB: Now he‘s the mayor of Richmond.
WARNER: He is the mayor of Richmond.
LAMB: And you‘re the governor of the state.
WARNER: And I‘m the governor of Virginia.
LAMB: So what did you learn running Doug Wilder‘s campaign?
WARNER: Well, I learned from Doug the power of going into places where you might, on first blush, think you might not be welcome in trying to make your case. I mean, Doug Wilder did a job where he went into lots of rural parts of the state, lots of states where you wonder whether an African-American would be accepted in, and campaigned hard.
And in a lot of ways it was that effort that allowed him to win. When I ran for governor, and one of my passions is how do you not end up in an America where everybody has got to live in a metropolitan area? How do you give that hope to rural communities that people in Southside Virginia that their kids don‘t have to pick up and move to the Washington area or Northern Virginia or somewhere else to find a good job?
So I went after places as I ran for governor into the heart of rural Virginia. I had a bluegrass band. I sponsored a NASCAR truck. I had been an investor in regional venture capital funds. I had started a health care foundation in the communities.
How do you really the information age should allow those communities to prosper. And that has been an area of great focus during my tenure. But it was many of the lessons of how you go at that in an area that, again, hadn‘t voted Democrat in a long time, to go in and go strong, Doug Wilder was a role model for that.
LAMB: So go back, when you‘re in college at George Washington University, and someplace I read that you got a degree in Washington, D.C.
WARNER: I think that‘s probably a pretty good case. I took a semester or two off for doing campaigns. You know, absorbed the city, got a sense of seeing it. I graduated from college in ‘77. So I lived through the years here in town of the Nixon impeachment and all that turmoil.
I also tried to spend a lot of time in the city. I love this city. It‘s a and love the region, the National Capital Area. But it was the right education for me. I‘m not sure that I subsequently went on George Washington University‘s board and, you know, it‘s still a great place to get exposed to all the assets and all of the attributes of the city.
LAMB: And you still have friends from GW that you end up playing
WARNER: I‘m an aging
WARNER: I‘m an aging hoopster. I still play a little bit of basketball in bringing down 14 of my college roommates and classmates down to Richmond. They come down every once in a while. We all bunk in at the mansion and go out and play a little basketball and then, you know, go out and have a long dinner and tell stories and make fun of each other and talk about how good we used to be.
LAMB: That‘s 14 of them come down.
WARNER: Well, I keep friends from my high school. I kept friends from college. Got a lot of friends from law school. I mean, I‘m very blessed to have some very, very good friends.
LAMB: Why did you decide to go to law school?
WARNER: Well, I thought I was dating a girl at that point who had was going to Harvard and she said, you know, you ought to apply to law school here. And I had really never thought about it. I had never thought you know, I could never get into a place like Harvard. And I applied and got in and, you know, I thought, well, this is a rare opportunity, let me go try it.
And it was a great opportunity. I met an extraordinary amount of very, very bright people. I was intellectually challenged at a level I had never been before. I ended up finding that I probably wasn‘t going to be a very good lawyer. As a matter of fact, I had the distinction of being the only member of my Harvard Law School class when I clerked one summer as a summer associate at two law firms, I didn‘t get a job offer from either one because I don‘t think my mind necessarily was thought the way lawyers did.
But it was a background that served me well, not so much right after law school, but more when I went into business, when I was trying to start businesses. And then my first two businesses failed, I should quickly add. My third business was I got in in the beginnings of the cellular telephone industry and then subsequently another guy and I were the founders of Nextel.
And then I grew that into a venture capital front. But that Harvard Law degree perhaps gave me some confidence as I was, you know, trying to learn the world of business in terms of at least some credibility.
LAMB: Are there people in the political system that you went to law school with?
WARNER: You know, yes, there is Jim Cooper, who is a congressman from Tennessee, who is a good friend who I think an awful lot of. He was in my class. Actually John Roberts was a class ahead of me, our new Supreme Court justice. I didn‘t really know him too well.
I have to acknowledge, again, full disclosure, when I went to law school I quickly discovered there were so many very bright people, I probably wasn‘t going to be the brightest guy at law school. But I did form an organization called the Somerville Bar Review, which became the biggest organization on law school, and it was a place where we would go to different bar every Thursday night and sample the wares and have a little fun and kick back.
There were five or six of us that founded that and it actually continued for a number of years after we left Boston
LAMB: Were the classmates are these 14 that come down from GW to play basketball, are they Republicans or Democrats?
WARNER: Most of them are probably not even political. I mean, they are a little of both. I mean, a lot of my friends are not that active in politics. And that‘s one of the things that hopefully keeps me gives me a little perspective on this.
I mean, having been blessed with some financial success, again, after failures, I think everything I‘ve done in my life I‘ve failed at least once before I got it right. But having some sense of who I am and what I‘m about outside of the world of politics, whether it‘s from friends or whether from the business career, is a little bit of a grounding as you kind of go through the peaks and valleys of being involved in public policy and politics.
LAMB: You said you lost to John Warner for the Senate in ‘96. Did you lose any of those contests back in high school for president of the class?
WARNER: Actually, I didn‘t there, but
LAMB: Did you try politics in college?
WARNER: You know, I didn‘t. I decided when I went to college I would, instead of being involved so much in student politics I would I took the plunge in trying to be a you know, young upstart on Capitol Hill and learn a little bit about the real thing.
LAMB: Nextel. Start first with the businesses you failed, what year did you 1980 from law school?
WARNER: Graduated in 1980 from law school, worked immediately at the Democratic National Committee for about a year-and-a-half after law school.
LAMB: And I‘ve read somewhere again that you made $18,000 that year.
WARNER: I was making $18,000 a year, and it was great to have friends who had gone on to much more lucrative jobs after law school, because I mooched off a lot of couches and even for a while was kind of living out of my car because I would travel some doing fundraising.
LAMB: What did you do there at the DNC?
WARNER: I was doing fundraising for the end of President Carter‘s term. And then, you know, in the first 18 months or so after President Reagan was inaugurated, not a very healthy time to be an advocate for the Democratic National Committee, President Reagan being very popular in those first years.
LAMB: So you were about 24, 25 years old?
WARNER: I was about 24, 25. I then decided you know, student loans were coming due, time to see if I could try my hand. I took my life savings, about $5,000 at that point that I had managed to accumulate and invested them in a little energy start-up company. Went to work for that company and in six weeks I helped the company go broke.
LAMB: What was the energy?
WARNER: Well, it was an additive that you could put on oil-burning furnaces that could actually make them burn a little more efficiently.
LAMB: Why did you do that? Where did you get the idea?
WARNER: Well, I just it was somebody I had met through actually working at the DNC, a younger guy had some friends, actually, from Harvard who were doing this. It seemed like it made sense to me.
It was a bunch of young folks and me who were trying to start this. We really didn‘t know much about what we were doing and it wasn‘t successful.
LAMB: How long did it take for it not to be successful?
WARNER: Took about six months. I was flat broke and then I went into moved to Atlanta for a while and tried real estate. That didn‘t work out too well, either. And then somebody had told me about cellular telephones. And a guy who actually Tom McMillan, who subsequently served in Congress, and I had an opportunity to go out and talk to some people who had been financially successful.
And a guy up in Connecticut who fascinating, himself, somebody who had had his whole family killed in the Holocaust, one of those kind of stories that only could happen in America, came over to America penniless. He is named David Chase, and had built a multi-hundred million dollar financial enterprise by just sheer entrepreneurial skill.
I went in and made a presentation to him about this new technology, cellular, didn‘t really know that much, but he either saw something in me or saw something in the idea and was willing to invest, and started that
LAMB: How much in the early days?
WARNER: He was willing to put in close to a million dollars in terms of investing in the cellular telephone applications. And I will always remember my law school classmates, and I was telling them about this, it was 1982, and I would say, you know, there is this new business, cellular telephones, and they would say, Warner, you‘re crazy, you have failed twice at business, go practice law.
They thought it was crazy, the notion of a car telephone.
LAMB: You‘re living where then?
WARNER: They‘re still practicing law, of course, I should I would like to remind them. I‘m living at that point in Washington in a group house in Washington here. And things started to hit. I started to be involved in as the cellular telephone industry consolidated, made a little bit of money.
Instead of you know, I still lived very frugally and would take those dollars that I made and try to reinvest them. And then, again, somebody much smarter than me came with the idea of how you could amass some spectrum to start a new wireless communications company that would be like cellular, and that was the birth of Nextel.
LAMB: But in those early days, what was it you had to do in order to be initially successful? I mean, like, did you have to get spectrum? Did you have to get licenses?
WARNER: Well, what happened was the federal government the FCC put in a process for applications. And I was kind of the general contractor. I would hire the lawyers and the engineers. And there were these hundreds of thousands of dollars cost of an application.
My first partner, along with this gentleman, David Chase, was actually The Washington Post. They combined and I didn‘t know how to charge, so I charged a small fee and took a little equity.
And it ended up being the right choice because the equity was ended up being very valuable. And then the FCC kept changing the rules. They even changed the whole licensing process to a lottery, which didn‘t make much sense. And then people would win these lotteries and I would go to the companies or go to the individuals and sell them to or find a partner with a more major company who would come in and take over the operations.
And then as I made those few resources, then owning a little piece of equity or getting a small commission, I would try to see you know, still was living very, very frugally and didn‘t go out and buy new cars or boats or anything like that. I put it all back into another start-up business and
LAMB: Were you single during this time?
WARNER: I was single. Yes.
LAMB: By the way, when did you meet your wife?
WARNER: I met my wife in about 19 she‘ll get mad at me if I don‘t get this right, met in 1984, we got married in 1989. So we dated for about five years.
LAMB: What was she doing at the time?
WARNER: Well, she was actually when I first met her, she was doing world worked at the World Bank, was doing AIDS policy work. She has got a background in public health. Actually, when I first met her, she was working on a as a kind of a paralegal on a case involving a whole series of Vietnamese refugee children who had actually gone through some horrific accident, was working on that and then went to the World Bank and worked in AIDS policy.
LAMB: Was there ever a time back in those days when you were working for Abe Ribicoff or Ella Grasso or Chris Dodd or Doug Wilder or the chairman of the Democratic Party in Virginia, all through this process, where you said, I have to make money and then I want to run for office?
WARNER: Well, there was a time back in when I was in college, or maybe I was in law school, and I was working for Chris Dodd, and he was about ready to run for the Senate, and I may have my dates slightly off, but there was a guy who ran for Congress and he lost. And I recall the stories afterwards that he was suddenly $300,000 in debt and had to pay something like the story was, you know, $6,000 or $7,000 a month for umpteen months.
And that seemed to me so stunning that, you know, you would put your family, your life, if politics didn‘t work out, you would be you could be penniless as well as have to make compromises along the way.
And, you know, there have times I think when people in politics have made those compromises. You know, I‘ve got to stay in, staying elected is more important than maybe what drove me to get elected in the first place.
Or you take the financial support from people that maybe you shouldn‘t. And, you know, I swore that if I ever was going to take the plunge myself in politics, that I wanted to have some level of financial independence.
Now that started me, and then I went into business and, again, after a few failures, ended up having built a venture capital fund after Nextel, built a venture capital fund that has become probably the most successful in the Mid-Atlantic, Columbia Capital.
It gave me financial resources and I wasn‘t sure I was ever going to come back to politics. I had been you know, I had married at that point. I was again, was in a very, very exciting area. But, you know, I did think I could have I guess I had become enough of business guy that I thought, you know, what‘s your value-add?
And I spent a lot of time soul-searching about this notion of could I have a little different perspective on some of the challenges we face through this new economy, technology revolution, whatever we want to call it. It seems to change its names every couple of years.
But the whole, you know, tidal wave of change that‘s sweeping through our world, whether we like it or not, brought about by a fundamental shift in how we think about information, how we think about knowledge, and, you know, basically the eradication of time and distance as being something that is matters in terms of business, life.
And that means that this revolution that we‘re going through, and I think we‘re still at the front end of it, is, you know, going to change not only the business world, it‘s going to change how we educate our kids, how we deliver health care, the role and function of government.
And I think most people, as I thought about this in the mid ‘90s and took the plunge myself, I didn‘t think most people in politics had any sense of what we were going though.
LAMB: Do with this what you want, but everywhere I go I find the figure $200 million, that that‘s what you‘re worth. I mean, you know you‘re going to if you get into this national game, they‘re going to be all over you on that.
WARNER: Brian, probably at one point before the bubble burst, that was accurate. It probably isn‘t accurate it isn‘t accurate today. But it‘s still I‘ve been very, very lucky and very, very blessed.
LAMB: Well, I guess the question is, you don‘t have to worry about money for the rest of your life?
WARNER: No. I mean, I am financially set, my children are financially set. You know, and part of the challenge is with three daughters and not having grown up, and my wife didn‘t either, we‘re both kind of middle-middle class kids, you know, how to make sure that you impart to your children that sense that they‘ve got to still struggle, they‘ve got to still, you know, take risks.
I mean, one of the things that I have every graduation speech I give, and in this job I do a lot of them, I don‘t really talk too much about politics or policy, but I do encourage students to take risks and be willing to fail.
I think sometimes in our society today, particularly from kids from successful families that there is always this such a focus on success and such a reluctance to have anybody fail. And I‘ve tried to make the point that, you know, any success I‘ve been lucky enough to have in my life has been borne out of learning from failure.
LAMB: Who did you co-found Nextel with?
WARNER: A guy named Morgan O‘Brien who stayed at I went off the board. He and I were the two largest individual shareholders when the company went public. He served as chairman of Nextel for many, many years. And he really was the much more the driving force than I.
But when we first came together, we kind of split it equally. And I helped it get it going and then Morgan obviously took it and did much, much better.
LAMB: What was the key to the success of Nextel?
WARNER: Well, I think the was probably Morgan‘s vision that, you know, here was this spectrum that was right next to the cellular spectrum where the old push-to-talk radio systems, the old kind of dispatch radio was. He said, well, why can‘t this become cellular-like?
I mean, here is this cellular spectrum worth gazillions of dollars, here is something else that really undervalued. He had the vision. I had the maybe the chutzpah to say, well, let‘s take it on and see if we can consolidate this industry.
I probably didn‘t know near enough about how hard it was going to be. It just seemed to make common sense to me. And in the end, through his work and perhaps a little bit of mine and a team of other great people, it has become obviously one of the more successful wireless companies.
LAMB: How long were you with Nextel?
WARNER: I was the again, co-founder, it was called originally Fleet Call, and stayed somewhat involved, but never involved in the day-to-day management until the company went public and I was on the board and then went off the board once the company went public.
LAMB: What was that year?
WARNER: That was probably about 1991, ‘92, somewhere in that time frame. But I had already I had started Nextel and then by the late ‘80s had started Columbia Capital. And this was with four or five other guys I had met in the cellular business. And we had a run of over 10 years where we had had, you know, I remember when we finally went out and decided to raise money from outside of our own capital, the first 25-plus deals.
Every deal we started we put our own money in, before we took in outside capital. We had 190 percent annualized IRR, that‘s actually money out, through the early ‘90s through about ‘97-‘98 when we went out and raised money.
And what I‘m proudest of there is perhaps the fact that we did this and the five of us, we never had a legal document between us. It was all based on trust and faith. And I hope that culture at Columbia Capital continues. It now manages about a billion-four in assets and again, something that I‘m proud of.
LAMB: Now we talked earlier about being born in Indianapolis, then moved to Illinois. How many years in Illinois?
WARNER: Three years in Illinois and a little
LAMB: What city?
WARNER: Well, it was outside of Peoria. It was a little farm town called Washington. Of course, in central Illinois we called it "Worsh"-ington, Illinois. It was half farming and half some people who would 15, 20 miles into Peoria.
LAMB: And at what age were you when moved to Connecticut?
WARNER: I moved to Connecticut in eighth grade. And then my folks still live in Connecticut. My sister still lives in Connecticut. And my dad‘s you know, my mom has got Alzheimer‘s, and so my dad is there 24-7 with my sister. And I try to help out financially trying to care of you know, I see firsthand what a horrible, horrible disease that is.
And, you know, I miss the fact that my mom has not been able she has not spoken for five years, but not been able to kind of see any of this take place with my election as governor.
LAMB: And your dad‘s profession all through these years?
WARNER: My dad was actually kind of a safety inspector at Aetna. And ended up being kind of mid management level I think at the end of his career. He had been a bit of an entrepreneur I think right after he served in the Marines in World War II, and then a bit of an entrepreneur and then served I think it was probably 30, 35 years at Aetna.
And, you know, he‘s going through a piece of life right now that probably pretty much everybody my age has got parents or grandparents that are going through this. You know, how we make sure that folks with medical technology cannot only have a longer life but a longer life with some level of quality is something I don‘t think we‘ve figured out.
LAMB: Again, going back to the question of whether or not you ever want to run for office, did you find Virginia because you wanted to go there to run for politics?
WARNER: Actually I found Virginia because my wife Lisa was living in Virginia. We settled in Alexandria, in Old Town. And I moved, you know, out there and got a house before even we got married. She was in one part of town and I had a house nearby and, you know, we ended up staying there, and I found, you know, Alexandria a great community.
It‘s close to Washington, but you can still feel a little bit of a small town feel to it. And then got involved with some local races in the late ‘80s and then the Doug Wilder race and then that kind of moved me more back into the political scene.
LAMB: Because as you know if you come up to the year 2006, when you‘ll leave the governorship early next year, Virginia, two years, then you‘ve got the presidential race of 2008, you‘re on that line. You‘re in the South, and the Democrats have had a lot of trouble getting those southern states now and that‘s what they‘re going to look at I guess when they come to you.
WARNER: Well, I think, Brian, that, you know, regardless of who becomes the eventual nominee, I think the Democratic Party does more than just the party, the country a disservice if the Democrats are only competitive in 16 states and then try to hit a triple bank shot to get that 17th state.
Because even if they elect a president under that scenario, could someone really govern with that kind of mandate? I think a healthy two-party system, a place where the Democrats can be competitive in every state does is good for the Democrats. But it‘s also for the Republicans in that it would force the Republican Party more back to the center as well.
I think that what is wide open in this country is the sensible center. I think after the 2004 race, the right wing social conservatives of the Republican party kind of said, well, hold it, we control the presidency, the Congress, the courts, you know, why haven‘t our agenda that they‘ve been talking about for the last 20 years, why isn‘t that policy in this country?
And they‘ve suddenly now said, you know, OK, we now want that to happen. We‘re not going to wait any longer. And you see it with the Terri Schiavo case. You see it with stem cell relief. You see it with the intelligent design debate. You see it now with the dismissal of Harriet Miers because she didn‘t check every box on this social conservative orthodoxy.
And I think that scares the heck out of a lot of independents and Republicans. But if those individuals are going to take a fresh look at a Democratic alternative, it has got to be a Democratic alternative that I think is not viewed as the party of the status quo, that could be viewed as the party that‘s going to offer real solutions for the future.
And that you know, regardless of what I do or don‘t do in terms of elective office, what I really want to be a voice on is how, you know, the Democrats can be part of that future agenda.
And I think there are certain things in Virginia, from cleaning up our fiscal house to a whole series of education reforms, to this focus on economic development in rural communities, where, you know, I can say for at least a four-year tenure in a very Republican state, we‘ve got tangible, verifiable progress that has been made.
And I guess as, again, somebody who spent 15 years in business or 20 years in business before I went back to politics, I sometimes get upset with rhetoric. Rhetoric is great, but show me the measurable results. And in every one of these areas, you know, I can point to measurable results, not only the best-managed state, largest increase in math SAT scores, lowest unemployment of any major state.
I mean, 92 percent of our schools accredited. We can go down these areas. And that‘s what I would like to be part of, is how we can have that policy discussion that allows the Democrats perhaps to capture that sensible center.
LAMB: How do you deal with the celebrity of Hillary Rodham Clinton?
WARNER: I think she has been a great senator. And she will be a powerful voice in this debate if she moves forward. But, you know, one of the things I found is whatever I do in politics, I would rather tell you what I‘m for than what I‘m against.
You know, you want to press me on where I differ with a candidate, I‘ll tell you that. But if we had had any success in Virginia, you know, it has been, here, let me lay out my ideas. I want to work with you to see how we get there. I think people want measurable results.
And so if so what I‘m going to try to do is I try to be part of this policy discussion, not be so much as a counterweight to anybody else whose names are mentioned, but try to say, here is the kind of ideas that I think as Democrats we ought to embrace. Here‘s the kind of strategy in terms of reclaiming that sensible center, and sure as heck we ought to be a party that is competitive in more than the so-called blue states.
LAMB: As you know, symbolism is a big part of politics. And the one thing that I read about you all the time is that you sponsored a NASCAR.
WARNER: Well, I think
LAMB: First of all, did you ever drive a NASCAR?
WARNER: I‘ve ridden around a track, scared the heck out of me a couple of times. I haven‘t been like my friend, Mike Easley, who down in North Carolina, the governor there, who has actually driven in a NASCAR a couple of times.
I think people say, well, you know, Warner, is this a newfound interest in NASCAR? I mean, I‘m interested by the phenomenon. I also grew up partially in Indianapolis, which when I was growing up was Indy cars were bigger than NASCAR. NASCAR has eclipsed Indy cars right now.
So I‘ve always been interested a little bit in racing. But sometimes I think people, when they talk about our campaign, and we sponsored a NASCAR truck, we
LAMB: Did I read somewhere you sponsored it one time once?
WARNER: One time once, and it became this you know, it became kind of mythological that it was this and it was in the lowest series, the Craftsmen Truck Series, it wasn‘t the Nextel Cup Series.
We had a bluegrass band. We you know, I actively went after people who like to hunt and fish.
LAMB: You are pro-gun.
WARNER: Yes. I think we ought to enforce our existing gun laws. I don‘t think adding a lot of new ones is going to make much difference in terms of the safety of our communities. And I also think that you know, that in many parts of America, the right to bear arms, the right to hunt and fish is that sometimes Democrats don‘t understand it.
It has goes well beyond guns. It‘s about culture. But my point is that a lot of people have focused the NASCAR or whatever and say, you know, is this some magic formula? And candidates since that time unsuccessfully have gone out and sponsored a NASCAR, and somehow that‘s enough.
People in rural America, you know, can spot a phony. They can see whether you feel comfortable in your own skin. What people you know, what I think what happened at least in rural Virginia, I had been putting together regional venture capital funds in those region where I would invest my own money and helped others so you can try to create, you know, 21st Century jobs in those regions so you don‘t have to, if you‘re starting a new company, move away.
I started a health care foundation that had helped a lot of these rural communities. I had been through this effort using houses of worship, churches, and synagogues and mosques to teach computer literacy, again, oftentimes in rural communities.
If I hadn‘t had that if it wasn‘t a real desire to make changes so that rural America doesn‘t get left behind, you could sponsor NASCAR until the cows come home and you‘re not going to make an impression.
LAMB: Where are you on the Iraq war?
WARNER: Where I am on the Iraq war is I think Democrats ought to spend less time re-fighting how we got into the war and more time figuring out where we go from here. I think the president has a responsibility as our commander-in-chief to be more forthcoming about his plan about how we finish.
But I think a couple of things. I think, number one, you know, I don‘t believe an arbitrary deadline should be set. I think we, regardless of whether we like how we got there, we need to finish the task.
Two, I think we need to continue to put pressure on the Shias and the Kurds to include the Sunnis so that we don‘t have a division in that country.
Three, I think we need to move more of the rebuilding resources into the hands of the Iraqis as opposed to the American contractors there where we‘re spending 30 cents on every dollar doing security for the outside contractors. The more we can get Iraqis actually involved in the reconstruction of their country, the more they‘re going to have a stake. And remember, this is a country that did function for 40 years.
And four, let me just and this doesn‘t have as much to do with Iraq, but I think it‘s a debate that we need in this country. I mean, our American military and Virginia has got the highest concentration of military of any state in the country, our military is so superior to everyone else in the world that we can take out the command and control functions of the bad guys so quickly, and that‘s good news, because it makes these conflicts very short, not just Iraq, Afghanistan, you know, Somalia, Bosnia, all of our recent incursions.
But one of the things that we have to grapple with is how do you reestablish civil authority? And on that piece our record has not been as good. And where is that role of reestablishing civil authority, turning on the water, turning on the power, whose job is that going to be?
The military understandably I think is reluctant to take on that role. But we‘ve got to have a discussion about that because what we‘re doing right now by not having that fully thought through and having this long deployment I see as commander-of-chief of our National Guard that unfortunately we are in many ways really harming our National Guards and Reserves because not only in terms of lack of equipment and training, but more importantly or equally important, we‘re seeing these members, who are great patriots, serve and proud to serve in Iraq, but they‘re not re-upping.
Because if you‘re mid career, you know, you can be deployed once, but being deployed two and three times and having that in your future, you just can‘t do it. So we are going to have to have, I think, a real, honest debate in this country about the force structure of our military as well as how do we control these incursions after we take out the command and control of the bad guys?
LAMB: Do you have any sense of whether you want to be president?
WARNER: Brian, I think the country needs to be governed as opposed to having the kind of polarizing approach that unfortunately is what dominates Washington at this point. I think there is a real need in this country for a call to arms.
I mean, my biggest concern with our president is I‘ve got a lot of policy differences, but it‘s really the biggest concern is he has not asked Americans, I think after 9/11 or arguably after the war in Iraq started, or even after Katrina, he has never asked us to be at our best and step up and say, you know, let‘s take on, whether it‘s energy independence or world class education or getting the deficit under control or how will we have a moral leadership in this world?
Now I think that needs to happen. Whether me or someone else is the right person for that, I don‘t know. I‘ll tell you this much, you now, I‘m proud of what I‘ve done and I‘ve got some confidence. But the whole notion of even considering applying for the job of what is arguably the most powerful job in the country makes my stomach churn.
LAMB: Would you spend any of your own money on it?
WARNER: Listen, I‘ve been blessed to be successful in finances. You know, if at the end of the day you are a little short in terms of getting your message out, as long as I didn‘t put my family in jeopardy, I wouldn‘t take that off the table.
But I think that‘s you know, in terms of any discussion about a national policy debate, you know, that‘s way, way down on the list in terms of considerations.
LAMB: I keep seeing that a Web site is about unveiled.
WARNER: Well, we‘re in the middle of it‘s the last state in the country with the one-term governorship, kind of a crazy rule, I think, because if you‘re going to make structural change and institutional change, it sometimes takes more than four years.
You know, I‘m really focused on trying to help my lieutenant governor get elected. Yes, I‘ll roll out a Web site fairly shortly after the November race. But I want my lieutenant governor to who has been my partner in a lot of these activities, to continue the forward progress. So that‘s I‘ve been focused as well as the fact that I‘ve got pardon me, I‘ve still got one more budget to bring forward.
I‘ve got some new policy ideas that I hope to lay before the legislature in terms of particularly research and development at our colleges and universities, and particularly in terms of some additional education reforms. So I‘ve got two more months left. They‘re going to take me, kicking and screaming probably out of the office. I‘m not finished.
LAMB: Would it be better for you or worse for you if well, I‘m not asking it right. New Hampshire and Iowa are currently the first two states. Would it be better if it was a broader number of states?
WARNER: Listen, you know, I haven‘t I‘ve followed kind of tangentially the debate about which states are going to be in which order. The one thing that, you know, I was in Iowa this past summer when I was chairman of the National Governors Association and did sit down with some of the Democratic activists and community there.
And, you know, they made a pretty compelling case that, you now, unique value of Iowa and New Hampshire and the responsibility they feel in both of those states to, you know, be that first screen at a retail level where you‘ve got to be willing to talk to people one-on-one and not simply through a 30-second television spot. That made some good sense to me.
LAMB: So what is the timetable?
WARNER: The timetable is you know I‘m going to hopefully finish this job strong and have this PAC where I will try to be part of the national debate. And, you know, I don‘t have a fixed timetable. I do want to be a voice in urging the Democratic Party to recapture the sensible center.
I think the Democrats in this country are the minority party in this country. I think we not only have to invigorate more folks to get registered in part of the grand Democratic family, but I think we need to go get some other folks who maybe haven‘t voted Democrat in a long time or maybe never voted Democrat, and urge them to take a fresh look.
And the way you take a fresh look is you‘ve got to have sensible policies about our deficit. You‘ve got to have restoration of America‘s stature in the world. You‘ve got to grapple with a health care crisis that is getting increasingly complex, as I look at my own parents and with an aging society.
And we‘ve got to end up recognizing in a global world, if we don‘t have kind of a post-Sputnik type refocus on creating intellectual capital in this country, in this world, and I believe American business and American workers can compete against anybody, but we‘ve got to do it smarter, more entrepreneurial and more innovatively.
These are the kind of issues that I‘m much more interested in than the you know, some of the social hot button issues that too often dominate the debate.
LAMB: Now you‘ve shut a lot of your agencies down in Virginia and you eliminated 5,000 jobs, that almost never happens on a federal level. Can you do that on a federal level?
WARNER: You‘ve got to. I mean, one of the things the Democrats always do when we just talk about fiscal policy is we always go to the revenue side first. I mean, I would not have been successful looking at the revenue and tax reform unless first I had shown that I was willing to cut and was willing to reform.
And, again, I think the country is the country is ready to have an honest debate about what it expects from government and what it is going to pay.
LAMB: But could you deal with earmark environment that you have here where there are 16,000 earmarks?
WARNER: Listen, you‘ve got to be willing to shake things up. I mean, I remember back in Virginia, we went all through all these cuts. What finally got everybody‘s attention was and we had to cut almost every state agency by average 20 percent with the exception K-12 and Medicaid, health care for the poor and our basic commitment to education.
But I shut down the Departments of Motor Vehicle one day a week. I got skewered, everybody was you know, Democrats, Republicans, Warner, this was horrible. But in my mind, you know, if we‘re going to be fair on cuts, everybody has got to take a little hit.
And it drove home the point as well that at the end of the day, this was a real crisis. And that sometimes has been absent from the debate in Washington. Now you‘ve got the luxury of the printing press in Washington because you can keep printing that money and you don‘t have to balance your books.
But it doesn‘t take a rocket scientist to figure with an aging society, with growing entitlement programs, with, you know, almost a Faustian deal that we‘ve created with China with it buying most of our debt, that we do not only ourselves but more importantly our kids an enormous disservice unless we can grapple with this in a meaningful way.
LAMB: What have you learned in the four years as governor and the campaign that you did to get there that you‘re going to take with you to the next step?
WARNER: What I‘ve learned is you‘ve got to be comfortable in your own skin. I mean, you‘ve got to you can‘t be somebody you‘re not. When I went down and campaigned in rural Virginia, I didn‘t pretend I was somebody I wasn‘t. I was still the high-tech guy from Northern Virginia, but somebody who cared. I think that, number one.
I think you‘ve also got to be willing, and this figure out how to say this the right way, you know, a little bit of truth goes the right way, a long right. I mean, I think people in this country are anxious to hear, you know, the truth about whether it‘s the deficit or about how we restore America‘s stature in the world.
Now that you know, that can also, if you‘re not careful, can translate into you don‘t need to be some moralizing proselytizer of saying that you‘re the only person that has got the truth. But I think this country is ready for a little more honest debate about some these issues than we‘ve had recently.
LAMB: Governor Mark Warner, we‘re out of time, thank you very much.
WARNER: Brian, thanks for having me.