Op-Ed

Michael Dukakis, Prof. Politics

What's the impact of the Citizens United decision?

Terrible. It has to be one of the five worst decisions by the Supreme Court. [They] call themselves strict constructionists, right? Tell me where it says in the Constitution that money is speech. Tell me where it says Congress cannot reasonably regulate campaign contributions. It's been doing so for 120 years. All of a sudden these guys decide, not only is money speech but corporate money is speech. Outrageous, in my opinion. It's polluting the political process.

And there is no constitutional issue about this healthcare bill. Scalia a few years ago wrote an opinion saying the federal government could regulate somebody's backyard marijuana patch under the commerce clause, because that patch had an indirect effect on interstate commerce. You're talking about 20% of the GNP with healthcare, and the federal government can't regulate it? Don't employers have to pay a minimum wage under the commerce clause? If they turn this down, those guys ought to be impeached, honest to God. There's no constitutional issue here.

Why do so many national-caliber statesmen come from Massachusetts?

When you're born in Massachusetts, or even when you move there, you're infected with two things: politics, and the Red Sox. Politics is part of the culture, maybe in a way that it isn't so much in many other states.

What about California? Have we saddled ourselves with too much democracy with our initiative process?

No, you're saddled with a two-thirds [vote] requirement for new taxes. I can't imagine trying to govern under those circumstances. At least you got rid of the [two-thirds legislative vote] for passing the budget, but a two-thirds vote on anything is tough.

A great state, and a state with great wealth, is paralyzed because it can't seem to close the budget gap. My hat's off to [Mayor] Antonio Villaraigosa, who won on Measure R, the transportation tax — 67% [vote threshold] in the middle of a recession, to finally get Los Angeles a first-class public transit system. This is the time to build: Contractors are hungry, they're bidding low, there are lots of people looking for work.

Your father was from Greece; what is happening there?

The same thing that's been going in the United States for the past 10 years, only worse. Same situation: Cut taxes, raise spending and you end up in the shape they're in. When Clinton left office, this country was in great shape financially and economically. So what happened? We got a new guy, and five tax cuts and two wars later, here we are.

Greece is in worse shape. Tax evasion is a national sport; the bureaucracy is twice as big as it should be. This is as bad as the 30 Years War between Sparta and Athens. When we go back, the press asks me what to do. I say we're proud of our Greek heritage, but we can't collect taxes for you, we can't reform your bureaucracy, and in the United States we don't retire at 50. I'm 78, and I'm still working!

Does intense scrutiny keep good people from seeking public office?

I don't think so. I hope not. If you can't set high standards of integrity for yourself and the people who work for you, you don't deserve to be in the business.

I say to my students, if you want to go into public service, I'll do everything I can — help you, open up doors for you. Just remember two things: live moderately, and have a good but conventional sex life. If you want the other stuff, good luck to you, but don't go into public service. And that seems to be quite bipartisan.

Oy, John Edwards, can you believe it? Kitty [his wife] has much better instincts for this stuff; the first time she heard him, she said, "He's a phony." I said, "No, I'm impressed." She said, "Michael I'm telling you, he's a phony."

Is it time to give up the electoral college and elect presidents by popular vote?

We should have given it up 125 years ago. It's ridiculous. To be bipartisan: If Kerry had gotten 60,000 more votes in Ohio [in 2004], he would have won, even though Bush would have had a 3 million vote majority. What sense does that make? Because of [the electoral college], candidates campaign in about six states for the last two months; that's it. If every vote counted, it'd be a whole different ballgame.

patt.morrison@latimes.com

This interview was edited and excerpted from a taped transcript. An archive of Morrison's interviews can be found at latimes.com/pattasks.

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