tv Senator John Thune Interview CSPAN February 20, 2014 10:02pm-10:42pm EST
announced it should be hanging in the halls of his office, and congress and so byron brought it here. camp inherited it. and i inherited it after camp's retirement. this is a wonderful painting done by a wonderful, ,ard-working north dakotan who that has been hanging. and every day when i look at it, i think not only of walter and his values, i think of the values of the west and i think of camp and byron. >> what is this like coming to washington? >> frustrating. people get into how is the rare fied air? i did not come here to be a senator. i came here to do a job. it has been frustrating at times. the low point had to be when we went to the brink on the debt limit extension in october. whos shocked that people
should've known better were saying that it would not matter if we failed to meet our obligations. i think that changed the discussion, as you see today, being able to fairly easily extend the debt limit. but i remain frustrated a lot of days that things that should be easy, that everybody can agree on are hard to do because of the super power of minorities here. >> some already have said that you may have higher aspirations. >> forget it. this is as high as it goes. 58 years old. when i decided to do this i thought, ok, do you know how much energy you have for this? and where do you go from here and what is the goal? conrad did something that every day he would get to the office and he would write down what you hope to accomplish. and what is great about what
kent did, if he did not write past the farm bill or talk to so and so today. he wrote, fix the debt. it was always the big things. improve education in america. for me, this is a place where you can participate in that discussion in a very privileged way. we need to be worthy of the privileges given. and i hope that as we continue to build a solid core of people that want to get things done, that we will move towards results. i tell people all the time, did you hear what so-and-so said about you? and is usually something on the 24-hour news network. ironically, it is usually somebody on msnbc and not fox. did you hear what they said about you? i care more about they will say about me in 24 years than what they say about me every 24 hours. we've got to take the long view
of moving this country in the right direction. >> idle question. what do your siblings say about you? when do you fill in your brother -- for your brother on radio? >> are used to do a lot of talk radio. was serving his term in the legislature, i did it for three-month. it is something every politician should have to do. not just answer the questions, but host a show where you have a very direct relationship with the listeners and the constituents, because occasionally learn something if you keep your ears open. occasionally, you get your ideas challenged in ways that move you in a different direction. and so i'm grateful for that opportunity but my siblings remain my best friends. they are an amazing group of people. i could brag on and on about what everyone of them do.
brag on and on about how about -- how proud i am. i have a sister who, give you an example -- i was in the state house one day and i ran into a guy that i knew pretty well and he came running to us and he said, i want to tell you. you get, you are politician. you did something he really agrees with. and he said, your sister saved my family. she is a family therapist. she does a lot of work with kids who are troubled, trying to put families back together. she has done some very creative programming to keep kids out of the system with intensive family therapy. who runs parks and recreation and is incredibly organized. i have a sister who is one of the greatest mothers and grandmothers. i have a sister who chairs the social work department at und. and every place i go in north dakota when i run into her students they tell me how she changed their lives. privilege to be
here and important to be here, but what my siblings do every day is important. and i am proud of them. >> senator heidi heitkamp. thank you very much. >> rank you. -- thank you. >> the all new c-span.org website is mobile friendly. that means you can access our comprehensive coverage of politics, nonfiction books, and american history where you want, when you want, and how you want. site's responsive design scales to fit any of your screens from your desktop computer to your laptop, tablet, or smart phone. whether you are at home, at the office, or on the go, you can now watch c-span's coverage of washington. check our program schedules or search our extensive video library when ever and where ever you want. makes it easy.org for you to keep an eye on what is happening in washington.
>> c-span's "american profile" series is a conversation with newsmakers on their lives and careers. now republican senator john thune of south dakota who is serving his second term and is part of the gop leadership. over the next 40 minutes, he talks about how his grandparents came to the u.s., his early interest in politics, his family, and his love of country music. ,> senator john thune republican of south dakota, do you remember the first time he came to washington dc? >> i do, actually. i was in college and at that time, there was a member of congress from the state of south dakota, jim abner, who i had gotten to know when i was in high school. here andd me come out spend a week over one of the periods when congress was in session and just got acquainted with the town and with congress
and sort of politics in general. and that was one of the first times i guess i can remember actually starting to get a little bit interested in politics. >> what were your impressions back then? >> it was really daunting. like you said, i have never been here before. you've seen pictures of these things. you have studied it, obviously. but actually coming here and seeing up close and personal washington dc and seeing all the history, it is so rich with history. very, you know, it was really an inspiring experience. >> did you grow up in a political family? >> i did not. my parents were in education. my dad started out in the hardware business but then sold that, when backing got his teaching degree. he taught high school. he was the athletic director, he coached. and he drove a school bus. my mom was a school librarian. that was not any where i could go to get away from my parents and high school.
politics is not something we talked about. they were very conscientious in terms of voting and very respectful of people in public life and public office, but it was only because of an experience i had when it was a freshman in high school when i really sort of started to get interested. i mentioned jim abner earlier, but i was playing basketball in a tournament that we have in my home town every year. and i was getting varsity time. so i got into the game on a friday night. and i got six attempts at the free-throw. i've made five then - of them. the next afternoon, we're playing again, and i was in the department store in my hometown ough,uth dakota -- murd south dakota. as i was in the checkout line, somebody behind me tapped my shoulder and he said, i noticed you missed one last night. i was like, who was the smart alec? i'm a freshman and i made five out of six. he introduced himself as congressman jim abner. and he sort of follow my sports
career, and i started to get interested in his political career, but that was my first exposure really to a political figure. and so that sparked my interest at least initially. i have never contemplated doing this as a career path until later in life. and that also was related to then senator abner. but growing up it was not something that was really part of our daily conversation and certainly anything that i aspired to do at the time. >> where is murder no south dakota? ofit is at the intersection interstate 90 and highway 83. we always thought it was the center of the universe growing up, but 500 people. when i was growing up, it was about 800 people. great place to grow up, but when i was growing up, my life began and ended at the city limits. nowadays kids have access to so many different things. travel is easier. and with the internet, you can have the whole world at your
fingertips, at your disposal. but i would not trade it for anything. like you said, i went to a small school. had just a very normal upbringing and in a really great community. and a place i try to stay attached to. >> how did your family up there -- end up there, and where does the name thune come from? >> my grandfather and great uncle came over from norway in 1906. when they got to ellis island, they did not know english of -- with the exception of apple pie and coffee which they learned on the way over, but they were asked by immigration to change their name because they thought it would be too difficult to spell and pronounce. their name and nouri was g-j- e-l-s-v-i-k. when they got to ellis island, they picked the name of the farm where they lived near bergen, norway. the thune farm. my grandfather became nick thune
. they got through ellis island and then they got a sponsor inside the code and they came out to work on the railroads. learned english, save some money and in due time bought a small merchandising store which eventually became the hardware is in us. and that is kind of how we got to south dakota. >> brothers, sisters? >> i have three brothers and his sister and one younger brother. two families. two older brothers and a sister. then i came along later in life and my younger brother. >> your dad is still alive. 93 years old. part of the greatest generation. >> he is. my dad was one of those guys they grew up in the middle of the depression. my grandfather, as i mentioned, nick, came from norway. when they moved to my hometown, you know, it was a hard time. and going to the depression really shaped that generation, but they had a real sense of sort of public duty and very conscientious about things.
he became a very accomplished basketball player. got an so that he opportunity to play at the university of minnesota, where he was a three-year starter. and most valuable player his junior season. so got away from my hometown. went there for a while. and after he graduated, of course world war ii had broken out. so he decided to sign up, became unable aviator. went through flight training and got assigned to the pacific theater of the war hero and was involved in the second battle of the philippine seas. where he flew combat missions off intrepid. he flew the hellcat. aircraft,four enemy for which she was awarded distinguished flying cross here in interesting story about that. i did not make this connection and till i had read john mccain's book. but it turns out, i went back and checked this because the dates and the times and the places matched up. in the distinguished flying cross that my dad received was
issued by admiral john mccain, who was john mccain's grandfather. he was the commander of the fleet that my dad was involved with. >> do you talk to him, or did you talk to him about what that was like, what he experienced? >> probably not as much as i should have. we always knew it and my mom would tell us about it. my dad like most guys of that generation was very quiet. he had to be prompted to talk about it. so he's 93 today. day, he still is -- you kind of have to ask the questions, but i tried to do that in there is a project called the veteran history project at the library of congress put on a few years ago. probably still has going on. but they encourage you to talk to world war ii veterans and veterans from other conflicts in our history. so we got -- that my dad down and i asked him a lot of questions. for four hours got a lot of that stuff on the record.
and so many of the details and things that you just did not know about. and it is really fascinating. that generation was, they were just a remarkable group of people. to this day, we all owe them an incredible debt of gratitude. >> but you used the word humble, and that seems to transcend all who served in world war ii. what was it about that time and those i rarely men but also women who served to try to help support the troops? >> you talk to my dad and even my mom before she passed away, and they always just talked about the common purpose, the sense of purpose america had at the time. the way everybody came together. people back here shared it here people who wore uniforms were very committed to it. i think when your country is attacked, you have an increased protecty toww want to everything you love. but there is just something -- it really is -- it is in the dna
of that generation. it is not unique to my dad. i talked to people all the time. and those guys that are still around, those world war ii vets, you really do -- they just, they went, they did their duty. they came home, they married their childhood sweethearts and they went about raising their families and trying to build a better future. it's a quality that's just really unique in american history and culture. you know, something that i guess i was always grateful for. every year in high school they would get them to come over and share the story. but that is really the only time he ever talked about it. >> you mentioned her mom who has passed away. described her. >> my mom was an incredibly sweet lady and very outgoing, love life, always had a smile on her face. very chirpy. my dad had that scandinavian gene, and they tended to be more
of a realist. they were a good match. they met when my dad was at the university of minnesota playing basketball her. she was working at a soda fountain close to campus. she said she always gave him eager malts when he came in. they met that way. when he went to join the service, they got married right before he shipped off. for a longe apart time, but when he came home, they ended up going out and settling down in my hometown which was a real adjustment for my mom. she was kind of a city girl. she grew up in minneapolis-st. paul and was sort of a custom to many of the things you have been a more populated area of the country. at that time, my hometown had dirt main street. so i think she was taking the train back to minnesota to visit family on a regular basis, but she got to where she loved it there. and she raised me and my siblings there. she was very family oriented. of a softer side
of the family. you know, us boys always wanted to play sports. we loved all the sports. anytime there was a ball around, we wanted to be out there tossing it and shooting it or whatever. you know, my mom ensured that we all understood other things. we all took piano lessons. i took six years of piano lessons. that was at my mom's insistence. she wanted to have an appreciation for music and culture. and she was a big reader. she read all the time. she would make us come in and the middle of the afternoon during the summer when we were not in school and read a book for an hour. so just a really, really special and neat lady. and they were, like i said, good for each other. >> actuator from high school. you end up in los angeles at the rival institute of l.a., viola. >> viola university. it started out as a bible college and became a fully accredited liberal arts christian university. i had a couple of brothers that went out there.
my oldest brother had wanted to get a christian liberal arts education. and my dad had a high school classmate who had moved to california. and they had stayed in close contact, and he said, you know, if wants to come out here, he said, my son howard is going to the school called viola. he can stay with us. if you like so, great. if he doesn't, he can come back. my older brother and sister got undergraduate degrees out there. my mom and dad liked the way they turned out. they were encouraged -- they encouraged me to attend there. it was a great experience. getting away from your comfort zone, from your support system can be a good thing. and california is very different from south dakota. and i certainly am a you know, was exposed to some things, learned some things out there. obviously got a great education -- christian liberal arts education -- and then came back to the university of south dakota where i got my mba. i then decided after having lived in california that i down inanted to settle
the midwest and south dakota. i just never got it out of my system. and loved everything about it. so i came back to get my mba in south dakota, assuming i would end up working financial services or some field like that. and ended up on this career path. >> culture shock from south dakota to los angeles >> very much so. i'm sure i sort of looks like somebody -- when i got to california, maybe a little bit of a hayseed. when i got there, because it is, it is a dairy different culture. au do have, i think, transitional period when you make a big change like that. i was young, and came from a really good, solid up ringing and background. so pretty well grounded, but just an entirely different way of life. climate was nice, easy to get used to. but the traffic, the congestion
all the things you have in the big city were things that in the end, i kind of decided i wanted to back to wide-open spaces of south dakota. where did you meet your wife emma kimberly?-- your wife kimberly? >> i met her at viola. she is from south dakota peerages grew up on a farm. i grew up more towards the western part of the state. we did not know each other. she had been attending college in kansas. and then had decided that she wanted to transfer and had been looking at different schools and found out that viola had a good communications department. so she decided to come out there. she was a transferred junior when i met her. and we met at a new student reception. and we got introduced by a guy. they're not that many kids at viola from south dakota. so he said, you do you want to meet this girl from south dakota? he told her, do you want to meet this guy from south dakota? >> when you came back to south dakota, you said you wanted to get involved in finance, and yet
you worked for congressman and senator adler, correct? how did that come about. >> after i got out of grad school, i was working for a short time for the state of south dakota. i got a job working in the department of transportation they're doing some things, some financial stuff at that time. they were looking at trying to privatize the state owned railroad. they asked me to come up and work on financing options. it was a fun job. and i enjoyed it, but a couple of months into that, i get this ofl from jim abner's chief washington, d.c. and said we got this opening. would you like to come out? i was like, eh. it really was not something i planned on. my wife and i were engaged, planning to get married toward the end of december and they said, can you come out and started job in january? so we talked a lot about it, consulted our family. and made it a matter of prayer and decided at the end that maybe it is a good thing to do.
do it for a couple of years. check the box. he a great experience in learning a little bit more about how government works. so we came out here in january, 1985. and that was -- i think, i very much, sort of a life-changing event in the sense that it sparked my interest in politics and having worked out here, i sort of decided that if the timing and the opportunity were ever write that i might want to try to run for elective office myself. but had it not been for that door opening and that opportunity coming along, i would probably be doing something in the financial services field in south dakota. >> that was the senate, correct >> correct. >> you rent for the house in 1996. why? just decided it was something -- i did not want to get into my 50's and look back and say i really wish i would have tried it. i felt like i had had some opportunities that had prepared me for it. i i could do,
having been on here i thought perhaps i had an aptitude for this kind of work. saw it as an opportunity to really make a difference. so my wife and i again at that time did not have any personal or family wealth. kind of, it was a bootstraps campaign, grassroots campaign, but decided to give it a whirl. we sort of proceeded down that path. started going to the dinners and getting around state, trying to get acquainted. and jim abner was very helpful. he was a great retail politician. in south dakota, that really matters. >> you were the underdog? >> currently. johnsonpened was tim vacated his house seat to run for the senate. so it was an open seat. so in our stated does not come along very often. there is a lot of interest in it. a lot of people got into that primary initially. then our lieutenant governor decides to get in the race and
that cleared the field, except for me and i guess one other guy. and so we went into that campaign, in fact, i remember there was a poll published in roll call in april, 1996, that had us down i would have to say 69-15. it was a june primary, but you know, we had just started to get our message out, started to get on television. and we were able to pull out a win in the primary and ultimately in the general election. >> you ran for the senate in 2002. you lost by how many votes? >> 524. >> what was that like? >> it is hard losing. you always play to win. i remember, although i remember sitting in my living room after that election and it -- a very hard fought campaign. it is hard in a small state because you know so many people. and these campaigns can really take on a personal flavor. know, i think you learn
lessons from losing. and sometimes the adversity that you have come along in your life somees you a lot more than of the successes and the victories. but i remember having a conversation in our living room in sioux falls after that election. and she looked at me and said, i am not going through another campaign unless god himself comes to the door and says he -- you have to run. over time, you process it and have an opportunity to get a little bit of perspective and we were having a similar conversation several months later. this would probably be the spring or summer of 2003. said,e looked at me and you know, i finally concluded and realized that what we went through in that campaign last year was not just about the winning. it was about the race. for me, it was about the winning. i was in it to win. you always are.
but i think she made a really important observation, and that is that it is important to be in the marina, to be out there fighting for the things he believes in. and yes, your goal is to win but you need to be out there. to know, it was a process come around to decide to get back on the horse and run again. but we did. fortunately, the second time around it turned out to philly. >> but in the race in 2004, you ran against the senate democratic leader. and a party leader had not lost since 1952. so what we thinking? ." >> we thought it was a long shot. we really did. we sat down. i tell a story around the kitchen table because we always did this. by 2004, our girls were older, at least old enough to have involved in this discussion. we talked a lot about it, but -- so we had a family photo. secret ballot -- a family vote. should i run for the senate again or not? the vote came back 3 to one,
and i was the no vote. the family was ok with moving forward. we were prepared going into that campaign have been once, we knew how it felt weird we survived it. you go on. prepared either way for how it was going to come out. it just felt like it was something we needed to do and that was not anybody else out there. been, probably, and uncontested or noncompetitive race. so we decided to take another very,t it, and it was a another long, hard campaign, but you know, it was nice to win it. and obviously, you know, as i look back on it now, if i had to do it over again, i always wonder what i'd move forward with that again knowing now -- if i had known what i know now? yourt me ask you about brand of republican politics. how would you describe yourself politically, ideologically? >> i am a conservative.
if you look at how you come off, and i was very influenced by jim abner m a but also by ronald reagan. up, my dady coming was a new deal democrat. he grew up in the 1930's and a very tough time for the country. he liked harry truman. he eventually became very public and later in life. i had bad heritage. -- i had that heritage. i like the purpose he had and the way he talked about our country. it was a combination and jim the way i looked at things through a political lens, but i am a right of center
conservative. i realize you have to be able to get things done. you have to have a record of accomplishment, and sometimes in order to make that awful bull, work with people who may not agree -- to make that possible, work with people who may not agree with you. aat's something i learned as staffer and something i tried to bring to my time i have been in office. >> i am going to make three statements, and i want you to finish how you feel. first, the state of congress today is what? >> some people describe it as broken. , ahink it's a little divided little filled with conflict, but we have got a divided government. people come here with different points of view about how to solve hard problems.
i think our democracy is survived through various times in history, and i think we can use the time we are in right now to do some good things for the country, if people will be willing to come together. the republican party? >> it's evolving. i think the republican party is -- in terms of our principles, we are in the right place. i think the american people if we are able to articulate the things we for are very much on the same wavelength. i think people instinctively believe in a limited role for the government. they believe in personal freedom coupled with individual responsibility. i think those are american trait's, and understand if you are going to keep the country safe you have to be strong. i think those are core republican values and principles that to me are timeless and we don'tent, but often
do a good job of making our argument to the american people or explaining to them what it is we are for, and i think we have got to do much better job of that if we are going to be a governing party in the future in a country that is changing. there is a lot of change in the country, and you have to be able to adapt to that. it doesn't mean you have to compromise our principles, but you have to figure out a way you can communicate in a more effective way why it is important for people to say this is the direction i want to go and these are the principles i want to have moving forward. >> the state of the country today is what? i think the country is -- we are sort of at a crossroads. i think we have big decisions to make as a country about what kind of country we want to be, and that bears on the whole question about the role of
government. how much government we wanted our lives? do we want to pay for it? do we want to be the exceptional forefathers view us as. people like my grandfather who came here over 100 years ago came here in pursuit of the american dream, and that still animate people all over the world who want to come to this country, but we have to be able to take what is really great about this country and continue to build on that foundation, and my fear is people get a little the spot and, a little discouraged, and they need on what ist can draw best about this country. when i was coming of age we were in a time in our history when people were discouraged and despondent. president reagan had an amazing way of just pulling out what i think is uniquely american and what is exceptional about our
country. >> you are named for a 2008 and vice president candidate. did you go through the vetting process? >> i think i was on some list along the way, but i think in werecircumstances there people who probably met more of the criteria that our nominees were looking for to bring the right balance to the ticket. anytime you have an opportunity to serve your country you want to be open to it, but i don't on the seriouser consideration list. >> have you given any thought to running for president? >> i looked at it in 2012 as we headed into that election, and i think that i like the day job. i have 20 of work to do in the senate, but you always want to take your abilities and talents
and gifts and put them to your best use to put them for your country and fellow man. we have due diligence. enormous commitments in modern politics, and that was a barrier as we look at it. i think you have to have a burning passion to do something for your and i think that's a question you really have to do a gut check on before you pull the trigger and proceed with a national campaign. i never quite got to that point, but it certainly was something we gave some consideration to. >> where are you right now? where is your god? >> part of it is -- where is your gut? >> part of it is i think you have to have an opening. we have members of congress who are taking a hard look at it now. many of them are going to be
probably comparable to where i would be in terms of ideology and experience and that sort of thing. i think politics is all about timing. i have told people this. i would be less honest if i said otherwise. i never thought i would be doing this when i grew up in south dakota, but sometimes opportunities come your way, and you have to be prepared for that and think about how you can put your gift to their highest and best use. >> how do you make a decision? what is the process? >> you have to have -- the issues we deal with, the world has gotten very complicated, and there is a lot of information .oming at you on any given day you surround yourself by good
people who understand your basic philosophy and hopefully are keeping themselves informed on the issues, but you have to spend a lot of time getting informed. i think in most cases your decisions are shaped by two things. what is your core values, conscience, whatever you want to call it, and secondly formed by the people you represent. withave to stay in step and understand the core of the people you represent on any given issue, and that's a process of being out there listening a lot. we get a lot of e-mails, a lot of phone calls, a lot of mail in the office. you have a good sense of where your constituency is on any given day on any issue, and that factors into your decision-making process. then i think it is your core, your gut. basicallyown to
what's my conviction on this particular issue. >> you have two daughters, a son-in-law, and the future son-in-law? describe them. >> my daughters, i adore them. they have been the delight of my life. when we were having children, i wanted to have that little athlete, that little boy, but having girls i wouldn't trade it for anything. we have been very involved in their lives over the years. they had to put up with a lot. they grew up in a political family and all that comes with that, the good, the bad, and the ugly. hopefully they are not too jaded, but they are just really good girls. we are very grateful to have had the opportunity to have them in our lives, and one of them is married to a great guy, and the other is engaged to a great guy. that's a new stage in life for us, a new chapter, but it goes fast. i always tell people, don't because one day you're
going to their offense and that piano recital or that soccer game or track meet, and all of a sudden they are in college and end up coming home and saying, i am engaged. those are special times, but i wouldn't trade it for anything. >> what's next for you? what do you want to do in the senate? what are your goals? >> like i said, i enjoy the work. when i was here as a staffer, i had an affinity for dealing with some of these national issues. from the time i was a staffer, i did budget and tax, those types of issues. i have always had an interest in economic and fiscal issues. i would like to be a part of solutions to get our country on track fiscally. i am concerned about the enormous amount of debt we are piling up and handing to our children and grandchildren, about getting the economy back to a place where we are growing at a faster rate, creating more
jobs, increasing take-home pay for people across this country, and creating a better quality of life. that's what my grandfather did , and my dad and his generation sacrificed so we could have a better quality of life. i really fear we may be the next generation of americans were that's not true. the next generation may have a lower quality of life than we we have, and i think got some big challenges. it's going to require courage. it's going to require a willingness for people to come together around a common purpose , not unlike what has motivated previous generations when we face big challenges, but i would like to be part of that solution, and for me that is mainly focusing on fiscal and economic issues i think are so vital to the future of this country. >> let me conclude on a couple of personal issues. first, you are a pretty avid runner in gh