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Crossfire

Are States Governing Responsibly?

Aired January 2, 2001 - 7:30 p.m. ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

MARY MATALIN, CO-HOST: Tonight, from creating a pornography czar in Utah to giving away day-old bread in Illinois, lots of states are ringing in the new year with new laws. But are all these new laws needed? And how will they affect you?

ANNOUNCER: Live, from Washington, CROSSFIRE. On the left, Bill Press. On the right, Mary Matalin. In the CROSSFIRE, in San Francisco, KGO-Radio talk show host Bernie Ward and in Atlanta, WSB- Radio talk show host Neal Boortz.

MATALIN: Good evening and welcome to CROSSFIRE, and welcome to 2001. When that 2000 clock ticked down to the new year, it kicked local and state governments into high gear. From coast to coast, hundreds of new laws went into effect while you were singing "Auld Lang Syne."

If you were ringing in the new year in California, you'll be excused from jury duty if you're breast feeding. Or you can even grow your own marijuana if you live in one county.

If you live in Idaho or Connecticut, you can push back those pesky telemarketers. Dozens of states impatient waiting for federal prescription drug benefits passed their own.

So, in the CROSSFIRE tonight, the law and liberty in the new millennium. Do we need more laws or more common sense? Are individual states creating chaos or representing the will of their citizens? Happy new year, law meister Bill.

BILL PRESS, CO-HOST: Happy new year, Mary. Good to be back here with you on the show.

MATALIN: I missed you.

PRESS: And Neal Boortz, happy new year to you.

NEAL BOORTZ, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST: Thank you, Bill.

PRESS: Neal, I generally believe, believe it or not, that states do a better job than the Congress of making laws that fit those states.

BOORTZ: You're kidding me.

PRESS: So, there you go. You see, we start off agreeing on something.

BOORTZ: You believe that?

PRESS: I do believe that, right now. So let me give you one good example. In South Carolina this year, they're doing something that Congress has not yet been able to do. In South Carolina, they now have a prescription drug plan that says for seniors that the state's going to help you pay for these prescription drugs so you don't have to choose between food and medicine. My question to you is, isn't that a great example of the state doing better than the Congress and don't you think every state should do the same thing?

BOORTZ: No. And Bill, I mean...

PRESS: Neal.

BOORTZ: ... didn't you up put out a Christmas stocking. I thought you would have had a logical thought from somebody for Christmas.

Look, the reason they passed that law in South Carolina is to buy votes, and it's not the state's buying prescription medicine for these seniors. It's the state taking money away from people who earned it and using it to buy prescription medicine.

You know as well as I do that every major pharmaceutical company out there has a lifeline program that makes sure that not one person in this country who needs prescription drugs goes without. It is a vote-buying scheme, pure and simple, so no wonder you like it. You love vote-buying.

PRESS: Neal Boortz, listen, by the time you get through those prescription drug companies' lifelines, most seniors would be dead. You know the fact. You can buy these drugs for one half what you have to pay in the United States. You can go to Mexico and get them for one half the price. You can go to Canada and get them for one half the price.

BOORTZ: You know, then why don't you...

PRESS: It's a rip-off. It's a rip-off on the part of the drug companies.

(CROSSTALK)

BOORTZ: Hey, Bill. You want the prices? You want the prices to go down on drugs in this country, then you tell your pals out there, the trial lawyers, that they are no longer going to be able to file these asinine medical malpractice suits against drug companies. That'll bring the cost down.

MATALIN: OK, Bernie -- Bernie, let me just say, and you two are great friends. Bill's confession that he prefers local control is a big revelation to me. I actually do and have spent my life dedicated to that, but there are so many laws passed that ticked -- went into effect when the clock struck 12 that we have too many examples of local control gone loco.

Like one in California, where else? Mendocino, you can now grow your own pot. Twenty-five plants, not 26, not 30. You cannot pass a law, Bernie, can you or can you not, that endangers your fellow citizens? Shouldn't there be some parameters on local control?

BERNIE WARD, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST: Well, wait a minute, now. There's some state capitol that's now going to let people drink booze again in their state capitol. Isn't that a lot more dangerous than somebody growing pot? I mean, I've never understood idea that pot is somehow dangerous to fellow people. You don't have 13 or 14 million pot addicts in this country. You don't have people killing each other on the highways smoking pot.

This is a county that grows it. This is a state that spends a fortune on going into people's bedrooms, putting infrared cameras into their front-room windows, flying helicopters over their heads. The black helicopters exist in Northern California.

I would think, Mary, you would be outraged by anybody saying that local people can't control what they want do within their own parameters.

MATALIN: Here is my rule for this. If your liberties are infringing on the safety of the society, I draw the line, and what do you have in addition to black helicopters is 75 percent of teens who smoke pot today end up going on to stronger drugs. It is a gateway drug...

WARD: They also drink milk. They also eat tomatoes. They also do lots of things. This idea that there's any one thing that's a gateway. In fact, you know what the number one predictor of drug use is? It's cigarette smoking. I'm sure, Mary, you're in favor of banning that, I hope?

MATALIN: No, I'm not.

(CROSSTALK)

WARD: Oh, I feel surprised. Oh, my, goodness. I'm so surprised.

PRESS: All right, Neal Boortz, Mr. Libertarian, I know you're a libertarian. I've appeared on your radio show often enough. If I want to grow 25 marijuana plants in my house and smoke that pot myself, why not?

BOORTZ: Absolutely with you on that one, Bill. I can't believe it. I'm going to have to take a long shower tonight. And why should it be limited to 25? If you want to grow 50, fine. If you want to grow some for your neighbor, fine. Absolutely fine. And me? Sitting on the back deck of my house, and dragging down a little ganja while I'm in the hot tub is not going to infringe on any of Mary's rights at all. Not that I do that, OK? But it wouldn't infringe on anybody's rights if I did. PRESS: Neal Boortz for president. All right, now let's move on to another drug issue in California, Neal. Proposition 36 passed last November, which now says that when they arrest people for possession of drugs, nonviolent drug crimes, they get drug treatment programs and not time in jail. I ask you again, example of a state doing a good thing that shouldn't all states do the same?

BOORTZ: State doing a good thing. It's a step in the right direction. I could enter a little objection to idea of me having to pay for somebody else's drug treatment. They got themselves in jam; let them get themselves out. But the millions, millions of dollars that American taxpayers pay every year to incarcerate nonviolent drug offenders and the amount of violent crime that is visited on American society because of this asinine, this ridiculous, absurd war on drugs; it needs to end, and if some states are taking the lead in that, more power to them.

PRESS: Neal, maybe should you move to Mendocino, California?

BOORTZ: Oh, no, I think it's cold there, isn't it?

WARD: Oh, it's beautiful. Are you kidding?

MATALIN: OK, Bernie, here's my problem. Despite the fact I'm surrounded by potheads obviously, I'm trying -- I'm looking for the bigger principle here which is the slippery slope principle. Today it's ganja in your hot tub. Tomorrow, it's cocaine in your soft drinks, OK.

Take the issue of racial profiling. I think we could all be in agreement that nobody should be pulled over for anything other than illegal or sometimes provocative behaviors. But the slippery slope in the new profile -- racial profiling laws, particularly in Massachusetts, includes gender because quote, "the number of reports from women who believed they were stopped because of gender." Come on. Are we snuffing out racism or are trying to spread political correctness with new laws?

WARD: We're trying to find out, to be quite honest. I mean, even your great buddy Christie Whitman had to admit that in New Jersey only 7 percent of the population is minority, and yet 77 percent of the stops by the state troopers were minorities. I mean this was ridiculous.

They were looking at a black guy driving down the street in a good, nice car and they were pulling him over. Everybody who's a minority will talk to you about driving while black, and you know why we shouldn't rule out gender right away?

We shouldn't because we don't have any statistics. Do you know in California and in many states, many people opposed just the collecting of statistics to see who's being pulled over; why they're being pulled over; what's the cause, et cetera. Let's find out in Massachusetts who's being pulled over; why they're being pulled over, and then we can make a decision as to whether or not it should include gender or not. Right now, we have no idea. (CROSSTALK)

BOORTZ: OK, let me tell where you this goes. Let me tell where you this goes. Every police officer has a scorecard in his car. He sees somebody erratically driving down the road. Uh-oh, they're black. Oh, gee. I've stopped more than quota of black people this month. If I pull this one over, there's going to be an investigation. I'll let him go. Maybe another cop that hasn't stopped his quota of blacks yet will stop this one. Yes, that works.

WARD: Well, you live in Atlanta, Neal. You live in Atlanta, Neal. So if they have a scare card, that's brand new to me. The idea of pulling people over in New Jersey had nothing to do with erratic behavior; had nothing to do with erratic driving.

It had to do with an order that was sent out saying that if you see a minority driving a certain kind of car at a certain time of day, they are to be pulled over. I thought even a libertarian like you would believe in probable cause. I didn't realize that it doesn't exist in the South, but at least out here it really does.

BOORTZ: No, I would suggest you probably don't know much about the South. I think that any well-trained police officer ought to be able to mull anybody over he wants to based on a reasonable belief that the person has been or is engaged in an illegal activity, regardless of sexual preference, gender, lipstick shade, or skin shade.

WARD: Well, if we could find a reasonably trained cop in the South, I'll be happy to find him...

BOORTZ: Oh, boy.

WARD: But in New Jersey -- but in New Jersey -- in New Jersey...

BOORTZ: I love -- I love this San Francisco anti-Southern bias.

WARD: ... I'll tell you what -- I'll tell you what, in New Jersey, the reasonably trained cops were pulling over minorities at an incredible rate. Even Whitman had a picture taken with a nice big grin on her face with a black guy pinned up against a wall.

MATALIN: Bernie, Bernie, Bernie, come on. I'm getting off topic here a little bit. But the first federal monitor of -- two federal monitors, as a matter of fact, have come in on New Jersey, which admitted to doing all of this, has put into place 97 separate specific policy changes about which the monitor has said -- praised them -- that is the New Jersey police department -- for their commitment, focus, energy, and professionalism. Yet Jesse Jackson, constantly in pursuit of protests, in search of a problem, is picketing, or whatever he does to get the cameras on him, he and Al Sharpton -- today's civil rights leaders -- Christie Todd Whitman's appointment while they are making great strides in New Jersey.

It's a problem and they're working on it. Is that the way... WARD: They're not making great strides because of Christie Todd Whitman. Please, Mary. And please, you can tell Neal, by the way, that those well-trained cops in New Jersey have now admitted that they were pulling people over simply to pull them over because they were minorities. And you know that Christie Todd Whitman knew this was going on, she did not take a step to stop it until there were lawsuits brought. And the only reason we found out about it at all was because the lawyers that Neal hates went to court and found out in court that this was going on.

BOORTZ: Hey, Bernie, Bernie, Bernie, I'm a lawyer.

WARD: Well, that's good. Don't go to court, please.

BOORTZ: Well, I mean, what's this, the lawyers that Neal hates? You make an awful lot of assumptions. You ought to ask questions, and then base assumptions on the answers.

PRESS: Well, I want to ask you a question, Neal, because what your comments about New Jersey are simply denying what Bernie said, is there are some cops who are stopping kids driving simply because they were black or Hispanic. And I ask you, what's wrong with this Massachusetts law? All it says is you keep a record of everybody you stop. What's wrong with knowing those facts?

BOORTZ: Because it is the obvious precursor or set up for a quota. You are going -- Bill, even you, Bill, have to understand...

PRESS: Slippery slope.

BOORTZ: ... that you're going to have police officers then who will let a probable criminal slide on by because their own records that they've been keeping in accordance with Massachusetts law are going to tell them, if I pull this one over, he looks drunk -- OK? -- he's got a ski mask on, whatever, if I pull him over, I'm going to be over my quota, and I'm going to be investigated. Let another cop handle it. I'm turning my eyes away from this one.

You know...

(CROSSTALK)

WARD: ... records in New Jersey we would have known five years ago what was happening to people in New Jersey. They were being pulled over for no reason. No ski masks, no drunk. They were simply being pulled over because of the color of their skin. And it was outrageous that American citizens were being treated that way.

PRESS: Gentlemen, you both recognize the need to take a break. We're going to do that. Let me remind -- tell our viewers that after the show both of our guests are going be in our chat room. You can ask them questions by joining our chat room at cnn.dom/crossfire. And while you're there, make sure to check out what new laws your state has enacted -- you better know that -- and what issues your legislature plans to tackle this next year. We'll take a break. When we come back, here's another wacky law in California. If you are a breast-feeding mom, you can actually get out of jury duty. Is this a good example to show for little kids? We'll talk about that when we come back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

PRESS: Welcome back to CROSSFIRE, and here's a New Year's warning for you. Be careful. As you just saw on the screen, in California, if you drive an ice cream truck, now you can only stop on streets where the speed limit is under 25 miles an hour. In Minnesota, if you lie in order to get one of those disabled license plates, now you can go to jail for up to a year. And in Utah, if you take your clothes off in public, now you could be hounded by their new porno czar.

Yes, states are tackling the tough issues with tough new state laws. But is it for the better or for the worse? That's our debate tonight with two tough talk-show hosts: nationally syndicated Neal Boortz, who joins us from Atlanta, and my colleague, KGO radio host Bernie Ward, joining us from San Francisco -- Mary.

MATALIN: OK, Bernie, let's go back to California, which has passed yet another -- they must top the charts with the number passed. But this is another one that Bill alluded to that violates two of my top principles, and it's the -- you're excused from jury duty if you're -- for one year, one year -- if you're breast feeding.

OK, I did it a shorter period of time. My sister did it a longer period of time. This is (UNINTELLIGIBLE) one size fits all, and that is never the case with breast-feeding. And also, how are you going to enforce this? Have like a lactation patrol? Isn't this the perfect example of the long reach for purposes of political correctness of the law?

WARD: Well, I don't know. If they're going to have the lactation patrol, can I also be the porno czar in Utah?

(LAUGHTER)

I just -- I just -- wouldn't that be exciting!

The fact of the matter is that we still see women that are being accosted who breast-feed their babies in public. We know for a fact that there are people that are made uncomfortable with it. And there's nothing worse than having to use a breast pump in the morning, be gone for eight hours, have somebody else have to feed your baby, or even worse, don't breast-feed them for the day, and then come back and try to reintroduce them, especially if the baby is new, if the baby gets taken off the nipple and then has to go back on.

The idea here was to make it better for women who were breast- feeding. I hope to encourage that. Should it be a year? I don't know if it should be a year. But if you're breast-feeding, the idea that you're going to have to make a week or a month's commitment to a trial and somehow figure out what to do with your baby, I don't see any problem with that. I think it's an attempt -- it's an attempt to encourage people to actually do jury duty.

We're actually going to pay people $10 a day now out there, too, and encourage them as well.

MATALIN: Bernie, Bernie, I totally appreciate your understanding of the commitment to breast-feeding, and I agree with you it is a difficult but wonderful thing to do. However, can't you just -- can't we just say that there is generally, if you have a good excuse, your excused from jury duty instead of codifying down to the diminution of zero common sense in our laws? That's the point. Too many.

WARD: Yes, yes. I think, Mary, the better law would have been, if you were breast-feeding, if you could make that case, if you're willing to attest to it under whatever oath (UNINTELLIGIBLE) you want, if you want to say that, then that's an excuse to get you out of jury duty. I would have no problem with that whatsoever, and then your name gets put back in the pile a year or two later, and then you're up for jury duty again.

BOORTZ: Well, why not a simple saw that says if you have child- care needs that cannot be met by somebody else, you get an excuse from...

WARD: I have no problem with that.

BOORTZ: ... jury duty.

WARD: I think that's fine. I have no problem with that whatsoever.

BOORTZ: But I must -- I must say, Bernie, I stand in absolute awe of your detailed knowledge of the aspects of breast-feeding.

(LAUGHTER)

WARD: Well..

(CROSSTALK)

If you had children that were breast-fed, you would know it. So...

BOORTZ: There's another assumption from Bernie, ladies and gentlemen.

WARD: No, that was a question. I said, if you had children, you would know it.

PRESS: Neal Boortz, let me jump in here. I want to move to some areas where I think states may be making laws this year and should. Let me suggest one area that needs fixing, see if you agree. How we vote.

Let me suggest a statewide standard for the same design on the ballot in all counties. Let me suggest standard voting machines. Let me suggest a statewide standard for how to recount ballots by hand. Are you with me?

BOORTZ: No problem. Under the rule of law, I think that those would be OK. I would suggest that you look very carefully into the problems that could be associated with computer-based voting bill. There is something very frightening about that. Who has the source codes? Who programs the computers? What happens during these mysterious computer breakdowns? How easy would it be to steal an election and nobody ever, ever be able to prove it when it's done inside a microchip?

PRESS: Well, now that we're in agreement, would you also agree then that we would make these laws retroactive and disqualify the count in Florida?

BOORTZ: Oh, absolutely not. Not if it would put Mr. Green in office, no. No way. We...

(CROSSTALK)

We have a good result.

MATALIN: OK, Bernie, here's a good one that I really did like. There were a huge number, sweeping the country, tax changes, mostly cuts and credits, including in Maine -- they eliminated, eradicated the tax on snack foods. Of course, Maine is...

WARD: I voted four times for that. Four times I voted.

MATALIN: Maine is the -- OK, it is true that Maine is the 18th skinniest state or has the 18th...

WARD: Wait, you have that statistic.

MATALIN: I actually have the statistic that it is the 32nd...

PRESS: We do our research here, Bernie.

MATALIN: Well, whatever. It's the 18th skinniest state. So this is either a testament to the fitness of Maine's citizens, or Bernie...

WARD: I'll never be (UNINTELLIGIBLE)...

MATALIN: Or Bernie, is this a tribute, is this an understanding that we are overtaxed, and isn't George Bush ahead of the curve on this?

WARD: Well, I don't think George Bush is ahead of any curve.

(LAUGHTER)

But that's all right. I mean, that's -- I mean, I've never seen a guy pick more Cabinet members from his father than I've ever met in my life.

As far as the snack tax, it recognizes one thing: People like to eat junk. People are tired of being told what to eat. You know, there's nothing worse than a raisin-bran muffin. It's the most disgusting that ever lived. And therefore, why should you tax it?

PRESS: OK, Neal...

BOORTZ: Yes.

PRESS: ... one more that maybe you and I can close on, telemarketing, the bane of my existence. Ban on telemarketing, and while we're at it, how about a ban on cell phones while people are driving?

BOORTZ: You know, you might -- you might get some agreement on the cell phones while people are driving thing. I almost T-boned somebody the other day that was making a hair appointment or something. But as for telemarketers, I don't believe a ban on telemarketers, but I do believe that once you have told them, don't call back, or once you put your name on a list, don't call me, and they still insist on violating the -- your privacy and serenity at home at night, then have a way to nail them.

I think that maybe this law, Bill, every telemarketer, as they begin their spiel, has to give you their name and their home phone number, and only after they've done that can they start their sales spiel.

PRESS: That would shut them down. That would shut them down.

MATALIN: You're right. You're right.

BOORTZ: I mean, they have your name and phone number. Why shouldn't you have theirs?

WARD: And shut down the machines.

MATALIN: Let's call Bill all night long.

All right, Bernie Ward, Neal Boortz, thank you so much. And we barely scratched the surface of the new laws, and you have an opinion on everyone. That's why everybody should listen to you both. Thank you.

And if you want to play with our guests, sign onto cnn.com/crossfire. They will chat with you after the show, and Bill and I will be right back after our closing comments. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATALIN: Don't forget to join our guests, Neal Boortz and Bernie Ward, in the chat room right after the show at cnn.com/crossfire.

Bill, I appreciate that revelation of something you never supported before, local control. Too much of this has gone too far. We cannot have laws that are unenforceable, like the breast feeding, or that expand your liberties to the detriment of the society, like the pot thing, or that abrogate personal responsibility, like the cell phone thing.

Let's apply common sense. Let's have a law to have common sense as an initial threshold for new laws.

PRESS: Well, I do believe -- I worked -- I started out working in state government. I've seen state government up close. I've seen this federal government up close. I can tell you, one works and one doesn't.

I think the best stuff being done in the country today is being done in Sacramento, it's being done in Dover, Delaware, in Albany, New York, in the state capitals. And they don't always get it right. But let me tell you something, growing pot -- this law is the right law, Mary. And I want to remind you: This is Mendocino County. That's also where the redwood trees are. You ought to see how big these pot plants are. Big!

From the left, I'm Bill Press. Good night for CROSSFIRE.

MATALIN: And you wonder why I call him the loony left. From the right, I'm Mary Matalin. Join us next time for more CROSSFIRE.

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