By: Derek Dingle, Black Enterprise Exclusive
With the debates over, the election is heading into the homestretch as President Obama and Republican Mitt Romney seek to convince Americans that they have the best plan to advance the nation. Among the big issues of this campaign has been unemployment, small business and diversity. I gained the opportunity to interview Republican nominee Mitt Romney about his “Believe in America” platform promoting limited government and tax reform.
Although polls show that his support from African Americans is almost nil, the former Massachusetts governor and ex-CEO of private equity firm Bain Capital has engaged in some activities to reach out to African American voters through his appearance at this year’s NAACP convention, the release of a targeted campaign commercial featuring African American endorsers, installation of a black political advisory group and recruitment of high-profile GOP operative and conservative pundit Tara Wall as a senior communications adviser to advance his message.
The following are excerpts from that session:
Your platform advocates immediately using executive orders to strengthen the economy. What specific measures would you put in place for small business?
I talk to small business people across the country. Each has a different area of concern as it relates to government involvement in their enterprise. For some, regulation is crushing them. For others, they talk about taxation. Mine takes a very holistic approach to say, “How do I make small business have the support of our governmental structure? What do I do to help small business simply?” One, I’m going to put a hold on Obama era regulations, review them, and eliminate those that are killing jobs and crushing small businesses.
Give me an example.
I will literally put a stop on all.
For instance, Dodd-Frank [Financial Reform] has hundreds, thousands of pages of regulation. I want to look at those and find out which of those are making it hard for community banks to stay in business and make loans to small business. In the same vein, I’ll tell every agency through executive order, any new regulation you want to promulgate must be accompanied by an equal regulation you’re going to get rid of. We can’t just keep on adding and adding.
Second area, taxation. I want to reduce the taxes paid by small business. Specifically, the way to do that is to reduce the marginal tax rate that’s paid by individuals. Most small businesses, as you know, are taxed as individuals, not as corporations. So, I want to take the top marginal rate from 35% to 28%. And I want to cut all the other marginal rates by 20% across the board. That allows small business to keep more capital and grow their enterprise.
Number three, I’m going to label China a currency manipulator, which will allow me to apply tariffs if necessary where they have stolen intellectual property or have participated in unfair trade practices. There are a number of businesses that are going out of business because foreign competition has been unfair.
Critics say that with a Republican in office there will be fewer resources for the Small Business Administration and Minority Business Development Agency.
We’ll look at whichever programs are the most effective at encouraging the economy. We can’t keep spending every year $1 trillion more than we take in. I will go through our budget and try and eliminate those programs that are ineffective and expensive. But SBA has been an effective way of helping start businesses. Small business is a great source of job growth in this country. The SBA will be part of my agenda going forward.
Will the MBDA be a part of your agenda?
I don’t know a good deal about the program. So I’m not going to tell you it’s going to be eliminated or cut because I just don’t know enough about it or about how effective it’s been in terms of it stimulating minority business investment.
Are there any initiatives you’d develop to ensure black and minority firms gain access to financing and contracting opportunities?
My ambition is to target and encourage small business. I don’t have plans to provide a special set-aside for minority-owned businesses other than the programs that currently exist. So, I will continue to encourage small businesses to grow, and to be the most pro-business president we’ve seen in a long, long time.
Diversity is a large part of business. Looking at your 25 years of business experience, including Bain Capital, how did you apply diversity to recruiting executives?
In hiring, we try to hire the best person we could possibly get without regard to the gender, race, or the sexual orientation of the person involved. I can tell you that when I became governor [of Massachusetts] I noted that government by and large drew from the same pool of applicants. I wanted to get more diversity in my senior administration members. So, I tasked our team with reaching out to other sources of résumés and to bring in people of a broader background. So, in my cabinet I had a number of minority members.
So how would your presidential cabinet look?
I would hope to have the most capable people that I could find across the country. I would expect a number of them would have business backgrounds. I would hope a number would also have experience in the public sector. I recognize that you’re looking to see if there would be representation of various ethnic groups and genders. The answer is yes. I would love to have a cabinet that reflected the fabric of America.
If you’re elected, where do you expect to see the unemployment rate?
I see it being 6% or less by the end of my [first] term. We’ve put together a model. One: Aggressive use of domestic energy. Two: Opening new trade for American goods around the world, particularly in Latin America, where we have natural advantages. Three: Scaling back the growth of the federal government because it’s scaring the investors of the world to put money in America given the size of our deficits. Four: Building human capital, meaning giving people the skills they need for the jobs of today and improving our schools. Then number five: Restoring economic freedom, making America the best place for entrepreneurs and innovators and small and big business again. That means lowering tax rates, taking out the special deals and exemptions and loopholes that are currently there.
An interesting plank on your platform involves re-employment initiatives.
One of the things that I found in my state [of Massachusetts] was that people who’d been unemployed for long periods of time had a particularly difficult time getting a job. We put in place a small program that I would like to see expanded upon. We said if you hire someone who’s been unemployed for a year or more we will pay your company $2,000 to train that person. I’d like to see it applied on a more extensive basis. I favor the idea of giving small businesses either tax credits or training credits to hire people who they might otherwise not have hired.
You talked to the NAACP about addressing African American unemployment. What specific measures would you take?
The best thing I could do to help African American unemployment is to create growth of the overall economy which will lead to greater employment overall. I will get the economy going through the five major steps I described. That will put all Americans to work and it’ll get African Americans back to work.