Alabama GOP Leader on Trump, Protests and More

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There’s been no shortage of news about President Donald Trump’s first days in office. We checked in with state Republican party chair Terry Lathan to get her perspective on it all. Click above for the five-minute on-air version of the conversation. Below are the extended 26-minute interview and its transcript.

 

[00:00:00, Dan Carsen:] How would you describe the Trump presidency so far?

[Terry Lathan:] Fast fast and furious probably, you know, from the movie title. You know as of today it’s been 12 days since President Trump — I used to call him “Mr. Trump.” And then I had to call him “President-elect Trump.” And so now I’m remembering to call him “President Trump” — but he’s moving at a really great pace for our nation. You know we’ve had eight years, in my opinion, of some policies that we we’re not very happy with. So this man is on a mission. I say he has “the eye of the tiger.” He’s a businessman, and he’s not used to being told “no.” He’s the master of his own universe in a way. So when he says “do this,” people say, “Yes sir.” He’s not used to being told “no” because he’s been the boss. And while he’s not the boss of the United States, the voters are, and the citizens are. He moves at a very quick pace and expects answers. I did hear him the other night ask a question and then say, “Why don’t we already know the answer to this? Go get me the answer.” And I think it’s something that America’s been missing. We get too bogged down very often, saying, “oh well, we’ll have to check with the bureaucracy, or we’ll have to have a committee formed.” He’s not interested in that. He’s interested in getting good answers in a very timely fashion and applying those answers. So I think I’ll start calling him “the Fast and Furious president.”

[00:01:30, Carsen:] That doesn’t give you pause at all? You know, so much power with one man? That doesn’t give you pause at all?

[Lathan:] Well it hasn’t since the beginning of time. Well, since the founding of our country. It’s no different at all. He’s just doing his job. So I think our system is such a beautiful system that still works in our nation from the founding fathers when our country was created that it will work its way out with the three branches of government. If people cross over lines then there’s two other branches there to say, “Hang on, just a minute.” So that seems to be happening a lot. I think sometimes people use that incorrectly though, to tell you the truth. I think they want to say, “oh you’re crossing the line,” and not really, no they’re not. So it’s very loud in America right now. I understand why it’s very loud. I understand why people are going to try to stop him or stop a conservative agenda. I think as time goes by though it’ll it will settle down.

[00:02:40, Carsen:] Is the Republican Party in Alabama fairly unanimous in its support for Trump?

[Lathan:] I would say very much so. In fact, we were one of the highest-percentage votes for Mr. Trump on November the 8th. I have dealt with several things in the last year of being state party chairman. But I have to tell you it was a roar in this state for anyone not to support him. Well you know we we’re big-picture people and we understand it was important to win the White House. And there’s something about Mr. Trump that people gravitate toward. I’ve never seen anything like it in my four years of volunteering. So he won overwhelmingly — the people of Alabama spoke loudly, and we’re just as pleased as we can be at how fast he’s moving. But with conservative policies that he’s implementing.

[Carsen:] What’s your personal opinion on the electoral college?

[Lathan:] It’s perfection. Again, the founding fathers got it right. We have to remember that we’re a republic. We might vote as “the majority wins” in a democracy, but we are a fifty-state Republic. If we do not keep the Electoral College — which we are, there’s no doubt that we’re not going to change it — but if you don’t keep it, you’ll have four states with their [large] population electing the president. And that’s just not what the founding fathers meant. They got it right. It’s going to be right for a long time. And while the popular vote is an interesting topic, the fact of the matter is the Electoral College is one of the most perfect systems ever implemented in the history of our world.

[00:04:41, Carsen:] Do you think you might feel differently if you lived in one of those states where proportionally, each person’s vote doesn’t count for quite as much because they, say, live in New York or California?

[Lathan:] No. It would be as consistent if I lived in a blue state as if I lived in a red state. And we’ve seen it go back and forth and back and forth. So no, I stand by that solidly. The founding fathers were geniuses and it’s still — they got it right even back then. And so no, population is an interesting topic, but if you go by that, you’ll have six or seven cities electing the president of the United States and that’s just not applicable.

[00:05:21, Carsen:] So what are your hopes for the country during Trump’s presidency?

[Lathan:] Well I’m looking forward to his next eight years. He is on a great pace right now. What we’re doing, what he’s doing is reversing liberal policy. He’s moving quickly right now, which we’re glad, but you know, we have a long way to go. We have had eight years of policy that we were very unhappy with and apparently America was very unhappy with. I think one of the mistakes that happened is we try to transfer the fun personality in the cool guy Barack Obama versus his policies. And that was an error that the Democrats made. They went with him and said, “oh he’s going to win Iowa and we’re going to transfer his coolness over to Hillary Clinton,” who was a horrible, terrible candidate, as we saw. So we’re going to work on good conservative policy right now. We’re seeing it done, and his Cabinet nominees are just spot-on. So we understand there’ll be some yelling here and there, but that’s just part of the political process. Name me a President or name me political parties that don’t have opposition yelling all the time. And then you throw in social media and you get everyone at every second of the day has an opinion and we all put it out there. So it sounds very loud, but the fact of the matter is President Trump is focusing on conservative policy. And we couldn’t be happier.

[00:06:55, Carsen:] Speaking of policy, which policies of his do you most agree with?

[Lathan:] Oh goodness. It’s it’s a long list. They’re all good. First of all, he jumped in to rolling back federal regulations. I love the rule, if we implement one I’m going to take away two. We love that he’s passing strong conservative policies as well. We saw that with his Supreme Court pick last night. Also defunding Planned Parenthood. We can have that topic on the abortion issue all day long, but it doesn’t mean the taxpayers have to pay for an abortion. It should be an elective procedure that a person pays for themself. But I as a taxpayer, we as taxpayers should not be mandated to do that. And they are the biggest abortion provider in the United States.

[Carsen:] Are you personally pro-life?

[Lathan:] I’m very pro-life. Yes, absolutely. I actually was a volunteer in a pro-life center when I was younger and the abstinence director for a pro-life center too. I’ve been a monthly donor to the pro-life movement for almost 20 years, my husband and I. So yes, absolutely. And I think his restructuring of the tax hierarchy here is going to be very interesting. He’s already talking about lowering taxes of our corporations, which we know will put money back into the pockets of people that we know will turn back into our economy. So there’s many many policies that we are hungry for him to implement. And the good news is he’s already started doing it.

[00:08:31, Carsen:] Are there Trump policies or Trump’s stated goals that you and other Alabama Republicans take issue with?

[Lathan:] At this time, the pathway that he’s on, I think we will square up pretty firm with him at this time. Yes. We like what we see.

[00:08:48, Carsen:] So what do you think of all the anti-Trump protests by women’s groups, civil rights groups, immigration advocates, and citizens? Any thoughts for those protesters?

[Lathan:] Sure. I think it’s a good thing that we live in a nation that we all can express our opinions. However, when you cross lines of throwing bricks through glass windows or setting fires on cars or even dressing your children up in inappropriate costumes to make your personal point, I think America looks at this and goes, “Oh hang on just a minute.”

[Carsen:] Is that how you see the majority of the protesters? Because that’s not what a lot of the video cameras and a lot of the people on the scene saw.

[Lathan:] Well it’s what I saw with my eyes. And you know, look, the fact of the matter is the more outrageous and salacious you can be, the cameras love that. And that’s very often what you’re going to see. The bottom line is America is a place that we can speak our piece and I’m all for that. I think, though … people will calm down just a little bit. I think some folks are really upset — they didn’t see this coming. We were told over and over and over again that he [Trump] is not going to win, Republicans are going to lose the Congress. It’s going to be a bloodbath. And the exact opposite happened. So there are a lot of people that are still trying to deal with the reality of what the American people said. I think there are a lot of people that are very passionate and they may mean well and … I like the fact, just like the pro-life march last week assembled and marched — I think that’s appropriate just as it is as appropriate. Unfortunately though, some people do get out of control. I am an advocate of not only that first amendment right, but calling your elected officials. So I think that’s interesting, that you protest. But did you vote? Are you registered to vote? Do you call your representatives, do you call your senators? Do you reach out to the people that you put in office? To me that’s important. And as the state party chairman for the Republican Party, I’m constantly asking people, “Have you called your elected official?” Very often times, some of my own folks go, “Well no, not yet.” All right, well you need to call them and tell them. They are your representative, so I hope anyone who has problems with anything in our government policy will reach out to their elected officials.

[00:11:28, Carsen:] Speaking of immigration, jumping from protest to immigration in general: given how groups like ISIS do their recruiting — they use social media and they have a narrative that they want to push out to potential susceptible young men usually that they want to recruit — do you think the temporary order against refugees and banning immigrants from seven majority-Muslim countries, do you think that was wise?

[Lathan:] Yes I do. And not only do I think he was wise, but what’s so interesting is, *President Trump used the exact seven countries that President Obama did. And when that happened, no one said a word, or they said, “Oh that’s great.” But when President Trump does it, you know, it’s like everyone lost their minds. The fact of the matter is he’s just pumping the brakes. It’s a vetting process to slow down. Any president owes that to the United States of America.

[*Editor’s note: The seven countries in President Trump’s executive order had been identified as “countries of concern” under the Obama administration. Trump’s order is significantly more sweeping, temporarily banning citizens from those Muslim-majority countries from entering the U.S.]

[00:12:24, Carsen:] Did you just use President Obama as a good example of something that was done in the past and should continue?

[Lathan:] Sure. He got that one right. He got that one right. Every now every now and then, you know, we don’t always get it wrong a hundred percent of the time. No, he got that one right. And this right now, the halt is for 90 to 120 days. Look, America is a privilege to come here. It’s not a right to come here. And with ISIS and other terrorist organizations clearly having us in their crosshairs, it is time that we step up and we say, “That’s it, that’s enough.” We’ve got to double down on our vetting. And I think Americans — you know, “build a wall, build a wall” — that was President Trump’s first mantra and everyone jumped on that. And they’re going to expect this to happen. I would add that in 1995, the state of the Union, Bill Clinton stood up and said basically the same words that President Trump is saying: we must stop this illegal immigration. It’s out of control and we’re going to do something. So we can see from history a line of presidents that understand the problem and try to implement policy. The policy that President Trump has done is no different.

[00:13:47, Carsen:] Would I be right to guess that you think calling it a “Muslim ban,” even though they’re going out of their way to say that is not what is happening, but in effect that is, and especially given the exemptions for some minority religions, that is sort of what it translates to — would you take issue with it being described as a “Muslim ban”?

[Lathan:] I absolutely do. Anyone that uses the two words “Muslim ban” has a personal agenda to stir people up. There is nothing in these orders to talk about one’s religion. Absolutely not.

[00:14:18, Carsen:] Except for those exemptions for minority religions, which normally is going to apply to Christians coming from the Middle East.

[Lathan:] Right. Right. But no, it’s not a Muslim ban. That’s just propaganda that they use. The fact of the matter is there’s over 40 countries that are predominantly Muslim-oriented — the people who live there — and those countries aren’t on this ban. It’s the same seven that President Obama used. So I absolutely reject that. And I find it obnoxious for anyone to use those two words together. Yeah, I think we have to trust our leaders and our intel and those that are dealing with this every day. And so we’ll see what the future holds. But right now what I do know is this is basically a replica of what President Obama did. [*See editor’s note above.]

[00:15:03, Carsen:] Many people from countries subject to that ban work and study at UAB, right here in Alabama, right here in our neck of the woods. Is there a concern among Republicans about the potential impact the ban might have on universities and colleges or even the larger economy?

[Lathan:] I haven’t really thought about that question. I would say that people that are coming here that can pass our vetting will be welcome, and they’ll come here and there should be no problem. You know, this is, for me … this is not hard. It’s not hard at all. Are you coming? Do you have a track record to harm this country? Yes or no? And so if you have students for example coming to UAB, a fine institution, that are for some of these, if we need to slow it down a little bit and totally vet them, then we’re going to do it. And if they can pass that and can hit the mark, then I’m sure it’s not a problem at all for them to be here. We’re going to have to take these individually. We’re not going to put everyone in one bucket. You know as Clinton tried to put all the deplorables in one bucket, as she called us. So I think it’s going to be on a case by case basic. But the bottom line here, big picture, is that it is a privilege to come to this nation and we welcome people from all parts of the world. We are a nation of love. We are a nation of open arms. We’re of a nation that loves our immigrants that come here for a better life. The problem is, we have people who want to come here to kill us, and we’re going to have to deal with that. And oftentimes soundbites on television or a catchy little phrase or people who rant and rave about things maybe miss the big picture. And so we’re going to just walk this back, slow it down. Pump the brakes a little bit and worry about our country first.

[00:17:00, Carsen:] So on this sort of slowing down the inflow concept, on a case by case basis, you trust the government to get that right?

[Lathan:]  I … well … that’s a good question, because the, my tendency is only to go, you know, not trusting the government on everything. You know I think we have very smart people that are in the administration. We have good Americans that love our nation that are in these places of authority. Is there a perfect process? I can’t say … but I think we have done a great job. For the American citizens that are … the ones, you know, the ones that come through legally with a vetting process that we can vet, [they are] not the problem. It’s the people that come through that we don’t know who they are, or they come through here illegally is our problem. So yeah, I think the process is going to work its way out. We’ve got some good people up there.

[00:18:02, Carsen:] Especially since you used to be a teacher and since I cover education I have to ask, what do you think of Betsy DeVos, president Trump’s pick to head the U.S. Department of Education, given her support for for-profit school operators and her lack of experience in public schools?

[Lathan:] So I am a big school-choice advocate. And if you wrap all this up … that’s what she has simply said and the party strongly agrees with, our Republican National Committee platform: we believe the parents are the people who should be making the choices for where their children go to school. We do not believe a zip code should define you as a student or your circumstances. If you’re the parent … we believe that they should have the opportunity to take their child with their taxpayer money to the place that they’d like to get. I don’t see how that’s unreasonable.

[Carsen:] Since Alabama Republicans tend to be fiscally conservative, just as far as financial efficiency, wouldn’t it be better to take the improvements that these charter schools will supposedly have and just apply those to the system that already exists?

[00:19:23, Lathan:] But they’re not doing it. If that was the problem, we wouldn’t be having to talk about charter schools or taxpayer money going into other schools, if there was a policy implemented already in our education system. Why would they need to go anywhere? But there are failing schools and there are problems. You know, as a former fifth grade public school teacher — I’ve always taught the public schools and in Mobile, the largest the oldest in the state of Alabama — I understand this very well on a personal level. So part of our primary education, though it’s not the people, it’s the policies: we are being inundated from up high in the federal bureaucracy. And that is trickling down to our classrooms. Those are the things that teachers are given now to teach or not to teach. We’ve really watered down our civics and our government. I have to tell you that I was on the state textbook committee for mathematics. The Common Core, when it first came out, I was very unhappy with the textbooks. I went through dozens and dozens of math books trying to to to grade them — how this will work, this wouldn’t. I have to tell you, I didn’t find many that were good as a math teacher. I saw books that had 10 problems to work, now we’re on to the next lesson. That’s not a good way to teach math. So the bureaucracy, unfortunately, I believe has moved down into our public school systems and the teachers we you know they have to teach what they’re given… So I would go back to say if we can get some really good strict conservative policies back into our schools, maybe we wouldn’t have this problem that people want to flee to go to a charter school or private school somewhere. But at the end of the day if you’re the taxpayer you’re the parent it’s your child, it’s your money. Tell me why I should not be able to take my money I give the government and put my child at the school of my choice.

[00:21:37, Carsen:] What do you think about Trump’s pick to head the Justice Department, Alabama’s own Jeff Sessions?

[Lathan:] What do I think about that? Oh my goodness. Happy Dance time. Look, the fact of the matter is, not only because Senator Sessions is from Alabama but we all know him personally. You know, if he was from Idaho or Nebraska and we would hear these great things, I would go “This is a great pick.” But to know Jeff Sessions, like so many of us do, many people listening right now, to say what a fine patriot. What a great Christian man, what a rock-solid conservative — a man who says what he means and means what he says. Isn’t that what we hunger for in politics, for people like Jeff Sessions? So today we know that he has been confirmed by the committee, hopefully rapidly moving to the Senate. We know he’s going to be confirmed. I am telling you, we couldn’t be prouder. On a personal note, I’ve known Senator Sessions for decades and there’s just not a finer pick. So President Trump got this one. So right.

[00:22:44, Carsen:] You said before in this interview that Trump is “not used to being told no.” Do you think Jeff Sessions, assuming he becomes head of the Justice Department, will be able to say no to Trump when he needs to?

[Lathan:] I think he will, sure. I think … when I say that President Trump’s not used to being told no, I mean when you’re the head of your own corporation or you’re the owner of something. But owners of businesses also have good teams around them, and sometimes they have to come in and say, “I don’t think we should, [let’s] go a different way. Look, you know, as the chairman of the state party, I have a staff and sometimes I’ll make a suggestion, and they go, “well, we should go this other way.” And they tell me something I hadn’t thought of, and I go, “you’re right, let’s do that.” So this is a team, this is going to be a great team. So I have full confidence that Jeff Sessions will guide the president in the way that he sees is best for America, even if sometimes they might need to rein back on topic and go a different way with it. I think that’s going to happen. Of course it’s going to happen. I think it’s going to be great.

[00:23:46, Carsen:] You’re not worried about the civil rights groups reaction to him over some very racially insensitive comments he made back in the 80s — that doesn’t bother you?

[Lathan:] Allegedly made. And he has denied it, denied it. I personally know Jeff Sessions and I absolutely believe Jeff Sessions. Again, people are welcome to their opinion. They’re welcome to their first-amendment protest, but at the end of the day, there is no finer man that’s going to be representing as the top cop as the head of Justice Department, as Jeff Sessions.

[00:24:15, Carsen:] Trump and others liken his Supreme Court nominee Neal Gorsuch to the late Antonin Scalia, who was often controversial himself. Any thoughts on Neal Gorsuch?

[Lathan:] I never found [Scalia] a big controversy. I found him to be fantastic. Listen, the new judge is going to be appointed. They say he mirrors Judge Scalia as close as anybody. Those are wonderful words to conservatives in America. Our country in the last eight years has taken a sharp left turn, and they miscalculated the people of this country. America is not a sharp left country. We’re not a progressive left leaning country. We never have been. We’re moderate centrist and in very many ways lean right, to some degree. So this is a perfect fit for America to get us back on that path.

[00:25:09, Carsen:] Is there anything else, anything at all, you think our listeners and readers should know?

[Lathan:] Well, I would round back on Senator Jeff Sessions. I’ve said this once and will continue to say it: we are going to miss him sorely, representing the people in Alabama and Congress. But I have to tell you, America: you’re welcome. You’re going to love Jeff Sessions. It’s a bigger cause. It’s a bigger picture. Our country is a big snapshot. To have someone like Jeff Sessions … and I have to say I’m so proud of Senator Richard Shelby who has been with him side by side, shoulder to shoulder and helped in the confirmation process. Alabama’s been so blessed to have two giants there representing us.

[00:25:51, Carsen:] Any inside information or thoughts on who might replace Sessions here?

[Lathan:] Absolutely zero. I think I did hear the word the governor said — “swiftly,” that that would be coming — and I’m assuming we’re waiting for this confirmation to be solidified. I did meet with Governor Bentley on the topic, had a great discussion about it — very general, not specifics. What I really came away with: I appreciated from the governor that he’s very focused and very serious about this. He understands the weight of this pick, and I did tell him I did not envy him one bit for having to make this pick. But I did share that. We need to get it right, because Senator Sessions is a really hard act to follow.

[Carsen:] Terry Lathan, thank you for your time.

[Lathan:] My pleasure always.