Hollings’ Recipe for Better Government

Posted June 23, 2008 at 4:32pm

When former Sen. Fritz Hollings (D-S.C.) decided to pen his first book, he didn’t want to write about the things he accomplished during his more than 50 years in public office. He wanted to write about the things he did wrong.

“The theme of the book is, ‘Look at what I didn’t do.’ It’s a book of my failures,” Hollings said of his new book, “Making Government Work.”

The book, researched and written with the help of veteran Washington journalist Kirk Victor, draws on the former South Carolina lawmaker’s seasoned career to deliver a lesson on how and why the American government — to Hollings, at least — is falling short.

Hollings, who also served as governor, lieutenant governor and a state legislator in South Carolina, said seeing the American people hungry for change inspired him to write the book.

“The country is really ready to go to work,” he said. “They’re frustrated, they’re ready to go to work, but the government’s not working.”

Hollings counts America’s stance on trade as one of the government’s most salient failures.

“The United States government is financing outsourced production … and I’m trying to wake up the country,” he said.

Hollings, a longtime protectionist, said he believes America should tighten its restrictions on free trade to save the dwindling economy.

“We’re headed for Podunk,” he said. “It’s not going to be the high-tech bubble or the subprime mortgage bubble. It’s going to be the China bubble.”

Hollings also condemns the rise of the constant campaign, arguing that it distracts elected officials from fulfilling their commitments to their constituents.

“The Senate is the hardest- working group in the United States, but they’re working on their campaigns,” he said, pointing out that when he first ran for the South Carolina Legislature in 1948, he did not hold a single campaign fundraiser.

He said the cycle of Members relentlessly working to keep their campaign coffers full has allowed K Street to put Congress in a stranglehold.

“The rich have got all the speech they want. The poor, they’ve got lockjaw,” he said. “I want [lobbyists] to have influence, but I don’t want them to have control.”

Hollings returned to Capitol Hill on Wednesday for the first time since leaving office in 2005 to host a book reception for friends and former colleagues. He said the issue of campaign season seeping into the Capitol wasn’t lost on any of his former colleagues at the reception.

“Everyone said: ‘Right on. We’re not getting anything done. It’s all politics. It’s all campaigns,’” he said. “They’re tired of soliciting the money and [donors] are tired of giving it.”

Hollings proposes a 14-step solution for getting back on track that he believes will resonate with politicians on both sides of the aisle.

He calls his recommendations offers that today’s lawmakers can’t refuse. They include reorganizing the government’s system for creating and implementing trade policy, replacing the corporate income tax with a corporate revenue tax and instituting a nationwide focus on creating new technology.

“They’re not political; they’re bipartisan; they’re necessary,” he said. “The country’s going out of business, and something’s got to happen.”