Fred Karger is a former actor, a former senior political consultant for California governor George Deukmejian and presidents Gerald Ford, Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush, a gay rights advocate, the author of Fred Who? Political Insider to Outsider, and a candidate for the Republican nomination for president in 2012. I spoke with him Friday morning about a number of crime- and justice-related issues (before throwing in a final question from out of left field).
I should note here that Mr. Karger had no chance to prepare any of his answers – because thanks to an error in communication, he didn’t know the interview had even been scheduled: he just got a call on his cell phone from some journalist, and agreed to do the whole thing on the fly.
The sound file below is the entire unedited interview (though I removed a few minutes from the beginning of the recording when we were joking around about campaigns and Skype). The transcript below that is edited for clarity.
This is Bill Bickel, Managing Editor of Crime, Justice and America magazine, and I’m here this morning with Republican presidential candidate Fred Karger. Mister Karger, thanks for joining us. I know you have a busy day ahead of you, and I appreciate you giving us part of it, so I’m going to quickly run down some crime-and-justice-related issues, and find out your thoughts.
First of all, juveniles treated as adults – and eligible for life in prison. That’s an issue that’s before the Supreme Court this year. What’s your take on that?
Well, it depends on the states. At a certain age, I think criminals should be treated as adults. I can’t really speak for the states’ rights, that’s up to them. I’ve always been very active in the crime victims’ movement, starting in California in the late 70s, through the 80s. I’ve met very many crime victims, and I have great compassion for them, and their concerns for justice. And one of the great things that my old client, George Dukmaijan, did was stiffen the penalties for criminals; and that’s one of the primary reasons our crime rates are down and the cities are safer for all Americans.
Right now, the Supreme Court is discussing – and I know this isn’t a presidential issue – whether 16- and 17-year-olds should be eligible for life in prison without chance of parole. For crimes committed at that age. That’s fine?
You know, I’m not weighing in on that Supreme Court case.
I think it should be left to the states. Obviously these are capital cases, but there are different circumstances, and I think each state needs to look at that individually. I really can’t weigh in on the state’s rights issue on that, I’d leave that to the individual states.
Fair enough. Death penalty?
I support it. And that is one of the few issues in my life that I’ve actually changed my position on over time, and it was the result of working with crime victims in the middle 80s, and working [successfully] to remove [former California Supreme Court Chief Justice] Rose Bird and two associate justices. She had overturned 62 out of 62 [death penalty] cases1. We worked with nearly every single family member of those 62 murder victims, and that really changed my mind, when I heard their side of the issue and their need and desire for justice. And the deterrent – and there’s obviously two sides to the issue – but certainly I think it sends the message if we enforce the death penalty, which of course is not happening uniformly across the country.
Guantanamo, comma, closing of…
That was a stupid idea of President Obama’s that he’s changed his mind on, and it’s nice to have these terror suspects not on our soil, in this situation where we’re fighting terror to have that area down there. And how ironic is it that we have this military base in one of the countries where our enemy combatants and American citizens aren’t allowed to visit? But I think that’s a safe place, I don’t think we should bring these terrorists to American prisons We need to interrogate them and find out about terrorist plots. I think in the last two administrations we’ve been very successful, knock on wood, in deterring any further attacks on American soil, and we need to be very vigilant about that. And believe me, that’s the number one job of the American government, protecting our citizens.
Okay, and following that up, I was gong to ask you about the PATRIOT Act, but I assume you’re on board with that in all ways. Anything you would lighten up on, on the PATRIOT Act? Is the any aspect in which you think the PATRIOT Act goes too far?
Well, you know, it was a reaction to the terrorist attacks of September 11, and an effort to consolidate the agencies. It was a monumental task, the federal government with all the turf wars and everything, but I think it was necessary at the time and I think it absolutely should be reviewed periodically as we win our war on terrorism and we can look at things, because we need freedoms in this country, but we also need to be as tough on terrorists and our enemies as we can. So I support it, I support it, and it’s a good law.
And one more: Gun control.
I believe in the Second Amendment. I think where we do need to look at gun laws is where automatic weapons fall into criminal hands, I think there’s a necessity to look at those, and also those extended clips, like the one that was used in Tucson to shoot Congresswoman Giffords and others, and I think we’re going a little too far in that area [allowing them], but absolutely I believe in the right to bear arms for all Americans.
And what’s going on right now in the Congress, the reciprocal carry permit law2. Would you sign off on that if you were president?
I don’t know about that, Bill, I’d have to look at that a little more carefully. I’m in New Hampshire now, and they’ve greatly expanded the concealed weapons laws, even allowing them in the State House. I’d have to look at each of these individually and again, I’d yield to the states on many of these issues, because I think that’s important, but we do have our Second Amendment.
In a sense, actually, this bill is an anti-state’s rights law: what they’re saying is that every state has to honor every other state’s concealed carry permits so if you get a permit in, say, Texas, which probably isn’t a heck of a hard thing to do, and if you want to go into, say, New Jersey, New Jersey has to honor the permit. Which would actually be an abridgement of New Jersey’s state’s rights.
If this isn’t something you’ve thought about, I’m not trying to blindside you on that.
On the surface it sounds like in keeping with my philosophy, but I’d have to look at that before I can take a position.
Fair enough. One more question, and I know I am blindsiding you a little bit on… I’ve read your book, and it was very interesting. I actually remember that Edge commercial3. And now I have to somehow find it on YouTube and “Oh yeah, that’s him, that’s the guy I interviewed and he’s running for president and everything, wow.” Anyway.. when they make a movie of your life… who plays young Fred?
[hesitation and laughter] Ben Stiller, how about him?
Alright, alright, I can see that.
He’s a god looking guy, and besides he can produce it and direct it.
1 According to the New York Times, Bird actually voted to vacate 64 out of 64 death sentences, sand received enough supporting votes to overturn 61 of them.