On The Record: Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Ridge

STATE COLLEGE, Pa. -- Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Ridge's name is often mentioned when political handicappers try to guess whom Texas Gov. George W. Bush wants as his Republican vice presidential running mate. However, GOP conservatives abhor Ridge's pro-choice stance on abortion, prompting an unflattering article in the National Review. Ridge discussed that article and other matters with Stateline.org Senior Writer Blair S. Walker during the National Governors' Association meeting at Penn State University earlier this month.

Stateline.org: What do you make of that National Review article that seems to indicate GOP conservatives don't want you to be George W. Bush's running mate?

Ridge: I, uh, considered the content. I find it amusing, predictable and not a terribly accurate characterization of a 12-year record in Congress. And also, I just kind of look at it and take it for what it is. I kind of concluded the writer had drawn a conclusion before he bothered writing the article. So be it -- that's the role of national politics.

Stateline.org: But doesn't it seem to indicate the conservative faction of the Republican Party does not want you to be vice president?

Ridge: I don't know what it indicates. I don't think the National Review necessarily reflects the opinion of national conservative leaders across the country. I think it is a respected magazine among a lot of Republicans, and I read it from time to time.

I just thought it didn't capture, or they weren't interested in capturing, was the fact that I'm my own kind of conservative, based on my own experience as a lawyer, as a governor, as an infantry soldier. The thing that really, I found, amusing and disappointing about the article is they drew some conclusions without asking me specifically about the issues.

Stateline.org: Have you been contacted by Bush?

Ridge: Our office is in constant communication with Gov. Bush's team, because we're working very hard to win Pennsylvania for him. And I see the governor when he comes in. But other than seeing him and talking to him when he visits Pennsylvania, I have no reason to contact him and he's had no reason, you know we talk from time to time.

Stateline.org: So he hasn't specifically asked you to be his running mate?

Ridge: I would -- any communication with regard to his asking, or any confirmation or denial would have to come out of their shop, not mine. Because he's the decision maker -- I'm not.

Stateline.org: In your recent flap over stock disclosure, it appeared you were very reluctant to disclose your holdings. It almost appeared that you were evading --

Ridge: You know, that's an interesting question. I didn't waste any time to disclose it, once general counsel suggested that an earlier interpretation of our disclosure law was . . . I thought it was interesting. I didn't have a helluva lot to disclose. It took fewer column inches to print what I have than to tell people I hadn't disclosed what I have. So, it's out there for the world to see and, uh, that's okay. I think disclosure -- had I been advised that the disclosure was paramount back in `95, I would have been disclosing it all the way through. I happen to think that disclosure is an important part of the American political process. I was the first and, to date, I think the only political figure and statewide office holder in Pennsylvania to basically turn over the software to the media and say, `These are my contributors, I believe that disclosure is a very important part of how we conduct business, so here it is.

Stateline.org: You recently signed what's been termed a landmark anti-sprawl bill.

Ridge: Our legacy of natural resources and our responsibility to protect and enhance them is emotional, and constitutional, in Pennsylvania. We're one of the few states that actually has a provision in its constitution that gives citizens a right to a preserved and enhanced environment.

We started off by putting together a group of citizens to tell us what are the 21st century's problems. They said the first problem was urban sprawl. We had a $650 million 'Going Greener' initiative, which is just money we're going to take out of the budget to deal with acid mine drainage, farmland preservation, rails to trails -- which incidentally, we have more of than any place else in the country.

But the second element after the 21st environmental commission and 'Growing Greener,' was the land-use legislation. Which really, really for the first time gives us an opportunity to move down a smart and intelligent growth pattern, to create locally designated economic development areas.

Stateline.org: What's going on in Harrisburg? It seems that a lot of state legislators have had run-ins with the law this year.

Ridge: We've had a tough time in Pennsylvania on both sides of the aisle. Fortunately, uh, very few of the allegations have been with regard to their responsibilities and duties as legislators. I can't speak to the individual cases . . . Other than, even though the incidences have been less to do with their public role, it does cast a darker shadow over the rest of the good, decent, law-abiding, honest, hard-working `R's and `D's that go to work every day in Harrisburg.

Stateline.org: Why have you taken to calling Pennsylvania a 'high-tech heartland?'

Ridge: This (Penn State University) is a leading agricultural research center, it ranks one or two in terms of industrial research. This whole area is a technology transfer park. They've got a huge, developing new school of information science and technology. A lot of engineering programs are here, and they're one of the key institutions around two technology initiatives that are statewide in Pennsylvania. One is called the Digital Greenhouse, where they're working with Carnegie Mellon (University), and the University of Pittsburgh, and the other is called Lightning Manufacturing. So, this is a high-tech heartland. It's Pennsylvania.

Stateline.org: Do you think Virginia Gov. Jim Gilmore might take issue with that moniker?

Ridge: He might be high-tech South. We're the high-tech heartland. He probably would, but geography means he can't really claim it.