U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk, the former Dallas mayor, was in Austin last week spreading President Barack Obama's message about job creation and the improving national economy.
He took a brief time-out after speaking with a group of farmers and ranchers and Texas Agriculture Commissioner Todd Staples to talk with The Texas Tribune about trade with Mexico, the public perception of the Obama administration, Dallas politics and about his own political future (hint: "nada").
An edited video of the interview and a transcript are below.
TT: What is the federal government doing to protect trade corridors with Mexico?
Kirk: The plan that we have presented to Congress to resolve this trucking dispute at its core addresses security. We have to give the American public the assurance that even as we seek to comply with our responsibilities under NAFTA, which we will, we want to do so in a way that doesn’t [harm] the integrity of that border. So we are working with all of our fellow agencies through the Department of Transportation and the Department of Homeland Security to make sure that we can do that. But we believe we can do that. We believe we can have a level of security that Texans — that Americans — deserve but that also keeps that necessary trade flowing. These are extraordinarily important markets for Texas agriculture interests. We want to make sure that they’re secured in a way that we continue to sell into those markets and keep those jobs here in Texas.
TT: What stumbling blocks have contributed to the Obama administration’s negative public perception?
Kirk: I think the president has demonstrated remarkable resolve, commitment and courage to come in and do what every president does, and that’s to fight for the future, the integrity, the safety of the American public. I know some people think we spend too much time looking back at the past, but you can’t escape the reality [that] this president came into office with a more dire fiscal situation than any president since maybe going back to the Great Depression. On top of it, trying to execute two wars at the same time. It is interesting and refreshing to us now that Americans are beginning to see the investments we made to secure and protect our financial system, our banking system, our regulatory systems have paid off. The TARP money, now, most analysts and commentators will tell you, not only worked but worked spectacularly well. And almost 90 percent of that money plus has been paid back to the federal government. And if you look at that investment and what we did to keep this country from falling into a depression and keeping our banking system from collapsing, I think that’s an extraordinary achievement.
TT: What do you think of Dallas Mayor Tom Leppert’s decision to resign to run for U.S. Senate? Any advice?
Kirk: I know Tom Leppert. He’s a good man. I think he’s been a good mayor for Dallas. I will only say this: One of the last times I cried as an adult was the night before I resigned as mayor, because I loved being mayor, and I loved the privilege of being the face and voice of a dynamic city and being responsible for the hopes and dreams of a million people, and trying to address their issues of safety, how to build a better economic future. And when I resigned, I said my prayer was that Dallas would have a better mayor than me, because they’d never have one that loved it any more. I’ve got to assume that’s what he’s going through. Beyond that, that’s a conversation for you to have with Tom Leppert. What I would say is I hope whoever is our next United States senator from Texas understands the critical importance of America having a thoughtful, progressive trade policy to our economic future. No state benefits more from exporting than Texas.
TT: What is Dallas looking for in its next mayor?
Kirk: What Dallas wants from a mayor is vision, integrity, leadership and character. And I think it’s okay to have a mayor who wants and loves the job. I am always suspicious of people who credential themselves for public office by virtue of the fact they’re not a politician. And I think part of our challenge in this country is we elect people over and over again who have told us that they don’t know anything about politics. And then we put them all in office and can’t understand why nothing works. This is a big job. Dallas is a big city. You’ve got 1.2 million people, a multibillion-dollar budget. You need someone that understands the politics of governing. And I don’t believe you can lead an institution you don’t love and respect. And more than any other individual, the mayor’s job is to go out and sell Dallas every day.
TT: What are your future political aspirations?
Kirk: Zero, zip, nada. For a kid who grew up in Austin, as much as I love Austin — and I do — I grew up here during segregation and Jim Crow. I’m 56 years old. When I was born, my mother and father could not vote, they could not attend the University of Texas. I grew up in segregated schools. In my lifetime, I have had a chance, because of Ann Richards, [to be] sworn in as secretary of state in the same state that denied my parents the right to vote. I’ve had an opportunity to attend a law school that my parents couldn’t attend as undergraduates. I’ve had the opportunity to serve my state as secretary of state, be mayor of Dallas, and now I’m having the opportunity to serve, I think, an incredibly dynamic president in a time of great challenge for our country. I’ve had a rich, rewarding life in public service. But when I am done — at whatever point the president believes my service is complete — I’m going to come home to Texas, enjoy my wife and take care of my daughters, and go out and apply myself in the private world. But I have no plans to ever seek elective office again. It’s not in my future.