Kansas Sen. Brownback Weighs Presidential Bid

Kansas Sen. Sam Brownback is still mulling over the possibility of running for president in 2008. He began the weekend by spending the night in a Louisiana state prison to promote a faith-based prisoner-reform plan. The Republican senator talks with Debbie Elliott about the impact of last month's mid-term election.

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DEBBIE ELLIOTT, host:

A Republican presidential hopeful found an unusual place to campaign this weekend, the Louisiana State Penitentiary in Angola.

Kansas Senator Sam Brownback spent Friday night in a cell at the prison. He managed to break out the next day and joins us now from his home in Topeka. Thank you for being with us.

Senator SAM BROWNBACK (Republican): Pleasure to join you, Debbie.

ELLIOTT: Tell me about your accommodations there. Were you really sleeping in a cell, locked inside?

Sen. BROWNBACK: I was. And it was pretty hard conditions, as far the mattress is about an inch thick. It was the steel. But I wanted to do it to make a point about some of the things that we need and can do, and some places that are doing it to improve the prison situation and reduce prison recidivism rates.

ELLIOTT: Why did you choose this as a platform here on your first national tour after you formed your exploratory committee for the 2008 primary for the Republican nomination for president?

Sen. BROWNBACK: Well, I wanted to show people that there are things that we can do on a wide range of topics, and that there are things that we need to do. And it also ties in with - it's my philosophy that every person, no matter who they are or where they are, are unique, they're beautiful, they're a child of the living god. And that applies whether you're pro-life. That applies to how we treat people in prison. That applies to victims. And I think if we can take that attitude of treating people like people, we can really change a lot of things, including prison recidivism rates. That's why I took the message there early in our campaign.

ELLIOTT: Now, Angola is known as one of the tougher prisons in the country. What programs there were you trying to single out?

Sen. BROWNBACK: They have a very active spiritual environment. And that has taken their inmate assault rate from 1990 of 455 inmates assault per year to 97 last year. And that's something I wanted to point out to people. We can do this. But it does involve us in engaging the soul, the soul of inmates, and treating inmates like people.

ELLIOTT: But aren't you on a little bit tricky ground there when you talk about engaging the soul and spiritual programs. You know, federal courts have repeatedly ruled that faith programs can be an unconstitutional use of taxpayer money for religious purposes, you know. And in particular in a prison. It's not like a prisoner has a whole lot of choice. They're locked in there.

Sen. BROWNBACK: They are locked in there. But they have a choice whether to participate or not. And my point on saying this is I think that there is clearly a constitutional way to doing this. And Debbie, on top of it, it works.

ELLIOTT: Does that not though somehow punish those who might not be willing to participate in a faith-based program because they don't have the kind of access to some of the privileges that those who participate in the program might?

Sen. BROWNBACK: But it's their choice. If somebody decides not to go to a religious college, then they're not going to have access to certain things there. But that's their choice.

ELLIOTT: You know, you came to Washington with the Republican Revolution of 1994 as a member of the House, and then you went on to win the Senate seat vacated by Bob Dole. Now that voters have put Democrats back in power, and voters seem to have rejected some of the Republican agenda, where does that put a candidate like you, looking at the 2008 presidential election? You know, you have a very conservative record.

Sen. BROWNBACK: I don't think they rejected our platform. They rejected our lack of execution of it. They didn't change courses. I think they changed captains. And the election, if anything, it was about the war and corruption. I still think it's clearly a center-right majority country.

One of the things that many of the things we were criticized the most for was our too much spending taking place and our lack of really engaging the core topics that we have talked with people about. I think there's a solid group of Americans, the majority of Americans, that support ideals and ideas like what I'm putting forward, and I'm looking forward to showing that to the rest of the country.

ELLIOTT: What do you think some of those core topics will be in 2008?

Sen. BROWNBACK: I think you'll see the economy. I do think you will see the war on terrorism and our view towards foreign policy, which I think is going to have to move much more towards containment, instead of a preemption move. I do think you'll see the core social issues - the rebuilding of the family, the renewing of the culture - resonate a great deal. And then there will be, I think, supporting issues like energy. We've got to get off of our Middle East dependence on oil and much more dependent upon the Midwest. I think those will be some of the core topics that are out there.

ELLIOTT: Kansas Senator Sam Brownback, thanks for speaking with us.

Sen. BROWNBACK: Thank you, Debbie, all the best.

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