Joe Dioguardi, a Republican candidate vying for Kirsten Gillibrand’s Senate seat, is the father of Kara DioGuardi, the American Idol judge. But you knew that. In fact, it’s probably the only thing you know about Joe DioGuardi at this point, because it’s mentioned in every single interview or newspaper article about him (including this one!). We chatted with DioGuardi today about being overshadowed by his celebrity daughter, as well as, believe it or not, other things like why he kind of appreciated what Jim Bunning did, and why George Pataki shouldn’t be proud of how he left New York.
Tell me the truth, are you getting tired of people asking you about your daughter?
No, I’m not at all. It’s just fascinating how celebrity works in America and how it seems to trump, you know, a lot of things. Even when one tries to be extremely serious and run for the Senate, the fact that you have a celebrity daughter seems to be the thing that a lot of people want to hear about. And you know what? That’s fine with me, because on the practical side, Dan, it really draws attention to me so that I can make my case. But I don’t want it to go to the point where people think I’m running because I have a celebrity daughter. That really has nothing to do with it.
Are you worried, though, that people won’t take you seriously, because whenever they hear about you, you’re referred to as “the dad of the American Idol judge”?
Right. Well, once they look at my record, they will see a very serious person.
Would you consider yourself a tea partier?
Well, you know what, I’m in sympathy with much of what they’re standing for and I speak at every teaparty event that I get an invitation to that I can accommodate …. Obviously they’re upset about everything about government and most want to just change things as much as they can, and I think that’s really what’s happening today. And I think that’s why I’m being received so well, because I’m kind of an Independent …. and the tea-party people seem to like a self-made man and someone who says they’re going to change things.
Some people know tea partiers as conspiracy theorists — people who think that President Obama wasn’t born in the United States, or he’s secretly a Muslim. Are you concerned about being associated with those views?
The one thing about the tea party is that it is made up of many different kinds of people. Some focus on just a few issues, but I’d say that the vast majority of the tea-party people that I speak in front of are more traditional. Although I do realize there’s a fringe element that’s worried about whether there’s a birth certificate or something like that. I don’t identify with those issues.
What grade would yo give President Obama so far?
I think if you looked at him as a person, as a spokesman, as someone who is inspirational, you’d have to give him a pretty high grade. I wouldn’t give him a very high grade, but I would say it would be above 5 [out of 10], maybe a 7. But when you look at the way we’re spending money …. He has the audacity to say that we can expect $10 trillion in deficits in the next ten years. That is outrageous!
But what grade would you give Obama’s presidency though?
I would say that it would have to be below 5. Obviously he’s a well-intentioned person, but I would give it a 4. Take the health-care plan — I could never vote for this plan. I mean, the fact that they can tell the people that this plan over ten years saves $132 billion [Ed: It’s $138 billion], when on the other hand he’s announced that we’re going to add $10 trillion to the national debt …. $132 billion is like taking a cup of water out of the ocean.
Do you think the health-care system needs reforming?
Absolutely, and I want to see more people covered, because we’re paying for them anyway. They go to emergency rooms if they’re not insured, and we end up paying for it. But if President Obama wanted Republicans at the table, the first thing he would have to say is, “All right, let’s at least open the door to tort reform.” He didn’t do that, and that’s a very important factor in why health care costs so much in America.
What’s your position on gay marriage?
Well, listen, I’m a traditional marriage believer, I’m a Roman Catholic, but I do believe that we have to be fair to everybody in society. And to the extent there are ways that we can help long-term, committed gay couples have the benefits that other citizens enjoy — I think it’s been called civil unions — I think that’s something that is entirely appropriate. So, I believe that we have to be fair to everybody in society, but I don’t see us using the term marriage to define a relationship between two people of the same sex.
On Neil Cavuto’s show the other day, you kind of hesitated on whether you supported Jim Bunning’s decision to hold up an extension of unemployment benefits as a protest against government spending, Do you support what Jim Bunning did?
I like the concept of what he did, but I don’t know that I would have done it on that issue. At a time when so many people are out of work and dependent on the safety net — and I see government, when things are really bad, as a safety net — we could have been in a depression and there had to be action that was taken. But I like what Jim Bunning did because it pointed out that one senator can stop government, and I wanted to make that point — even though he did it on an issue that I wouldn’t have used it on — I wanted to make the point that I would use that same tool in voting against these huge jumps in the debt limit.
Let’s say that, in a hypothetical Utopia, the national debt was suddenly gone, and it was no longer a problem. What would be your priority at that point?
I would think it would be to increase savings. Get people to understand that at some point in the future we could be back to a point where we have spent more than we’re taking in, and why not now start promoting savings like my father taught me to do?
What do you think about Steve Levy switching parties to run for governor?
I think that to have a really well-developed democracy, we need to encourage people to jump into the debate, and I’m not going to say that someone should not do what they think they need to do in order to jump into the debate. I’m not running for governor, I don’t know Steve Levy, I don’t know the politics of it. I frankly don’t like people switching parties. I could never, in a million years, think about switching parties. I would rather do what I did back 25 years ago in a district where Republicans were outnumbered four to one. I made my case to many Americans in my district that did not share my party label, and I got them to vote for me. That’s the way I like people to run. Why Mr. Levy thinks he has to change his party label to run is beyond me. If thinks he’s good and wants to become governor, he should prevail by staying who he is and running on that line.
Do you live in a constant state of fear that George Pataki is going to enter this race and overpower everybody else?
Not at all. I don’t see George Pataki really entering this race. If he wanted to do that I think he would have shown up to the Conservative Party convention, where I was on February 1, and you would have seen signs by now. I think George Pataki would have to worry about where he left New York State when he left it. Don’t forget, we had a grouping of people surrounding him that call themselves conservatives, and were always talking about reducing taxes. But guess what they did? They kept spending like drunken sailors. And guess what they did? They borrowed. Right now, New York State is 49th on the list of 50 states with the lowest bond ratings. I wouldn’t be proud of that, if I were George Pataki.