Tarrant offers alternative take on tradional Republican views

Millionaire has fresh ideas, but lacks concrete plans to implement them

By Ben Moger-Williams
Observer staff

Richard Tarrant, millionaire businessman and fledgling politician, has some lofty ideas for the country.

While definitely Republican, Tarrant’s political leanings are hard to qualify absolutely. He disagrees with President Bush on Iraq, but he has given money to anti-abortion causes. But he also donated campaign funds to a liberal Democrat, and he wants to change the country’s health care system. Tarrant has views that depart from traditional Republican thinking, and he does not hesitate to express them.

When asked if he agrees with President Bush on staying the course in Iraq, his answer is immediate:

“No. I think we have to get out sooner than he appears to believe,” Tarrant said in an interview last week with the Observer. He did not have a plan or a timetable for withdrawal, but merely said it was time to leave.

“(The United States) had a civil war a hundred years after the democracy was formed,” he said. “Are we going to wait in Iraq a hundred years just in case civil war breaks out? It’s time to get out.”

Tarrant, 63, announced his plans to run as the GOP candidate for senate last month. Tarrant, co-founder of IDX Systems Corp. in South Burlington, hopes to replace retiring Sen. James Jeffords, I- Vt.

Since Lt. Gov. Brian Dubie announced last week he would not be running for the seat, Tarrant’s only challengers for the GOP nomination are state Sen. Mark Shepard of Bennington County and ex-fighter pilot Greg Parke of Rutland. The Republican nominee will face Rep. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., in the 2006 election.

GE Healthcare bought IDX Systems last month in a deal valued at $1.2 billion. After the buyout, Tarrant, who owned about 8 percent of IDX shares, netted about $108 million from sale of his stock in the company.

While some people wonder whether the multi-millionaire had his own best interests at heart and is leaving Vermont employees at IDX out to dry, Tarrant said the deal was based on what the Board of Directors thought was best for IDX stockholders.

“If something comes along that’s good for the stockholders, an 8-percenter can’t say ‘No, no, no, we’re not going to do it,’” he said. “Because that’s when you get sued and you go to jail.”

Tarrant insisted that his loyalty was to the stockholders, not his own personal interest.

“When it became obvious that IDX could do a lot better with a company that could expand its products worldwide, it was just a matter of who you sell to and who’s the best buyer,” he said. “It’s not like I could have said no.”

Tarrant said that although nothing was put down on paper, most of the IDX jobs in Vermont are here to stay. He hinted that some jobs may be lost, but expansion is in the future for the company, which is located off U.S. Route 7.

“In the interim there may be some jobs that go away, clerical jobs or whatever, “ Tarrant said. “But over the long haul, if you’re a businessperson, and you want to take business advice from me, I would tell you to buy property on Shelburne Road. Because they’re going to need it.”

Tarrant said GE Healthcare was most interested in the radiology system, which was developed in Vermont.

“In software you’re buying grey matter,” he said. “You’re not buying hard assets, you’re not buying an assembly line, you’re not buying cheese-making machines. You’re buying the people.”

He said the software engineers in Vermont are an asset to GE Healthcare, and the company would not be likely to move IDX.

“They are not going to move those people,” he said. “These people wouldn’t move, they can get jobs anywhere . They would lose the product if they moved them. It just can’t happen.”

Health care veteran

As president of IDX, a medical software company, Tarrant has been in the health care business for over three decades.

“I’ve seen everything there is to see in health care,” he said. “With that kind of experience, I want to go to Washington and grab the health care system by its neck and start trying to fix it.”

Tarrant said he wants to create what he calls New Medicare, or Medicare Part E, which would be open to farmers, small businesses and uninsured people. A means test would determine how much a person would pay in premiums. He said in his system, half the country would be under New Medicare, and the other half would use a free-market system.

“The plan I’m putting together is free-market based,” he said. “But it covers many of the aspects that the single-payer advocates are fighting for.”

Eventually, Tarrant said, he would want Medicaid merged into Medicare.

“Medicaid is a 50-state disaster,” he said. “Every governor and every Legislature in the country are being suffocated by the budgetary requirements of supporting Medicaid.”

As for how he would pay for all of these reforms, he simply said the money is there already.

“The cost of treating the uninsured, and the care of the uninsured is in the system now, period,” he said. “And it’s in at a more expensive level than it should be.”

He explained that charity care, cost-shifting, and the fact that many people suffer from chronic diseases such as diabetes, that are not caught until costly measures are necessary, are eating up the money needed for his reforms, but he lacked a specific plan for changing the system.

“Over the long haul the cost is in the system,” he said. “The trick is, the political trick is how do you move it from one side to the other?”

On a similar note, Tarrant said he thinks the most important issue facing the country right now, besides health care, is rampant government spending.

“The single biggest issue is we are hocking our future right now,” Tarrant said. “I’m a Republican. But the Republican administration and the Republican Congress – with the Democrats’ help – are spending money like crazy. “

With his business background, Tarrant says he wants to rein in the “financial juggernaut” that he says the country has no way to pay for.

“We need some rigor in the budgeting process, ” he said. “And we need someone who can stand up to the crazy spending, and someone who’s got some background, and who understands the downstream effects of what happens when you spend this kind of money.”

On abortion

Tarrant said he believes that Roe vs. Wade is the law of the land, and as senator he would support it.

“Introducing a constitutional amendment would be a waste of time,” he said. “It would never pass, so I think we just need to move on. “

But his personal feelings may be different. The weekly newspaper Seven Days reported recently that a charitable foundation in Tarrant’s name has a policy to not give grants to organizations that are “a proponent of free choice as it relates to abortion.”

“I think everybody is opposed to abortion,” said Tarrant, the father of two adopted daughters. “The (Richard E. Tarrant) Foundation will not pay for performing abortions, is basically what that’s about.”

According to Federal Elections Committee documents, Tarrant gave $1,500 to the Vermont Right to Life Committee in 1998, a fact that would corroborate his foundation’s policy. Tarrant also gave $2,000 to the Bush campaign, as well as $1,000 to the Republican National Committee during the last election.

But his donations don’t completely spell “conservative. “ FEC filings also show that Tarrant contributed $2,000 to Howard Dean’s campaign, Dean For America, in 2003.

His baseball loyalties are much more cut-and-dry, however. When asked about his team affiliation, he does not hesitate: “Red Sox.”

Observer staff reporter Greg Elias contributed to this report.