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Transcript: Govs. Chris Sununu, Wes Moore, Michelle Lujan Grisham and Doug Burgum on "Face the Nation," Feb. 12, 2023

4 governors on the issues facing their states
4 governors on the issues facing their states 12:39

The following is a transcript of an interview with Govs. Chris Sununu, Wes Moore, Michelle Lujan Grisham and Doug Burgum that aired Sunday, Feb. 12, 2023, on "Face the Nation."

MARGARET BRENNAN: We're back with Governor Sununu and we're joined by Democrat Wes Moore, who was just sworn in as Maryland's first Black Governor. Michelle Lujan Grisham is the Democratic governor of New Mexico. Republican Doug Burgum is the governor of North Dakota, and it's good to have you all here at the table together. 

ALL: Thanks, great to be with you. 

MARGARET BRENNAN: I want to talk about some of these issues of common cause- Governor Burgum, I know the Fentanyl crisis, the drug crisis was the topic at the White House in recent days. Your state is one of six with the lowest rates of drug overdose deaths according to the CDC. How is that possible when this is a national crisis?

GOV. DOUG BURGUM: Well, I think all of our governors, we're all border states now with the fentanyl that's coming into this country, perhaps manufactured in China, coming across the southern border. But in North Dakota, we've really taken an approach of understanding that if you're going to have a war on drugs, which is this thing we've been doing in our country since the 1970s and 80s, it can become a war on people who have a health issue they've got- addiction is a disease. And so we want to be very tough on the people that are, you know, importing and distributing. 

But we also have to understand that if people have the disease of addiction, it's not a moral choice or a failure, if they have the disease of addiction, any more than it's a moral choice or failure to have cancer or diabetes. And if we think that the way we're going to stop drug consumption is with with longer prison terms, or higher penalties, we're actually just incarcerating people that have a health issue. And so we've taken an approach on a number of fronts. One of the things that's been most successful is a treat - treating the disease of addiction is with peer support specialists, because we know now that someone who's got lived experience whether that's in the criminal justice system, or living with the disease of addiction, and in recovery, that they can help people through it as much as uh an addiction counselor. 

In a rural state like North Dakota, we had a huge shortage of treatment centers and and in addiction counselors, now we have over 800, certified peer support specialists across the state that are helping people recover, and helping people that are coming out of the criminal justice system stay out by finding a job, getting a driver's license, and finding a place to live. And so the whole approach is we've turned it towards one of - of treating this as a national health crisis, which it is. So we want to be tough on suppliers. But we want to be super supportive of those that are dealing with–

GOV. MICHELLE LUJAN GRISHAM: I really appreciate that approach. That is probably going to be the nexus of real bipartisan work. In New Mexico, we have a significant issue with substance abuse and overdose deaths. And I wish I could tell you that fentanyl is not a problem. It is and in fact, we were part of the FBI sting with one of the largest fentanyl busts in United States history, a million pills, two million in cash. But we didn't have any behavioral health system when I became governor. The former administration literally canceled behavioral health. And there were no providers, they were all in litigation, everybody left to other states. 

So now you have a crisis on top of a national-building crisis that COVID did none of us any favors, to really address evidence-based work about making sure that treatment is available, is exactly how we're going to get ahead of this. So all of the upfront. So dealing with poverty and food security and jobs and workers and good education, while we're treating folks who are currently dealing with this disease. And I think we can start to do that regionally with creative solutions that allow Medicaid to pay for services across states when it's behavioral health, and we've eliminated co-pays for behavioral health services.

MARGARET BRENNAN: And this is something you're asking the federal government for help to do?

GOV. LUJAN GRISHAM: You know, I didn't actually do that. During the-we have very, it's a limited, who can ask questions. And that sounds awful. We want to make sure that we're all benefiting by a topic matter, that we can all take back with us and get a sense of where the federal government is headed. But the Western Governors Association, which is another really effective example, about bipartisan work, we're interested in taking on behavioral health in a more regional effort and following some of the best practices of North Dakota absolutely is going to make its way into achievements and better outcomes in New Mexico. 

MARGARET BRENNAN: Governor Moore, I mean, you're new on the job. But what is it that you plan to execute to deal with this problem?

GOV. WES MOORE: Well, you know, I think what was said here was was- is a really important point where we cannot go through the process, the idea that we're going to criminalize our way out of this. And I think we've learned that throughout this process, that we're dealing with behavioral health and mental health. When you look at the proposed budget, that we laid out, our proposed budget makes historic increases, increases of 39%, that's actually focusing exclusively on substance abuse disorders on making sure that we're actually helping people when they're returning from incarceration. Things like how are we dealing with elements of record expungement, job retraining, job rescaling, making sure there's a better reintegration with the family. 

But there has to be a larger holistic way in the way that we are dealing with this challenge because it is true. We have spent two decades now dealing with a behavioral health challenge, essentially by criminalizing it. And there are long term consequences, economic consequences, societal consequences that I know, in the state of Maryland, that we are aggressively pushing on within the way our administration is looking at this work.

MARGARET BRENNAN: We were looking at some of the research and in Maryland, in one county, they've had to use Narcan on students 11 times during the past year. 

GOV. MOORE: That's right.

MARGARET BRENNAN: And you're actually putting this in the schools because this is so common?

GOV. MOORE: Because we- because we have to. And that's the thing, as as an administration, I always say, you know, as a leader, I am data driven and heart-led, right? I wear my heart on my sleeve, but I don't move without data. And the data has been so clear about the damage that this has done to our communities, both urban and rural–

MARGARET BRENNAN: And children, apparently. 

GOV. MOORE: And children and to the point where we've actually now appointed a special secretary, who is a former mayor of Hagerstown, who actually got into politics, because of the issue of opioid addiction, had her best friend lost to go to an overdose, who is now serving as our special Secretary on this exact issue.

MARGARET BRENNAN: You are nodding at the Narcan in school. 

GOV. CHRIS SUNUNU: Yeah, absolutely. Look, one of the biggest issues– 

MARGARET BRENNAN: This is the drug when someone overdoses to basically help them survive it.

GOV. SUNUNU: And Narcan works for the most part, we can talk about where it doesn't work. But schools, you need access points to schools. Kids need to know that, that there is help there, what those systems are, rural Access to care is absolutely huge. People have to understand it's not a 28-day problem, right? That's old school thinking. Sometimes recovery is a lifelong journey. So you need- you need recovery friendly workplaces, you need wraparound housing, and those types of services. Understand that also the fentanyl crisis that's now being mixed with everything. It's in vape cartridges, it's in marijuana, it's being mixed with xylazine. 

And let me tell you, if you don't understand the xylazine-fentanyl crisis that's coming. It's horrid. It negates the ability of Narcan to revive you. And it's so the mixing of everything, I call it a "cartel driven crisis" now it's no longer over prescription, that's always part of it. But the cartels have such access. And they basically are creating their own markets, they're putting it in Adderall, they're putting it- they're mixing it with, with black market Adderall, they're mixing it with Xanax–

MARGARET BRENNAN: How are people buying it? 

GOV. SUNUNU: Black Market. As inflation goes up, more people go to buy their pharmaceuticals offline. And so they're gonna get Adderall for the kids offline, it becomes mixed, or the kids try to buy vape cartridges offline. And it comes mixed with fentanyl. And the dealer's know, look, we might lose a couple, but we're going to create addicts out of it. And so the crisis is the mixing where we have so many folks that overdose that had no idea they were even doing fentanyl. 

GOV. LUJAN GRISHAM: We need to be careful, in my view that we don't do this paradigm, you know, just shifting from one extreme to the other. Absolutely organized crime and cartels, which are embedded in every state, have to be held accountable. And we all collectively, that's a federal and state by state decision–

MARGARET BRENNAN: And you have asked the federal government for more FBI agents– 


MARGARET BRENNAN: –And they denied you that request, why?

GOV. LUJAN GRISHAM: Well, so far, let's - I'm I'm tenacious, I'm gonna, I'm- bet on me, I'm gonna get those agents. But to your point, if we were all using our National Guard, to some degree we need, we need them for our own state emergencies. But if we were doing drug interdiction work, then we're dealing with the bad guys and gals in this system. And we need to do that collectively. Instead, we're doing it, I do a little you do a little you, we should be doing it collectively. That's the right kind of leveraging. But also I have a very specific opinion that our pharmaceutical companies and big pharma have not been our friends in this design– 

MARGARET BRENNAN: Many of you have sued them. 

GOV. LUJAN GRISHAM: –there's plenty- my state has sued them, and we're going to continue on that vein. They've been- everyone sees an opportunity. They take it. And our drug problem in this country is a mix of all of those things, not one, it's everything. And we need to hold everyone accountable.

GOV. BURGUM: One thing that we've stopped even using the word "overdose," because no one is making a choice to kill themselves, as Chris was saying. I mean, these people don't know what they're taking. And I know that we had 107,000 deaths, which are called overdose deaths in 2021, 2022 numbers out, but I think the numbers when the Feds release, it's going to be 131, 140. So we have an epidemic of just huge proportions like we've never had before. And you talked about FBI, one of the things that's happening across the western US on all of the tribal lands, that like the sovereign nations that we share geography with in North Dakota is, they don't have enough BI agents, the federal government– 

MARGARET BRENNAN: The federal agents - 

GOV. BURGUM: –forget FBI, so the Bureau of Indian Affairs that would be doing that drug interdiction, their staffing is way down. Organized crime is preying on those tribal communities and that's where they're basing their operations out of. 

MARGARET BRENNAN: And seeing it in your tribes as well? 

GOV. LUJAN GRISHAM: We're seeing that too, yes.

MARGARET BRENNAN: I want to- this is a huge topic, but I want to make sure I get to you on the issue of abortion because, of course, the Supreme Court threw this back to state capitals in June when they overturned Roe vs. Wade. Governor Burgum, the very last abortion provider in your state left after that Supreme Court decision. What has been the impact of that? 


MARGARET BRENNAN: Not having that care.

GOV. BURGUM: Well, in the  - in the case of this case, because the last one was in Fargo, it moved about 400 yards. It's now in Minnesota. So the effect of people having access to care is really - 


GOV. BURGUM: Well, they leave but they're going 400 yards further east. And I think - this is this is what will happen across our nation is now back in the hands of states. North Dakota has proven at the ballot box, the citizens voting, our legislature very much as a pro-life with exception states. And so this is something that that the state of North Dakota has been pursuing for a long time. But, as Chris was talking about in the earlier segment segment, this is something that I think states can decide. And I think it ought to be decided at the state level.

MARGARET BRENNAN: That's a long way for a lot of people to travel, though, if they're not in Fargo. No? I mean, what has been the impact in your state? 

GOV. LUJAN GRISHAM: We're seeing women all across America come to New Mexico, and it is a long way to travel. And what about after-care? And what about your family? And what about the other potential family members like other small children. It is catastrophic. This is where I think constitutional rights are a federal matter. Making sure that wherever I live in this country, one country, that my constitutional rights, my bodily autonomy ought to be protected. And with all due respect for people who have moral, who morally oppose my position on abortion, they don't have to seek that care. But women who need that care get limited or reduced or eliminated access and women die, all across this country. And we're going backward, and I could not disagree more with my good friend, Doug, about this being a state matter.


MARGARET BRENNAN: Well, I want to ask you about a very specific issue -  how you are planning to spin this forward because abortion is legal in New Hampshire, Maryland, New Mexico. The majority of abortions provided in this country happen via pill these days. And there's a Texas Court decision that is pending, that might strike down FDA approval, as I understand it, are you preparing? Are you stockpiling the drug? Or are you planning at all?

GOV. MOORE: We are, we are preparing. And I tell you, not only do I agree.  I also think it's part of the reason why I think the Dobbs decision was so problematic.  And, you know, I - on literally our first day, we we released, we released three and a half million dollars of pre-released, previously unreleased funds to train abortion providers. I have said that as long as I'm the governor of the state of Maryland, that Maryland will be a safe haven for abortion rights. I believe abortion is healthcare. And also we now have our Speaker of the House and the State of Maryland has just introduced legislation to actually add it to the Constitution, you know, an adjustment to the Constitution that I'm in favor of. And so it is - this is really about how are we coming up with multiple ways of preparing for this, and ensuring that all women know that we believe that their health, their safety and their security and of the providers is something that should be guaranteed in the state of Maryland?

MARGARET BRENNAN: Are you stockpiling a drug or no? 

GOV. MOORE: We're not yet stockpiling a drug. But we are in preparation for that. 

GOV. LUJAN GRISHAM: I think that stockpiling might be - if I can push back a little - the wrong - the wrong question. Do we have enough of those drugs available in places and each states can be a little different, but you can get those in our public health system. We're moving towards tribal nations providing access in any number of ways, including abortion. Direct abortion care inside clinic, in addition, and the chilling effect of not having these medications now routinely manufactured, is they're used to treat men and women for other-  like bleeding ulcers. We're gonna have deaths unrelated because doctors are saying in my state, I can't prescribe this. So this decision could have an even more chilling effect. So we're trying to figure out ways can we get a manufacturer? How much do we have? How long does it last? What are we doing about contraceptives and contraceptive care and sex education and school-based health centers? So all of the above approach, we're in.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Governors,  thank you very much for your time today. There's so much more to talk to you about. I enjoyed this. We'll be back in a moment.

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