By E.A. Barrera
In his bid to become the nation’s first Latino president, New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson said he would not raise taxes to reverse an “income disparity” between the rich and poor in the United States. Speaking to an enthusiastic audience at the California State Democratic Party Convention, held in San Diego this year. Richardson said raising taxes was too often the first solution Democratic politicians suggested for solve festering social ills.
“Democrats always want to raise taxes when there is a problem out there that needs a solution. As a governor, I do not believe raising taxes ever makes things better. Simply redistributing the wealth won’t solve our problems,” said Richardson to some 2,000 delegates who took part in the April 27-29 state convention. “I’m a pro-growth Democrat. I’m a business-friendly Democrat. I believe the middle class in this country are already paying too much in taxes.
Richardson was one of several presidential hopefuls to appear in San Diego. Others included Senators Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, and Christopher Dodd; former Senators John Edwards and Mike Gravel; and Congressman Dennis Kucinich. Richardson is the only governor in the race and has one of the broadest resumes of the candidates. He has been a Congressman, Ambassador to the United Nations, U.S. Energy Secretary, and was elected Governor of New Mexico in 2002.
Though the war in Iraq and other foreign policy issues dominated the speeches and conversations of the candidates and delegates at the convention, Richardson outlined a series of domestic policy issues he said needed addressing by the next president. These included the creation of “an Apollo Program” to find new forms of energy; providing health care for the uninsured; raising teacher salaries as a means to improving American schools; and instituting a “comprehensive immigration policy” which he said the Bush administration had failed to achieve.
“The first thing I will do as president is tear down that wall,” said Richardson to thunderous applause as he referred to the fence along the San Diego-Mexico border. In his prepared remarks and again during a press conference following his speech, Richardson said the United States needed “a comprehensive immigration policy that brings people in this country together and does not foster hate.
“There are five things we need to do right away. First we have to secure our border. Then we need a realistic legalization plan, with background checks so we know who is here, requiring immigrants to learn English, and have those who have been here without legal authorization pay a fine. Then we must enforce employee sanctions, so the job-magnet is eliminated. We need to talk to Mexico and begin working with Mexico to create more economic opportunity in that country, so that fewer people will want to leave their home. Finally we need to increase the numbers of legal immigrants we allow into the United States.” said Richardson.
Though he called the border fence a “terrible symbol” and opposed it’s expansion, he said border security should be tightened through a doubling of the numbers of Border Patrol agents along the border and increasing the use of surveillance technology, with such tools as motion sensors and night-vision cameras.
During his April 29 press conference and then in a press release issued on April 30, the governor noted that a year had passed since the massive 2006 demonstrations across the country in favor of immigration reform, including more than 100,000 marchers in San Diego.
“Not only has there been no progress, the country is even more divided and frustrated than before,” said Richardson. “Once again the administration has failed to follow through on its pledge to address one of the most serious issues facing our country. I am disappointed the President has retreated from his previous position favoring realistic reform to a position that virtually guarantees nothing will be accomplished.”
Last month President Bush outlined a plan which emphasized a tougher approach to allowing undocumented workers to stay in the United States. Bush called for the creation of new immigration visas that would allow illegal immigrants to apply for three-year work permits. These permits would cost $3,500 each time, but could be renewed every three years. If a person who had been working in the U.S. without legal authorization wanted to become a permanent resident, that person would have to return to their home country, apply at the American embassy or consulate in their country to re-enter the United States legally, and then pay a $10,000 fine.
Richardson said he supported legislation written by Senators Edward Kennedy and John McCain. The Kennedy-McCain legislation would allow many of this country’s estimated 12 million illegal immigrants to stay in the United States and continue to work while applying to become legal residents. Under the Kennedy-McCain plan, these applicants would have to learn English, show they had a job waiting for them in the U.S., pay a fee of $500 (in addition to application fees), and clear a series of security and medical background checks.
Richardson said the Bush plan requiring undocumented immigrants to pay a $10,000 fine, return to their home country and then apply for legal entry into the United States was unworkable.
“The majority of illegal immigrants in the United States are hardworking, law-abiding people trying to improve the lives of their families. They don’t have that kind of money, and it is unreasonable to force them to leave the country. What about children who are US citizens? Breaking up families is not an answer. All this would do is force immigrants farther into the shadows.”
On the war in Iraq and other foreign policy issues, Richardson said he would immediately bring American troops home and denounced President Bush’s promise to veto any congressional bill which set a date for American troop departure from Iraq. The president vetoed such a bill on May 1.
“Our troops are being used as propaganda tools by this president and I don’t want them to continue to be targets in a civil war,” said Richardson.
Though impressive for a candidate without the national name recognition of some of his rivals, Richardson’s appearance did not come close to matching the energy Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama or John Edwards generated when they took to the speaker’s podium. In finance reports released last month, Richardson came in a distant 4th in the money race, only slightly ahead of Senators Joe Biden and Christopher Dodd. But Richardson told delegates they should not be pushed into making up their minds so early in the process.
“This election is about doing what is right for the country - choosing the best person to get us out of Iraq, heal the division in this country, rebuild our alliances, and restore America’s standing in the world. There is no substitute for experience, and while the other candidates may talk about tough issues, I’ve dealt with them, I know what it takes, and I don’t need on-the-job training,” said Richardson.