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Lokvani Talks To Robert Reich, Demoratic Candidate For Governor

Chitra Parayath

Robert Reich, one of the contenders for Democratic Party nomination to run for Governor of Massachusetts, has had a rich and varied career spanning the political and academic worlds. His most recent stint on the national political stage was as Secretary of Labor in President Clinton's first administration.  He also worked in the administrations of both Presidents Carter and Ford. He has taught at Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government, and is currently Professor of social and economic policy at Brandeis University. He has written nine books including "The Works of Nations," "Which Deal with the Economy and Workforce," and a new book out titled "I'll Be Short: Essentials for a Decent Working Society.  He spoke with Lokvani about his campaign for Governor and other issues.

Chitra Parayath : We are a South Asian community portal.  As candidate for Governor, do you have a message for the South Asian community in the Greater Boston area, as well as across the Commonwealth?

Robert Reich: Yes, I do.  South Asians have contributed immensely to the vitality and well being of the state. Under my administration they will flourish, their talent and learning will continue to be wildly important to our technology. We will ensure that their children have good schools in which to learn; that there is no discrimination; and that they have every opportunity to advance to the highest reaches of their profession.

CP: As governor, what would your overall policy orientation be? What are the top three policies that a Reich administration would focus on?

RR: First as we did when I was a member of Clinton administration in 1993, we have to get our fiscal house in order, have to make sure that our budget is sound.

Second, I want to focus on education at all levels. Iíll try to rectify our public system of education, which is in terrible disrepair. From Kindergarten to Grade 12, Iíll aim for smaller classes, better-trained teachers.

Third, we must to do something to alleviate the housing crisis in the Commonwealth. That, to me, is making it more and more difficult for people in the middle and lower income groups to live here.

CP: There is a perception that you espoused an anti-immigration line, particularly during your tenure as Secretary of Labor in the Clinton Administration.  Have you had a change of heart, or were you misunderstood?

RR: This is the first time that Iíve heard this.  I have always been pro immigration because I understand that our immigrants have been the life blood of our new industries, small businesses, our diversity, as well as artistic contributions. I have no idea where I got that reputation. 

CP: What do you say about current Immigration laws?  Thereís a debate on about H1-B quotas, and the need to reduce them during the current downturn. What is your position on this?

RR: I think the H1-B laws do need to be examined, and they were designed to allow industry to get quick access to specialized talents that were not available locally, but of course if those talents are available to the people who are already here, then those laws are not being properly enforced.  Let me also say this, it is to Massachusettsí and Americaís gain if we get talented people from abroad.

CP: Welfare and Medicaid for legal immigrants (permanent residents) is under attack in many states?  What is your position on this?

RR: I think that anyone who is here legally certainly should be getting every bit of health assistance that any one else gets under the law. It is in our interest, as people who do not have health assistance end up with larger health problems later on. They use emergency rooms and they cause even greater expenditures. In order to have a productive populace, we need to be sure that they are educated and healthy.

CP: As a consequence of the terror attacks of 9/11, the South Asian community has had to face attacks and may still be feeling somewhat insecure. Especially our Muslim brethren feel that their civil rights and liberties may not be as secure as that of other citizens.  What do you say to this?

RR: I am absolutely committed to nondiscrimination and also I will fight any sort of racial profiling. I have committed my life to racial tolerance and opportunity and I will use all my powers as well as the so-called bully pulpits to ensure that South Asians feel completely welcome. 

CP: What is your position on Affirmative action?

RR: I, as a member of the Clinton administration. in 1993, have worked to keep affirmative action as part of our laws. And although there should not be quotas, employers do have an obligation under the law to find qualified people of different races and genders. This is particularly true of government contractors. I am dedicated to the proposition that given the history of racial discrimination we have to ask public institutions as well as private institutions to do what they can to rectify that past history.

CP: You have said that you are used to cleaning up messes left by Republicans. What is the biggest problem that our state is facing now?

RR: It is hard to know where to begin. The biggest one is the budget mess. Similar to what we faced in the Clinton administration.  In 1993, we then had 12 years of Republican Presidents and we had a 300 billion dollar deficit as far as the eye could see. In Massachusetts, we have had 12 years of republican governors. And the budget is a mess. Beyond that we have the Big Dig, that hasnít been finished. And there is a lot of patronage and cronyism that undermines the public trust.  We have health care costs rising in double digits.

CP: The state budget is of the order of $25B, a quarter of which is spent on healthcare related expenses.  What programs do you think should be cut? Should we raise taxes?

RR:  We can reduce the cost without reducing service. If we gave the elderly the choice between nursing homes and home healthcare under Medicaid we could save 41 million dollars a year because home healthcare is cheaper. And if we used the stateís purchasing power to get bulk prescription drugs we can save 55- 120 million dollars a year. If we focused on people with chronic diseases and helped them reduce hospitalizations we could save a great deal of money as well.  Note that none of these cost saving things would compromise the quality or the extent of coverage but they would save money.

CP: Do you think that the Mass Pike tolls should be raised to fund the Big Dig?

RR:  I think that is unfair to people in the western suburbs to raise tolls.  Because it would put the whole burden on only certain set of commuters. I would rather raise the gas tax by 2 cents a gallon. To consolidate the administrative and cost of the Mass Pike and Mass Highway, by doing that we could save over a $100 million a year we can use the these savings to reduce the tolls and reduce them even more in the western part of the state, to compensate people for the slightly higher gas tax that people will have to pay.

CP: One of the issues that I know you feel very strongly about is housing. Youíve said we couldnít attract employees to Massachusetts due to the high cost of housing. What is the solution?

RR: There are many steps to be taken.  I would make sure that the department of Housing Development is restored to cabinet status. I would reduce developer costs by using mixed-use zonings and cluster zoning in our towns and cities.  I would enable developers to get fast track approval through building codes if they were building affordable housing.  I would give communities incentives to 40B affordable housing requirements by preventing developers from overriding local zoning if communities are making progress on their 40B responsibilities. I would also give communities that are making progress, extra state aid for education, to compensate for the extra educational expenses they may face. I would ask our universities to put up more dorms and take the best use of the communities force in housing and if they didnít theyíd have to pay an extra fee to the community to build more houses.

CP: Where do you stand on the MCAS test?

RR: I am in favor of school accountability. I also believe that testing is one way of measuring how much students are learning but I do not believe that we should have one high stakes test to be the sole determinant of whether somebody graduates. I would rather have multiple assessments depending upon the students area of interest and knowledge and talent also career ambition.

CP: Thank you, Mr. Reich, now for the rapid-fire round.  How do you stand on the issue of Death Penalty?

RR: I am against the death penalty.

CP: Gun Control?

RR: I am all for stricter Gun Control laws.

CP: Gay marriages?

RR:I support every individuals right to lead a lifestyle they choose.

CP: How about a womanís right to choose?

RR: I am pro-choice, by all means.

CP: What do you think about Affordable housing for all?

RR: I am all for it!

CP: Thank you for talking to lokvani, Mr. Reich. Good Luck.

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