Editors Weigh in on Immigration, Gas Prices, Iraq

Editors from around the nation discuss hot-button issues (immigration, gas prices, Iraq) with Don Gonyea. Guests are Bob Kittle, editorial page editor of the San Diego Union Tribune, Kate Nelson, managing editor of New Mexico's Albuquerque Tribune and Frank Scandale, editor of The Record in Bergen County, N.J.

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DON GONYEA, host:

Gasoline sticker shock hit the country this past week and flowed into Washington's corridors of power, from the White House to Capitol Hill. As the price at the pump topped $3.00 a gallon, members of Congress looked for political opportunity in the face of public unhappiness. A one hundred dollar rebate was suggested for car owners. Investigations were called for.

Some called for new taxes on record earnings for oil companies. President Bush rejected that idea. He asked for greater executive branch authority to change vehicle mileage standards, and again called for drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife refuge.

The story of rising gas prices distracted from other news, that the economy grew at a robust 4.8 percent. And, from another week of bombings, ambushes, and shootings in Iraq, including the assassination of the sister of Iraq's vice president.

To discuss all of this and more, we've called three colleagues around the country. Bob Kittle is editorial page editor at the San Diego Union Tribune. Welcome back to the show, Bob.

Mr. BOB KITTLE (San Diego Union Tribune): Good morning, Don.

GONYEA: Kate Nelson is managing editor of New Mexico's Albuquerque Tribune New Mexico Tribune.

Hello, Kate.

Ms. KATE NELSON (Albuquerque Tribune): Hi.

GONYEA: And joining us on the show for the first time is Frank Scandale, editor of The Record in Bergen County, New Jersey.

Welcome to the show, Frank.

Mr. FRANK SCANDALE (Bergen County Record): Thank you very much.

GONYEA: Frank Scandale, you are new to this Roundtable, as am I, so we will start with you. You're in the shadow of the George Washington Bridge there, just across the Hudson River from New York, an area with literally millions of commuters and some of the world's largest transportation hubs. What is the price of gas in northern New Jersey now?

Mr. SCANDALE: The prices fluctuate from about $2.77 I saw this morning to $3.05. I think they're putting the average in this part of the country at $2.87 right now.

GONYEA: And motorists are undoubtedly complaining, but are you detecting any changes in commuting habits or such?

Mr. SCANDALE: Carpooling is up, people working from home more. A good story we saw the other day is that people are actually pawning things at the local pawn shops to fill up their tanks for the day.

GONYEA: Bob Kittle, in San Diego, what's the price of gas there now? And are you seeing any behavior patterns changing?

Mr. KITTLE: San Diego has some of the very highest gasoline prices in the country. I paid $3.55 yesterday...

GONYEA: Wow.

Mr. KITTLE: ...to fill up. The average in San Diego is about $3.30, $3.35. But Don, I've seen no evidence of people changing their habits. In Southern California everyone lives by the automobile. Mass transit is very limited. If people are changing their habits, it's not yet discernable.

I think people are probably being a little more careful about how much driving they do, but in general, everyone is still in their cars on the freeway. And in most cases it's a single individual in the car commuting to work in the morning.

GONYEA: And Kate Nelson, in New Mexico, your license plates there say Land of Enchantment. It is also the land of driving very long distances.

Ms. NELSON: Absolutely. It's a very rural state, and public transportation is behind the times. That said, we're pouring millions of dollars into improving that, both in the city of Albuquerque and by the State, to improve public transit. Reportedly, the bus ridership is up in the city of Albuquerque.

I live in a rural suburb, and I feel like I'm being eaten alive just getting to work everyday. We editorialized, Saturday, that the proposals being generated by Congress are essentially pandering to the public and not addressing some of the root cause things that we can attack, in terms of alternative energies, tougher café standards and whatnot. The hundred dollar rebate, give me a break. If gas is $4.00 a gallon, that might only pay for one tank.

GONYEA: Bob Kittle in San Diego, the rising gas prices, is it being felt in other sectors of the economy there?

Mr. KITTLE: No, it really isn't. San Diego's unemployment rate is 3.9 percent, so the regional economy is very healthy. I think there's some concern that perhaps in the far-out suburbs that it may have a dampening effect on home prices, but in general, these kinds of costs, as bad as they are, I think they're generally being absorbed.

GONYEA: Frank Scandale, in New Jersey, how about the economy there in that state? Are energy prices having an impact beyond what you're seeing at the corner station?

Mr. SCANDALE: Well, we can't really tie it necessarily to energy, but the housing prices, which are I think in the top three in the country, have actually started to flatten out a bit. Some people think that that's just one factor, the energy costs.

But it is affecting many of our folks. We have a lot of folks who commute from Southern New Jersey, for instance, or even from the Pocono's in Pennsylvania. My graphics chief lives about 85 miles away from where we are in Hackensack, and he's telling me about the price. Now, he has to absorb that somehow, so surely it has to have an effect. Because if he's spending another $50.00 a week on the gas, that's coming from somewhere. Somebody else is not getting that $50.00, whether it's the local supermarket or the local, you know, pizza place. It's got to be cutting into people.

GONYEA: I want to talk about immigration. Frank, Northern New Jersey has long been a destination for immigrants. Can you give us just a quick sense of the immigrant demographics in your area and the local sentiment on the debate on immigration that's taking place in Washington now?

Mr. SCANDALE: Well, it is the hottest issue besides the gas in this area. There are estimated about one-half million of the illegal immigrants in this country are in New Jersey, and most of those are in North Jersey. You know, we have cities like Newark, Passaic, Clifton, Hackensack itself are destinations for many of the immigrant communities. And the folks here, there's this rumor that people are being picked up, illegal immigrants are being picked up and deported. And the rumor is so strong that people are staying away from businesses; they're not going to work. Some businesses are reporting 50 percent cuts in their business because the rumors are absolutely strong.

Now, we have quoted all officials. There is not one documented case that it's happening. But with two days to go before the, or one day actually to go before the National Day Without an Immigrant, critics fear that this rumor is being spread to keep people away from participating in that event.

GONYEA: Bob Kittle, San Diego.

Mr. KITTLE: Well, I think certainly in San Diego, we have a very large Latino population. So there's a great deal of interest in this. I can't tell yet whether there's going to be a lot of workers who don't go to their jobs. In general I suspect that there will be a lot of people demonstrating in the street, but also most immigrant workers will be on the job tomorrow.

GONYEA: Let's switch topics here and talk about Iraq. Bob, Camp Pendleton, that sprawling Marine base is just north of San Diego. Support for the war has long been strong in your area. Is that support holding these days?

Mr. KITTLE: Well, I think the support certainly can change. But in general there's very strong support for the military and support for the military families and a lot of suffering when we report more casualties. In general, I think there is support for the war now, but I think more and more people constantly are saying where is the end? So I think while there's still a strong support for getting the job done, there is a lot more questioning about how the situation will be resolved.

GONYEA: Okay. Kate, are people talking about the war much in New Mexico? Go ahead.

Ms. NELSON: Absolutely. We have a number of military bases here and a huge National Guard contingent. So there's a lot of personal attachment to it. I have any number of friends who are waiting for sons or husbands, sisters, to come home from their deployments.

I think in general the population here is worn out by it. They don't see the point anymore and are alarmed by the costs. Certainly some of the Republicans I'm familiar with are questioning the direction that this is going and what sort of a bill we're leaving future generations with.

GONYEA: Kate Nelson is managing editor of the Albuquerque Tribune in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Bob Kittle is editorial page editor of the San Diego Union Tribune. And Frank Scandale is editor of The Record in Bergen County, New Jersey. Thank you all for joining us.

Mr. SCANDALE: Thank you, Don.

Mr. KITTLE: Thank you, Don.

Ms. NELSON: Thank you.

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