GOP Contenders Meet in Detroit Suburb
MICHEL MARTIN, host:
We're going to go now to presidential politics.
Presidential candidates are likely to face questions on school security in the wake of these recent incidents. But economic issues were center stage in a Republican debate just outside of Detroit this week. It was Fred Thompson's first debate appearance.
Our Friday political chat touches on that gathering and on President Bush's efforts to drum up support for a reauthorization of No Child Left Behind.
Joining me now to talk about all these is Josue Sierra. He belongs at josue.townhall.com and he's on the line with us from his home in Annandale, Virginia. Also with us, Stephen Henderson, deputy editorial page editor and columnist at the Detroit Free Press. He joins us by phone from his office there.
Gentlemen, welcome. Thank you.
Mr. STEPHEN HENDERSON (Deputy Editorial Page Editor and Columnist, Detroit Free Press): Thanks for having me.
Ms. JOSUE SIERRA (Associate Editor and Online Community Manager, Townhall.com): Nice to be here.
MARTIN: Stephen Henderson, let's begin with you. The presidential candidates were in your neck of the woods. Did they speak to issues that felt relevant to you and Detroit?
Mr. HENDERSON: No, in fact, the next day I wrote a column lamenting the fact that even though the debate was built as one that would address issues - economic issues and particularly those economic issues that we face here in Michigan - there wasn't a whole of engagement on that during the debate.
MARTIN: Well they did - I mean, the questions were all focused on that. So what makes you feel that they didn't engage? Did they just change the subject?
Mr. HENDERSON: I felt like they dodged a lot of that. I mean, we have very peculiar economic issues here in Southeastern Michigan. Our economy is tied almost wholly to the auto industry, which is going through in an enormously difficult time, has challenges that it's never faced before. You know, the future of manufacturing is really in doubt in this region. And there wasn't a whole lot of talk about how to save that, or for example, how to preserve the middle class jobs that the auto industry has created in this town for the last 60 years.
MARTIN: A lot of talk about cutting taxes. It seemed to me a lot of the answers kept looping back to cutting taxes. One's like…
Mr. HENDERSON: Oh yeah, I mean, I pointed out in my column that, you know, this represents an unfortunate narrowing of the Republican message. It's all about taxes and nothing else.
MARTIN: Let me ask Josue about that. Josue, what do you think about that? Do you agree with Stephen?
Ms. SIERRA: Yeah, in a lot of things I do. I mean, I think that one of the major issues with the auto industry is the whole theme of the union and being, I don't why, being in Michigan, it seemed that everybody was trying to make their point that they were all for unions. And you know the fact that a big reason the expenses of these auto industries are huge, it has to do with the unions. And there wasn't a lot of - they didn't go deep into it. I think, overall, the debate was very superficial, very shallow in terms of how far they went.
MARTIN: They did talk a little about - I think, particularly, Mitt Romney talked a little bit about the need to improve American education. Did you feel that that spoke, Josue, to issues that you care about?
Ms. SIERRA: Yeah. Definitely education is a topic that I'm interested - a lot of Hispanics are paying attention to. But you know, like I said, although that he went enough granular didn't give any specifics in terms of what solutions he might offer.
MARTIN: Well then, let's turn to education. President Bush, as you know, is trying to secure public support for reauthorization of the No Child Left Behind - this major education package that's passed well over five years ago.
Josue, let me start since you started talking about education. Does that - do you think he's getting any traction here? Do you see any chance that he's going to succeed here?
Ms. SIERRA: You know, I'm not sure whether he is or not. I think, overall, he'd probably will. I'm not a huge fan of No Child Left Behind. I am a huge fan of the accountability it creates. But I hate the fact that it's just - it's very, very expensive. And it creates that huge administration burden, particularly at the local level on the state.
MARTIN: Stephen, what about you? How about - how is this issue playing in Detroit? As Josue pointed out, on one hand, a lot of people of color particularly appreciate the fact that those are focused on the achievement of people of different backgrounds. So they're not, you know, there's an effort not to sort of hide them…
Mr. HENDERSON: Right.
MARTIN: …under the achievement of sort of other groups. And the other hand, there's a lot of resistance from groups like this - the teachers' union (unintelligible). How is this playing in Detroit?
Mr. HENDERSON: You don't hear much about No Child Left Behind in particular in Detroit. I mean, that's - of course, education is a huge issue here. I mean, Detroit is one of the worst public school districts in the entire country, really, and people here are desperate for alternatives or answers to how they can get better educations for their kids.
One of the things, I think, that is true about No Child Left Behind is that its success has been really hobbled by the lack of funding that was put behind it after it was passed. I mean, it is a pretty revolutionary concept and had potential to really transform public education. But it can't do that without the money, and local districts can't shoulder all of that.
Ms. SIERRA: Michel, you know, I think a lot of people will always say funding, more funding, more funding, and it seems that this is just a hungry animal that is never satisfied. And really what we need is to restore (unintelligible) in education. You know, allow the state leaders at the local level to address local needs and priorities while maintaining the accountability that No Child Left Behind tries to put in place.
MARTIN: Stephen, is that the feeling of leaders there in Michigan?
Mr. HENDERSON: Certainly local control is important, but some of the things that they were talking about doing in No Child Left Behind were expensive things. I mean, I'm all for local control, but I'm not for federal mandates, unfunded federal mandates. I don't think that makes any sense and…
Ms. SIERRA: And I have to agree with that.
Mr. HENDERSON: Yeah.
MARTIN: Well, let's - if we could just spend a minute just talking about the politics of No Child. You know, on the one hand, I think that - I don't think anybody questions President Bush's motives in advancing No Child Left Behind, but one of the political side benefits is this is a way for him to speak to the issues of particular concern to minorities. I mean, his famous phrase, the soft bigotry of low expectations, and saying that he was not going to be a person to tolerate this, that he was a kind of person to stand behind achievement for all.
Do you - Stephen, do you think that he's achieved any benefit in creating any kind of wedge into minority communities through this initiative?
Mr. HENDERSON: I mean, I don't think there's any evidence that this president has done any more than any previous Republican president to make inroads in minority communities. And, in fact, you know, the Republicans who are competing for his job aren't doing it either. You know, they're skipping debates in minority forums. They are, you know, they come to Detroit; don't say hardly anything about the urban issues that we face in places like Detroit and Flint and Pontiac. I mean, I'm not sure No Child Left Behind has helped them at all in that regard.
MARTIN: And Josue, final question to you. Speaking of the point that Stephen just raised, you are a Republican, you considered yourself a conservative, do you feel that the Republican candidates are making any appeal to minority voters that's making any sense to you?
Ms. SIERRA: Well, honestly, I'm not sure. In the 2004 election, some of the polling and data that Pew shows suggested that President Bush took a higher number Hispanic votes as a result of values and religious issues, which is - are big among - across the border, among Hispanic voters. But I don't see a lot of that this time around. It's still kind of early to tell. Obviously, in the sense of the family values of life and faith and all those things, I think they have a chance. They have an opportunity to get ahead. But those aren't being emphasized, and with the possibility that Rudy Giuliani would be the frontrunner then I don't think that would be a point on the plus as far as the GOP because he is not pro-life and he is not pro-defensive of marriage. So…
Ms. SIERRA: It's too early to tell, I guess.
MARTIN: All right. Josue, thanks again for - thanks for joining us again.
Ms. SIERRA: Thank you, Michel.
MARTIN: Josue Sierra blogs at Josue.townhall.com. We are also joined by Stephen Henderson, deputy editorial page editor and columnist at the Detroit Free Press.
Stephen, thanks to you also.
Mr. HENDERSON: Thank you for having me.
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