LIANE HANSEN, host:
America's largest labor organization, the AFL-CIO, marked its golden anniversary this past week by losing much of its solidarity. Meeting in Chicago, the 50-year-old federation suffered a rebellion and defection by the United Food and Commercial Workers, the Teamsters and the Service Employees International Union.
While the AFL-CIO was breaking apart, here in Washington, the House and Senate labored through the summer heat and humidity to vote on a series of major measures before going home for their customary August break. An energy bill and a transportation spending bill and the Central American Free Trade Agreement were sent to the president for his expected signature. The Senate passed a bill to protect gun makers and dealers from liability when their wares are used to kill or maim. And they also passed a measure to make most of the provisions in the Patriot Act permanent.
Joining us from around the country to discuss the work of Congress and the rift in big labor are Kate Nelson, the managing editor of the Albuquerque Tribune in New Mexico; Bob Kittle, editorial page editor of The San Diego Union-Tribune in California; and Ron Dzwonkowski, editorial page editor at the Detroit Free Press in Michigan.
Welcome to all of you.
Ms. KATE NELSON (Albuquerque Tribune): Good morning.
Mr. RON DZWONKOWSKI (Detroit Free Press): Hello, Liane.
HANSEN: Ron, we're going to start with you. You're new to our program and we want to talk a little bit about the AFL-CIO, given you're in Detroit. How has the news from Chicago been received by the workers in Detroit?
Mr. DZWONKOWSKI: Well, it creates a little bit of a rift here in Michigan because the United Auto Workers, which is really the dominant union in this state, remains part of the AFL-CIO and the president of the UAW, Ron Gettelfinger, was opposed to this breakup saying that labor needs to speak with a united voice. And then another prominent Michigan labor leader James Hoffa, who is the head of the Teamsters, was one of the leaders of the folks who pulled out of the AFL-CIO. So we've got some serious division in the ranks of labor here paralleling the national movement.
HANSEN: Kate Nelson, have you been hearing any reaction in New Mexico to these troubles for the AFL-CIO?
Ms. NELSON: No, and that surprised me perhaps because those aren't unions that are representative of our work force. And I wondered if the blase reaction was part of the symptom of what labor is going through overall. I think there's a lot of tuning out.
HANSEN: Bob Kittle in San Diego, how about there?
Mr. BOB KITTLE (The San Diego Union-Tribune): San Diego is not a big labor town, however, I think people in San Diego have been watching this with some interest because the unions that are most powerful in San Diego and Southern California are the public employee unions. And a big part of this rift, as you know, within the AFL-CIO is over their political activities vs. spending resources on organizing. And certainly in California, the public employee unions that are part of the AFL-CIO are a very powerful voice.
HANSEN: Bob, talk a little bit now about the reaction or the attention that's being paid to the passage of the energy bill and the transportation bill. I imagine it is going to have some significant impact in California.
Mr. KITTLE: Certainly to the extent that the energy bill might revive the nuclear energy. California is a state that is ripe for the development of nuclear power plants. We have some in the state already. We have one here in San Diego County. And California, as you know, is a state that is very sensitive to air pollution because we generate a lot more of it through our automobiles. So we don't burn oil in our electrical generating plants. For the most part, we burn natural gas. And I frankly think that California, in spite of its politics and in spite of its environmental nature, I think is a place where nuclear power could make a comeback.
HANSEN: Ron Dzwonkowski in Detroit, transportation, automobiles, energy? I mean, they go together like a horse and buggy. Were people in Michigan happy at the passage of this measure?
Mr. DZWONKOWSKI: Well, Michigan is a donor state. In other words, we give more in gas taxes to the federal government than we get back. So we always feel like we're getting shortchanged. We're also a state that truckers generally regard as having the worst roads in the nation because we happen to allow the heaviest trucks in the nation on our roads. And so we would like always to see more money for road improvements. The other thing that's very important here in an energy bill is that we were watching to see whether anything would happen with fuel economy standards. Congress has left those for another day, another bill. And what they have done is included in the transportation bill some increased auto safety standards. They'll be monitoring things more closely. So to the extent that safety requirements might impose new costs on Detroit, we watch the energy bill from that standpoint as well.
HANSEN: Kate Nelson in New Mexico, reaction there about the passage of both bills.
Ms. NELSON: This is something that we watch very closely. We have two national labs under the Department of Energy, and the bill was being pushed by both of our senators, Pete Domenici and Jeff Bingaman. And we're not a donor state. We get more money back than we give, and we're going to reap hopefully some light rail and other mass transit-type dollars that are sorely needed in Albuquerque, which is growing quickly. I think the verdict is split on how good of a bill it is. Nobody is really happy on either side of the fence, but it is the first time in heaven knows how many years that we've had a national energy bill and there's a certain amount of relief over that.
HANSEN: Bob Kittle, San Diego is home to a large military community.
Mr. KITTLE: Right.
HANSEN: What are you hearing about the continuing violence in Iraq and obviously the politics of the war in Iraq.
Mr. KITTLE: The casualties in Iraq bear very heavily on this community. We have a lot of memorial services. Camp Pendleton here has a very large contingent of Marines serving in Iraq. The Navy, of course, has a lot of personnel there. I think for the most part, the military community takes all of this in stride, but it's a very painful thing at times to see more young faces in our newspaper of young men and women who've been killed. I don't think there's any sense within the military community, or for that matter, the larger San Diego community that it's time to pull out. But certainly, the casualties, the continuing death toll wears on people over time.
HANSEN: Ron Dzwonkowski, in Detroit, what are you hearing from your community about the war in Iraq?
Mr. DZWONKOWSKI: Fifty-plus deaths of people from Michigan, deaths of Michigan soldiers in Iraq remain front-page stories for the Free Press; had one just this past week. And there is still a great deal of support for the individual troops, I think. Increasingly, people are questioning the wisdom of having gone in there in the first place, but the sense that I get is that we cannot leave that country worse off than we found it. The other story that is ongoing here is that there are a great many National Guard and Reservists who are now assigned to Iraq, and they're finding themselves staying there and in harm's way for a longer period than they thought they would be. And there's an economic impact on families here from that as well.
HANSEN: Kate, what else are people talking about in New Mexico?
Ms. NELSON: One of the big stories of this summer is that our governor, Bill Richardson, bought a new jet for the state, mostly for himself, for $5.5 million. A year ago, he tried to buy one for $4 million using road funds, and the attorney general slapped him down. So this year he got the Legislature to approve $5 million for a new jet. And, you know, the big joke is that he'll only be flying it to Iowa and New Hampshire as he pursues his presidential ambitions.
HANSEN: Bob Kittle, we have to talk about the mayor's office in San Diego. You've had--What?--three mayors in how many days? What on Earth is going on...
Mr. KITTLE: Exactly.
HANSEN: ...at City Hall?
Mr. KITTLE: Liane, we had three mayors in four days. That is Mayor Murphy, who was just re-elected in November, resigned because he recognized that he couldn't deal with the city's problems. The council member whom he had named to be his successor as acting mayor was Councilman Michael Zucchet. Mayor Murphy resigned on Friday and on Monday morning, Councilman Zucchet was convicted on multiple felony counts of public corruption in US District Court as he was preparing to hold his first council meeting. So he was immediately removed from office, and a mayor pro tem was appointed by the council that afternoon. That was Councilwoman Toni Atkins. She's now serving as mayor pro tem until November. Last week we had our mayoral primary to elect a new mayor. Two candidates emerged from that, but you have to get 50 percent to win, so there will be a runoff in November. So we will have had four mayors in the space of about three months in this city.
HANSEN: Bob Kittle is editorial page editor of The San Diego Union-Tribune, Ron Dzwonkowski is editorial page editor at the Detroit Free Press, and Kate Nelson is managing editor of the Albuquerque Tribune. Thank you all for joining us.
Mr. KITTLE: Thank you.
Mr. DZWONKOWSKI: Thank you.
Ms. NELSON: You're welcome.
HANSEN: It's 18 minutes past the hour.
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