Presidential Candidate Lamar Alexander
Alexander joined us live online. The transcript follows.
Chicago, Ill.: Governor Alexander, in a Republican race dominated so far by big-money and big-interest, how do you see your campaign faring against the others? With more and more primaries scheduled for mid-March, is there still promise in the grass-roots, idea-centered, momentum-building campaign in the 'new' face of presidential politics?
Lamar Alexander: Yes. In the end, voters make the decisions. For example, last week I signed up Mike Montgomery, an elementary school principal, in Knoxville, Iowa, who was choosing between me and Gov. Bush. Mike is my 75th Iowa county chairman.
Bronx, N.Y.: What are your views on the media and the way "second- and third-tier candidates" are covered?
Lamar Alexander: There's a country music song, "The Sun Don't Shine On the Same Dog Every Day." Media coverage is episodic. My hope is to be overwhelmed with media coverage on Feb. 8, the day after the Iowa Caucus.
Fort Dodge, Iowa: Why aren't there national standards for education? Should there be?
Lamar Alexander: No, there shouldn't be. I trust Fort Dodge has higher standards than Washington, D.C. As a country, we should insist on higher standards in our schools, but they should be established by local school boards, parents and teachers.
Henderson, Tex.: A major point of hope in your 1996 campaign was your ability to raise formidable amounts of money. Now it seems that your donor base -- said to be largely centered on Tennessee -- is holding out until you can show some upward mobility in polls. Your last Nashville fundraiser that I heard about raised only $1 million. How do you plan on making a splash with so little money?
Lamar Alexander: That's the first time I've ever heard a $1 million fund-raiser described as "little." Al Gore had his Nashville fund-raiser one month earlier and raised half a million dollars. Be assured I'll be able to raise enough money to compete to win all the early caucuses and primaries, which is what counts.
Monterrey, Calif.: You have unequivocally stated "no ground troops" in Kosovo. Very well, what do you see as the best strategy at this point to accomplish what the president has committed us to?
Lamar Alexander: You're right, I said "no ground troops" before the bombing began. That was for a peace-keeping force. If there were to be ground troops for that, those should have been Europeans. But now we're in a war, the president should define his objectives and ask the authority of Congress to use whatever he needs to meet the objectives, including ground troops if necessary.
Tucson, Ariz.: Do you support campaign reform, specifically the banning of ALL variations of 'soft money'?
Lamar Alexander: I support campaign finance reform, but to me that means individual contributions, free speech and full disclosure. In other words, any individual can give whatever they want as long as it is disclosed every day on the Internet. Otherwise, you restrict free speech and favor super-rich candidates -- candidates with famous names, the media and special interest groups, all of whom can spend unlimited money.
Falls Church, Va.: What is the most important domestic issue facing the United States presently and how, when and what would you do to address that issue? Also, what would be the consequences of your action and why is it important?
Lamar Alexander: The most important issue is putting the country on the side of parents raising children again. As a country, we have to be able to say that some things are right and some things are wrong, and you only learn that in strong families, good schools and religious institutions. To make schools better, I would send the federal bureaucrats home and send the federal money back to local school boards, teachers and parents, and let them make decisions about what is best for children. To help busy parents be better parents, I would end the marriage [tax] penalty, triple the tax deduction for each child to $8,000 per year, repeal the laws that discourage flexible working hours and give parents choices of a good, safe school for their children.
Puerto Rico : What is your position in the Puerto Rico political status issue? Do you favor statehood, independence or the enhancement of the present commonwealth?
Lamar Alexander: I'm going to reserve judgment on that right now, until I catch up with the current status of that debate.
Washington, D.C.: Some other candidates have called for returning public prayer to public schools as a way to address school violence and other problems. Do you favor that? What role do you see for religion in addressing the problems government wants solved?
Lamar Alexander: Religion solves a great many problems that government can't solve. Government can write a check, but it's hard for government to love a child, teach self-discipline or help someone get off drugs. Father Jerry Hill of the Austin Street Shelter in Dallas says of the men he serves there, "These men are empty when they come to me. In order to help them, I have to pour something into them. And what I pour into them is my faith."
Vienna, Va.: What kind of commitment would you make as President to improving the quality of education in grades K-12? Do you view this challenge as a local or national issue?
Lamar Alexander: It's my number-one priority. It is national, because it affects the whole nation, but that does not mean that schools can be fixed by the federal government. Mr. Gore's proposals add up to a national school board. I prefer local school boards. He trusts the government to choose schools; I trust the parents. He thinks he knows what is best for each school. I want to bring out the best in each school. That's the real difference between our approaches, and should be the number one debate in the presidential race.
Lamar Alexander: I believe marriage is for a man and a woman. I respect every American as an individual, and believe each of us is entitled to constitutional protections against discrimination. I would not have done what President Clinton did, but will follow the advice of the Joint Chiefs before changing the current policy.
Chicago, Ill.: How do you propose funding the HOPE scholarship for education reform? In a wider sense of the question, how would this benefit our education system?
Lamar Alexander: $1 billion from current federal spending on education, plus $1 billion new federal dollars annually to create about 1.3 million $1,500 scholarships for children of middle- and low-income families. This is enough for all eligible children in about 22 cities the size of Nashville. It would benefit public education because the $1,500 scholarships would follow the children to schools that parents chose, and classroom teachers subject to the local school board, would decide how to spend the money. I believe most of this new money would go to public schools. So it's new federal dollars, more choices for parents and more control by classroom teachers. I cannot think of anything that would help schools more.
Washington, DC: What is your stand on abortion rights? How would you characterize them relative to Dole and Bush?
Lamar Alexander: I am pro-life. I believe a good society is one with the fewest possible abortions, and I would lead our country toward that goal. The government would not support abortion, either at home or abroad. I oppose partial-birth abortion, and would lead the states to change their culture and their laws to restrict and discourage abortion and to provide help to expectant mothers who have decisions to make about their unborn children. I do not believe overturning Roe v. Wade by constitutional amendment is the right way to get from where we are to where we ought to go. I will let George Bush and Elizabeth Dole speak for themselves.
Chicago, Ill.: The computer and, specifically, the Internet has done great things for contemporary culture. At the same time, however, it has undermined strong communities and even impaired parental authority. Is there a role which the government can or should assume toward this issue?
Lamar Alexander: Yes. The government could help pay for advertising to let parents know the dangers of the Internet, ultraviolent video games and movies in their children's lives. And having made parents more aware of this could help them learn how to deal with it. For example, through software that blocks pornography. In the end, the way to deal with the dangers in the rough culture we have today is to make families and schools as strong as possible, so children can learn how to decide what is right and what is wrong.
Portsmouth, N.H.: How do you plan on differentiating yourself from the other moderate Republicans who may enter the race?
Lamar Alexander: By showing that I am the best prepared candidate. The others are relatively untested. By focusing on education and parents. And by working harder. I doubt if any of the other candidates will walk across New Hampshire as I did.
Are you going to see "Star Wars: Episode I, the Phantom Menace"?
Lamar Alexander: My daughter saw it in New York last night at midnight. She'll give me a full report, and then I'll let you know.
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