Alex Rodriguez is a man on the move. It might well be that Alex has
been preparing himself for the job he now seeks for nearly his whole
life. (Alex says we have to draw our own conclusions on this matter.)
For a relatively young man, he has built up an impressive array of
experiences and credentials, both academic and practical.
Alex has been a member of the Board of the Tucson Unified School
District since 2004. He points out that by winning election to TUSD, he
has won in a much larger electoral district than any other Democratic
candidate in the race. He works for Raytheon, the largest private
sector employer in Tucson, as a supply-chain manager. Alex says he worked with the citizen’s advisory commission on transportation that
produced the plan for the Regional Transportation Authority, which voters will decide on May 16th.
Alex argues that he is the only cadidate in the race who combines being a veteran of the armed forces and prior electoral experience. He posits rhetorically why voters would risk nominating any candidate who is either a political neophyte (only he and Giffords have held elected office) or doesn’t have the credibility on national security issues confered by being a veteran and working in the Penagon (only he and Latas are veterans who have worked in the Pentagon). Since he’s is the only candidate who combines both credentials, Alex feels confident that he is the best choice for Democratic primary voters, and would win the general election by appealing to moderates and national security-oriented voters of both parties.
Alex was born in 1970, and points out that at 36 he is only the
second-youngest candidate in the race: the youngest is Gabby Giffords.
Alex’s parents moved from Nogales, Mexico to Nogales, Arizona in 1963,
making him a natural-born citizen of the United States by seven years
and a stone’s throw. His parents and siblings have also all become
citizens. He is the youngest of 10 siblings in a close, Catholic
family, in which he was raised with traditional values and strong spiritual traditions.
Alex says that his family’s success here in America, and their
immigrant experience, embodies the American Dream, and gave him an
abiding faith in the power of that Dream. And, he notes, it also made
him the king of hand-me-down clothes. It also gave him his campaign
slogan: “Restore the American Dream.”
Alex started life with few advantages beyond a supportive and nurturing
family, but through hard work and service in our armed forces, he has
achieved his dreams. Alex attended public schools here in Tucson
(Lineweaver Elementary), and in Nogales (Nogales High School). He
witnessed first-hand the problems of the Mexican border, living with
friends and family on both sides of the border. He volunteered in the
U.S. Customs Service Explorer program, which is similar to a police
cadet-training program, from 8th grade through high school, where he
experienced working alongside customs inspectors and border patrol
Alex graduated high school in 1989 and entered the Army. He enrolled in
the ROTC program at the New Mexico Military Institute and transferred
to the University of Arizona as a Lieutenant in 1991. He served in the
Army Reserve with the 8th Battalion, 40th Armored, stationed at Ft.
Huachuca on weekends while earning his B.A. in Political Science,
History, and Spanish. Upon graduation in 1994, Alex worked as a
legislative intern in the Arizona Senate with the Minority Leadership’s
staff on appropriations, banking, insurance, and finance. Alex next
went to study in Mexico for a summer, then moved to New York and worked
as a graduate intern at the United Nations. He applied to graduate
school and won a Woodrow Wilson scholarship to the Kennedy School of
Government at Harvard University. There he earned a Masters degree in
Public Administration with emphasis on international trade and global
After graduating in 1997, Alex joined the Clinton Administration as a
nominee to the Presidential Management Fellows program. He worked in
the office of the Secretary of Defense, for the Joint Chiefs of Staff,
for General George Casey (commander of U.S. forces in Iraq), and for
Secretary Cohen’s media office. While serving as an Army Reserve
Captain in a civil affairs unit, he went to work for the State
Department’s Bureau of European affairs on Bosnia and Kosovo. In 1998,
Alex was seconded to work for the U.S. Senate’s Committee on Foreign
Relations on the issue of NATO enlargement.
In 1999, Alex returned to the Pentagon and was deployed with his civil
affairs unit to Bosnia, where he served on active duty until 2000. His
civil affairs unit acted as soldier diplomats, working with local
authorities to build civic institutions and aid democratic reforms.
Alex was assigned to work with U.S. Ambassador William Farrin, formerly
an ambassador to the U.S.S.R., in trying to stitch Bosnia back together.
After returning from his overseas billet in 2000, Alex went back to
work in the Pentagon and traveled with Clinton’s High Level Contact
Group headed by General McCaffrey (Clinton’s Drug Czar) to Mexico City
to negotiate new agreements. In 2000, he turned 30 and decided to move
back to Arizona, to be near his family He went to work for Wells Fargo
in commercial banking, and then to Raytheon as a supply chain manager
and strategic planner.
Now, Alex is settled in Tucson, starting a family, and running for
Congress. He just married Claudia Rodriguez, neé Arazia, who is 27 and
an educational psychologist. After becoming engaged in a very
traditional manner (they planed an engagement event for their families)
they decided to get married in a civil ceremony in advance of their
traditional religious wedding, which is scheduled for after the
I found Alex to be a credible, well-qualified candidate, who brings
great diversity of relevant life experiences to the table. His facility
in pivoting a question to his own frame of reference, or to a straw man
of his own choosing, is a prime asset to a politician (one which he
demonstrates more than once in this interview), but also sometimes
serves to obscure his opinion on important matters. Alex is obviously
an intelligent, able man and a quick study. Most importantly, he
demonstrates a significant degree of humility, willingness to learn and
listen, and a mental flexibility that should serve a candidate, or an
office-holder, very well.
Alex’s background as a veteran Army officer, his experience in staff
and training positions in both the Executive and Legislative branches
of state and federal government, as well as his life experiences in
southern Arizona’s borderlands and service in governing TUSD, are all
good grounding for a larger leadership role. I found Alex’s comments on
the qualities of a good legislator to be the most well-considered and
complete of any candidate I’ve interviewed so far. Alex has obviously
given leadership serious thought; perhaps he has been thinking about it
all his life.
Throughout the interview, any comments inside square brackets are my
own as I transcribed our conversation. At times those comments
summarize an exchange that was either irrelevant or just too long and
detailed to relate more than the gist.
MB: Whom outside of your family do you admire most, or take as role models?
AR: I have several role models. Some personal, and some I’ve never met. I’ve been helped so much along the way through my education and mentors.
Dr. Raul Bejarano, Superintendent of Sunnyside School District, who was my principal at Nogales High School. He takes a personal approach and reaches out to students, and that was my experience with him. He believed in me early on, let’s face it Nogales High School wasn’t the best school in the country, yet I graduated from Harvard. I credit my schools and people like Dr. Bejarano for having that positive impact on my life.
Democratic Statesman and former U.S. Senator Sam Nunn [D-GA ret] for his exceptional leadership on national security and foreign policy.
My parents, Manuel and Gilda Rodriguez who have been married for 59 years, who raised a family of ten children, who gave us a shot at the American Dream back in 1963 when they moved from Nogales Sonora to Nogales Arizona. Today, they continue to give back in Tucson through their involvement in the good works of St. Cyril Catholic Church.
A person in my military career is a man who served our nation in Vietnam and Bosnia. Col. Jim Perlmutter was one of those who believed in me and continues to push me, asking “What are you doing for your nation today, Alex?”
In Tucson, I’ve been touch and blessed by knowing many people. There is no way I could be doing what I am doing to make a difference in our community if they hadn’t embraced me when I returned to Tucson. People like Mr. Hank Oyama, a distinguished American once held captive in an internment camp in his own country during WWII because of his Japanese ancestry. This man decided to join the U.S. armed forces and rose to become a Colonel. This man became a nationally recognized educator and serves as a councilor and a great friend to me. There is a new school in Tucson on the Southwest side built by TUSD that is named after him. He is retired and is helping us with the campaign.
MB: What books have you read recently?
AR: Where do I start? Right now, I recommend Thomas Friedman’s “The World is Flat.” His book is about economic globalization and what that really means to our lives. I’m reading Gov. Bill Richardson’s book “Between the Worlds” which is excellent. He talks about the duality of his life and his service to America.
MB: Could you name a couple of magazines you subscribe to?
AR: I’ll tell you the ones I read on a regular basis. Foreign Affairs, though that’s more of a journal. The Economist is an excellent read for economics and politics, international and national. Time magazine is always a good read, but those who are more wonkish; we like to read articles that are more in depth. I just was looking at an article in the Atlantic Monthly that calls AZ CD 8 race ground zero of the border policy controversy. I just subscribed to Campaigns and Elections, which might come in handy.
MB: Do you have any hobbies?
AR: I play the drums. I like to make noise. I’m not very good, but enthusiasm counts. I play racquetball and love reading.
MB: What makes a really great U.S. representative: Mo Udall great? Someone who’s legendary?
AR: Several characteristics. At the top is someone is deeply passionate about helping people, and in order to achieve that you have to be a good listener. I firmly believe that over time I’ve built excellent listening skills. Every Congressperson represents over 630,000 people from all walks of life and viewpoints, so the representative has to be able to deal with a wide variety of views, and central to that is the ability to really listen.
You really have to have character that never creates even the impression of a violation of integrity or trust. I am so concerned about what is happening in Washington these days where a culture of corruption is festering. That’s sad that for America in the 21st century, the greatest democracy on the planet, having people like Duke Cunningham, a decorated veteran, going bad and taking 2 million dollars in bribes. It’s a systemic problem we have with lobbyists having profound influence over writing legislation. Some say that legislation is now being written not on Capital Hill, but on K Street.
A Congressman must have the ability to build trust. That is the most important thing. In this election, we have to restore the trust of American citizens in their deliberative institutions.
A Congressman, to be able to accomplish things, must be in the habit of giving away power. A leader has to empower others to accomplish great things. By empowering others you can move issues forward. Leading by influence and example gives a better result than leading by command, and a Congressman has to master that skill to succeed.
By the way, I read Udall’s biography by Professor Carson, “The Life and Times of Mo Udall.” It talks about how he used humor in this job, and I’ve learned not to take campaigning so seriously, or myself. My God, is this a humbling business!
MB: If you are elected what committees will you lobby to be on?
AR: One needs to examine where the money goes to find out where the nation’s priorities really are. Therefore, there’s no question in my mind that if I get a chance to serve on Appropriations, that’s were I will go. It’s an issue of seniority, of course, but allocating funds is the primary job of the Congress, and so Appropriation, Budget, or Ways and Means are vitally important.
Another important committee to influence the quality of life of the citizens of CD 8 and Arizona as a whole is Education and, since I’m a veteran and a Democrat, I would bring expertise to that area, as well.
MB: What is your view of Bush’s NSA domestic wiretapping program, its legality, and the blockage of any investigation by the Republican Congress?
AR: The FISA is there as a tool to help the Executive Branch do what it supposed to: provide for the safety and security of all Americans. This Administration chose to go around it and is causing itself a nightmare of political problems. My perspective is that it is un-American to spy on Americans.
That’s the political issue; the substantive issue is how do we get it right and provide for the safety and security of Americans? We need to get back to the Executive Branch asking for warrants before they spy on Americans. How do we do it in a manner that expedites [issuing those warrants] as quickly as possible, so that we can catch the intercept that will allow us to block the next terrorist attack on our country? Democrats don’t have it wrong, we have it right. We’re about protecting the civil liberties of every American, and don’t you dare trample on the Constitution of the United States. And that’s what’s at issue here. We can provide for safety and security.
Cheney said in Tucson recently they are going ahead with the program without warrants. I think that’s a fundamentally misguided approach, because you are upsetting many Americans. One of the principles of our country is freedom; that means Big Brother doesn’t watch over you whenever he wants.
Here is how it would work. You put appropriate staff in the Department of Justice, with Congressional oversight, and not just the four Chairmen of the intelligence committees, but the broader membership who have top-secret clearances. You must staff enough attorneys in the DOJ and on Capitol Hill to have them look at applications in a reasonable amount of time, and have the [FISA] court involved. If there’s sufficient evidence of probable cause to issue a warrant, that gives Americans comfort that Big Brother isn’t invading their private lives.
MB: What do you think of U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales’ testimony before the Senate: that they are going to tap conversations between suspects and their doctors, lawyers and priests, and use that information in court?
AR: That’s why Americans are so worked up about this issue. We have a time-honored tradition of protecting Americans’ privacy – and that’s a right, not a privilege. The Constitution protects your privacy and my privacy. We have to get this right.
MB: What do you think of the Bush Administration’s theory of the Unitary Executive and his use of signing orders on every bill to claim that ability to ignore Acts of Congress if he thinks they conflict with his interpretation of his powers under the Constitution? For instance, the reauthorization of the PATRIOT Act.
AR: What is remarkable about this Administration is that it has circumvented a number of checks and balances that American public wants, and that the Constitution clearly calls for. There’s a reason why we have three independent branches of government, to provide checks and balances. The Executive Branch under this President has tried to get around that structure, and I think their approach is flawed. Nobody in this great country can be above the law: nobody.
MB: What do you think of Senator Feingold’s [D-WI] resolution to censure the President? Would you co-sponsor or vote for that resolution?
AR: I don’t think I would take that step yet. What I want to do is to fix the problem, and focus on expediting intercepts of Al Qaeda messages to a house in Tucson, for example, and giving our government the right tools to protect American citizens. That’s the real issue. The rest will play its course, but I don’t think it’s the right approach because it’s not solving the problem.
MB: How about Rep. John Conyers [D-MI] resolution to create a select committee* to look into the Administration’s use of pre-war intelligence on Iraq with an eye to impeachment proceedings? Would you support or co-sponsor that? [*A select committee has equal representation from both parties and shared Chairmanship duties.]
AR: I haven’t read the Articles…
MB: There are none yet, that is what the select committee is for, to investigate possible lying on Iraq.
AR: There is sufficient public information that suggests gross mishandling and possible manipulation of intelligence information regarding Iraq. This warrants Congressional inquiry regarding the Administration’s actions and decisions in the lead up to war in Iraq. I would vote yes.
MB: What do you think ought to be done about reforming the ethics rules in Congress? There was a bill recently to create an independent ethics oversight body, what do you think of that?
AR: I like any approach that will lead to a more transparent and less corrupt process. We want people to have trust in their government. Creating cynics about the democratic process is a really big problem. There are number of initiatives underway to reform ethics in Congress. I ask myself, “Why are they even talking about this? Why are we talking about things that are so self-serving to members of Congress?” What we need to be doing is the people’s business, not dealing with a Congressman who violated all these ethics rules. I firmly believe in the ethics rules, and it really disappoints me that we have to waste time policing the Members [of Congress] when what we should be doing is fixing the problems of everyday Americans. Nevertheless, we need the rules. Anything that is self-serving I’m against.
MB: Rather than police themselves, with the politics that entails, instead to have an outside independent oversight body for compliance and enforcement…
AR: I want to remove the culture of corruption that exists in our Capital. We should go for it.
MB: Would you be in favor of publicly financed Congressional campaigns?
AR: It would have removed many headaches I’ve had in the last months. (laughs). Sure. It would make it more equitable, more fair. It would give an average Joe like me a crack at this. The amount of resources needed scares away many good would-be candidates. Caring candidates. National funded campaigns are a good idea. I hate having to waste time ‘dialing for dollars’, because that’s taking me away from the issues and talking to real people about their livelihoods, their issues, their quality of life, and their communities.
MB: Iraq. Are you in favor of withdrawal from Iraq, and under what conditions?
AR: Yes, in Iraq we lowered the threshold for going to war. In the 230-year history of our nation, we’ve had a long-held principle called ‘imminent threat’. That’s when we take action, when there is an imminent threat. Pearl Harbor or 9/11 – those were imminent threats. Where was the imminent threat in 2003? I agree that Saddam’s regime has to be replaced, but it is a matter of how one goes about doing that I have an issue with. I want this country to have a foreign policy that is strong, but keeps our credibility in the eyes of the world.
Because of Iraq, we now live in an environment of preemptive strike. Go read the National Security Strategy of this Administration, which claims preemptive strike as the new foreign policy of our nation. Guess what North Korea just announced? A preemptive strike policy. Who’s preempting whom now?
We need to move forward. I do think we need to bring our troops home and we have to do so in safe, responsible, and phased manner. I want to ensure that we limit the implications for the broader Middle East of such a re-deployment. It could easily cause a major problem that engulfs Israel, or Syria, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Iran, etc.
I worked for the commander of Iraqi forces, Gen. Casey. I have full faith and trust in our military and our chain of command, and I believe we need to listen to them more. They’re the experts; they’re the war-fighters; they protect our nation, but yet we politicize so much of this process.
So, in Iraq, we have to make it abundantly clear to the Shiite, Sunni and Kurds that we’re not there to stay. Because that gives them the ability to recruit people that would do us harm and kill our troops. 2,300 lives later, we are mired in this conflict, and every day I read the casualty report from the DoD, and it moves me personally. I think what we need in Congress is more veterans, because at the height of the Cold War, 7 of 10 members of Congress had some type of military service. Now less than 2.5 of 10 members have military service. Even less so on the Democratic side of the aisle.
These are times of dire threat. A terrorist can sneak into our country with a nuclear bomb in a suitcase. We need people with experience and expertise making decisions for us in Washington.
MB: What criteria do we use to draw down troop levels? What circumstances, benchmarks, or facts on the ground have to be present to begin re-deployment? Do you have a timetable in mind?
A; First, the President showed us his ‘courage’ the other day when he said that the next President would have to deal with getting the troops out of Iraq in 2009. Gives you insight into how the government we have now views the issue. I want to be sure that we continue to rebuild and give the Iraqis an opportunity to rebuild their law-enforcement capacity and their own military capacity. They must rebuild the institutions that allow Iraqis to get on with their lives, such as schools, electricity, water; those are the missions that American Civil Affairs troops do. That kind of stuff has to happen in a robust fashion; the more we do that, the less time we spend in Iraq.
MB: What should we do in terms of force protection while we’re there? Should we move to an enclave strategy? Or move to an over-the-horizon deployment in nearby nations such as Rep. Murtha [D-PA] has suggested?
AR: I plan to go speak to Gen. George Casey directly, to ask him how he sees the situation on the ground. I want to consult our U.S. chain of command, who I have great respect for, and ask them what they think, and then come back and talk to citizens in CD 8 in town hall forums – I plan to have many of them – and relay the messages that our military leadership is telling us.
Should we have politicians making these strategic military decisions, or should we have Generals consulting with the political leadership and making those decisions? Some want politicians to run this war. I want American military leaders to tell our politicians how we can restore order to Iraq and have the opportunity to get out.
MB: Would you be opposed to creating permanent bases in Iraq?
AR: Of course! That’s just fueling the insurgency, giving Osama bin Laden exactly what he wants.
MB: How do we handle the rise of terrorism as tool being used against American interests and the American people?
AR: Bottom line is, in many parts of the world, we are fueling hatred and animosity, when what we need is the opposite. I think this country has a remarkably special role in the world given that we are the linchpin of the current international security framework. To continue to fuel extremism is a mistake because at some point we aren’t going to be able to stop everyone who wants to attack us. We’ve already seen that extremists are capable of attacking us within our own borders.
MB: Congressional oversight of Iraq construction. $50 billion has gone missing. What can we do to protect American taxpayers from this sort of fraud?
AR: Someone is obviously asleep at the switch, so let’s wake ‘em up. You need better oversight, and you need people with experience. How many of them have experience with geo-political affairs and contracting? Governance and oversight by Congress is dreadfully lacking, otherwise you couldn’t have had such massive swindling of $50 billion of the taxpayers’ money. It gets me really mad.
I know the right questions to ask because I understand this process. I have that experience. I’ve worked in the Dept. of Defense. I’ve deployed overseas and watched these companies operating in the field. Brown and Root were in charge of the base camp I lived in. They can’t blow smoke at me, because I know what to look for.
MB: Nuclear proliferation. An emerging issue is the possibility of the use of force to get Iran to comply with the terms of NNPT [the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty] and oversight and inspections of the IAEA [the International Atomic Energy Agency – the monitoring and compliance arm of the NNPT]. Is it a reasonable thing to do to use force against Iran?
AR: Let me recharacterize this issue for a minute. This is the crisis de jour. The last time we were talking about nuclear proliferation – same issue, different country: Iraq and North Korea.
We need to restore some teeth to the NNPT because we now go from crisis to crisis. Problems pop up, we deal with it, everyone gets freaked out and there’s talk of war, and then, if we’re lucky it simmers down. The reason this is happening is the lack of a concentrated effort by this nation on non-proliferation.
With respect to Iran – Iran is a very dangerous and volatile situation. Let me explain why. If they get enriched uranium, they can blackmail the U.S. on anything. They can wipe out Israel and engulf the world in a war with nuclear exchanges. That’s how sensitive this issue is. You’ve got to have the very best minds asking tough questions on this issue. If I am elected to Congress, I am going to lead on non-proliferation issues and I hope that Senator Nunn comes back to the Pentagon as Secretary of Defense.
MB: What do you mean when you say we need to put teeth in the NNPT?
AR: The NNPT is the current regime for dealing with non-proliferation and what’s happening is Iran skirting around the terms of the NNPT by saying they are refining uranium not for weapons, but for peaceful energy. Dual purpose is a weakness here. What upsets me about this Administration is they are now trying to sell India this dual use technology against the terms of NNPT. Isn’t this hypocritical? Our foreign policies are fraught with contradictions like this. Look at NAFTA and Rep. Sensenbrenner’s [R-WI] bill on immigration [a punitive, enforcement-only immigration bill that passed the House a few months ago]. They want a 700-mile wall, yet NAFTA is trying to bring down trade barriers at the same time; that’s a contradiction, isn’t it? How many Republicans voted for both NAFTA and Sensenbrenner’s Wall?
India is a bad example for U.S. policy, because then, just like the North Koreans are now claiming the right to preemptive strikes against us, Iran can say, “Well, you’re letting the Indians do it. We’re also providing the energy needs of our people.” The point is that we need the appropriate mix of carrots and sticks in that proliferation treaty, it’s got to be overhauled and we have to lead on this issue globally through example.
MB: You didn’t answer the question of whether it would be effective and helpful for us to use military force to get Iran to comply with our demands about their nuclear program. Would you vote to allow this Administration to use force in that way?
AR: You’re posing a hypothetical. It is irresponsible for me to tell you, based on a hypothetical, what I would do. The conditions could be vastly different between that hypothetical and reality. I will tell you that best approach is how do we prevent the problem from getting to that point? I’m looking at a policy approach to solve the problem.
How we should approach it is that it should be referred to the UN Security Council and deliberated there. IAEA has to be given teeth to allow verification of the Iranian program. IAEA has already told us they can’t verify the Iranian program, and our own clandestine operation demonstrated to U.S. intelligence that Iran is using the program for ulterior motives, something other than providing fuel for reactors.
MB: I question whether the threat of force is even going to be efficacious given that our military has clearly indicated that America does not have the ability to topple the Iranian regime militarily. It’s also quite obvious that attacking Iran’s nuclear facilities will just drive them underground. Strikes are not going to deter or stop Iran from pursuing nuclear weapons, if that’s what they believe to be in their fundamental national interests. The conclusion that I reach is that the threat of war won’t be effective.
AR: Okay. The only time we should use the threat of war is when it will be a credible deterrent to compel behavior. I happen to be of the view that we could conduct a very concerted, strategic, and surgical strike on Iran that sets them back. Of course, the proper venue for this debate is the UN Security Council. The purpose of that organization is to avoid the scourge of war, and this thing could be the biggest mother of all mothers.
MB: I’d ask you to consider, though, that John Bolton is our man at the UN, at least until the end of this session of Congress. He isn’t exactly the most reasoned person on the issue of non-proliferation. This is the guy who accused Cuba of developing WMD with zero proof.
AR: Well, you’re right about this Administration. Maybe Bolton should get bolted.
MB: I’m going to take issue with your earlier assertion that Iranian nuclear weapons would pose a grave threat to Israel. [A discussion about defining the exact threat from Iran ensues. Alex makes the point that the President of Iran has issued inflammatory threats. And I settle on the formulation: “Why wouldn’t Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD) apply to a nuclear Iran and Israel?”]
AR: That’s not a bi-lateral situation. There are third parties involved, Mike, that impact that relationship. Nation states as well as terrorist organizations, that have a substantial stake here, both world powers like Russia and China, but also regional powers like India, Saudi Arabia, and Egypt. Non-state actors like Hezbollah and Al Qaeda, which are becoming even more important, could also hijack the situation to serve their agendas.
MB: That’s all true. But it doesn’t detract from the fact that we already have a model of a country that is Muslim, is largely radicalized, and undemocratic, which is Pakistan, and their missiles can reach Israel. And Israel’s missiles will reach them, of course. And we don’t have this discussion about third-party intermediaries and other regional powers in that relationship. We’re not overly concerned about a nuclear exchange between them because of MAD.
AR: Good point. Perhaps that should lead us to support moderates in the greater Middle East to promote stability. You make a very fair point.
MB: Loose nukes and nuclear materials. What would you do if you got into Congress about this issue? Obviously, you are concerned about proliferation.
AR: Oh, absolutely. It’s at the top of my agenda. From both a personal interest, as a foreign policy, er… wonk, and as a matter of serious political governance. Loose nukes are crucial to every one our 435 districts, and frankly we don’t have enough people who understand and care about this issue. That’s why we need more veterans in Congress today. You have to have people in there know who to ask and what to ask. Do you have any idea how vast the federal government is?
There is man by the name of A. Q. Khan who has done more harm to the planet, and humanity than just about anyone else. He’s a rocket scientist that decided to pedal himself on the black market and created a grave danger to our national security. We’ve got to find others like him and track their efforts. Allowing a nuclear black market means we are looking at a nuclear suitcase bomb popping up somewhere on the planet eventually. This is a big deal.
This Administration gutted the Cooperative Threat Reduction (CRT) program, created by one of their own, Senator Richard Lugar [R-IN], and one of our own, Senator Nunn [D-GA, ret.]. The Nunn-Lugar CRT program has been a remarkable effort to safeguard, lock down, and track WMD materials from the former Soviet Union and Eastern Bloc states, but also the scientists who worked for those programs in the past. They found themselves in an economic shambles, but the knowledge and skills they had was worth millions to the right buyers. We have got to fully fund the CRT program.
MB: Let’s talk about immigration. Give me a picture of your ideal solution for the immigration issue for America vis-a-vis specifically Mexico and Latin America.
AR: First, America and Americans deserve to feel like we are one family again. [I’m not entirely sure when in the past we did feel this way, but it’s a nice thought.] What is happening right now is a disgrace. Some are using it as a wedge issue and political football. It’s wrong to try to generate hostility and division based on race; that is not the America I believe in.
What do I want? A dramatic slow-down, or stop actually, in illegal immigration into America. That is what is inciting people’s resentment. There are legal means for coming to America. The current framework, however, is completely flawed and needs to be overhauled dramatically to these ends:
1) An America that can compete in a global economy,
2) An America that safeguards all its citizens, its borders, and its sovereignty,
3) An America that has a strong relationship with Mexico and Latin America.
We are a nation of immigrants, and that is our strength, not a weakness. I support the McCain-Kennedy proposal. I frankly don’t see much happening to further a lasting solution this session. [in fact, Senate negotiations have collapsed] Why? It’s a political election year and everyone is posturing. One thing we must do this year is defeat Rep. Sensenbrenner’s bill, HR 4437, that calls for a wall in the desert and creating 12 million felons overnight, and for locking up business owners here in Tucson and throughout Arizona for nothing other than their hard work. That bill is a ridiculous waste of time. I was proud to see Jim Kolbe [R-AZ] stand up and call it political posturing himself.
How do we move forward? I am calling for the creation of the U.S. Commission on Immigration Reform now. Just like the 9/11 Commission brought together a non-partisan group of experts, a commission will bring together a groups of America’s best to examine the issue of immigration and border security from multiple perspectives and disciplines, consolidate that wisdom into a report to the U.S. Congress and the American people. This would help remove the high emotion and the fear surrounding this issue. It gives people something that a lot of us lack: the facts. Congress doesn’t always act based on facts, I assure you that. The commission would report to the American people to set us up for the next Congress to be able to do something useful on this issue. If we don’t get something done in 2007, then 2008 is another political election year, and nothing will get done until after a new Administration settles in.
[Alex makes a good point about turning down the rhetoric and studying the issue through a Commission; however, the 9/11 Commission demonstrates that maintaining bipartisan control over not only Commission members, but also the staff is crucial, if the work product of the Commission is not to be politicized through partisan staff work. The 9/11 Commission’s findings and recommendations were butchered by Phillip Zelikow, the Bush Administration’s Executive Director for the Commission staff, who assembled the final report. I fear that an immigration commission would fall victim to the same back room political manuevering.]
When we put in place a comprehensive immigration program, Mexico will feel like we are treating them with decency and respect. They will cooperate with us on other matters, such as terrorism and drug trafficking, sexual exploitation along the border, and the enhancement of economic activity between the two countries. There’s a lot that’s riding on this, and I believe that I’m best placed to be a leader on this issue.
MB: Do you support the Sensenbrenner proposal for new walls on the border?
AR: I am against the proposed 700 miles of walls.
MB: Would you take down the walls that are already up in urban areas?
AR: No, probably not. I would go to the experts and if they thought it made sense then I would consider it.
MB: Do you support new sensor systems on the border?
AR: I am for using advancements in technology to help the Border Patrol. When I used to go on rides with the Border Patrol, they had very little technology. Today we have the ability to use drones, for example, that give them better knowledge of where illegal immigration is moving. But we need to work on both sides. Governor Bours of Sonora is really taking steps with Governor Napolitano on securing the border.
Of course, we also need more manpower. My opponents want to crack down on small businesses and violate a basic principle of our nation’s economy: supply and demand. They [small business owners] are hiring people that do not have documents because they need to – otherwise they wouldn’t do it. For us to not recognize that fact is violating one of the basic principles of our economy. That shows to me that they don’t know what they’re talking about when it comes to economics. Do we want the small business owners to be the INS agents – to determine whose ID is valid and whose is not? Instead of doing that for political expedience, we should give our business owners what they are clamoring for: a program that allows them to hire whomever they want, whenever they want. That is a guest-worker program. A modern comprehensive guest-worker program with a national advocate for the guest workers. The Advocate would either report directly to the President of the United States, or be divorced from government altogether as an ombudsman from the labor community. That fully staffed office would investigate and support the braceros, I mean, guest workers. Braceros are still getting paid back-wages from the 1940s and 50s, and that is wrong.
Then we must give them [guest-workers] a path to legalization, if they earn it, and if they don’t earn it, then back [to Mexico] they go. But to say that you are going to round up 12 million people and send them to get in line at the consulates, it really makes for good humor about politics today. It’s funny.
A commission would get more Americans to buy into these ideas. That’s why the Commission makes sense today. It’s not just kicking the can down the road; it is taking a pragmatic approach to policy, not playing politics.
MB: The Republican response to this would likely be that you’re just offering amnesty to criminals, who come here illegally, and have no business being here. How do you answer that?
AR: Show me the evidence of that, Randy Graf [a Republican primary candidate for AZ CD 8]. While you were out playing golf, I was serving our national security. Stop using this as a race-baiting issue. That’s what I will say to his face in a debate on television.
MB: You said a basic law of our economy is supply and demand. Isn’t the drug trade just supply and demand? So why don’t we recognize reality in our drug policy and decriminalize it?
AR: Interesting idea. I would explore the idea in a Congressional hearing. But I don’t see enough support from the American public there. Isn’t the real question, why are there 30 million or so Americans addicted to drugs? It’s a national health issue and economic productivity issue. So I would be looking at all kinds of alternatives, including yours. I’m not averse to the idea.
I’ve worked on this issue personally, and even in my own family we’ve had hardship with this issue. It affects all Americans. So we do have to be creative. I am for rehabilitation. I am for prevention. I am for putting our money where our mouth is on this issue. I’ve worked with the national drug czar on this question. I worked in the office of the Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Drug Enforcement Policy and Support. So I know a lot about this issue. I care about it from a family and first-person perspective, because it has affected not only my family, but the whole educational system in which I’m trying to promote student achievement.
MB: National security. Does preemptive war have a place in American security doctrine?
AR: Our country has always reserved the right to do what it must to protect its own people. That’s the fundamental job of our government. But do you have to rub it in other countries’ faces? That’s what the national security strategy of the Bush administration does. It’s arrogant. We need to remove language that is divisive in nature and restore our ability to have important discussions with our friends and allies, but also nations in the world that don’t see life the way we do.
MB: Do you support the first use of force to address emerging threats – things that aren’t dangerous now, but may be dangerous to us down the road?
AR: It’s a little too hypothetical to give a specific answer, because, honestly I might go one way or another depending on the exact situation and prevailing conditions. What is needed is strong leaders in the Congress and the Executive branch that have experience with these issues. You need some ambiguity in national security matters, you have to keep the other guy guessing. You need thinking people in those halls, chambers, and hearings who will ask the right questions.
[We have a back and forth on giving this Administration authorization for new military adventures… Alex says “Hell no,” he wouldn’t trust this Administration again. He would demand full disclosure and ferret answers out of the professionals in the national security services because “it’s life and death.”]
MB: Does our military budget need to be reduced and, if so, by how much would you aim to reduce it?
AR: I’m going to redirect you to a more important broader question. Right now the Congress has directed the DoD to complete the Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR). It examines over a 20-year horizon the threats and resources to our security. They are mapping out a vast overhaul they term Transformation in military affairs. Right now, I have more questions than I have answers of this Administration. We have fundamental issues – what are the major threats you are planning against? How are you now aligning resources to meet and defeat those threats? The budget has gone up very dramatically and voters have the benefit of my experience to know what the right questions are in Congress. Frankly, what I believe is that we are short-changing America, and the American family, on health care and education and economic development and housing. I’ll know if there is fat in that [defense] budget.
[We discuss military planning methodology and recent major force reviews that have occurred in the past decade.]
We need to consider the current force structure and the current infrastructure of the DoD globally. We have over 500 installations around the planet [the DoD actually admits to over 750, and there are many secret installations not in that total] and some of those are being BRACed out [base re-alignment and closure process]. Do we still need bases that we had to protect Europe from the Russians? Or can we bring home some of the 100,000 troops that are in Europe and start moving them to where we see the threat. The threat conditions continue to evolve every single day.
What is different today from the Cold War is that we have more of these wild cards, like the Osama bin Ladens of the world. Wild Card threats are hard to plan for. Now the big question is what do we plan for in the era of the nuclear suitcase strike. So we have more questions than we have answers. I know the many questions that need to be asked.
In a Democratic Administration in 2008 and beyond, we need to look at the question of not just country-to-country warfare, but protecting American citizens from terrorism over the long haul.
MB: What do you think of the extensive and growing use of military contractors in our military force structure, specifically specialist and support roles that used to be internally?
AR: I will always ask, “Is this something the DoD needs?” Based on their analysis that we approve through our oversight capacity. I wrote an unpublished op-ed recently asking what marks the end of the war on terrorism? How much of our national receipts go to the DoD or Homeland Security? This Administration is now calling it [the “War on Terrorism”] the “Long War.” I want to ask very tough questions and to cut fat where fat needs to be cut and redirect some of the budget into programs that impact average American families on a day-to-day basis: Title I – IDEA (Individuals with Disabilities Education Act) – it’s a shame, these are the voiceless kids in our education system, they get their budgets slashed and it has a material impact on their life, and who’s asking those questions?
MB: Star Wars or National Missile Defense. Effective Program? Cut it? Keep it?
AR: What I want is an independent assessment of the threat capacity of countries to hit our cities. I would authorize a full study on this in Congress. There is also the weaponization of space. The Clinton administration and the Rumsfeld report in 2000 were looking at the weaponization of space. I have studied these issues and I know what my strengths are, and this is one of them.
MB: What is your view of the U.S. leading the way to the weaponization of space?
AR: Warfare has evolved over the course of history and will continue to evolve. We need leaders that will ask the tough questions and direct the national security of our country in a way that makes sense. Sensible and logical, and that doesn’t spend national treasure on baloney projects that are just a way of feeding the system. Right now, you have a system where campaign finance dollars go where they go and then it comes back. It’s almost a revolving door going on.
We have to fundamentally question why we are going toward the weaponization of space. Why are we going there when we should be focusing on our efforts on safeguarding nuclear materials? And safeguarding the well-being of scientists who could go into the black market? I can prioritize defense issues and focus on those that are more relevant and could reach out and kill all of us here in a blink of an eye. That’s what’s important in Congress today.
MB: Do you have concerns about a new arms race if we place weapons in space?
AR: Of course. Every action creates a reaction.
MB: How about the Pentagon’s accounting systems? Seems they can’t account for half of what they spend.
AR: Who better than someone’s who has worked inside the Pentagon to ask the tough questions? Who better than someone who has integrity and trustworthiness to do the right thing for the American people? Who better than someone who can walk into defense installations and ask tough and precise questions? Congress needs to continue and extend its oversight over the national defense apparatus of our nation.
MB: Local concerns. Base encroachment. Will you defend the bases of Arizona?
AR: Ft. Huachuca and Davis Monthan are the main bases in District 8 and are vital to their communities. They have critical missions for national security. I have extensive experience serving as a soldier and visiting these bases. I would encourage the protection of their missions and their place in their communities.
Ft. Huachuca could be put at risk in future BRAC rounds because of the issue of water scarcity. In the upper San Pedro river basin, 21 agencies and organizations, including Ft. Huachuca, have come together to monitor the ground water table, to ensure that it is replenished by 2011. I am committed to work with this effort and lead on water issues. And to do so bi-nationally, because it is impacted by the economic vitality of northern Sonora Mexico, too. Water issues are vital to Arizona, Sonora, and all Americans, and globally. We need to lead on local water issues and global water challenges.
MB: Domestic policy. National healthcare. How do we get to full coverage in America?
AR: Way too many Americans are going without health care. I am one who grew up with no health insurance. I had surgery when I was 16; I picked up a big box at work and immediately knew something was wrong. I had to have hernia surgery and the bill just somehow went away. I think a family friend helped us out. This is a national crisis that impacts families and retirees, who face the indignity of choosing between food on the table and medical care.
For those of us who work every day this is also a productivity issue. Did you know that some 100 million Americans have a chronic or serious health challenge, and nearly half of them don’t have any insurance? I would be in favor of moving toward a universal health care system that brings the United States to parity with the rest of the developed world.
How is that America, the richest country on the planet, rolls out the Medicare part D drug program to a dismal failure? This is a grave incompetence issue. We’ve got a problem of competence – look at Katrina, at port security with only 1% of containers being inspected – and we can do better. That’s why I talk about restoring the American dream, and healthcare is a crucial element.
MB: The President and the GOP propose that Social Security include private accounts. Would you accept such a mechanism as part of a compromise?
AR: Social Security has been a bedrock of our nation’s economy. To risk those funds in the market is like taking the money to Vegas. You don’t know for sure you’re going to get it all, or any of it, back. You might lose it all, and then what happens. So until someone explains what happens after that, I think it’s a bad idea.
We need to address Social Security now, though, because we now have surpluses, but as more Baby Boomers retire, we will begin running deficits. If you and I expect to have something there when we are ready to retire, we have to address it.
MB: Education Policy. Do you support No Child Left Behind?
AR: I’m a member of the governing board of the largest school district in southern Arizona. I know how to ask the right questions in Congress on education. This Administration has taken the approach that more they privatize public education, the better off they are. I think that is a dramatic mistake. Our nation’s present successes happened as a result of the public school system. Well over 90% of students are in the public school system here in Arizona. And that’s low compared to other states, because we have the largest number of private charter schools. We are also dead last on funding our public schools. I don’t think that’s healthy.
Ultimately it impacts all the kids, and the kids who have Title I – kids who have severe disabilities. You should come with me to Barry Meridith K-12 and you will see the dilapidated condition of the school. Those are the forgotten kids without a voice. They have mental illness or physical problems and are neglected by the system. I took the time to get involved and got new moneys into that school to help improve the conditions for the kids.
If NCLB goes up for reauthorization there will be a fight over the specific provisions in the bill. NCLB now calls for Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP), and that determines whether the school gets more funding or not. If a school is down, NCLB just kicks it. That’s this Administration’s approach, to kick someone when they are down. I think that’s wrong. When the school is down, do everything you must to raise it up.
If it comes time, there’s been a lot of talk about Arizona getting out of NCLB, and I can see why. They want help for the schools. I’d be going to Congress with first-hand experience with this issue. I know what our schools needs are. And we need members of Congress who have that sort of background and education on this issue.
MB: What do you see as the Federal government’s role in education?
AR: To continue to support the states by providing additional funding. There are programs that require a national approach, such as special education and racial desegregation. TUSD in under court order to desegregate its schools. But I want to make clear that decisions should be made by local leadership. Strong leaders give away power. On this current board I serve with at TUSD, we have empowered parents across the school district to get involved directly in planning their children’s education through the Site Based Council policy. We relinquished power to those most affected by the decisions. That’s the same approach I would take in Congress.
MB: Is there a role for the Federal government in setting curriculum standards, for instance in the teaching of evolution or creationism?
AR: I think local boards should decide that.
MB: Even if they decide not to teach evolution, or to teach creationism instead?
AR: It’s a local issue. What they teach in different parts of the country may be slightly different; we should respect that.
MB: You mentioned the disparities in funding of education between the states, Arizona having among the lowest per pupil expenditure in the country. Within Arizona we mandate funding equalization between districts, should we mandate equalization between states?
AR: No. Because education is a local issue. You don’t want unfunded mandates. That’s the problem.
MB: Budget deficits. Are you in favor of running budget deficits at this time? If not, how do we move toward a balanced budget?
AR: I don’t know anyone who is in favor of budget deficits, they aren’t a good thing, though there are times when deficits are a necessity: during emergencies like a war you didn’t see coming. But I have a problem with this Administration; at a time when they are trying to create a permanent tax cut, they are getting out the nation’s credit card and destroying the future of our kids and grandkids. That’s wrong.
MB: Should we raise taxes, then?
AR: What we shouldn’t do is enact a permanent tax cut. You have to be able to live within your means. After 9/11, homeland security is a real and prevalent issue. Our costs to maintain national security have gone up, and yet this Administration’s approach is to reduce the funds that come into the treasury. The President’s dad called that voodoo economics; I guess he doesn’t listen to his dad. Supply-side economics hasn’t worked.
Real income is being diminished because of rising energy costs, medical costs (my parents drive down to Nogales to get their drugs), tuition costs – this is the reality of the American middle class now. The American family is being squeezed in the pocketbook. The permanent tax cut is not a solution; it’s causing more problems for the coming generations.
MB: How do we grow more jobs, and better jobs, and get people back into the workforce who have given up?
AR: To begin with you have to invest in people: education equals success. In the 230-year history of our nation, there has never been a more important time for American to be equipped with skills for the workplace, and that everyone be ready for higher education. We don’t have the time or money to do remediation in math and science – the system pays twice for that.
Education equals economic development. We live in a globalized environment that respects no borders: while you and I sleep, people in New Delhi will be processing American tax returns. That’s the world we live in.
MB: Higher education is immensely important. And you wouldn’t be sitting here with me today talking about running for Congress if it weren’t for your own excellent education. Your education was paid for largely by Federal grant and loan programs. Why don’t we make a commitment as a country and fund higher education for every citizen?
AR: Okay. In the President’s 5th State of the Union Address, he made some great-sounding promises on education. I was so fired up, for about 12 hours. Then he rolled out his budget from the OMB and they had cut funding for education. They cut the Pell grant – which sustained me through college. If you want to increase America’s economic vitality, you target people like me. You educate the growing populations of our nation and give them a hand up. Give them the tools they need to give back to our nation by having successful careers. When you cut a program like the Pell grant, you discourage young Americans like myself from going to college. I know it personally.
MB: Environment. What do we need to do to ensure that we pass on a clean and healthy environment to our descendants?
AR: We have to restore the principle of ‘polluter pays.’ That should be the fundamental approach of environmental policy. This Congress has a private sector bias and the results are in: less and less clean air and water, higher and higher costs for energy. We need energy independence and we need it even sooner than in 20-years, which is what many Democrats have called for. Why so long?
We shouldn’t be drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge for oil and gas. We should be looking to invest in research and development of alternative sources and greater efficiency.
MB: Many Congressional candidates advocate greater R&D spending for alternative energy. What sort of scale are you hoping for? Are you talking about a national effort on the scale of the Apollo project, or increasing and reshuffling the Energy Department’s budget?
AR: Ideally, we’re talking a Marshall Plan scale effort. It would help to transform the American economy and provide protection for the environment. Our economy has vastly increased the standard of living for so many, and yet it also has come with far too much waste. At the individual level even, we have become too materialistic. That causes our huge trade deficit with other countries.
MB: Here’s an idea: cradle-to-grave laws. Products that have problematic manufacturing inputs (such as batteries, which already have cradle-to-grave regulations in the US, cars, laptops, TVs, and other consumer and industrial products) must be accepted back by their manufacturers for safe recycling and disposal. It is ‘polluter pays’ and encourages manufacturers to internalize currently external costs and improve their manufacturing processes. Would you be in favor of such laws in the U.S.?
AR: That’s a really interesting concept. I currently work in a production environment [as a supply-chain manager at Raytheon], and so I see how vastly important considering the cradle-to-grave lifecycle of any endeavor is. How we can create things in a manner that produces less waste is an important question. I would love to explore the idea further. We currently have many negative externalities in the way people are incentivized.
MB: You have a background in finance and banking. I’d like to get your take on the integrity of our financial system. We’ve had several spectacular corporate failures in the past few years. Besides Sarbanes-Oxley, what else does Congress need to do to ensure Americans that our corporate and financial systems are sound, ethical, and not a Ponzi scheme?
AR: I think Sarbanes-Oxley is a robust response to the crisis of corporate scandals. We have to have an independent, fully funded, and fully staffed SEC, and robust oversight of their work. [Alex discusses some of the financial institutions of our government]. I think it’s working now. We’ve had a very strong course correction. We just have to be on the ball with strong members of Congress who have experience in the private sector. I have very strong experience in the private sector.
MB: Do we need any changes to our practices of corporate governance: the structure, incentives, the institutions that hold management accountable to the shareholders?
AR: Yes. I would like to see more independent directors on corporate boards, from outside of the company. There is still a relatively insular environment. Those who serve as directors on the boards of Fortune 1000 companies are privileged people, frankly. People who are already at the management level of their own corporations, or people in the professions, and they get top dollar to serve on the board. If we had one or two more chairs who were independent, it would help make decision-making more robust. Directors who will look after the interest of outside shareholders and the public can help ensure that more corporations don’t go the way of Enron.
MB: Trade policy. Obviously, people are concerned about issues surrounding ‘off-shoring’ and free trade – FTAA and oversight of CAFTA and NAFTA. What’s your take on America’s trade position?
AR: We need to move to system of fair trade. We have a lot of Americans who have lost their jobs due to outsourcing and we have an Administration that made tactical mistakes such as [attempting to outsource] major ports, which is also a national security issue. Global trade of goods and services raises the quality of life for everyone around the world. The Internet has vastly improved people’s lives in terms of economics, freedom of religion, political freedom. The exchange of information enabled by the Internet can also help combat human rights violations.
The WTO has to continue its work. Yet there are instances when we need to protect American jobs. You’ve got skilled labor in America and you’ve got other parts of the world where companies have outsourced their work. Why did that happen? Because those corporations wanted a cheap, fast buck. We must inject a sense of corporate responsibility and good citizenship into America’s largest corporations. I think by and large they’re starting to get that message. To be a global citizen you’ve got to avoid a sweatshop approach to labor. We have to have a robust oversight of that process in Congress.
MB: I want to get your response to some ‘hot button’ issues that you are surely going to confronted with in the general election, if not the primary. Pro-choice?
AR: Abortion should rare, safe, and legal.
MB: Plan B?
AR: Rare, safe, legal.
MB: Another issue that will be the subject of much rhetoric is gay marriage and domestic partnerships, especially here in Arizona, where we will be looking at a constitutional amendment to ban them.
AR: There’s no question this will be used as a wedge issue in the general election to incite fear and divide the American people. People have mastered the skill of obtaining votes through fear. To the extent possible, I’m not going to let them pull that stuff. I’m going to remain focused on my agenda to restore the American Dream, which includes healthcare and education, Iraq and other national security issues, and immigration and border security. I’m going to harp on that message with integrity and trust to remove the culture of corruption that exists in Washington. That’s what I’m going to keep repeating.
MB: Are you going to actively oppose passage of the Protection of Marriage Amendment in Arizona?
AR: For thousands of years before us, and thousands of years after us, there will be gay sex. And every-which-way sex. And I don’t care what people do in their own private lives. That’s their choice, and in America, our Constitution protects their rights. That’s the bottom line.
I think that our state moving to a domestic partnership arrangement would allow people to move forward.