At meeting, Reich labels education as solution to many state problems

Robert Reich, Secretary of Labor in the Clinton administration and Democratic nomination hopeful in the Massachusetts gubernatorial race, addressed the Williams community in a town hall meeting Sunday afternoon. The gathering was arranged by Keith Ericson ’04, Reich’s campaign’s student coordinator at the College, and Mark Reinhardt, associate professor of political science.

The planners’ main goal in having Reich speak to the community was simply for students to have a chance to hear him. According to Carlos Silva ‘04, Reich is very committed to student involvement, and the campaign office was “very enthusiastic about having him come to speak at Williams because word of the extraordinarily high student turnout at the Williamstown Democratic Caucus had reached Reich at his campaign headquarters in Boston.”

In his introduction, Reinhardt introduced Reich as “a man of unusual political vision” with an “uncanny ability to put difficult policy questions” before the voters in a way which is easy to understand without being condescending. He briefly discussed the current situation of the Massachusetts state government, which he depicted as suffering from a lack of leadership.

Reinhardt summarized Reich’s qualifications, which include a degree from Harvard Law School, his tenure as Labor Secretary under Bill Clinton, and a position as a faculty member at Harvard’s John F. Kennedy School of Government. Reich is currently a professor at Brandeis University.

Reinhardt also pointed to the great amount of support building behind Reich, and said that the candidate is at or near the top of the polls thus far in the race and that he has already successfully involved citizens in the campaign. Two of the five delegates from Williamstown’s Democratic caucus on Feb. 5, Silva and Healy Thompson ’03, were Williams students. He said that “it was easy to raise awareness and participation levels [at Williams] because Reich is a progressive and a man of ideas.”

In his comments, Reich discussed his reasons for becoming involved in the 2002 gubernatorial race, particularly at such a late date. A crucial component of his reasoning was the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11.

“[I was] in a state of shock and disbelief and horror,” he said, “ [and] asked myself what I could contribute.”

He also pointed to the current state of the Massachusetts government, which he described as “an embarrassment” which is suffering from bad vision, leadership and a budget crisis. While his entry into the race is somewhat late, he is proud to note that he already has more than 15% of the delegates for the state’s Democratic convention in May.

Reich also discussed what his goals as governor would be. He highlighted his commitment to education, particularly in equipping students with better job skills; a dedication to environmental issues and a determination to resolve the current budget crisis.

Reich stated that “Massachusetts has been surging to inequality” in recent years, particularly in terms of income, wealth, and opportunity. He pointed out, for example, that typical household earnings in the state have been decreasing in recent years. He also said that there are “more and more concentrations of poverty.”

In order to turn these trends around, he said, we must “continue to invest in education,” and he is making it one of his top priorities. This investment extends from early childhood education to public higher education. In particular, he said that community colleges are very important in training citizens in skills needed by businesses, and can serve as an impetus for economic growth.

Reich also focused on his commitment to the environment, in terms of both human and natural resources. Specifically, he discussed the economic development of cities, which have a currently underused infrastructure which can be added to or modified. He also discussed what he termed “smart growth,” which would reduce incentives for urban sprawl, which is currently wreaking havoc on the environment near urban centers around the country.

Reich’s last point concerned with the budget crisis. He said that the income tax cut must be postponed “until we get out of the woods.” He also emphasized that his various proposals did not mean spending large amounts of money, which would place additional strain on the budget.

Reich concluded his speech with a discussion of his core values and an appeal for support. He emphasized that he absolutely does not believe in dirty politics and stated unequivocally that he would get on the ballot. He described his opponent, Mitt Romney, as representing “a fundamentally different philosophy” of trickle-down economics. Reich said that he stands in sharp contrast to Romney, as he rejects the trickle-down view in favor of investing in people. People should be seem as assets with skills to be developed and not as employees, Reich said, because the latter are often viewed as liabilities that must be trimmed.

“I relish the opportunity to debate these issues with Romney,” Reich said in conclusion.

Reich then opened the floor for questions from the audience, in typical town hall meeting style. Questions dealt with a range of issues, from education to health care. In his answers, Reich reiterated his focus on education and the need to train skilled workers to spark economic growth. He also discussed his commitment to remain positive about all of the candidates on the democratic side in order to maintain party unity in the face of a united Republican opposition. He said that even if he loses the primary, he will “work [his] heart out” for the eventual democratic candidate.

Reich concluded by encouraging voters to remain involved in the race, saying that there is “no substitute for an active, engaged, mobilized, and committed electorate.”