Arkansas' Clinton Tests New Hampshire's Waters
Five-time governor favors work force apprenticeships, supports more federal funding for Head Start, and urges welfare recipients to work
THE presidential primary season here is starting to pick up after a slow beginning this spring.Gov. Bill Clinton (D) of Arkansas, who is considering entering the race, paid a visit to the Granite State Aug. 5 to host the state's first Democratic Leadership Council (DLC) forum. "We all know how to criticize the Republicans, those of us who are Democrats. That hasn't worked all that well in the last few years," says Governor Clinton, DLC chairman. "I joined this organization because I think we have an obligation to the country to go beyond the kind of divisiveness and criticism that they have brought to American politics," he says. Clinton has been elected governor of Arkansas for five terms. He has worked to improve public education and has served as co-chair of a presidential education commission. He is a former chairman of the National Governors' Association. In a June Newsweek magazine poll, Clinton was ranked most effective governor by his fellow governors. "I think he's a common sense individual," says former New Hampshire Democratic Party chairman Joseph Grandmaison. "He understands people and is able to take his ... message and frame it to the people as they sort out their lives." Clinton favors making education more affordable for low- and middle-income families. He supports more federal funding for Head Start, a special education program for low-income children. He also supports a national apprentice system for people who don't go on to college. "Younger workers who go into the work force from high school ... are getting murdered in this economy and we are the only country in world with an advanced economy and no system for the non-college bound," he says. The Arkansas governor says funding should be provided for all who wish to pursue higher education. He favors a loan-repayment system involving national service, under which young people can serve as police officers, teachers, or family service workers. Clinton also stressed the idea of citizen choice and responsibility. The Democratic Party needs to get beyond the idea that every problem can be solved with a program, he says. Welfare recipients should be encouraged to go to work if they can, he says, and government should crack down on child-support collections. "I believe this is a fundamental issue. You cannot be a party that says we're pro-child and pro-family if you do not expect parental responsibility along with government help and I think the Democrats ought to be on the cutting edge of that," he says.
For a broader party The Washington-based DLC was formed in 1985 after the defeat of presidential candidate Walter Mondale and aims to broaden the Democratic Party's appeal beyond its traditional liberal constituency. Four US Democratic representatives spoke at the DLC forum here, including: Rep. Dick Swett of New Hampshire, Rep. Stephen Solarz of New York, Rep. Jill Long of Indiana, and Rep. Mike Espy of Mississippi. The forum caused some friction; state party chairman Chris Sprirou refused to attend the event. Mr. Spirou and some other party officials haven't taken kindly to the formation of a another Democratic state organization. The state Democratic Party, which is considered financially and organizationally weak, is the minority party in this traditionally Republican state. Last June, the state Democratic Party voted not to recognize the state's DLC chapter. "The Democratic Party in this state has voted not to sanction the DLC or any other organization in this state outside the legislatively elected Democratic Party structure," Mr. Spirou says. "The state of New Hampshire is too small and we don't have the luxury of having auxiliary Democratic groups." The DLC aims to put forth creative policies to strengthen the Democratic Party agenda. But some Democrats feel the organization is too conservative. For example, the organization supports welfare reform, a strong defense policy, and tax breaks for the middle class. "The DLC sees the Democratic Party as captured by special interest and minority activists," says William Schneider, political analyst at the American Enterprise Institute. "The DNC [Democratic National Committee] ... sees the DLC as big business lobbies and southern white traditional Democrats and Washington insiders."
Autumn excitement New Hampshire's primary will be held in late February or early March. Other possible candidates that have visited the state include Sen. Tom Harkin (D) of Iowa and Sen. John (Jay) Rockefeller IV of West Virginia. Former Massachusetts Sen. Paul Tsongas is the only other recent visitor who has officially declared his candidacy. Despite the slow start, Democratic officials here expect an active fall. "This thing is going to be an exciting, no-holding-back primary," says Spirou. "Before September is out, you'll have three or four, maybe five, bonified contenders."