Former Small-Town Mayor From California Vies for White House
Long-shot candidate says it's time to pare down the military's budget
YOU may soon be hearing a lot more about Larry Agran. Then again, maybe you won't.Recently in Irvine, Calif., Mr. Agran announced his long-shot bid for the presidency of the United States. Agran, a liberal Democrat and former mayor of Irvine says Americans are ready for his ideas. His top priority: chopping US military spending in half by 1995. Agran may find the going tough. Every four years, dozens of little-known men and women officially register their presidential campaigns with the Federal Election Commission, but never win a single precinct. Even if Agran chalks up some votes in Iowa and New Hampshire, no one in 200 years of American political history has ever stepped directly from a mayor's office into the Oval Office. Nevertheless, he remains undeterred. His attitude, perhaps, befits a politician who, despite liberal credentials, consistently won elections during the 1980s in Orange County, the heart of California conservatism. "I think I have a realistic chance," Agran gamely told reporters the other day in Washington over breakfast. m speaking about cutting the military budget in half [to $150 billion a year] and redirecting those resources. I'd be very surprised if that didn't resonate with tens of millions of Americans." Although the failed Soviet coup against President Mikhail Gorbachev last week sent a chill through the world community, Agran still insists the US can safely scale back its defense effort. If Western forces are needed to defend Europe from a future Soviet risk, then the Germans, French, Italians, and others there should pick up the cost, he says. Japan, he insists, should pick up the full cost of defending itself. Agran says he expects to raise up to $100,000 a month to wage the race. However, experts say candidates with no national reputation seldom get off the launch-pad in presidential campaigns. "I just don't think you springboard from a mayor of a very small city to the presidency," says Eric Schockman, associate director of the Jesse M. Unruh Institute of Politics at the University of Southern California. "The electorate is very shrewd," he says. "The presidency is a position that you just don't inherit. ... It is building credentials [over a period of time] that gets one into the limelight." Agran insists the nation is ready for his kind of message, however, as it turns attention to the growing domestic problems in the US. He says the nation's 500,000 elected local officials are at the forefront of solving US domestic problems - and that the US should turn to them for solutions. National leaders, like President Bush, are often out of touch with what is really going on the US, he says. "There is a failure [at the national level] to really appreciate the devastation in the quality of life [because of] cutbacks over the past 10 or 12 years, and the allocation of those resources to military purposes," Agran says. Heavy military and foreign spending are leading to homelessness, hunger, poverty, and the crumbling of America's infrastructure, he argues. What angers Agran is that the US continues to spend "$200 billion a year on the defense of Western Europe and Japan at a time when the previous enemy [the Soviet Union] is no longer a military threat. Indeed, [it] is a partner in building an enduring peace throughout Europe." Agran's solution: Slash the US military budget. Withdraw all US forces from Japan and Europe by Dec. 31, 1994. Redirect savings by putting $25 billion into revenue-sharing for state and local government, $15 billion into public school districts (to hire 400,000 additional teachers and cut class sizes by 10 percent), $40 billion to broaden social security to include "health security, housing security, and nutrition security," and $20 billion for cleanup of toxic wastes and other environmental needs. The remaining $50 billion would be divided between "straightforward deficit reduction" and "a defense workers' bill of rights" to assist demobilized troops and to retrain workers in defense industries. Agran scoffs at costly military projects like Star Wars and the $70 billion B-2 Stealth bomber project. Seventy billion dollars is enough money to "underwrite a perpetual fund for the creation of new housing in this country to not only take care of all the homeless, but to provide low-cost housing for working families on a perpetual basis," he notes. Agran admits the race is uphill, but notes that the field of candidates is still small with only six months left before the New Hampshire primary.