Skip to main content

Gore takes on all questioners in marathon session

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. - New Mexicans want a pardon for former Navajo tribal chairman Peter MacDonald, more financial support for the Indian Health Service and training for better jobs for Native Americans.

These were among the requests to Vice President Al Gore when he visited Albuquerque April 28.

Speaking at an informal "open meeting" at a middle school gymnasium, Gore asked for questions from the hand-picked group of about 200 "undecided voters" - a target of the campaign.

Gore was relaxed, casually dressed and appeared to take an interest in each speaker - from 10-year-olds to retirees.

Mary Cohoe, from the Ramah Navajo Reservation, told Gore that MacDonald had been serving in federal prison for 14 years and asked if he would support a pardon for MacDonald.

In 1993, MacDonald was sentenced to prison on federal conspiracy convictions stemming from a riot in Window Rock that left two people dead and five injured. MacDonald also is serving a federal sentence for fraud and racketeering convictions. He is scheduled to be released in 2002.

Cohoe said that several national and tribal groups and individuals, including former president Jimmy Carter, had urged a pardon for MacDonald, but that Clinton does not support a pardon. Gore said he appreciated Cohoe's question and learned something from it.

"I don't think it's proper to answer a question like that in the context of a political meeting," Gore said, adding that the issue "is a matter for the criminal justice system.

"It's wrong to enter it into a political dialogue, but you are right to express your views," Gore said.

"A recommendation from the Justice Department will be reviewed carefully," Gore told Cohoe and said he would convey her thoughts to Clinton.

After the meeting, Cohoe said, "I was satisfied with his response. He said he learned something and became aware of his (MacDonald's) situation. I think it (Gore's response) was appropriate because of the political season."

Mescalero Apache physician Nicole Stern, expressed concern about cardiovascular disease and diabetes "which is epidemic on Indian reservations.

"I would like to see that funding for the IHS continues, that it doesn't get decreased in any way. I'd like to see the money go to help the people," Stern said.

And, she would like the IHS "to have a higher position in Washington."

Gore pledged continued help to Indian people.

Nancy Mithlo, a Chiricahua Apache, who formerly taught at the Institute of American Indian Arts in Santa Fe, told Gore that too many Native American students are "channeled into jobs in the lower paying service industry rather than more meaningful jobs."

Gore said he wants to see tribes included in empowerment zones on Indian reservations to build economies. And, he'd like tribes to be part of the information superhighway - with greater access to computers.

After the meeting, Mithlo said it appeared that Gore "doesn't know that much about Native issues, but could be educated."

Gore didn't address her concerns, she said, and "his answers were vague."

Several times, Gore referred to a recent visit by President Bill Clinton to Shiprock on the Navajo Reservation.

The president emphasized the importance of closing the "digital divide" between rich and poor - with the poor having less access to the computer age, Gore said.

"The lower income families, the less likely they are to have Internet at home, the more important it is to have it at school," Gore said.

He began the evening with a synopsis of his life: his service in Vietnam and his career as a journalist before serving in the U.S. House of Representatives for eight years and in the U.S. Senate for another eight years.

He said that when he returned from Vietnam he was disillusioned with politics (his father, Al Gore Sr. was a congressman) so he went into journalism.

But, when he realized that "average citizens needed help with the difficulties of daily life," he decided to run for office.

Gore talked about the need for better education for those with low incomes. He said he would like to see all young people have the chance to go on to higher education and to get good jobs. Education is his first priority, he said.

He'd like to see smaller class size, parents more involved in the schools, and "universal high quality pre-school accessible to everyone."

When he campaigns around the country Gore said he often stays at the home of a teacher and follows the teacher to school the next day.

"We have a lot of great schools, but overworked teachers."

He answered questions from several teachers who talked about low pay and having to buy school supplies for students.

Gore said teachers need higher pay and more respect.

Asked where the money would come from, Gore said during the Clinton years, the budget has been balanced and there's a surplus of funds. There are a lot of debates in Washington about what to do with that surplus and Gore said he'd like those funds to go toward education.

The vice president answered questions about the oil industry, gas prices, safety in schools and drugs among young people.

Anti-drug ads do make a difference, he said, and added that he believes in "beefing up the education and prevention side," of the drug wars.

"Young people feel their lives don't have purpose, don't have commitment with caring communities. They're trying to fill up those empty spaces with drugs," Gore said and urged more availability of drug treatment.

While more Americans experience prosperity, too many have been left behind, Gore said.

"I will reach out to those people who were left behind," including providing universal health care for children.

"We need better parenting, more child care and an increase in the minimum wage," he said and added that there should be "zero tolerance for guns in school."

As president, Gore said he would "keep the national economy growing," but added that "many places have been left behind.

"New jobs being created require a good education. There's a high drop-out rate and a need for world economic development."

Asked about scandals of the Clinton administration, Gore said he condemned Clinton's actions but still considers him a friend. He said he would "take his own values to the White House," and asked the audience for their votes in November.

After his record-setting four hours of questions, the vice president made a midnight stop at the Gathering of Nations. He apologized for arriving so late, in the midst of a late-night dance contest.