Janet Reno speaks about tough issues facing Florida

The battle to unseat Florida Governor Jeb Bush has heated up dramatically in the past few weeks with Democratic gubernatorial candidates, Janet Reno and Bill McBride, in a statistical tie according to a poll commissioned by The Miami Herald and the St. Petersburg Times.

Once seen as unbeatable, the comfy lead held by Miami native Janet Reno began to erode after the three gubernatorial Democratic candidates (including Senator Darryl Jones) participated in a televised debate on Aug. 28.

Political pundits all over the country are closely following the contest for Florida’s gubernatorial seat. Florida, once just another quiet southern state, began to enter the national limelight in the 1990’s with its burgeoning multi-ethnic population and was thrust under media scrutiny because of its pivotal role in deciding the outcome of the 2000 presidential election.

The immense influence the next governor of Florida would have on the national political scene has not been lost on the White House.

President Bush has visited Florida several times in the past year for fund-raising events to help his brother Jeb get re-elected.

The Washington Post reported in June that a White House document listed Florida as a “possible Democratic pickup” for the statehouse.

The reason is former U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno.

Reno’s combination of having a strong political background and being a pop-culture icon thanks to “Saturday Night Live” offers a powerful double-punch against Governor Bush’s hopes to be re-elected.

The Miami Hurricane chatted with Reno in an exclusive interview about her goals as the would-be governor of Florida, her stances on important issues, and her past as the longest-serving Attorney General of the United States.

Hurricane: Your campaign speeches boast knowing what Floridians want – as governor, how are you planning to keep in contact with your constituents?

Reno: As [Miami-Dade County] State Attorney for 15 years I was constantly going out to the community’s public schools and events to explain my positions to the people. I wanted to be accountable and to keep in touch. It’ll be more difficult covering 16 million people in Florida, but I want to do everything I can to be as accessible as possible.

Hurricane: Why do you think you make a better gubernatorial candidate than McBride and Jones?

Reno: I am the only who has had experience operating a large public agency and doing things like managing a budget, avoiding deficit financing, making hard personnel decisions and making critical decisions that influence so many people. My record is one of public service and I would like to use it for the people of the state of Florida.

Hurricane: What are your plans for protecting Florida’s natural resources and wildlife?

Reno: I want to address the issue of water quality and quantity. We don’t have an overall water policy or budget in the state, and we’ll have a crisis in our hands if we don’t take steps to manage water in the interest of all Floridians and not just in the interest of developers and other corporate entities. I’d make my appointment to the water management board my highest priority, and it would be someone that does not represent special interests but all people.

I would put efforts to save Lake Okeechobee on track by taking steps to limit runoffs from ranches and farms and areas north of the lake, and proceed with construction of various infrastructures to get a level of phosphorous out of the lake that would be consistent with keeping it healthy.

By purchasing critical state lands we can preserve the mosaic that makes Florida beautiful.

Hurricane: What can you do to stop the urban sprawl that is devastating to the quality of life in places like Dade County?

Reno: I want to provide full enforcement of the growth management act, while giving citizens the opportunity to be heard. We can curb urban sprawl in a reasonable way, and do everything we can to develop transportation systems that give people the opportunity to get places they need to in time without having an automobile.

Hurricane: What is your stance on Bush’s “One Florida” plan? Would you bring back affirmative action in the case of college admissions?

Reno: It’s important to diversify our schools and universities, to utilize affirmative action to reverse historical patterns of racial discrimination, and use every effort we can to have a student body that is representative of the state in backgrounds and experience.

SAT scores are not the only measurements of life. We need to take steps up front in early childhood and in the K-12 level to level the playing field so that children born in poverty have a chance to compete in every level.

We need to use affirmative action if we see it as necessary to reverse historical racial discrimination.

Hurricane: What is your stance on the U.S. embargo on Cuba?

Reno: Castro must take a big step toward democracy, with real evidence of a move in that direction, before we repeal the embargo. The shootdown of the [Brothers to the Rescue] airplanes is an example of Castro’s disdain of a democratic government.

Hurricane: Can you explain in just a few words why you felt that Elian Gonzalez had to be returned to Cuba?

Reno: I didn’t decide to return him to Cuba. I made the decision to return him to his father. According to Elian’s mother, his father had made an important contribution to his life, and I thought the boy should be with him

Hurricane: How do you feel about all of the hostility that many Cuban-Americans feel toward you because of the role you played in the Elian Gonzalez case?

Reno: I regret that they feel so hostile about it, because they believed I was in league with Castro. Castro had nothing to do with the decision; it was about reuniting him with his father.

Hurricane: Do you feel that your hands were tied by the law?

Reno: My hands were not tied by the law. I made the decision on everything I knew, and the court agreed with me and held that the boy should be with his father. I can’t imagine the boy being raised by other people and not being with his father

Hurricane: I read that you have a photo of Elian and his dad in your house. Even though it’s part of your house, something personal, don’t you think that’s rubbing it in when it’s such a touchy issue among many of your fellow Floridians?

Reno: It’s not rubbing it in, it is a picture of a little boy being reunited with his father, and the look on both of their faces is one to cherish with love, it is so beautiful.

Hurricane: What is your stance on Florida’s banning of gay adoptions?

Reno: I think the court should be able to decide. I would want to get the ban repealed.

Hurricane: What is your stance on Capital Punishment, and Florida’s “Old Sparky” [Florida’s notorious electric chair] in particular?

Reno: I am personally opposed to the death penalty, but I have asked for it as Attorney General and I will sign death warrants if I am satisfied with the evidence and decision by the court. We should use the most humane procedure possible for the death penalty.

Hurricane: What is your stance on using vouchers for private schools?

Reno: We shouldn’t take public money away from public schools and give them to private schools.

Hurricane: What do you think about grading schools according to FCAT scores?

Reno: I don’t think schools should be graded by FCAT scores. The FCAT is a good diagnostic, but they don’t reflect the school’s ability to educate children. The FCAT hasn’t been implemented correctly, some scores are taken in and others are taken out.

There are other initiatives that can be used. We need to give schools the resources they need, give them time, and hold them accountable

Hurricane: What would you like to say to people who are concerned about the effect your Parkinson’s Disease will have on your ability to govern the state?

Reno: Before running for governor, I went to two different doctors and asked them about the effect Parkinson’s would have on my ability to govern. They both said that it would not have a debilitating effect on my governing, and said that they would be available to field any questions. They advised me to be straightforward and honest about it.

Hurricane: What do you plan to do if the effects of the disease begin to hinder your ability to govern?

Reno: I would do what I would do if I had any other disease. I would talk to doctors, see what can be done, and make proper judgments.

Hurricane: You haven’t spoken much, if any at all, about any religious beliefs you have that will allow you to be a good governor. You are not outspoken like Bush on your religious values. What moral virtues do you possess that will serve as a good foundation for your governorship?

Reno: I have a deep faith and commitment in doing the right thing. I try to be honest, caring, and to reach out and help others that cannot do things for themselves. I have a deep faith in people.

Hurricane: What do you think about Governor Bush’s nomination of Jerry Regier as head of the Department of Children and Families?

Reno: I don’t think he did his homework before naming Regier. While he served Oklahoma the child welfare system seemed to fare worse than Florida’s. We need someone that can motivate state employees, get the best out of them and bring them together. I know that we can do a lot better

Hurricane: How is your relationship with UM President Donna Shalala, since you both served on Clinton’s cabinet?

Reno: She was a great colleague. We still keep in contact.

Hurricane: Unlike other politicians that served under Clinton’s administrations, you have not done anything to distance yourself from your past with him. Yet, there have been reports that Bill Clinton listed you as one of his least favorite aides serving in his administration. What do you think about that?

Reno: I would let the president speak for himself.

Hurricane: What is your favorite color?

Reno: Blue!

Reno says that she is considering a wide range of possible candidates to be her Lieutenant Governor running mate if she wins the primary, but chose not to list any names. Reno also chose not to name her most important professional accomplishment to date; she said she would rather have other people cite one.

As the primary date draws near and McBride closes in on Reno’s lead, she will continue to tour the state with her folksy Little Red Truck tour.

The primary election will be this Tuesday, Sept. 10. The general election will follow on Nov. 5.