Democrat Richardson would scrap Bush school plan
MANCHESTER, New Hampshire |
MANCHESTER, New Hampshire (Reuters) - Behind in opinion polls, Democrat Bill Richardson scrambled for votes on Thursday with proposals to abolish President George W. Bush's signature education plan and replace U.S. troops in Iraq with soldiers from Muslim countries.
Campaigning to be the Democrats' presidential nominee in the November 2008 election, Richardson also said he would ask Americans to cut their energy consumption to reduce U.S. dependence on foreign oil.
The former U.N. ambassador, now New Mexico governor, sought in the crucial early voting state of New Hampshire to gain ground on better-known and better-funded rivals with proposals to sharply reverse decisions taken by the Bush administration.
Polls show Richardson trailing Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama and John Edwards, often registering single digits.
Richardson, 59, said he would end Bush's No Child Left Behind school program and divert roughly $60 billion from the defense budget to education initiatives, including universal preschool for 4-year-olds and a national-service program to help college graduates pay off their debt.
He said he would boost teacher salaries to a minimum of $40,000 and hire 100,000 new math and science teachers.
"There's no issue more important than education in this presidential campaign," Richardson said.
The No Child Left Behind law, signed in 2002, aimed to introduce national standards to an education system where only two-thirds of teenagers graduate from high school, a proportion that slides to 50 percent for blacks and Hispanics. Critics complain that it puts too much emphasis on testing.
Richardson said he would encourage Iraq's neighbors to play a greater role there if U.S. troops left within a year as he proposes. U.S. allies such as Turkey and Saudi Arabia would contribute peacekeeping forces while Iran and Syria would be urged not to interfere.
"They would sign on to say, 'We will respect the boundaries and the territorial integrity of Iraq,'" he said.
New Hampshire has long been one of the first two states to vote in the race for presidential nominations decided by a series of state-by-state contests known as primaries and caucuses.
New Hampshire's primary is expected in early January 2008.
Richardson said he would encourage energy conservation -- a stance few U.S. leaders have taken since a cardigan-sporting Jimmy Carter asked Americans to turn down their thermostats during the energy crisis of the late 1970s.
"I would also ask the American people to sacrifice, to sacrifice in their use of lighting, air conditioning," he said. "Not mandates, but I would ask for a national effort to reduce our dependence on foreign oil by being more conscious of the vehicles they drive, mass transit, lighting, appliances, air conditioning."
Vice President Dick Cheney in 2001 said energy conservation was a sign of "personal virtue" but no basis for a sound energy policy.
Like other Democratic candidates, Richardson has said he would promote alternative energy sources like wind and solar power to cut down on oil and gas consumption. He said he was less enthusiastic about nuclear power, which some Republican candidates have touted as an alternative to oil and gas.
(Additional reporting by Jason Szep, Jane Sutton, Tim Gaynor and Scott Malone)
(To read more about the U.S. political campaign, visit Reuters "Tales from the Trail: 2008" online at blogs.reuters.com/trail08/)
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