Democratic hopeful speaks in Aspen |

Democratic hopeful speaks in Aspen

Abigail Eagye
Former Virginia Gov. Mark Warner joins Walter Isaacson, president and CEO of the Aspen Institute, during a conversation Tuesday. (Mark Fox / The Aspen Times)

Although the next presidential election isn’t for two years, Mark Warner’s name has been bandied about with the likes of Hillary Rodham Clinton and John Kerry as a possible contender for the Democratic nomination.The former Virginia governor spoke Tuesday night at the Aspen Institute as part of the McCloskey Speaker Series.Warner told the assembled crowd that the devastation following Hurricane Katrina, while tragic, is an opportunity for America to build successful programs in areas such as health care and education. He said that while revamping Virginia’s education system, among other major changes during his tenure, trying to alter the existing program proved challenging.”There was always the problem that you couldn’t start from scratch,” he said. The situation in New Orleans allows just that.”We ought to look at New Orleans as a beta site for a whole new public health-care site,” he said, and the city could be a pioneer in education, as well.”There is no more single important thing that we’ve got to get right in this country,” he said.Turning to the war in Iraq, Warner said President Bush has a “19th-century mindset” that fosters the belief that the nation can “act militarily without any consequences.”He expressed concern that some leaders in the Iraqi government have commended insurgents for attacking American troops and said “the time has come to move to Plan B. … Getting out of Iraq without a Plan B is as bad as getting into Iraq without a plan.”All of Iraq’s neighbors must be involved in the effort to reach a point where America can reduce its military presence in Iraq, he said. He questioned the wisdom of focusing efforts in the war on terror on Iraq alone, saying that the United States should focus more on the “real battle” of combating Islamist fundamentalists.Regarding Israel’s presence in Lebanon, Warner said the nation’s actions have made it more difficult “for the forces of moderation to step up,” but he staunchly supported that country’s actions to defend itself, and he supported the need for America’s backing.”There is no more important ally for the United States in the Middle East than Israel,” he said. “If there were kids blowing up kids in my community, I would do anything to protect my children.”Warner said the defining issue of the 2008 election could be weaning America off fossil fuels.The imminent threat of global warming could serve as a “challenge to the American people to make the case that we need to free ourselves from fossil fuels and Middle East oil,” he said.He added that issues of national security are also compelling reasons to free ourselves from such energy dependencies.”It makes no sense to, in effect, be funding both sides of the war on terror,” he said. “If we could get this right … and do it in a way that decreases global warming, we might just save the planet along the way.”But the nation must be willing to look at all the alternatives, he said.”I put nuclear power back on the table,” he said, because solar and wind power are not enough.In 2004, an article in the Washington Post said the Democrat won the support of voters in a Republican state by running a “NASCAR-loving, pro-death penalty, pro-gun rights, fiscally conservative campaign.” Warner has also supported some restrictions on abortions, but he dismisses the idea that his more conservative leanings merit the label “Republican light.””Talk to anyone in Virginia,” he said. “I view myself as very strongly pro-choice.”With a diabetic daughter and a mother with Alzheimer’s disease, Warner said he adamantly supports stem cell research.Warner served as governor of Virginia from 2002 until January of this year. He began his administration in a state with a $6 billion budget shortfall but finished with a surplus, allowing Virginia to invest heavily in education. The multimillionaire helped co-found the company that became Nextel, and he currently heads the political action committee Forward Together.Abigail Eagye’s e-mail address is


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