Governors voiced concern about repeated National Guard deployments overseas and considered ways to improve schools on Saturday as they opened their annual meeting in Iowa, traditional host of the country’s first presidential nominating contest.
More than 30 governors, including at least a half-dozen potential candidates in the wide-open 2008 White House race, discussed subjects like education and health care for the poor during the opening day of their three-day meeting.
Several called for a national dialogue on the role and mission of the National Guard, expressing frustration with the heavy reliance on Guard units in Iraq and Afghanistan and repeated overseas deployments of state units.
Those deployments have separated families and caused a hardship for local communities, some governors said, while raising questions about the size of the military and the future of the National Guard.
National Guard soldiers serve under the control of governors, usually for roles like disaster relief in their home states. But they can be summoned to active-duty Army service in times of national need.
“It is absolutely clear that we don’t have enough personnel, full-time or part-time, to take care of all the needs and concerns that America is assuming now,” said Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack, a Democrat and potential 2008 candidate.
“There is a need for us to re-evaluate the role of the National Guard and reserve, so that we clearly distinguish between those who we expect will … be deployed every couple years and those whose function may be to take care of a tornado or flood,” he told reporters.
CITIZEN-SOLDIER OR SOLDIER-CITIZEN?
Virginia Gov. Mark Warner, a Democrat who is head of the National Governors Association and another potential 2008 candidate, questioned the redeployments of reservists who have done one tour and then returned home. He said the needs of older guardsmen facing multiple deployments should be evaluated and accommodated.
“We’re changing the role of citizen-soldier and soldier-citizen,” Warner said. “I do think there needs to be a national discussion.”
Democratic Gov. Ed Rendell of Pennsylvania, also a potential candidate in 2008, said nearly one-quarter of his state’s Guardsmen served overseas.
While the state was willing to make the sacrifice, he said, “there is a line where too much deployment hinders our ability to use the Guard for emergencies in our state and homeland security.”
Rendell said in an interview “the military and the administration should decide what their strategy is for the war — are we going to increase the size of the volunteer Army?”
The governors will meet on Monday with officials of the Homeland Security Department and the National Guard.
The conference also will focus on the need for education reforms and the rising costs of Medicaid, the health care program for the poor.
More than 40 states and a dozen national organizations will sign a compact on Sunday defining how states calculate high school graduation rates. Officials said it will make it easier to determine educational standards and needs state-by-state.
The governors also will discuss a proposal to cut the state’s share of the exploding costs of Medicaid, which chews up a steadily increasing portion of state budgets.
The plan would include measures to create income-based co-payments, negotiate lower drug prices with pharmaceutical firms, and provide federal tax incentives for businesses to offer health insurance for low-wage workers.
© Reuters 2005