|By Admin1 (admin) on Sunday, October 07, 2001 - 12:08 pm: Edit Post|
The purpose of Peace Corps Online is to provide a forum for the free exchange of ideas among Returned Peace Corps Volunteers. As such, we are committed to presenting a multiplicity of views to Returned Volunteers so they can be debated and RPCVs can make up their own minds on issues.
Peace Corps Online has come out publicly against the the confirmation of Gaddi Vasquez as the next Director of the Peace Corps. But that doesn't mean that we don't understand that others can disagree. That's what makes America strong. That's what makes the Peace Corps strong.
In this spirit, we are presenting the views of Don Boekelheide a Returned Volunteer who wrote this as an opinion piece for the Charlotte Observer. Don served in Togo from 1980 to 1983 and was there when proposed Deputy Director, Jody Olsen, was Country Director for the Peace Corps.
We spoke with Don by phone and secured his permission to reprint his piece and also discussed the different arguments for and against Mr. Vasquez. There were no polemics in our discussions - in fact, we were often in agreement - because we both want what is best for the Peace Corps. The only disagreement is how to accomplish those goals. That being said we present the following opinion piece which we have titled:
Why I'm not opposing Gaddi Vasquez
I find myself in the increasingly weird position of disagreeing with people I generally agree with, like you, Ruth, and John Coyne. But I'm not going to actively oppose Gaddi Vasquez.
That's not to say Peace Corps press office likes me, now. When I was researching my column on Vasquez, the press officer told me, very politely, that I seemed intent on a 'hatchet job' because I was asking questions no one else was asking. I guess I'm glad I make my living teaching school, since that way I can write what I want and offend everyone (one day, I hope we'll see Togolese writers in the same position).
Anyway, here is a little background on why I made my decision and voiced that perspective at the end of my last column for the Charlotte 'Observer'. Again, I think people should consider the facts and make their own decision (and count our blessings that we have this freedom).
In short, I too found Vasquez's paper qualifications very weak, beginning with his academic background. He graduated from a now-discontinued 'external degree' program at the University of Redlands, while working as a police officer in Orange, CA. The White House didn't help by bragging that Vasquez had completed 'executive programs' at Stanford and Harvard - he spent all of 4 days at Harvard's Kennedy School, and 2 weeks at Stanford in a high-priced business program ($11,000 tuition) through Stanford extension. Neither program had anything to do with international development.
Vasquez does get good reviews from his former boss at Chapman College, who wrote to the LA Times saying Vasquez was not the most qualified candidate, but that his classes on California government - Vasquez taught part-time as an adjunct - were very popular and that he was bright. I've no reason to doubt this, however, Chapman did receive hundreds of thousands of dollars in grants from Southern California Edison, Vasquez's current employer. In any event, academic qualifications aren't his strong suit.
Vasquez was appointed to his first (and so far only) public office, county supervisor in conservative Orange Co, CA, by a Republican governor. He later won election, with no opposition. At one point, he served as Chairman. He was on the board when the county went bankrupt, and resigned 'to spend time with his family' on the eve of an investigation, faced with a recall election and 11% approval rating. He was not indicted and the consensus seems to be that he was mostly in the wrong place at the wrong time - he is an ex-cop-on-the-beat, and evidently not a scheme-meister. Nevertheless, the Orange County fiasco made national headlines and looks bad on the resume. He did follow the conservative party line and vote against a very reasonable HIV/AIDs anti-discrimination measure for the county. Later, however, he changed his position - he was reportedly deeply affected by Magic Johnson's contracting HIV.
More bad news comes when you look at campaign finances. Vasquez, as California's highest ranking Republican Hispanic (a 'Latino Condoleeza Rice', some say), attracted lots of financial contributions. He maintained control of this money after his resignation (to the dismay of Common Cause), and doled out contributions to charities (relatively small amounts) and the Bush campaign in California and other Republican activities (much! over $100,000 to the Bush campaign alone). My guess is that Vasquez probably wouldn't be looking at a nomination without these big contributions. But, that's just my speculation - and Republicans aren't the only ones guilty of this kind of thing.
Finally, although he has worked as a police officer, he never served in the Peace Corps (nor, for the record, in the military).
So, why not oppose Vasquez, given all his baggage?
My reasons are purely personal - John Coyne is a smart guy and fine writer, and Ruth, you are one of our own. But, frankly, I think picking a fight over Vasquez is a bit short-sighted and self-indulgent for returned Peace Corps volunteers. Harsh words, I'm sorry. Let me explain:
First, Latino groups - even those who strongly disagree with Vasquez's politics - make a point of saying that he is a very good communicator and a decent person. He may lack qualifications on paper, but he is a working class kid who's made good through hard work, intelligence and a gift for communicating. He was a bilingual child who literally grew up in migrant worker camps, watching his mom cook tamales for holidays in the tub where they bathed the kids. We middle class folks (especially we melanin-challenged ones) need to reflect for a minute before we claim that the only way to 'qualifications' is via _our_ path of college - Peace Corps - grad school.... Good lesson from Peace Corps service, that.
Second, hate to remind us all, but Gore lost the electoral college, so our president is Bush. The situation is not so different from the one we face with Mr. Eyadema - we have to work with whomever is in power. Vasquez will be wise to leave field policy to Jody Olsen, 'my' director when I was ag ed in Kloto from 1980-1983. But Vasquez is clearly good at raising money and talking to Republicans, and seems very qualified to manage the Jesse Helms and George Bushes who now hold the reins of government. A letter writing campaign might turn the narrowly divided senate around. But will it, with a Latino candidate? That could play into Republican hands very nicely.
And if we do 'defeat' Vasquez, what then? Will 'our' candidate be acceptable to Bush? Do we have someone? It is so *&$# easy to say 'no', and much harder to find a way to 'yes'. On a deeper level, do we really mean it when we say that Peace Corps should be non-partisan, something all Americans can support? When Republicans do things differently from what we independents or Dems would prefer, does our support become conditional - do it our way, or we won't support _your_ Peace Corps?
Vasquez also, in at least one interview made long before he was pegged to be PCD, showed remarkable personal sympathy with some basic Peace Corps ideals, such as offering assistance without becoming a crutch. That more than anything, and learning details of his early life, switched me from opposing Vasquez to saying 'give the man a chance'.
Lastly, and I have to rush this so I can get my son to soccer, Peace Corps is nothing if it isn't transformative. People grow through the journey of being in Peace Corps. Peace Corp's greatest value is not in the technical solutions we bring, but in the journey of solving problems together with our host country counterparts. Let's bring that attitude home. Vasquez is far from perfect, and there are certainly many other people who are more qualified, especially in terms of having Peace Corps experience. I know, it is like sending your child off to be with a teacher who isn't a parent - some things are almost impossible to learn without first-hand experience. But sometimes, you have to go with what you've got, and work to help that person grow and transform.
There is a non-political concern that may play a role in all this. Vasquez has been diagnosed with heart disease and recently underwent heart surgery. Certainly, everyone wishes him a speedly and complete recovery, but I wonder if, in the end, Vasquez may withdraw for medical reasons. My practical suggestion is that we revisit that short list of candidates from the National Peace Corps group, pick one (or no more than 3) and actively lobby for them. If Vasquez withdraws, I'd write a letter in support of that candidate.
Until then, though, I personally plan to spend the time setting up a World Wide Schools program where I teach (3rd grade this year - hey, you should see our garden!), not writing letters attacking Vasquez. And if I hear that Vasquez needs help of some kind, I'll try my best to help him out. I encourage everyone else to do the same.
Got to go, miagadogo-loo,