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AFSCME Public Service Forum Live-ish Blog, Live from UNLV (Part 2)

Today, some 19 Democratic presidential candidates are speaking with public sector workers from across the nation and answering their questions (and a couple of reporters’) on how exactly they plan to help make the economy and the federal government work for working people. This may be the beginning of peak campaign season here in Nevada. This is our report from the AFSCME Public Service Forum at UNLV.

1:10 PM: Bernie Sanders
Photo by Andrew Davey

In case you missed anyone from the morning session, here’s our first AFSCME Forum live-blog. Bernie Sanders opened the afternoon session by thanking them for their determination to protect public sector workers and their rights… And for AFSCME’s support for the “Medicare for All” single-payer health care plan he champions.

As always, Sanders’ goal is to, “Create an economy that works for all working people, and not just wealthy campaign contributors.” Part of that includes repealing “right-to-work” laws that restrict workers’ ability to organize into unions. And overall, Sanders promised, “It is going to be a government of workers, by workers, and for workers.”

Getting back to health care, Sanders once more answered critics of the “Medicare for All” single-payer plan he and Warren support. As Sanders put it, “All we are trying to do is take a good program, Medicare, expand its benefits, and embark on a four-year plan to expand it to everyone.” And to further reassure union workers who fear what might happen if they all transition to single-payer care, Sanders explained, “We will do what every other major country does: guarantee health care so you can focus on negotiating better benefits.”

3:20 PM: Amy Klobuchar
Photo by Andrew Davey

Sanders took more questions from Ralston, Terkel, and the audience about not just single-payer, but other ambitious policies in his platform, like universal free college and universal student loan debt forgiveness. Sanders described his agenda this way: “That’s not radical. That’s common sense.” 

After her presentation on the main stage, Amy Klobuchar spoke with reporters in press filing about the El Paso Shooting, the growing threat of hate crimes and extremist violence, and what the nation must do on gun violence. According to Klobuchar, “There was a sea-change in this country in the past year. I have worked on this issue, first when I was a prosecutor and advocating for the assault weapons ban.” She continued, “Then, I got to the U.S. Senate. I thought I would be in a good place to do this. And yet, [gun safety legislation] just sits there because of the power of the NRA and the gun lobby.”

After lamenting the lack of action in the U.S. Senate following the House’s passage of HR 8 to expand background checks, reporters asked what else Klobuchar intends to do about this public health crisis. While she didn’t specifically commit to the kind of permit-to-purchase gun licensing program that Cory Booker has developed, she didn’t rule it out either.

She also had this to say about the last two rounds of debates, and the occasional bouts of acrimony that broke out in Detroit this week: “We need leaders who are not just looking for viral moments. We need leaders who will lead.”

3:30 PM: Bernie Sanders speaks on El Paso Shooting
Photo by Andrew Davey

A little later, Bernie Sanders came back to press filing to talk about what’s happening in El Paso. “It is hard to put into words the reality of today, because it is not just today,” Sanders said. “18 people have been killed in cold blood. We don’t know the motive, but it’s not just today.”

He then noted, “It’s happened here in Las Vegas. […] All over the world, people are looking at our nation and wondering what is happening.” And without any hesitation or vacillation, Sanders called for action on gun violence prevention: “All I can say is that the American people are overwhelmingly united. Gun owners and non-gun owners alike want to see the passage of common-sense gun safety legislation.”

Sanders specifically called for background checks expansion, an assault weapons ban, and other efforts to keep guns away from known domestic violence offenders and other violent offenders. Sanders added, “I would hope we overcome the fear of the NRA and do what the American people want.”

4:45 PM: Kamala Harris
Photo by Andrew Davey

Finally, we saw Kamala Harris at press filing after she presented on the main stage. Less than a week after the Gilroy Garlic Festival Shooting, where the suspected shooter’s assault weapon came from a gun store in Fallon, Harris spoke of the need for stronger laws nationwide. For Harris, “This is something we have always been aware of in California: We could pass our own gun laws, but it’s so easy to transport guns across state lines that they have limited effect.”

Harris then made her call to action: “We have to act. There has to be an agreement amongst all Americans that it is unacceptable that we have these incidents where people are slaughtered. In Gilroy, it was a community festival. It’s a community event that Californians are proud of, the Gilroy Garlic Festival.” She added, “Everybody knows about it. It’s a place where families go. The depravity here is that people are living in terror.”

Once more, Harris spoke about what the nation must do to solve this crisis: “Let’s agree: Fine if you want to go hunting, but we need reasonable gun safety laws in our country, including universal background checks and an assault weapons ban. It is within our capacity to act.” And once more, Harris pledged to take a series of executive actions to tighten gun regulations if Congress doesn’t act within her first 100 days in office as president (if she’s elected next year).

Hang tight again, as I’m now reporting from Harris’ town hall in Henderson. I’ll post a full report on this event later tonight or very early tomorrow morning.

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