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AFSCME Public Service Forum Live-ish Blog, Live from UNLV

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.

8:45 AM: “The most important thing […] is to get their message across to everyday working men and women. Let them know where they stand on the issues that are most important […] the issues that are most important in kitchen tables across the country.”
– Governor Steve Sisolak (D)
Photo by Andrew Davey

Hot off the CNN Debates in Detroit, the Democratic candidates are nearly all back in Nevada for the AFSCME Forum to make their case to public servants… And really, to the rest of our voters as well. On a press call Thursday, U.S. Senator Jacky Rosen (D) expressed hope that the candidates (some of whom are her Senate colleagues) will get their message across in a way that resonates with most voters: “I want them to pull that together, be pragmatic, be a problem solver, think about what people are talking about at the kitchen table.” 

Moments ago, Governor Steve Sisolak (D) offered some of his own advice to the candidates in-person here at UNLV. He echoed Rosen’s advice as he suggested, “The most important thing […] is to get their message across to everyday working men and women. Let them know where they stand on the issues that are most important: health care, the economy, immigration, collective bargaining, clean energy. The issues that are most important in kitchen tables across the country.”

Sisolak sidestepped the recent conversation amongst the candidates and progressive activists on policies like “Medicare for All” single-payer and a $15 hourly minimum wage. Instead, he hinted at the huge hurdles he had to overcome to get new laws like a new $12 minimum wage by 2024 and expanded background checks on gun sales when the Nevada Legislature was in session earlier this year.

According to Sisolak, “You have to work with everyone, work across the aisle. You’re not going to get everything. I learned that during my first legislative session as Governor.” And by the way, in case you were wondering, Sisolak indicated he’s spoken with multiple candidates, but we’ll at least have to wait longer before the Governor makes any kind of endorsement. Stay tuned, as I’ll be filing updates in this thread (and maybe a second) as news gets made at the AFSCME Forum today.

9:10 AM: Julián Castro
Photo by Andrew Davey

Because they’re coming at us rapid-fire, I’ll just post snap observations here. We start with former San Antonio Mayor and federal HUD Secretary Julián Castro, who just promised a national guarantee for collective bargaining for public sector workers. Jon Ralston then asked about both his comprehensive immigration reform plan, and how some pundits have interpreted that and the other candidates’ reaction as a referendum on former President Barack Obama’s record on immmigration.

Castro retorted, “This is not about criticizing President Obama. This is what we have to do next.” Instead, Castro framed his approach as learning from past mistakes, such as waiting for “the right moment” on immigration reform and escalating deportations to win over Republicans on a bipartisan comprehensive plan. Castro instead declared, “We need to move forward on immigration reform. We can’t wait this time.”

Castro continued, “It doesn’t matter how cruel you are and how many people you deport. That will get you nowhere at the negotiating table with [Senate Majority Leader] Mitch McConnell [R-Kentucky].” And for anyone who still worries that Castro and other progressives are “going to far”, Castro responded, “If you’re electing me president, you’re not electing me to follow. You’re electing me to lead.”

9:45 AM: More from Castro

“We talk about the middle class. We don’t talk enough about the poor.” That’s a line that drew applause as Castro was talking taxes. He didn’t commit to a specific tax reform plan of action, as Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Massachusetts) has done with her signature “wealth tax”, but Castro made clear he will at least raise high-income personal income taxes and corporate income taxes back to somewhere above the high-income tax cuts done under Presidents Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush.

Ralston later asked, “How do you get this stuff done?” Castro voiced confidence that Democrats will win both houses of Congress along with the White House next year, but he also indicated he will pursue a mix of executive orders and legislation from Congress (including negotiations with Republicans if they’re actually willing to agree on something)

After his presentation, Castro spoke with reporters in the press filing area. He defended his immigration plan, clapped back at Biden’s criticism of Castro’s criticism of past Democratic missteps, and clapped back at those in the media who have been criticizing the Democrats for engaging each other so aggressively after CNN moderators pushed them all to be more confrontational with each other.

10:20 AM: Elizabeth Warren
Photo by Andrew Davey

After she spoke with The Nevada Independent’s Jon Ralston, HuffPost’s Amanda Terkel, and AFSCME members, Warren came over to speak with the rest of the journalists here at press filing. She addressed the criticism of her “Medicare for All” plan head-on, starting with opponent’s claims that it’s somehow harming union workers: “We bring union members to the table. […] What’s important to me is that union members are treated with respect, and that their voices are heard in the decision-making process.”

And in responding to criticism of her allegedly harsh criticism of Obama, Warren acknowledged that she hasn’t always agreed with him on everything. However, she noted her agreement with Obama on matters like passing the Affordable Care Act/Obamacare in the first place, creating the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, and taking other steps to rein in Wall Street excesses… And she credited him for going against those advisors (like then Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner and Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel) who pushed him not to do so.

According to Warren, “That’s what President Obama did. His legacy on health care, his legacy on [CFPB], are a big part of what changed this country for the better. That’s the change we will continue to support.”

11:20 AM: Cory Booker
Photo by Andrew Davey

In Detroit, Joe Biden went hard on Senator Cory Booker (D-New Jersey) on criminal justice. Booker’s response? “On this issue I’m confident, no one can lead better on criminal justice reform.” He also clapped back at critics’ claims that Booker and other candidates are jeopardizing Democratic chances of defeating Trump next year by making a starker contrast with Biden.

And amidst reports of an active shooting at a Walmart in El Paso, Booker spent a couple extra minutes with reporters to talk about gun violence. First off, Booker said, “We are in this unimaginatively destructive moment in this country.” He continued, “I have had enough of this, especially in a place where gunshots are all too regular. In this election, we have to have leaders who will stand up.”

Booker soon added, “This is a uniquely American problem. […] This happens too often every single day, when 100 Americans lose their lives to gun violence.” From here, Booker pivoted to explaining how his gun violence prevention plan can make a difference. According to Booker, “It’s common sense. We all have to understand it’s on us to stand up right now and demand this kind of change. […] If you need a license to drive a car, it should be common sense to need a license to own a gun.”

By the way, in case you were wondering, Joe Biden did not meet with reporters after his presentation on the main stage.

12:30 PM: Beto O’Rourke reacts to the El Paso Shooting
Photo by Andrew Davey

After addressing the main stage, Beto O’Rourke addressed the breaking news occurring in his hometown. Despite there being “a lot of injury, a lot of suffering in El Paso right now,” O’Rourke declared, “El Paso is the strongest place in the world. This community is going to come together.”

On that note, O’Rourke announced, “I’m going back there right now to be with my family, to be with my hometown.” El Paso Police have confirmed “multiple fatalities”, and that the suspected shooter is now in law enforcement custody.

To keep everything running, we opened a new thread to post more material from today’s AFSCME Forum here in Las Vegas.

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