Over the past two months, we’ve been losing count of all the Democratic presidential hopefuls who’ve visited our fine Silver State. Last night, Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-California) stopped at UNLV to speak with Young Democrats just hours after he announced his presidential campaign.
So who on earth is Eric Swalwell, how in the hell does he intend to distinguish himself from the two-dozen other Democrats running or flirting with runs, and why should we pay attention to what he has to say? Fortunately for you, I made the trip to UNLV so you can hear him out yourself.
No really, who is this dude?
Like Beto O’Rourke (D-Texas), Eric Swalwell was elected to the U.S. House in 2012. And like O’Rourke, Swalwell successfully challenged a sitting member of Congress in the Democratic primary to make that happen. In Swalwell’s case, he defeated then Rep. Pete Stark (D-California) after redistricting resulted in the 15th Congressional District taking on new territory in the Tri-Valley region of the San Francisco Bay Area. Prior to that, he served six years as Alameda County’s Deputy District Attorney.
Since arriving in Congress, Swalwell has generally voted near the middle of the House Democratic pack, not too close to either the left flank or the right. He’s taken heat from immigrant rights activists since voting for a 2017 “tough on crime” bill that’s part of President Donald Trump’s campaign against immigrant communities, but he’s also received a lot of love from gun safety activists for his laser-like focus on gun violence prevention. And if he already seems like a familiar face, that may be due to his prominent role in Democrats’ push to investigate Trump’s ties to the Russian government.
When he arrived at the UNLV campus last night Swalwell talked about his prosecutorial record, his Congressional record thus far, and why he feels his overall records best prepares him to build a new record of accomplishments as the nation’s 46th President.
“Go big. Be bold. Do good.”
– Eric Swalwell
So why is he running for President? According to Swalwell himself, “I’m running for President because I’m tired of us playing defense. I want us to play offense.” He continued, “For me, playing offense means that no matter who you are, who you love, or where you come from, you can attain a better life and ensure better opportunities for your next generation.”
Swalwell then cited his experience as an Alameda County prosecutor to talk about the need for equity across our society, from our criminal justice system to our education system and health care system. This is how Swalwell explained his campaign motto: “Go big in how we solve our problems. Be bold, no more incrementalism. Do good in the way we govern and the way we treat each other.” He then added, “Find the unfindable, solve the unsolvable, and cure the incurable.”
Swalwell later shared the story of a friend and fellow prosecutor named Brian who has ALS: “He represents a generation who’s lost faith in Washington and our ability to solve problems. He’s launched his own foundation in search of solutions. […] I don’t want people like Brian to lose hope.” So instead he wants the nation to “Go big. Be bold. Do good.”
“If you work for college, college should work for you.”
– Eric Swalwell
So how exactly does Swalwell intend to “go big, be bold, [and] do good”? On health care, he seems to be joining former Rep. Beto O’Rourke (D-Texas) and South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg in backing something along the lines of the Medicare for America Act. But while Buttigieg sees this as a transition to “Medicare for All” single-payer, Swalwell wants to preserve consumers’ ability to choose private coverage: “I believe we should have coverage for all, which for me means a public option. […] It’s Medicare for anyone who wants it.”
On K-12 education, Swalwell stated, “When it comes to education, I believe a child’s zip code should not determine a child’s destiny.” He then promised, “We will build and renovate schools in every community, not just the wealthy ones.”
And as he admitted that he’s still paying off his own college student loans, Swalwell made this promise to an audience that included some UNLV students: “The government should earn no money off these loans, 0% interest on [federally backed] student loans, and employers should be able to contribute tax-free to a student loan debt, just like 401(k)’s.”
In addition, Swalwell wants to establish a program of public service in exchange for tuition-free public college that sounds somewhat similar to what Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-New York) has proposed. For Swalwell, “If you work for college, college should work for you.”
“There were moments of silence when there should have been moments of action. […] I am the only candidate who’s proposing we ban, buy back, and take off the streets these assault rifles.”
– Eric Swalwell
Eventually, the discussion moved to what’s become Swalwell’s signature issue: “I am running for President to make gun violence the top priority for the next President of the United States.” He began this part of the conversation with another story from his DA days, one of a man who was murdered by someone who used a military-grade assault weapon. Then as he entered Congress, the nation was still reeling from the Sandy Hook Massacre. Some four and a half years later, the 1 October Shooting occurred a short drive away from where Swalwell was speaking.
According to Swalwell, for far too long in Congress, “There were moments of silence when there should have been moments of action.” And though Swalwell and his fellow House Democrats have recently passed HR 8 to expand background checks nationwide since winning the majority, he wants to go further: “I am the only candidate who’s proposing we ban, buy back, and take off the streets these assault rifles.”
While nearly most of the other Democratic candidates have endorsed some kind of assault weapons ban, Swalwell is indeed the only candidate thus far who’s offered a plan to make it work, and he used this as a prime example of how he wants to “go big” and why Democratic caucus-goers should “be bold” alongside him: “I’m not afraid of the NRA. You’re not, either. We’ve been told it’s a divisive issue, but what I’ve come to learn is that’s just a tactic.” He then added, “They don’t represent the overwhelming majority of us who believe you can keep your rifles, keep your pistols, keep your shotguns, but let’s take the most dangerous weapons out of the hands of the most dangerous people.”
“I don’t want local law enforcement doing the job of CBP or ICE. I think that’s a failure of us, and a failure of Washington.”
– Eric Swalwell
Later in the program, Swalwell took several questions from the audience, followed by a round of Q&A with the press. Quite a few of the audience questions had to do with how Democrats can fight back against President Donald Trump, and one specifically asked about Trump’s latest efforts to vilify fellow U.S. Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minnesota). Swalwell noted that he hasn’t always agreed with Omar’s comments on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but he nonetheless condemned Trump’s Islamophobic smearing of her and the violence that’s resulted from Trump’s actions. As Swalwell put it, “He put a target on her back. Someone was just arrested for threatening her life. […] At every single point, he is holding a gallon of gasoline and pouring it on the fire.”
On that note, Swalwell also received questions from the audience and the press on immigrant rights. When I asked about what he’d change on the federal end of the federal government’s relationship with local law enforcement agencies on immigration enforcement, he replied, “If we have comprehensive immigration reform, we won’t have to need sanctuary cities or sanctuary states. Until we have that, if you’re undocumented and you’ve witnessed a crime or you’re a victim of crime, you should not have to worry about being targeted for your immigration status.”
Swalwell then stated he wants the federal government to distinguish between violent criminals and repeat offenders who are “racking up a lot of crimes” versus non-criminal immigrants when determining who must be deported. And when I asked again if he supports the continuation of the federal government encouraging local police to perform immigration enforcement duties, he declared, “I don’t want local law enforcement doing the job of CBP or ICE. I think that’s a failure of us, and a failure of Washington.”
When The Nevada Independent’s Jackie Valley asked about the DNC’s 65,000 donor threshold to make the debate stage in June, Swalwell admitted that he’s not there yet. If he doesn’t, it may be due to the already large field that’s grown so large that we now have multiple Democrats running from the same state as these candidates highlighting specific issues and personal styles to distinguish themselves from the rest of the bunch. But if he does make it to the debate stage, perhaps the audience at UNLV got a first-hand look at how Swalwell’s approach to “going big, being bold, and doing good” might actually do him some good.