Nearly two months ago, the Nevada Rural Democratic Caucus held its debut virtual town hall with four 2020 presidential candidates. Today, they held their second virtual town hall. Over 180 Democratic voters in sixteen locations across the state participated, from Gardnerville to Elko and from Reno to Las Vegas. Voters asked about everything from impeaching President Donald Trump to ensuring the next president can actually enact an effective, progressive agenda.
Prologue: Who’s up tonight?
On May 31, the Nevada Rural Democratic Caucus hosted its first virtual town hall that connected over 230 Democratic voters spread across multiple intimate audiences throughout the state. U.S. Senators Elizabeth Warren (D-Massachusetts) and Cory Booker (D-New Jersey), along with Rep. Seth Moulton (D-Massachusetts) and spirituality author Marianne Williamson, made their own respective pitches and answered questions from Democratic voters across the state on health care, climate change, Native American tribal sovereignty, public education, marijuana legalization, and much more.
Today, we heard from U.S. Senators Amy Klobuchar (D-Minnesota) and Kamala Harris (D-California), along with former Rep. Beto O’Rourke (D-Texas) and current Washington Governor Jay Inslee (D). They all spoke with Democrats across the state on the heels of former Vice President Joe Biden campaigning in-person in Las Vegas, where he called for “unity over division” while speaking out against Senator Bernie Sanders’ (I-Vermont) approach to health care, taxes, and his overall philosophy of “democratic socialism”.
As with last time, I did my best to watch all four candidates who participated. But in the interest of all our time and my personal sanity, I’m posting this more as a “live-ish blog” so you can see for yourself what the candidates had to say and how they answered local voters’ questions. And once more, we must thank Nevada Rural Democratic Caucus and Douglas County Democratic Party Chair Kimi Cole for allowing us to watch alongside the 230+ Nevada Democrats who participated. Thanks to them, all of you get to know where the candidates stand as well.
“It’s time to cross a river of our divides to reach a higher plain in our politics.”
– Amy Klobuchar
First off today was Amy Klobuchar. “I am a big believer in rural America,” she declared while noting one of her first U.S. Senate committee assignments in 2007 was on Agriculture. She then noted how she campaigned for Hillary Clinton in Fallon and Lovelock in 2016, and she called Senators Catherine Cortez Masto (D) and Jacky Rosen (D) her friends.
So why is she running for president? “It’s time to cross a river of our divides to reach a higher plain in our politics,” Klobuchar declared. She contrasted this with Trump’s approach, including his recent attack on fellow Minnesotan, Rep. Ilhan Omar (D): “We need to stand tall when he’s using that kind of racist rhetoric.” Still, she also noted the need to offer voters more than just Democrats not being Trump. “To beat him, we also need to have an optimistic agenda for the nation,” she stated.
So what’s in Klobuchar’s “optimistic agenda”? “You can’t bridge that rural divide if you can’t call grandma, or don’t have wifi, or you don’t have cell service,” she declared. Klobuchar then contrasted Trump’s “empty promises” to rural America with her commitment to the entire nation. “We haven’t seen much improvement at all when it comes to rural broadband, and we haven’t seen it on other parts of our infrastructure,” she said.
Klobuchar also promised action in reversing Trump’s agricultural tariffs and attacks on renewable energy. She then complained about the lack of attention paid to rural issues at the NBC Debate in Miami: “Some of us tried to bring these issues up, but they didn’t get enough attention.” From there, Klobuchar also highlighted her mental health and substance abuse action plan as another example of her commitment to improving rural infrastructure, and she cited the recent Washington Post investigation into pharmaceutical companies’ role in creating the opioid crisis.
“What unites us [as Democrats] is one simple thing: We all want to beat Donald Trump. So who can beat Donald Trump?”
– Amy Klobuchar
Klobuchar then explained how hot-button issues that excite Democratic voters in urban areas also resonate in rural America. On climate, she said, “When we talk about climate change, we need to talk about it in a way where people beyond the sea coasts can relate.” And on immigration, she noted, “That is an economic boon to fields that don’t have enough workers. […] Immigrants don’t diminish America. Immigrants are America, and they’re a major part of our workforce.”
From there, Klobuchar asked, “What unites us is one simple thing: We all want to beat Donald Trump. So who can beat Donald Trump?” She argued that she can do it because she’s won throughout Minnesota, even rural areas where Trump won “bigly” in 2016. And contrary to “selling out our values,” Klobuchar promises, “I win because I speak the truth.”
The first question came from Fernley, where a local voter asked how Klobuchar plans to counter Trump’s media manipulation strategy. “We need to continue pushing these investigations,” she said in explaining the need to show Trump’s wrongdoing to a larger national audience. She continued, “A foreign country attacked our elections, and I hope Director [Robert] Mueller is ready to speak to this and [Trump’s] obstruction of justice.” Klobuchar also noted that she favors impeachment hearings on Trump.
From the Las Vegas Indian Center, Crystal asked about Native American tribal sovereignty. Klobuchar responded, “I am a strong believer in sovereignty.” She then described her experience working with Native American communities in Minnesota, and boasted of her endorsement from Minnesota Lt. Governor Peggy Flanagan (D), the nation’s highest-ranking Native American elected official.
“No one was taken for granted, no one felt taken for granted. I went to every single rural county, no matter how red or how rural.”
– Beto O’Rourke
Next up today was Beto O’Rourke. He cited his 2018 campaign in explaining his experience “No one was taken for granted, no one felt taken for granted. I went to every single rural county, no matter how red or how rural.” While O’Rourke struggled to improve upon Hillary Clinton’s 2016 margins in most rural areas, he came within 3% of beating Senator Ted Cruz (R-Texas) and performed better than any other Democrat running statewide since then Governor Ann Richards’ (D) victory in 1990.
The first question for O’Rourke came from Dayton, where a voter asked about gerrymandering. O’Rourke responded that Texas voters have first-hand experience with such political manipulation, then stated: “The best way to change that long term is to end the practice where Members of Congress choose their voters, rather than the other way around.” He subsequently promised action in “getting big money out of our politics,” banning gerrymandering, and enacting Congressional term limits. If these happen, O’Rourke claims, “We get our democracy back.”
From Fallon, John asked about the ongoing crisis in Puerto Rico. He responded, “I think we’ve got to follow the will of the people in Puerto Rico.” He promised an O’Rourke administration will respect Puerto Ricans’ decision for their future, whether it’s statehood, a different status within the U.S., or independence from the U.S. O’Rourke also promised climate action that’s inclusive of the unique challenges Puerto Rico and other hurricane-prone areas face.
“I will make sure the pharmaceutical companies and their lobbyists do not have access to the White House. […] We want to focus on you and fellow Americans.”
– Beto O’Rourke
Next up was a question from Douglas County on health care, and more specifically the recent debate over “Medicare for All” single-payer health care. O’Rourke cited UNITE HERE’s D. Taylor and his concerns over the future of union-negotiated health insurance benefits as he said, “Let’s honor [union members’] judgment and preserve choice as we get to universal health care.”
O’Rourke then got another health care question, this one on Medicare and prescription drug costs. He promised, “I will make sure the pharmaceutical companies and their lobbyists do not have access to the White House. […] We want to focus on you and fellow Americans.” He also promised to allow reimportation of prescription drugs from Canada, and action to curb price manipulation.
From Reno, Lonnette claimed, “Medicare and Social Security aren’t solvent,” as she asked what O’Rourke’s plan is for the nation’s other social safety net “As president, I’ll make sure we don’t just maintain these programs, but we strengthen them.” He specifically endorsed Rep. John Larson’s (D-Connecticut) “Social Security 2100 Act” to expand benefits while extending the payroll tax to annual incomes over $400,000.
From Virginia City, Mark Green asked about climate change. O’Rourke noted Las Vegas’ rapid warming alongside El Paso’s in his response: “We need to bring everyone into this conversation. […] This will only become exponentially worse unless we change course.” He touted his own climate plan that promises $5 trillion in new investment and net-zero emissions by 2050, and he promised global action to build upon the 2015 Paris Agreement.
“I believe we have the right stuff. We just need to get to it.”
– Jay Inslee
Following O’Rourke was Jay Inslee. He opened by declaring, “I really feel a kinship with Nevada rural Democrats. I’ll tell you why: I got my political start in Eastern Washington,” an area where Democrats now tend to struggle while they run up margins of victory in the Puget Sound region.
Inslee then engaged in some humble-bragging as he declared, “We have advanced progressive policies in our state.” He named off policy advancement on gun violence prevention, health care, and economic development before pivoting to the issue he talks about the most on the campaign trail.
On climate, Inslee stated, “This is our last chance.” After touting his own “gold standard” climate plan, Inslee said, “I believe we have the right stuff. We just need to get to it.”
“We just can’t wait until the last person in America understands the laws of gravity and physics. Most Americans believe climate change is real and we should do something about it.”
– Jay Inslee
On war and peace, Inslee declared, “We all need to be vigilant and stop Trump’s march into a misbegotten war with Iran.” Inslee condemned Trump’s detonation of the 2015 Iran Nuclear Agreement and vowed to do everything possible to avoid a repeat of the march to war in Iraq under President George W. Bush in 2003.
Next up, Marla Turner in Las Vegas asked about impeaching Trump. Inslee warned, “I believe the nation should be very cautious in removing a president who’s been duly elected. […] I believe we should be very cautious before initiating impeachment.” However, he cited Trump’s conduct and the “nest of vipers” in his administration as he stated, “I believe the time has arrived to begin an impeachment inquiry.”
From Reno, Sharon asked about how to respond to Christian fundamentalist beliefs about climate change simply being part of Biblical prophecy that should not be interrupted. Inslee reassured the audience not to worry about such fringe views: “We just can’t wait until the last person in America understands the laws of gravity and physics. Most Americans believe climate change is real and we should do something about it.”
“Flipping the Senate is not enough. We can not leave the filibuster in Mitch McConnell’s hands. We can’t do a damned thing with the filibuster in Mitch McConnell’s pocket.”
– Jay Inslee
From Dayton, a voter asked about Medicaid access for children with disabilities. Inslee noted that Washington State accepted Obamacare’s Medicaid expansion in 2010, and he promised “Medicare for all who want it” (or a nationwide public option) and guaranteed coverage for all of the nation’s children’s health care needs.
From Pahrump, John Norbell asked that the Democratic presidential nominee and entire party work towards winning the White House and the Senate. Inslee promised to do his part to focus on that bigger picture, though he also cautioned, “Flipping the Senate is not enough. We can not leave the filibuster in Mitch McConnell’s hands. We can’t do a damned thing with the filibuster in Mitch McConnell’s pocket.” Inslee indirectly praised Elizabeth Warren’s support for filibuster reform, but he also chided the other Senators running for president who still refuse to allow for such change.
From Fernley, a voter asked about recent concerns about Trump’s potential to win reelection while losing the popular vote again. Inslee advised, “We have to focus on economic issues and health care issues and education issues.” He continued, “We need to focus on ‘bread and butter’ issues where people live. […] Democrats win when we fight on this ground.”
Sticking to “electability” concerns, a voter in Dayton asked, “How do you plan to penetrate the ‘fake news’ to get your message across?” Inslee reiterated, “We have a different view of America, but our view is the majority view. Diversity is a virtue rather than something to fear.” He stressed that matters like immigrant civil rights, LGBTQ+ civil rights, and reproductive health care access are winning issues, and that Democrats need to communicate their message to inclusion to wider audiences, including rural audiences.
“Who are we as a country? I think we all know that we are better than this. We must fight for a better America, and fight for it we will.”
– Kamala Harris
Last but certainly not least today was Kamala Harris. She cited her work as California’s Attorney General with then Nevada Attorney General Catherine Cortez Masto (D) to “fight for the homeowners of Nevada and California,” and she promised to maintain focus on what and who truly matters. Harris described how she and her campaign staff regularly ask, “How do plans and policies impact people in their daily lives?”
For Harris, “This is an inflection moment in the history of our country. […] Who are we as a country?” She continued, “I think we all know that we are better than this. We must fight for a better America, and fight for it we will.”
According to Harris, “The vast majority of us have much more in common than what separates us.” Harris then cited her “3:00 AM agenda” to address “problems that keep us up in the middle of the night, and problems that must be solved,” such as housing affordability, health care costs, stagnant wages, and public education.
“We need a president who recognizes her greatest strength is not who we beat down, but who we lift up.”
– Kamala Harris
From the Las Vegas Indian Center, a voter cited her concerns with Harris’ record on Native American civil rights in asking how she’ll be different as president. Harris stressed that she has a good working relationship with California’s Native American tribal communities, and that her duty to represent the State of California in court (when she was Attorney General) should not be interpreted as hostility to Native American tribal sovereignty.
From Elko, a voter and college professor asked what Harris will do to improve rural infrastructure in public education and beyond. She responded by promising to expand broadband internet access and speeds to rural communities, as well as expanding access to telemedicine. In describing the struggles of working families both urban and rural, Harris stressed, “We have to make it easier for them. They’re trying to figure out how to make ends meet. We have to make it easier for them to get by.”
From Gardnerville, Deborah Chang asked if Harris will end pharmaceutical companies’ ability (first granted in 1994) to directly market products to consumers. Harris affirmed she wants to, along with taking additional action. According to Harris, “It is really a shame […] that American consumers must pay more for the same drugs than consumers in other countries. […] It is morally wrong, and we have to do something about it.” Harris also endorsed reimportation of medicine from Canada, along with stronger antitrust enforcement and reviewing their patents if they refuse to lower prices.
From Fallon, Sharon asked Harris what how she’ll counter Trump’s intimidation tactics. Harris replied, “This president is not burdened by facts and honesty. […] There is a good case to prosecute Donald Trump for what he has not done for working families.” Harris also described how she will govern differently: “We need a president who recognizes her greatest strength is not who we beat down, but who we lift up.”
“We need a new Commander-in-Chief.”
– Kamala Harris
From Dayton, Jo asked about Trump’s back-and-forth warmongering with Iran. Harris agreed with her concerns in stating, “The problem is that we’re in these forever wars. We have to stop.” She warned that Trump cares more about “his own personal ego” than the nation’s best interest, and cited his cozy relationship with the Russian and North Korean dictatorial regimes as examples. She later stressed, “We need a new Commander-in-Chief.”
From Carson City, a voter asked about Social Security and taxes. Harris noted, “Last year, 60% of the nation’s corporations paid no taxes. Who in this room is paying no taxes?” She then promised, “We need to strengthen Social Security, and can do that by raising the cap on who pays into it.” She added, “CEO’s should not pay less in taxes than working Americans. That’s not fair.”
From Fernley, a voter asked about foreign and domestic corruption of the U.S. government at the highest levels. Harris shared her concerns and reminded the audience, “Russia interfered in our election. […] They wanted to hurt our greatest belief, which is our belief in our democracy.” Harris warned, “2020: We will be attacked again. It will be another misinformation campaign.” She lamented McConnell’s blocking of bipartisan election security legislation, and she asked the audience to remain vigilant and counter misinformation whenever found.
On that note, Harris concluded her remarks and Kimi Cole concluded the virtual town hall. Cole has promised more virtual and physical meetings between the presidential candidates and rural Nevada Democrats in the near future, so stay tuned for more.