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Trail Mix: It’s Vetting Time, Nevada

Now that Iowa and New Hampshire are behind us, it’s our turn to shine on the national political stage. And since Nevada is overall the most diverse of the four early states, it seemed very fitting that America’s largest and oldest Latinx civil rights organization kicked off the home stretch of our caucus campaign season with a town hall at CSN North Las Vegas.

The next morning, one of the candidates visited Culinary Health Center in East Las Vegas in an effort to show solidarity with the union. But when asked about her record on immigration reform, she may have accidentally reminded Nevada voters that they have a lot more vetting (of these candidates) to do.

Au revoir, Iowa and New Hampshire. Nevada, here we are!
Photo by Andrew Davey

With nearly all the ballots counted, U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont) is sitting on a 3,910 raw vote (or 25.6%-24.3%) lead over former South Bend (Indiana) Mayor Pete Buttigieg in New Hampshire. This has cemented Sanders’ national frontrunner status and given Sanders an extra boost of momentum to compliment his solid ground game here in Nevada. But with Buttigieg finishing close behind him, and with Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-Minnesota) finishing close behind him, the Democratic field remains unsettled.

Now that the two 90%+ white early states are in the candidates’ rear-view mirrors, LULAC sought to remind the candidates the rest of the caucus/primary calendar going forward will be a very different ball game. According to NBC News’ 2016 entrance poll, 41% of Nevada Democratic Caucus-goers were non-white, and more specifically 19% of those caucus-goers identified as Latinx.

With the Nevada State Democratic Party, local progressive and civil rights groups, and some of the presidential campaigns working on the ground to convince more voters of color to participate in this year’s Democratic Caucus, they’re hoping this year’s turnout will go even further in reflecting the full diversity of our state’s population.

“We bought a business that involves making loans to people buying used cars. As part of that business, there was a collection process that we were trying to control.” 
– Tom Steyer, on Beneficial State Bank’s lending practices
Photo by Andrew Davey

Last night, the LULAC audience heard closing pitches from Sanders (via livestream), Buttigieg, Klobuchar, and billionaire philanthropist Tom Steyer. Steyer got to go first, and he continued with his “Sanders/Warren-lite” stump speech that integrates much of their progressive populist message while also pitching himself as someone who advocates racial justice as part of a larger economic and social justice agenda. 

As per usual, Steyer cautioned, “The only way we beat Mr. Trump is to beat him on the economy.” But when Steyer came backstage to speak with reporters, he had a hard time explaining the parts of his business record. While Steyer chaired the Beneficial State Bank he founded with spouse Kat Taylor, their non-profit bank initiated and won lawsuits against 1,800 lenders who had fallen behind in their car loan payments, and most of those lenders were concentrated in the poorest parts of California’s Central Valley that also tend to have majority Latinx populations.

When asked about Beneficial State Bank’s full record, Steyer demurred, “We bought a business that involves making loans to people buying used cars. As part of that business, there was a collection process that we were trying to control.” According to the lenders on the other side of Beneficial’s “collection process”, they were being charged with annual interest rates as high as 27.99%. 

On the high interest Beneficial charged, Steyer retorted, “Those aren’t astronomical interest rates. […] Take a look at the area we were lending. They were way lower than everyone else.” For reference, the national average car loan interest rate is 5.27%. When just looking at the average rate for borrowers with deep subprime credit scores (449 or lower), it’s currently 18.25%. And to better understand the contours of this debate, Sanders has teamed up with Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-New York) on a bill to cap all consumer loan interest rates at 15%.

“We need to make the [Affordable Care Act] better.” 
– Amy Klobuchar, at Culinary Health Center today
Photo by Andrew Davey

So far, Steyer has been pitching himself as the kind of candidate who can excite voters of color and advance a progressive platform that’s bolder than what his more moderate rivals are proposing, yet still not as “radical” as Sanders’ and Senator Elizabeth Warren’s (D-Massachusetts) respective plans for “big, structural change”. For two of those centrist rivals, Amy Klobuchar and Pete Buttigieg, they’re suddenly having to adjust their respective campaigns to the new reality of having to appeal to more diverse groups of voters.

This morning, just hours after the Culinary Union announced its decision not to endorse any candidate before the caucus, Klobuchar toured the East Las Vegas Culinary Health Center and learned more about how Culinary Health Fund provides about 139,000 union members and relatives with comprehensive health care, including vision, dental, pharmacy, and 24-hour urgent care. And after the tour, Klobuchar sought to portray her opposition to “Medicare for All” single-payer health care (which Sanders and Warren support) as standing up for unions.

As Klobuchar put it, “149 million Americans would lose their health care coverage, including Culinary Union members who use this very facility.” She continued, “We need to make the [Affordable Care Act] better,” and she went on to claim her proposal is more “realistic”. While Americans would lose private insurance under “Medicare for All” single-payer, the goal would be for everyone to gain public health insurance with low or no costs at the point of service.

“I’m a big believer in criminal justice reform.” 
– Amy Klobuchar, at the LULAC Town Hall yesterday

In addition to health care, Klobuchar talked about immigration reform. That’s when she ran into her own trouble. When asked about her vote to confirm Trump-appointee Kevin McAleenan at the Department of Homeland Security, Klobuchar framed it as support for “career civil servants” running the department. She also said, “I have disagreed with the administration’s policies on the border. I have made that clear every step of the way.”

In October 2006, Klobuchar framed her then support for increased border barriers as “order at the border,” and as recently as November 2018 she suggested a willingness to negotiate a compromise on Trump’s long-desired “border wall”. However while campaigning here in Southern Nevada in April 2019, Klobuchar signaled an approach to comprehensive immigration reform that’s more in line with where most of the Democratic Party seems to be now.

Photo by Andrew Davey

And that’s not all: At last night’s LULAC Town Hall, Klobuchar was asked about her record as District Attorney in Hennepin County, Minnesota. More specifically, civil rights activists have raised questions over whether Klobuchar and her office helped orchestrate a wrongful murder conviction of a young African-American man, whether her office erred in punting police misconduct cases to a grand jury that tended to shy away from charging any officers with misconduct, and whether her office was overly aggressive in prosecuting non-violent drug charges

Last night, Klobuchar reassured the crowd, “I’m a big believer in criminal justice reform.” And from there, Klobuchar stressed that as Hennepin D.A., she pursued reforms like changing the protocol for witness identification of criminal suspects, cooperating with the Innocence Project on cases where new evidence cast doubt on prior convictions, and hiring more people of color at the D.A’s office.

“Nevada best reflects the face of America, who we are today and who we will continue to be in the years to come.” 
– Rep. Steven Horsford (D-North Las Vegas), in a Biden campaign press release
Photo by Andrew Davey

For months, we’ve been trying to get to the bottom of this seeming disconnect between the emerging “conventional wisdom” of the 2020 Democratic field and the voters of color who comprise the core of the 2020-era Democratic Party’s base. And up until now, that has largely included a discussion of Buttigieg’s ongoing struggle to diversify his base.

At LULAC last night, Buttigieg was asked about his own record on criminal justice in South Bend. And as he’s done during recent debates, Buttigieg sought to deflect blame onto the federal government. As he put it, “We have a long way to go in my city, in every city in this country.”

Joe Biden
Photo by Andrew Davey

Perhaps we here in Nevada have a long way to go in vetting all these Democratic candidates. And maybe, just maybe, I have a long way to go in reassessing the state of the race here as voters of color have yet to decide whether they’ll go along with Iowa’s and New Hampshire’s verdicts. Just this morning, the R-J released a new poll of likely Democratic caucus-goers showing Sanders vaulting into the lead (25%), but it also showed former Vice President Joe Biden in second (18%) and Elizabeth Warren (13%) in third, slightly ahead of Buttigieg, Klobuchar, and Steyer.

And just as I finish writing this, I’m noticing Rep. Steven Horsford’s (D-North Las Vegas) endorsement of Biden. In a Biden campaign press release, Horsford said, “While there’s so much attention on Iowa and New Hampshire as the first two early presidential states, Nevada best reflects the face of America, who we are today and who we will continue to be in the years to come.” Now that the Democratic nominating contest has moved into this state, we’ll have to see how our voters judge all these candidates and their records.

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