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Six Democratic Presidential Candidates Speak at Forum on Wages and Working People, A “Live-ish-blog” As It Happens (Part 2: Castro, Hickenlooper, and Warren)

Today, I’m writing to you from the National Forum on Wages and Working People. Six Democratic presidential candidates have come to Southern Nevada to answer workers’ questions on what they plan to do to bring about economic justice should one of them defeat President Donald Trump next year.

Because today is so action packed, I’m doing something different. This may not be a full-on live-blog, but I will be posting updates and analysis as these candidates enter and exit the stage.

“We have so many people who are working in these hotels, […] who can’t afford to pay rent. […] I want to make sure no matter who you are, you can have your dreams come true, too.”
– Julián Castro (1:15 update)
Photo by Andrew Davey

If you missed Part 1, go ahead and catch up on Kamala Harris’, Amy Klobuchar’s, and Beto O’Rourke’s respective presentations here. First up on the afternoon bloc is Julián Castro, who opened by describing his tour of the tunnels where many of Las Vegas’ homeless population seek shelter from the extreme heat. He then pointed to our multi-billion-dollar Strip casino resorts as he declared, “We have so many people who are working in these hotels, […] who can’t afford to pay rent.” He added, “I want to make sure no matter who you are, you can have your dreams come true, too.”

Castro then described his vision of a “21st century safety net”: “We need an active 21st century safety net that addresses universal health care, a living wage, affordable housing, and universal college access.” Castro wants not just a $15 minimum wage, but also expansion of the Earned Income Tax Credit, “Medicare for All” single-payer, direct action on affordable housing, free college for any student who wants it, and apprenticeship programs for those who are pursuing other skilled labor jobs.

Oh, and Castro then added, “In this campaign, I’m not just talking the talk, I’m also walking the walk. I support unionizing our campaign, and we’re paying our interns $15 an hour so they make a living wage!” This line earned plenty of applause in the room.

“My immigration plan […] says we put undocumented immigrants who haven’t, and it says we should decriminalize those who are crossing the border and treat this as a civil penalty rather than a criminal penalty.”
– Julián Castro (1:35 update)
Photo by Andrew Davey

Anabella Iguirre Alarcon, a SEIU janitor from Los Angeles, opened audience Q&A by sharing her story of surviving sexual assault at her workplace, then asked Castro what he’ll do to hold companies accountable for sexual assault and harrassment that occurs at their workplaces. He responded in stating his support for an expanded Violence Against Women Act, greater funding for police to pursue these crimes, and protecting immigrant victims of crime.

This allowed Castro to pivot to his “People First Immigration Plan”: “My immigration plan represents a vision completely different from this President. It says we put undocumented immigrants who haven’t, and it says we should decriminalize those who are crossing the border and treat this as a civil penalty rather than a criminal penalty.”

In addition, Castro addressed a common line of criticism from immigrant rights activists about the Obama administration’s approach to immigration reform as he declared, “The lesson from 2009 and 2010 is we’re not going to wait. We’re going to move forward!”

Throughout his presentation, Castro received bouts of thunderous applause from the audience. Thus far in the campaign, Castro has generally been left for dead politically. But if today’s SEIU/CAP performance is any kind of valid indicator (and I personally think it is), he’s showing far more signs of life than any of us has been willing to recognize.

“We also need economic growth. Growth is not bad. We just have to make sure we have safeguards in them.”
– John Hickenlooper (1:50 PM update)
Photo by Andrew Davey

John Hickenlooper was next, and he began his time by explaining how being laid off as a geologist led to his opening his own brewery. Hickenlooper stressed that even as his brewery business grew, he didn’t forget where he came from, as he was among the first Colorado businesses to provide health insurance to all his workers. According to Hickenlooper, he wants to continue this practice as President: “I don’t just want to grow the economy, but I also want to make sure everyone shares in that growth.”

As a business owner who later became a politician with a “pro-business” reputation, Hickenlooper offered some advice on how to get more businesses on board with economic justice legislation: “I think the success in negotiation lies in the demonstration of self-interest.” In Colorado, he often argued to these business groups, “All these employees who are getting a raise will soon be your customers.”

“We also need economic growth. Growth is not bad. We just have to make sure we have safeguards in them.” Like Klobuchar, Hickenlooper also voiced support for better antitrust enforcement to break down (and maybe break up?) corporate monopolies run amok.

“Jobs matter. Quality of life starts with a good job. […] We should make sure everyone has a ladder where if they work hard and play by the rules, they do better.” – John Hickenlooper (2:00 PM update)
Photo by Andrew Davey

When Greenhouse asked how Hickenlooper plans to win back the Rust Belt states that Trump flipped in 2016, Hickenlooper replied, “Jobs matter. Quality of life starts with a good job. […] We should make sure everyone has a ladder where if they work hard and play by the rules, they do better.” He added, “Trump has sold them a bill of goods. He has done nothing to bring the jobs back. Those voters are waiting for us to make a pitch that we will look out for them and bring in more jobs.”

On health care, Hickenlooper explained, “I believe we will move in the direction of universal coverage rapidly if we give them the option of Medicare.” Like Klobuchar and O’Rourke, he supports Medicare as an opt-in public option. And like Pete Buttigieg, Hickenlooper sees this as a transition to an eventual, universal single-payer program: “It will be an evolution, not a revolution.”

During audience Q&A, fellow Coloradan and Denver International Airport wheelchair attendant Medina Adem asked Hickenlooper what he will do to raise wages if Congress continues to refuse to get to $15. He responded by pivoting to education and talking about pressuring colleges to lower their tuitions and rewarding those schools that are keeping tuitions low. He also endorsed a sort of online apprenticeship program that matches workers’ skills and desired skills with job opportunities.

Tulare, California, child care worker Celeste Galeno then asked how Hickenlooper plans to expand access to child care. He responded by pointing to what he did as Mayor of Denver to initiate a universal child care program. That seemed to help him rebound. But overall, his energy in the room often felt a bit off, kind of like how it was for Beto O’Rourke during the morning session.

“It’s up to us. We can build an America that doesn’t just offer opportunity for the top 0.2%, but an America that offers opportunity for all.”
– Elizabeth Warren (2:20 PM update)

Finally, we had Elizabeth Warren. And yes, she declared, “I have a plan.” She quickly proceeded to tell the audience that they play a major role in her plan: “Unions built the middle class. Unions will rebuild the middle class.”

She then described the tax part of her economic justice plan, her “wealth tax” of 2% on every estate worth at least $50,000,000: “You built a great fortune, or you inherited it, but you got it because all of us educated your workers. All of us paid for the roads and bridges you use.” She continued, “Pay two cents [on every dollar], so we can build a better future for everyone in America.”

Included in her plan is a proposal for universal child care, $15 minimum wage across the board, universal free college and student debt cancellation, a “Green New Deal” infrastructure and climate action program, “Medicare for All” single-payer, nationwide expansion of affordable housing, and more. As she views it, “It’s up to us. We can build an America that doesn’t just offer opportunity for the top 0.2%, but an America that offers opportunity for all.”

When asked about concern among some progressives that Democrats haven’t been doing enough to support unions and workers’ rights, she agreed, then expanded on that thought by looking at our larger societal woes: “We have not done enough to protect each other. The way I see this is we see an America where there’s concentrated money and power.”

“We persist. We dream big. We fight hard. That’s how we win!”
– Elizabeth Warren (3:15 PM update)

While Warren dedicated much of her time to railing against America’s oligarchs and kleptocrats, she also had plenty of words of encouragement, When she declared, “There’s a whole lot more of us than there are of them. We have to fight back to organize and win!,” she won a thunderous round of applause comparable to the ovation Castro received.

Adriana Alvarez, a local McDonald’s worker and Fight for 15 activist, kicked off audience Q&A by asking Warren how she’ll use her power to expand workers’ power to organize. Warren began her answer in saying, “How about we stop doing bad things!” She said executive agencies and departments, like the U.S. Department of Labor, must stop favoring major corporations over workers. According to Warren, “Unions: It’s about respect, and it’s about the power we have when we fight alongside each other.”

Fellow Bay Stater and Boston home health care worker Sherlynne Lauterre then asked Warren how she will ensure home health care workers can afford good health care and child care themselves. Warren then used Medicaid to illustrate how Americans already value each other and want to do better for each other: “What we do know as Americans is that we’ll all pitch in so that if it’s your family, or your family, or your family, you will have the health care you need.”

She later closed by sharing a story on how she SEIU 1199 provided her support and assistance in her first U.S. Senate race against then Senator Scott Brown (R-Massachusetts) in 2012, back when many pundits figured Brown found the magic formula to win the Bay State for the GOP. She ultimately won that race, and she encouraged everyone else to keep the faith with her now-classic refrain: “We persist. We dream big. We fight hard. That’s how we win!”

My Final Report Card (4:00 update)
Photo by Andrew Davey

I’m now writing this while en route to my final event of the day. As I noted during Part 1, it took a minute for Beto O’Rourke to take the temperature of the room and change course. And as I noted here in Part 2 earlier, Hickenlooper had some trouble connecting with the room.

Before anyone says anything about how “unrepresentative” these people allegedly are of “the average Democratic voter”, I’ll remind you of this: Women of color form the backbone of today’s Democratic Party. No matter what anyone thinks of how the party operated in 1969, remember that in 2019, Democrats wouldn’t hold the U.S. House majority or a supermajority of Nevada’s Congressional Delegation without women and voters of color. So for those candidates who skipped today’s event entirely, they may have missed a major opportunity to get good with the Democratic Party’s backbone. And for those who stumbled a bit today, this is an opportunity to learn from it and do better.

So before I digress further, here’s my SEIU/CAP Forum Report Card!

Elizabeth Warren: A+
Julián Castro: A+
Amy Klobuchar: A-
Kamala Harris: B+
Beto O’Rourke: B-
John Hickenlooper: C+

Up to now, Harris hasn’t gotten too specific about her vision for the country. She gave a few more details today, though her best moments remained when she spoke about general values. Same went for O’Rourke, except that he struggled even more in the beginning.

Klobuchar, Castro, and Warren, however, excelled in providing plenty of details. Yet while Klobuchar’s presentation may have felt a little too technocratic and incrementalist at times, both Castro and Warren moved the audience by tying their policies to their values. For all those party insiders and campaign consultants who say candidates can’t do policy and inspiration at the same time, take notes on how Castro and Warren delivered a whole lot of both today.

So this is all for now, but stay tuned tomorrow morning for an extra special treat from the campaign trail, and for one more SEIU/CAP weekend wrap-up Monday. Until then, enjoy the rest of your weekend!

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