Five minutes. That’s how long eight Democratic presidential hopefuls had to pitch their “one big idea” and impress these raucous voters in arguably America’s most progressive city.
Instead of touting Medicare for All, raising the minimum wage, climate change, and other issues, Sen. Bernie Sanders on Saturday used the private forum in San Francisco to discuss stopping “endless wars.” Sanders wants to invest the trillions of dollars given to the U.S. military since Sept. 11, 2001, and use those funds to help create opportunities domestically.”We have spent $5 trillion on the wars that have taken place not just in Iraq and Afghanistan, but also in the Saudi-led intervention in Yemen—a horrific war,” he said. “It’s time for Congress to repeal the 2001 and 2002 authorizations that have been used as a blank check to send troops in harm’s way. It’s time to end the entire policy of endless wars.” Several blocks away from the California Democratic Party’s weekend confab at a sparkling San Francisco sparking convention center, the candidates gathered inside a theatre in the city’s Tenderloin neighborhood to pitch their ideas to 300 attendees, attack President Donald Trump and more at the Big Ideas Forum sponsored by MoveOn, a political activist organization. In addition to their 5-minute big idea pitch, the candidates fielded questions for another 10 minutes. The stakes are high in California as the state’s 2020 primary has been moved to Super Tuesday, March 3, with some 495 delegates in play and 55 electoral college votes, the largest in the nation for the 23 Democratic candidates. Among the other big ideas, California Sen. Kamala Harris wants to close the gender pay gap, and New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker pushed for wealth equity, including “baby bonds,” where every child born in America gets an interest-bearing account starting at $1,000. There’s also Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, who wants to clean up corruption in the Nation’s Capital; Former Texas Congressman Beto O’ Rourke intends to treat every immigrant with dignity; New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand wants a national family paid leave law. Former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julian Castro is seeking to end police brutality nationwide, and Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar wants to the nation’s expand voting rights. No snarkiness ensued among the candidates, as many chose to condense a key point from their stump speeches into a big idea and see if it would catch on with the predominately liberal crowd. While Democratic frontrunner former Vice President Joe Biden, was speaking at a Human Rights Campaign event in Columbus, Ohio, Saturday’s MoveOn forum halfway across the country offered a rare occasion where other key candidates were all in the same place at the same time.
But the forum wasn’t without drama. An animal rights activist ran on stage, grabbing a microphone from Harris as he demanded “attention for a much bigger idea.” The man was forcefully led offstage by staffers as even Harris’ husband, Doug Emhoff, attempted to remove the man.
“I was scared for her, it seemed like an eternity before they took him away,” said attendee Jennifer Delgado, 30, a registered nurse from Sacramento, about the incident. “That was totally uncalled for.”
MoveOn apologized and Harris, who is reportedly running third in voter polls in California behind Biden and Sanders and as high as eighth nationally, said in terms of equal gender pay she would make corporations prove they are paying women the same amount as men and require them to post it on website.
“Because I’m into enforcement, let’s say there’s a 5 to 10 to 20% differential, well, for every 1% differential, you have to pay a fine of 1% out of your profits from the year before,” she said. “5% differential, you’ve got to pay 5% as a fine of what your profits were the year before.”
Harris said that the fine money will go into a paid family leave fund.
O’Rourke used his big idea to encourage the crowd to cancel President Donald Trump’s “chaos on the border” and ensure immigrants, asylum-seekers, and refugees are treated with dignity and respect.
“Never allow another Dreamer—more than 1 million strong, every bit as American as anyone else here in this theater tonight, live in fear of deportation back to a country they do not know,” he said. “Make them U.S. citizens here, in their true country.”
As part of her cleaning up corruption in D.C., Warren, who drew among the loudest cheers with Sanders and Harris, said she wants to ban anyone who has served in Congress, headed an agency, a Cabinet member and even a President, from becoming a lobbyist.
She said money touches every issue in D.C. and plays a role in critical decisions affecting the entire country.
“I want an America that doesn’t just work for a thin slice at the top. I want to build an America that works for all of us,” she said. “I have the biggest anti-corruption plan since Watergate. Here’s the bad news: we need the biggest-corruption plan since Watergate.
“We got to fight back against it,” Warren continued. “We’ve got to call it out and to fight back.”
Attendee Sandy Clark, 82, of Fremont, Calif., said she came away impressed hearing from such a diverse field of candidates. But she knows that whoever wins the Democratic nomination will have a fierce battle against Trump. “We have such a great opportunity to make real change,” she said.
Delgado, the nurse from Sacramento, said while immigration, healthcare, and paid leave are essential issues to her, the candidates gave her a lot more points to consider before voting.
“I have a tough choice to make,” she said. “It’s going to be hard.”
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