Who speaks for the working poor?
At Wikipedia, a page listing people or organizations endorsing four Democratic presidential candidates contains 2,847 words. Of those, 2,068 are endorsements of Bernie Sanders.
Candidate Hillary Clinton is not listed on that page. She has a page of her own, which contains 7,078 words.
In a year in which the gap between the 1 percent and the working poor is a major issue, can a candidate with such heavy establishment support speak for the have-nots?
California secretary of state Alex Padilla—one of those listed on the Clinton page—thinks she can. He was in Reno last week campaigning for her.
“The most effective programs in our nation’s history to help the working poor … when it comes to the very safety nets that a lot of people rely on, it has come out of a government program,” he said. “So I think people who know that, ’Government is there for the tough times in my life,’ respect the fact that it’s elected representatives and political leaders that will either prioritize to make sure that’s in place, or—as we’re hearing from candidates on the other side of the aisle—are trying to tear that safety net apart.”
U.S. Rep. Raul Grijalva, one of only two members of Congress to endorse Sanders, was also in Reno last week campaigning for his candidate. He cites positions Clinton has changed in the last couple of years and suggested that voters look at the history of the two candidates to decide who has been with them before the issue of the income gap emerged.
“You’ve got to gauge consistency and put it in some historical context, of where Bernie’s been and where she’s been,” he said. “Now, if she has, in the course of the process, has come to the conclusion that TPP [Trans-Pacific Partnership] is no good, that it’s not the ’gold standard’ anymore, that Keystone is not something that should be built … if those are points that she’s come to in the last year since [the issue evolved], that’s something for people to consider.”
He said Clinton still supports maintaining the size of financial institutions whose sheer bulk threatened the country in 2008. “Breaking them [large banks] up, she hasn’t got to that point yet,” he said.Color run
It’s unlikely that it was a coincidence the two surrogates campaigning in Nevada last week were both Latino. Those are among the most coveted voters in the state, constituting more than one-fifth of the electorate—a figure that is higher in Democratic caucuses and primaries.
Sanders has long been reluctant to appeal to people of color, preferring to approach economic injustice as a grievance that afflicts low-income people of all colors, including white workers. That has handicapped him in widening his appeal to the Democratic base, with Clinton in a commanding position among ethnic people.
It’s a difficulty that has faced Democrats before. In 1968, Robert Kennedy tried with some success to appeal to low-income voters of whatever color, including white working people. Author Jules Witcover called it Kennedy’s “have-not coalition.” It was a concern that intersected with other issues. For instance, when liberals complained that blacks were carrying a heavier burden of combat in Vietnam, Kennedy called for an end to college deferments because they were resulting in low income ethnics and whites doing most of the fighting.
Sanders’ efforts in the same direction could broaden Democratic appeal at a time when, as the Washington Post has reported, “Polls find that low-income whites would prefer almost any Republican nominee to Clinton.” And as in 1968, it intersects with other issues. For instance, activist leader Peter Bohmer has noted “police shootings and killings of African-Americans and also Latinos, Native Americans and low-income whites.”
Sanders began running a Spanish language radio advertisement in Nevada last week.
Grijalva said Sanders’ economic populism is one of the reasons he signed on with the candidate. “So I wanted to associate myself with that effort,” he said. “I’ve been a big critic of the last election, where we talked nothing about economics. We legitimately talked about women, legitimately talked about other things, but never talked about what everybody else was talking about out there—our base, certainly—the economics of this, the sense that many, many people feel [that] they’re spinning their wheels and that they’ve hit a wall and there’s no way around it. … I think that message will continue to resonate.”
Economics, however, has not prevented Clinton from scooping up most labor union endorsements, in spite of Sanders’ unbroken pro-worker voting record in Congress. Clinton has gained endorsements from three national labor unions to Sanders’ three. However, Sanders remains a source of conflict in the union movement, as union locals break away from their nationals to support him.
In Nevada, the powerful 55,000-member Culinary Union is taking its time in deciding who to support. In 2008, the Culinary went with Obama over Clinton, only to see Clinton win the Nevada caucuses.
Grijalva said he has not yet had an opportunity to quiz Sanders on Western issues like the Mining Law of 1872, grazing fees, or water transfers. During her first presidential campaign, Clinton called the 1872 law “out of date,” was vague on water transfers, and said she would not seek changes in grazing fees.
A month after Sanders said at the Las Vegas debate that—if he were a Nevadan—he would probably vote for the 2016 Nevada ballot measure to make marijuana legal as a recreational drug, he introduced what he calls the Ending Federal Marijuana Prohibition Act of 2015. It would cancel marijuana’s listing as a Schedule 1 narcotic, taking it out of the kind of punitive enforcement used with heroin. It can be read at www.mpp.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/11/Sanders-Bill.pdf.
On Yucca Mountain, Clinton is opposed to the Nye County site’s use as a nuclear waste dump. Sanders never had to vote on it, but on related issues—appointments of nuclear regulators, a pro-Yucca federal website—he generally was aligned with Nevada’s Sen. Harry Reid.
After she won the Nevada caucuses in 2008, and with her early establishment of an efficient organization this year, the Nevada caucuses are Clinton’s to lose. Sanders remains still a relative unknown, so interest or curiosity toward him remains high.
Clinton has had paid local staff in the north for months. Sanders put on his first paid Washoe organizer, Carol Cizauskas, last month.
Clinton has gathered in most of the Nevada endorsements, including former legislator and News & Review columnist Sheila Leslie, who in 2008 chose Obama over Clinton. Just this week, Clinton picked up endorsements from Washoe Assmblymember Teresa Benitez Thompson and Henderson Police Chief Richard Perkins, a former Assembly speaker.
Grijalva said the Democratic Party organizations, local and national, are not neutral. “They’re locked and loaded for her, whether they admit it or not,” he said, a sentiment that came from other Sanders leaders as well.
Sanders’ state director, Jim Farrell, unexpectedly stepped down last week, prompting speculation, though the campaign said it was a family related problem. Farrell was replaced by Joan Kato, who has been serving as the campaign’s political director.