The persistent candidate

U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren is running to become President of the United States in 2020

Sen. Warren addresses the crowd at a Nevada campaign event.

Sen. Warren addresses the crowd at a Nevada campaign event.

Presidential candidate and U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren, a Democrat from Massachusetts, took some time to speak with us during a recent campaign visit to Nevada.

Q: Here in Northern Nevada, one of the big issues is that our population is growing faster than the infrastructure. Schools are overpopulated, roads are in a constant state of construction, and rents are skyrocketing.

Senator Warren: You don’t have enough housing.

It’s a housing crisis. Is that a problem the federal government should help with? And if so, how?

Yes. … Half a century ago, there were two ways that housing was produced for middle-class, working-class, working-poor, poor-poor people—and that was private development and the federal government. The private developers that built the two-bedroom, one-bath house that I grew up in—the garage converted to house my three brothers—they’re not building those anymore. They build at the top end of the market. So, if you want to build or buy a McMansion, there’s actually a lot of housing for you pretty much all across the country. But if you’re middle-class, working-class, working-poor, there’s not a lot of new housing coming onto the market.

The second thing that’s happened is that the federal government has largely withdrawn from building affordable housing. So, a lot of the housing that got built in the ’40s, the ’50s, the ’60s—they’re just not doing it anymore. Housing deteriorates, as you know, over time, and the population has increased. So that means, nationally, right now housing stock is going down while demand is going up. And that means prices are through the roof. And that’s true in cities, in suburbs, in small towns and rural areas. We have a housing crisis across America. It is particularly acute in places like Northern Nevada, where industry has moved in and produced a bunch of jobs without any new investment in the housing infrastructure.

I will build 3.2 million new housing units across this country—it’s housing for middle-class families, for working families, for the working poor, for the homeless, for seniors who want to age in place, for people with disabilities. We need more housing—a lot more housing. And the federal government can make that happen.

Part of the reason why, here in Northern Nevada, we’re in that situation is because both the state government and municipal governments have been handing out tax break incentives to corporations, like Apple and Tesla.


And then those corporations don’t deliver on the economic development that they promise. How can a small state, like Nevada, foster economic development without giving away the store?

This is a problem. Right now, states—and cities—are playing a variation of The Hunger Games. Everyone fights to try to be the one winner. And basically everyone is losing. I think the way we deal with this is that states should stop playing. It’s not making their towns and cities richer or more livable. Growth in jobs has to be accompanied by growth in infrastructure. And that means growth in revenue. Giving up all the revenues as part of the way to attract new jobs—the math just doesn’t work. And who gets squeezed the hardest? Working families.

That leads me to my next question. We just ran a news story about this in my paper [“Child care unaffordable?” News, Aug. 1]. Child care costs are really bad in Nevada. And you unveiled a huge universal child care program. How’s it going to be funded?

The universal child care is funded by a two-cent tax on the largest fortunes in this country. So, on fortunes above 50 million dollars. You get your first 50 million free and clear, but on your 50 millionth-and-first dollar of wealth, you have to pitch in two cents. And two cents on every dollar after that. That will generate enough revenue to pay for child care for every baby in this country age zero to 5, preschool for every three-year-old and four-year-old, raise the wages of every child care worker and pre-school worker in this country, and cover the costs of college, add 50 billion dollars to historically black colleges and universities, and cancel student loan debt for 95 percent of the kids who have it. Think about that. That’s how much revenue it would raise. And here’s the thing: It could do all those things I described, and there would still be a couple of hundred billion left over.

That illustrates the whole idea of wealth inequality pretty clearly.

There it is.

A big issue here, because we’re a Western, desert state, is water rights. Water transfers often involve overlapping states. In Northern Nevada, we get water from California. In Southern Nevada, they try to grab water from Utah and from rural parts of the state. So what principles and standards would guide your water policies?

Well, the first has to be conservation. As you know, many of the water rights treaties were negotiated at a time when some cities had a lot of power in those negotiations, and how much water was wasted in moving it from one area to another was ignored. We can’t afford to do that anymore. That, for me, is the starting point—the importance of conservation. And not giving water away from sources if it ultimately doesn’t benefit the entire region. It’s also important to respect the water rights of native tribes. Our trust in treaty obligations has been ignored for far too long—and for many tribes that includes water rights. That’s another core principle. The third is that we need to think more comprehensively about the use of water—whether or not farming water-intensive crops makes sense in semi-arid communities.

Leading up to the last Democratic debate, a lot of the buzz and promotion—not just on CNN but also on NPR and so forth, was like, Warren versus Sanders, like it was a title bout. But during the debate, you two were in the middle and it seemed like you were back-to-back battling your flanks. So what is a key major policy difference between you and Senator Sanders?

I’m not here to try to define somebody else’s policy. I can tell you what I’m fighting for. The best part of these debates is when we get a chance to do that. We have an America that works great for a thinner and thinner slice at the top, and it’s not working for much of anyone else. Our government in Washington has been captured by money. And it’s far more than just political contributions. It’s lobbyists, bought-and-paid-for experts, think tanks. Washington is flooded with money, and every decision that gets made there is influenced by that money. And day by day, decision by decision, the government does just a little bit more in favor of the wealthy and the well-connected and against everyone else. I believe we can turn that around. I believe we can make this government work, not just for those at the top, but make it work for everyone. The wealth tax is a perfect example of that. Attacking the corruption head on.

I have the biggest anti-corruption bill since Watergate. The bad news is that we need the biggest anti-corruption bill since Watergate. Money flows everywhere in Washington. Whatever issue gets you up in the morning, if there’s a decision to be made in Washington, it’s been influenced by money. Why do the drug companies continue to rake in billions of profits when people are struggling to pay for prescription medications? That’s corruption. Washington lets them do it. The Canadian government doesn’t let them do it. But Washington does. Why do giant oil companies get to drill anywhere they want on federal lands and offshore when the American people are desperately worried about climate change? The answer is corruption. It just plays out in one scenario after another. The majority of Americans want to see sensible gun legislation. And yet the NRA, with all of its connections and money, keeps that from happening. Money not only threatens our economy and our families, it threatens our very democracy.

Are you concerned that Trump and the previous Congress have set us up for a financial crisis like we had in 2008, by having rolled back Obama-era protections, like Dodd-Frank?

I’m very worried. Because the Trump administration has weakened regulations, has refused to enforce the regulations that are still in place, and the warning signs are growing around the economy. The number of small business loans that are in default is through the roof. That should be a red flashing light for this economy. Small businesses can’t service their debt, then they’re not going to be long for this world, and if they start falling like dominoes, it’s going to be a real problem for this economy.