DES MOINES — U.S. Sen. Cory Booker highlighted issues facing the country through a personal lens Saturday morning in Des Moines.
As the only black man seeking the Democratic nomination for president, Booker, of New Jersey, told the crowd at Drake University he may also be the only contender who has the experience of being “disproportionately pulled over” by police.
For black parents, like his, having to have conversations about traffic laws and police interactions is a problem for the country, not just a specific community, he said. It was a theme he’d repeat often during his time at a forum hosted by the Des Moines branch of the NAACP, KCCI-TV and the Des Moines Register. Booker was one of 11 candidates to speak.
Outreach to black and Latino voters will be key to defeating President Donald Trump, former Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Julián Castro told the crowd. He noted Trump’s narrow margins of victory in Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin, and the need to specifically reach out to minority communities in those states as well as in Arizona, Florida and Texas.
“If (the nominee) can’t connect with those communities, they simply should not be at the top of the ticket,” Castro told reporters later.
The forum was centered on economic equality. Some candidates focused questions to their signature policies — entrepreneur Andrew Yang spoke of his plan to give every adult $1,000 a month, and U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont repeated his belief that “economic rights are human rights.”
“If you’re sick and you can’t go to the doctor, you’re not free,” Sanders said, building on a quote from Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. “If you can’t afford an education, you’re not free.”
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The candidates made their best pitches for addressing the range of issues that disproportionately affect African Americans and other people of color. They spoke about the criminal justice system, education access, wage inequality and access to capital.
U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris of California spoke about a double standard for access to credit — the lifeblood of small business development. Too many lenders require people to have access to money before they’ll loan more when they should be betting on the clients’ ability to repay the loans, Harris said.
“It is startup capital that allows you to start a small business,” she said. “ ... Those small businesses have historically been a source of stability, health and economic vitality in our communities.”
U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota said she supports restoring voting rights for people who leave prison and “ban the box” policies, which make it easier for people with criminal records to apply for jobs.
Klobuchar addressed her time as a prosecutor in Minnesota and her handling of officer-involved shootings and cases that may have led to lengthy prison time for non-violent offenders.
“I’m sorry that we had that process in place,” she said. “That wasn’t the right way to do it, and I’m glad that we’ve changed it, and I think that’s a very important thing to acknowledge. I think that everyone has to come to grips with when they’re part of a system that isn’t right.”
South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg focused on his “Douglass Plan” to dismantle “racist structures and systems” in the country.
Buttigieg saw his rise in the polls marred by the shooting of a black man by a white police sergeant in his hometown, exposing racial divisions and underlying issues in the police department. He told the crowd the shooting was “extremely painful” for his community.
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“We cannot separate systematic disempowerment, for example, economic disempowerment, from the experiences people have with policing and the criminal justice system,” he said.
The event was the first time the local NAACP chapter hosted a presidential forum of its nature, state Rep. Ako Abdul-Samad, D-Des Moines, said. Although Iowa has a small African American population, at just 4 percent, it’s powerful, he said.
“It’s long overdue,” he said. “Because on a national level, we should be there. We’re the first caucus state.”