Staff Columnist

Libertarian questions for Democratic presidential candidates

On school choice, law enforcement, immigration, free trade and foreign policy

As Iowa’s openly Republican journalist, I had a unique opportunity earlier this month to interview some Democratic presidential candidates.

My colleague Todd Dorman and I sat for ten minutes each with the six candidates who agreed to meet with us (others were invited but declined). It was an extra feature in the LGBTQ forum hosted by The Gazette, the Advocate and GLAAD on Sept 20.

We asked general interest policy questions, and me being me, I couldn’t help but sprinkle in some conservative and libertarian themes — school choice, law enforcement, immigration, free trade and foreign policy. Here are summaries of their answers.

Booker on charter schools

U.S. Sen. Cory Booker’s record as Newark, N.J. mayor is held up as a model by some school choice advocates and education reformers.

Booker proudly notes his hometown school district achieved a double-digit percent increase in high school graduation rates, and is among the best beat-the-odds school districts in the country. A key to that success, analysts say, was the expansion of charter schools, which are publicly funded schools that often have alternative curricula.

Despite that success, many public school advocates oppose charter schools. I asked Booker if he would support charters as president, and he seemed to temper his support.

“As president of the United States, I’m going to support what works for kids and not tell local communities how to run their schools. I know a lot of people look at charters — charters are 3 percent of America’s public schools,” Booker said.

Buttigieg on law enforcement


South Bend, Ind. Mayor Pete Buttigieg has been criticized by people of color in his hometown over his handling of law enforcement issues.

A police officer who shot and killed a suspect earlier this year did not have his body camera turned on. Following the incident, local Black Lives Matter activists called for Buttigieg’s resignation.

I asked Buttigieg what role the federal government should have in local law enforcement. He praised the Obama administration’s 21st Century Policing Task Force, which promoted best practices and new technology to local departments.

“The reality is we have a lot of work to do at the local level, but we also have a lot of work to do at the federal level. We can’t expect mayors across America, or departments or communities, to handle this alone when there are so many issues,” Buttigieg said.

Castro on immigration

Former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julian Castro had a couple notable moments during the most recent debate when he criticized former Vice President Joe Biden for not acknowledging shortfalls of the Obama administration, including on immigration policy.

But Castro was also a member of Obama’s cabinet, and at times he praised the administration’s immigration policies. I asked Castro whether the party has evolved on immigration enforcement over the past three years.

“What I believe is that some of that is a reaction to the horrendous treatment that people have been subject to by Donald Trump and his administration. ... I believe there’s been a reaction to that but that the reaction has been a good one and a reasonable one,” Castro said.

Klobuchar on tariffs

U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar has been a proponent of steel tariffs, which are perceived as benefiting her constituents in Minnesota but potentially harming workers in other states.


But as president, Klobuchar would have to represent all Americans’ interests, not just Minnesotans’. And trade restrictions like the ones she has supported are under new scrutiny in the wake of President Donald Trump’s disastrous trade wars against China and other countries.

Klobuchar criticized the president’s policies, but made clear she still supports “targeted tariffs.”

“I would push to review all the tariffs that the president has put in place, and I think he’s gone way overboard at great expense to some manufacturers as well as to some of our farmers. … You could do this without these broad steel tariffs,” Klobuchar said.

Sestak on Iraq

Former U.S. Rep. Joe Sestak is focusing his campaign on foreign policy, touting his experience as a Navy officer.

One of Sestak’s stated goals is to “restore U.S. leadership.” To some anti-war activists, that sounds like a call for more military intervention. I asked Sestak if that’s what he meant.

The candidate jumped into a long, winding answer about “the tragic misadventure in Iraq.”

“You didn’t have any senator who voted for that understand that you better know when you use our military, how it will end, before you’re deciding if it’s even wise to begin,” Sestak said, arguing the Iraq War damaged Americans’ faith in the military engagements.

Williamson on Afghanistan

Author and activist Marianne Williamson is calling for the creation of a Department of Peace within the federal government.


I asked Williamson how quickly she would end the war in Afghanistan, which is now the longest in U.S. history. To my surprise, Williamson said Afghanistan is one place where we need to maintain a military presence in order to combat violence against women.

“I’m the one candidate who’s actually spoken about Afghanistan and said, let’s stop this simplistic, you know — ‘bring the troops home’ is a slogan, it’s not an foreign policy. I’ve been very concerned — and there’s been articles written about this — about treatment of women by the Taliban,” Williamson said.

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