Republican presidential candidate Dr. Ben Carson told a Las Vegas audience Wednesday that the United States needs to focus on its common goals and not be divided by political correctness.
“We’re all in the same boat and we need to understand that so we can move beyond superficial things,” Carson said in a 15-minute speech at the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials’ 32nd annual conference at the Aria. “We the American people are not each other’s enemies.”
Carson, 63, casts himself as a Washington outsider. A physician, he oversaw pediatric neurosurgery at the Johns Hopkins University Medical Center in Baltimore for 29 years. He has led high-stakes surgeries, including the separation of craniopagus Siamese twins — conjoined twins who are fused at the cranium.
“I see myself bringing logic and common sense and integrity,” Carson said in an interview. “I’m not a politician. I’m not going to act like a politician ever and I’m not willing to abandon principles for votes.”
He spoke of his childhood, growing up in inner-city Detroit raised by his single mother, who didn’t have more than a third-grade education. Carson said he struggled at first in school, but went on to attend Yale after he started to read books, lots of books, adding that education allows you to “write your own ticket.”
Carson’s profile rose in 2013, when he spoke at a National Prayer Breakfast. He criticized complex tax policies and said health savings accounts for individuals would be the best way to put people in charge of their healthcare. He made the comments with President Barack Obama sitting several feet away, generating a buzz among conservatives who took notice.
Carson said he favors health savings accounts that would allow a family to shift dollars from one member to another within the family.
Carson, noting that more than $2 trillion of U.S. cash is overseas, called for a six-month tax hiatus to encourage corporations to repatriate the money to the U.S., with the requirement that 10 percent of it go toward job creation.
Asked about Yucca Mountain, the site of a proposed nuclear waste repository in Nevada, Carson said that there’s the potential for the material to be reprocessed and resold for an economic benefit.
Nevadans should have an opportunity to see information about project and weigh in, Carson said, adding, “I think most of them will see that as a tremendous opportunity.”
An African-American, Carson used his background as a neurosurgeon to illustrate that skin color isn’t important. The skin is just one layer before getting to the important parts, he said.
“The skin doesn’t make them who they are, the hair doesn’t make them who they are,” Carson said. “The brain makes them who they are.”
He criticized forces that tend to divide the United States, be it over race, gender or income.
“The thing that I think threatens to destroy us almost quicker than anything else as a nation is division,” he said. “We are allowing the purveyors of division to come into our midst and make us think we’re each others’ enemies.”
Carson told the Latino audience he believes all the U.S. borders need to be sealed to keep the country safe from terrorists of nations such as Syria.
But immigrants in the U.S. illegally should have the opportunity to become guest workers and not have to live in the shadows, he said.
Hispanics represent nearly 16 percent of Nevada’s eligible voters, according to data compiled in 2014 by the Pew Research Center. Nevada has the 13th largest Hispanic eligible voter population in the U.S., according to the center.
Nevada is a key state to watch, given its swing-state status and near-perfect record of picking presidential winners. It also is an early-voting state, holding the first presidential caucus in the West after votes in Iowa and New Hampshire.
The nonpartisan National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials event is expected to draw 1,200 attendees this week.
The other presidential hopefuls who plan to speak at the conference include Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton on Thursday. U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., also seeking the Democratic nomination, will speak Friday.
Contact Ben Botkin at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-387-2904. Find him on Twitter: @BenBotkin1