Several Democratic presidential candidates flexed their progressive muscles for a like-minded Las Vegas crowd Saturday, fielding questions on health care, equality, criminal justice reform and more at the People’s Presidential Forum.
But they did so to mixed results, as the crowd quickly turned on one candidate — entrepreneur Andrew Yang — when he did not give them the answers they sought on two key Nevada issues: housing affordability and the future of a plan to dump nuclear waste at Yucca Mountain.
Half of the audience waved the red cards they were given to show disapproval or signal a candidate did not answer the question, and some began to shout as he spoke on stage. This only intensified as the moderators pressed him further, before a somewhat browbeaten Yang agreed to meet with advocates after the event to “have a conversation” about these issues.
About 200 people — most of them advocates — attended the event at the East Las Vegas Community Center, where former Department of Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julián Castro also spoke and answered questions.
Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., addressed the forum remotely.
The forum was sponsored by the Progressive Leadership Alliance of Nevada and People’s Action.
Yang entered the forum with his typical bouncing energy and was initially well-received.
The crowd was somewhat muted when Yang answered a question on how he would better involve young people in politics by saying he would lower the voting age to 16. He said this would politically charge high schools and increase good voting habits.
His calls to invest millions into communities affected by climate change and reuniting families separated at the border seemed to go over well with the crowd.
But the atmosphere changed when Yang was asked about Yucca.
He called the issue of nuclear waste storage “a national issue and not a Nevada issue,” and one that the country must formulate a solution to as a whole. He also said the country should invest in renewable energy as fast as possible.
Several in the crowd shouted at Yang that it was, in fact, a Nevada issue.
Most of Yang’s fellow candidates have given simple, vague answers over the past few months when publicly asked about Yucca: If elected, the candidate guarantees no nuclear waste will be dumped in Nevada. When Yang did not do that when pushed a second time, the crowd grew more angry.
He eventually apologized for “not having a good answer” on this issue and agreed to learn more.
A similar exchange unfolded during the next question on affordable housing, which Yang tried to address through his flagship policy: giving every adult $1,000 per month.
Advocates pressed him, saying landlords would just raise rents by that amount.
He suggested people find new landlords, or “four of you could come together and buy a fixer upper …” before being angrily shouted down. A moderator noted that families living together in a single-family home is simply a different kind of homelessness.
With no real solution to these disagreements in site, Yang gave a closing statement, and the event wound down.
Castro was first to the stage and was warmly received throughout, telling the crowd his policies would work toward a “smarter, healthier, fairer” country in which women, diverse communities and those from low-income neighborhoods will have the same opportunities to succeed.
He also pledged to invest in mental health care and the rebuilding of Puerto Rico, which he said should have another opportunity to enter the U.S. as the 51st state.
Castro said he would ensure the country becomes carbon neutral by 2045 through requiring zero emissions by 2035 and charging fees to the nation’s biggest polluters. He would also require increased consultation with, and in some cases the consent of, Native American tribes before federal agencies allow any work on tribal lands.
He also promised to end the transgender military ban and push Congress for a legislative recognition of the LGBTQ community’s equal rights.
“We’re not going to have second-class citizens in this country,” Castro said.
Castro returned to Las Vegas just days after putting out a public fundraising plea, saying he needed $800,000 by the end of October in order to stay in the race. Speaking to the news media prior to his forum appearance, Castro said he was “well past” the $250,000 mark and expects to update the public on his progress further in the next few days.
Like Castro, Sanders was, not surprisingly, well-received by a crowd packed to the gills with progressive advocates. Many of the policies the forum supports were written or popularized by Sanders in recent years, such as “Medicare for All” and forgiving student loan debt.
Sanders was only gently reminded when he strayed off-topic or got too deep into his stump speech during his answers.
He promised to fight mining on tribal lands and give minorities a stronger say in government.
The Vermont senator said he would reverse many of President Donald Trump’s policies through executive order, including ending family separation, restoring Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals status to those who qualify and increasing funding for Planned Parenthood.
“I happen to believe that a woman’s right to control her own body is a constitutional right,” Sanders said of protecting abortion access and funding Planned Parenthood. “It is not the right of the government at the local, state or federal level to take away that right.”
Medicare for All and campaign finance reform played key parts in several of Sanders’ answers.
He said that the more than 1 million donors to his campaign constituted a record for any political campaign in history at this point in an election cycle, adding that this made his campaign “the exact opposite” of the wealthy donor-supported Trump campaign.
Trump campaign spokeswoman Samantha Zager released a statement criticizing the event, saying it was “a great opportunity for Nevadans to hear about the disastrous socialist policies proposed by candidates like Bernie Sanders and Julian Castro, and how they would reverse any progress the state has made under President Trump and his booming economy.”
Contact Rory Appleton at RAppleton@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0276. Follow @RoryDoesPhonics on Twitter.