Town Hall for Democrats in Iowa Caucus

By Sheryl Hamlin

On January 25, 2016, exactly one week before the Iowa Caucus voting for President, the Democrats held a Town Hall allowing each candidate to speak without conditions or interruptions on subjects presented by audience members. Chris Cuomo of New York moderated the Town Hall. He called on the audience members and prodded candidates to complete the answer if he felt the answer was insufficient. With only three candidates, this format was an excellent vehicle for each candidate to showcase his or her policies and/or personality.

The three candidates in order of appearance were Bernie Sanders, Senator from Vermont (I), Martin O’Malley former Governor of Maryland(D) and Hillary Clinton former Secretary of State and Senator from New York(D). Bernie Sanders answered six questions, Martin O’Malley answered eight questions and Hillary Clinton answered seven questions.

Candidate and Senator from Vermont: Bernie Sanders

Candidate and Senator from Vermont: Bernie Sanders

Senator Bernie Sanders

Unlike the GOP debates where tax policy and tax rates tend to dominate the discussions, the Democrats did not dwell on taxes, other than Senator Sanders who admitted that the rich who had benefitted over the last thirty years, according to his account, would have to pay their “fair share” in three ways: 1) by raising the Social Security payroll limit, 2) by paying a tax on “speculation” and 3) by eliminating corporate tax havens off shore. Senator Sanders also took on the “corrupt campaign financing” system that allows billionaires to buy elections and candidates.

Asked to refine his definition of “democratic socialism”, Sanders said that “economic rights should exist” in the United States and the government should not be dominated by the billionaire class. His goal is the creation of a government that works for all people.

He proposed several bold changes: 1) Medicare for all which would eliminate personal insurance payments, 2) Tuition-free college and 3) a massive infrastructure program which would create 13 million jobs in five years.

He cited his longevity in congress and his ability to work with Republicans to achieve progress over the years; however, he contends that congress is more concerned about attracting campaign donations than working for the citizens. He says “enough is enough”. A revolution is needed to rectify this situation.

In an effort to differentiate himself from Secretary Clinton, Senator Sanders reminded the audience that he voted against the Iraq war authorization and cited his speech about the ensuing chaos he predicted from deposing Saddam Hussein, which unfortunately came true. He also led the fight during President Clinton’s presidency against deregulation of the banks, saying that removing Glass-Steagall created the speculative environment in the banking industry which led to the crash. Another differentiator was his opposition to trade policy that cost American jobs such as the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP)

Clarifying his stance on gun ownership, Senator Sanders reminded the audience that in 1988 the gun lobby told voters not to support him because he opposed the sales of military guns to the public. Now he also supports background checks into criminal behavior and mental instability, as well as the gun show loophole and the straw man situation.

Senator Sanders was seated and standing during his time and his voice was hoarse from a long day of speaking to the public. However, he said that he was blessed with great health and would be releasing his medical records before the Iowa vote.

Candidate: Governor Martin O’Malley

Candidate: Governor Martin O’Malley

Governor Martin O’Malley

Former Maryland Martin O’Malley removed his coat and stood for his questions and smiled as he answered the first question. Chris Cuomo stated that the Des Moines Register endorsed Secretary Clinton and said that Governor O’Malley would be better suited to a cabinet position. Governor O’Malley said he was in this to win and wanted to build on the good things President Obama has accomplished, specifically to break down the grid lock.

Cuomo asked why Senator Sanders could be the “bright new object” rather than the governor himself. Governor O’Malley said that his candidacy speaks to the greatness in the country not to the fear like he has heard from Senator Sanders. Governor O’Malley then spent time describing the crime and drug filled city of Baltimore of 1999 where drug deals occurred 24 hours a day and hundreds of blacks died. He closed down the open air drug markets and saved hundreds of lives from overdoses. They started trafficking police “incivility”, decriminalized marijuana and repealed the death penalty, all of which helped the African American community that was disproportionately hurt by these policies.

On health care, Governor O’Malley said that no program came into existence perfect. It was now time to improve the out of pocket expenses and deductibles paid for new health care policies and he would call of the insurance companies to create such policies. He said that in Maryland they moved all hospitals out of the fee for service mode into global patient care which has eventually paid off financially and medically according to the New England Journal of Medicine.

In answer to the twenty three year old voter who asked Governor O’Malley to describe the most important issue to young voters, Governor O’Malley responded with climate change. However, he viewed climate change as the “greatest business opportunity to come to the United States in 100 years” creating millions of jobs. He noted that 30 to 35% of Iowa power is wind generated and that the turbines are built in the United States.

A question about reinstating the draft brought a unique answer. Governor O’Malley said that for those who are considered “undraftable”, there should be a Youth Service program which would help cut youth unemployment. He cited his 15 goals, one of which is full employment for veterans and a transition program from the military to civilian life.

Asked about growing the economy, Governor O’Malley said that we need to restore common sense labor rules, minimum wage increase, overtime pay, equal pay for equal work and facilitate union membership. Comprehensive immigration reform would get 11 million people “out of the shadows”. And, we need to invest in American cities.

A fourth generation farmer asked about support for farming, particularly because farming is attracting women and veterans. Governor O’Malley talked about sustainable economies where food is produced near the consumption. He would reduce the barriers for entry by providing capital to new, young farmers and reduce the concentrated monopolies in farming.

In distancing himself from Senator Sanders, Governor O’Malley said his parents taught him to believe in “fair market American capitalism” and a “freedom from monopoly”. He agreed with Senator Sanders about the concentration of wealth and said that “trickle down” economics does not work.

In his closing remarks, Governor O’Malley reminded the voters that in 2008 they surprised the world by choosing Barack Obama over Hillary Clinton. He said that he had a track record to bring people together, particularly better than the fascist rhetoric spread by Donald Trump. His goal was a compassionate, generous, inclusive country.


Candidate: Secretary Hillary Clinton

Secretary Hillary Clinton

When Chris Cuomo introduced Secretary Clinton, he reminded the audience that the Boston Globe and the Des Moines Register had endorsed her and that recently President Obama has said she was “wicked smart”, although not an endorsement. Secretary Clinton said she was touched by President Obama’s remarks and that they had become friends during her four years as Secretary of State. She plans to build on the progress of the current administration.

Chris Cuomo asked how 2016 could be another “nail biter” like the one in 2008 because she is essentially tied with Senator Sanders. She said that “spirited debate” is part of the country and she is proud of the Democratic campaign because there have been no insults. The job of President is the hardest in the world and she had had a great time talking to people. Iowa will be the first vote in the world in the 2016 election.

The first question was very direct: why are young people passionate about Bernie Sanders and feel Hillary Clinton is dishonest? Why no enthusiasm for the Clinton campaign? She replied saying that ten high school students are working for her in Iowa and that she was happy to see young people involved. In spite of all the charges thrown at her, she reminded the audience that she is still standing because she has been on the front line championing causes, taking on the status quo, such as health care in 1993 when insurance companies spent millions against her, but they managed to enact the Children’s Insurance Health Insurance Program (CHIP) program. Even though they did not get a health care bill, she said it is important to keep going and not get discouraged. If this were easy, then there would be no contest. She is a proven leader.

Another member of the audience asked Secretary Clinton why Vice President Biden says she is a “newcomer” to income inequality. She replied saying that her career spanned 40 years fighting inequality, such as putting juveniles in adult prisons, prohibiting privatization of schools to avoid integration, pressing for Human Rights in Beijing in 1995. She reminded the audience that during the Clinton Presidency (1993-2000) incomes at all levels grew, rather than just for the upper 1%.

After watching all eleven hours of the Benghazi hearings in congress, an audience member said that he became an ardent supporter. He asked Secretary Clinto to describe herself on a scale of zero to ten, where zero is non-intervention and ten is intervention. Not giving a number, she said it is essential to avoid military action, use diplomacy and be patient to get results. We must project our values around the world: dignity and human values. She told the story of how she spent eighteen (18) months developing a coalition to apply sanctions to Iran after it was discovered that Iran had atomic capability. Then it took another year to get the countries to agree on obeying the sanctions. She also cited a cease fire between Israel and Gaza and many behind the scenes negotiations using different countries.

Asked if the world were less stable now, citing her vote in favor of the Iraq intervention, she agreed that this vote was a mistake, but blamed it on the communications given them by the Bush Administration. She worked to get trust back from allies who had lost trust during the Bush Administration. She has laid out a plan to defeat ISIS and the terrorist network.

An American Muslim woman who had previously served in the United States Air Force asked about how Secretary Clinton would protect the constitutional rights of all people. Secretary Clinton cited the insults and denigrations of the Republican front runner, specifically his insults against Mexicans and Muslims, as shameful, contrary to our values and dangerous. Islamophobia is taking over our schools because of this talk, she said. Every person deserves to be treated with respect. She cited a program in Minneapolis where Somali Americans are at the front line protecting their children from radicalization saying that we must bring Muslims into the front line of defense, but we cannot do this if we insult their religion.

How will she work with Republicans, asked one member of the audience? When I am in office, Secretary Clinton said, the Republicans say nice things about me, but when I am running they don’t. She will given them all hugs and search for common grounds. Asked if the Benghazi hearings would make this difficult, she said, “Well, I came out pretty wel!.” After eleven hours, nothing new was found, she said. Problems were found, but there was no blame on one person in particular. There is an independent board that made a list of 29 recommendations which is in the process of implementation. She said that her best defense is the truth.

Chris Cuomo said that the Des Moines Register questioned the emails saying she should have admitted this error. Secretary Clinton was adamant about not saying this was an error in judgment, rather her server was a convenient way to communicate. She reminded the audience that it takes time to get to the facts. No one has ever had to review this massive amount of emails before, so this all takes time.

Her final question was about which President of the United States inspired her more than all others. She responded immediately: Abraham Lincoln. She reminded the audience that President Lincoln not only had to manage and win the Civil War, but also thought about the future by creating the transcontinental railroads and the land grant colleges. Had President Lincoln not been “murdered”, there would have been less rancor after the Civil War, citing Jim Crow and reconstruction failures.

Where Senator Sanders and Governor O’Malley’s questions appeared to focus on each candidate’s plans or programs, Secretary Clinton’s questions focused on her past or her working style. She was energetic, facile and well-prepared for all questions.

The Real Clear Politics poll has Secretary Clinton ahead by a razor thin margin of .6% which is a statistical tie.

*Featured Image: File – Marc Langsam


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3 Responses to Town Hall for Democrats in Iowa Caucus

  1. William "Bill" Hicks February 10, 2016 at 9:54 am

    I can’t wait to see this kind of “Town Hall Meeting” with the republican candidates. Of course, it can’t be done until we are at three candidates to have the meeting with.

    • Citizen Reporter February 10, 2016 at 12:15 pm

      I wonder if a couple of candidates could do their own events without MSM and RNC #$^*! it up?

  2. Sh January 27, 2016 at 2:40 pm

    I caught this too and wondered about the statement about the question being picked for HRC.


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