BY CHUCK VANDENBERG
FORT MADISON – Presidential candidate Julian Castro made another pass through Lee County Monday night as the first-in-the-nation caucuses loom just eight weeks away.
Castro, the former mayor of San Antonio and Secretary of Housing and Urban Development under President Barack Obama, met with about 40 residents at the LULAC club to press for support.
“I want to ask you for your support. This campaign has not been one of the campaigns that has been right at the very top, but we’ve been working hard and more people have found this campaign over the past few weeks,” he told the group.
The 45-year-old Texan said he didn’t have benchmarks or thresholds going into the early voting season. He hasn’t qualified for the last two debates, but he said his goal now is to exceed expectations in Iowa and other early states.
“Right now I’m trying to beat expectations in Iowa,” Castro said after his speech. “These presidential campaigns are about the expectations that are set as much as anything else, and we’re working hard on doing that.”
He said he wanted to use a strong showing in Iowa to springboard into early primary states and then get to his home state of Texas and Super Tuesday on March 3.
Castro spoke on the majority of popular issues including health care, immigration, criminal justice, and education.
He believes the middle class and working poor need a fairer shot at higher education and the cost of that education is prohibitive to too many Americans.
“We need to drastically lower the cost of higher education and, in addition to that, I’ve put forward a plan for student loan debt relief so students that have incurred debt can see some relief,” he said.
“Especially those whose income doesn’t support paying off these student loans with a focus on the middle class and working poor, as well as those dedicating time to public interest programs of some sort.”
He said the program would include a cap on the percentage of the loans they could repay, and forgiveness in some circumstances.
Improving access to higher education and free early childhood education, he said, is a means to strengthening the middle class and the poor in the country.
“Jobs require more knowledge and more skill than ever before. We’re also competing against countries around the world whose young people are more educated than ever before,” he said.
“That means we need to make sure our folks have as much opportunity to get an education however they want it.”
He said we also have to ensure we’re a healthier nation, saying it’s “obscene” that insulin in America is 10 times the cost of the drug in Canada. He said it’s also obscene that drug companies can jack up the price of medications just because they want to.
“You folks all remember the epi-pen from a few years ago. Nothing changed, they just knew they could get away with jacking up the prices,” he said.
He wants to address patents where loopholes could be eliminated that keep life-saving drugs from becoming generics. He also held party line with other Democrats and said a hybrid health care system where everyone would qualify for Medicare, but could opt out if they preferred the private system they currently have.
Castro is out in front of the Democratic pack on criminal justice saying that the country needs to beef up the number of public defenders to make legal assistance more attainable for everyone.
He advocates for the legalization and regulation of marijuana and said if Colorado can do it successfully, so can the country.
“I say that as someone who doesn’t even drink. I’ve never tried it and I don’t drink, but I know this, the evidence is very strong that we can regulate this instead of putting people behind bars,” Castro said.
Castro came from less than modest upbringings where he and his brother grew up with a single, working mother who also supported his grandmother.
“I watched my own mom work as a single mom providing for my brother and me and my grandma so I know there are a lot of families out there struggling just to keep it together,” he said.
“I know in our family we worried about whether we would have enough money to make the rent.”
He said he hated grocery lists because they were so short and he couldn’t get anything added because they didn’t have the money.
He said raising the minimum wage and supporting labor unions are key to rebuilding the working poor and middle classes.
“Now we have this gig economy where a lot of folks are just independent contractors. You have no benefits, you basically have nothing.”
Castro stipulated that a robust private sector creating jobs and opportunity is vital to America’s economy, but he said anyone who dedicates their time working 40 or 50 hours should be compensated enough to provide for a family.
“Not all that wealth should go to the top sector of folks in the country and over the last four years, that’s what’s been happening,” he said.
“I’ve been very clear that I’m not only standing up for the middle class and hard working families, but also for people who are poor.”
Castro said the next president is going to have a lot of cleaning up to do because President Trump has wrecked our relationships with countries around the world and pointed to recent slights to Canada.
“How do you get on the other end of Canada?” he said to laughs from the crowd.
He said he wanted to help some of the third world countries like Honduras and Guatemala, to help address the immigration issues at the source so those people don’t have to flee for a better life.
He also wants to introduce benchmarks for a clean energy economy by 2045.
“I came here tonight to ask for your support. We have eight weeks left and that’s eight lifetimes in politics,” he said.
He said people are looking for three things in their candidate – someone with the right executive experience, the right vision, and someone who can beat President Trump.
“We lost in 2016 by 77,000 collectively in Michigan, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania. I know I can go and get back those 77,000 votes and the 29 electoral votes in Florida that we lost by 1% point.”
He said believes he can win back Arizona and compete for the 38 electoral votes in Texas.
“We just hit the filing deadline at 6 o’clock today and we have more Democrats running than we have in 40 years. It’s gonna be a great year in Texas.”