Presidential candidates Bernie Sanders, Kamala Harris, Julián Castro, Jay Inslee and Kirsten Gillibrand campaign in Pasadena

Story by Justin Chapman | Photos by Mercedes Blackehart | LA Progressive | 6/6/2019

[A different version of this story was published in Pasadena Weekly.]

The 2020 hustings have officially arrived in Pasadena.

On Friday, Sen. Kamala Harris, Sen. Bernie Sanders, Sec. Julián Castro and Gov. Jay Inslee participated in the first presidential forum focused on immigration at the Pasadena Hilton. All four are among the 23 Democrats – so far – running to replace Donald Trump as president next year.

Sanders also held a political rally Friday at the Pasadena Convention Center, drawing a crowd of about 2,000 people including Pasadena City Councilmembers Tyron Hampton and Steve Madison. And Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, also a presidential candidate, spoke at a private event on May 30 at the Women’s City Club of Pasadena.

Former Vice President Joe Biden and Mayor Pete Buttigieg of South Bend, Indiana, both presidential candidates, are finalizing plans to stump in Pasadena soon, as well.

Part of the reason candidates are making sure to traverse California on their campaign trail is because the state has moved its primary election date up from June to March 3, 2020, also known as Super Tuesday. The earlier date – after only Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina – will ensure that California voters and the state’s nearly 500 delegates play a decisive role in determining the eventual nominee, who will be coronated at the Democratic National Convention in July 2020 in Milwaukee.

Conversely, during the 2016 campaign, when California’s June primary was one of the last, Sanders was the only presidential candidate to visit Pasadena.

“We are treating [California] like an early primary state,” Sanders’ campaign manager Faiz Shakir recently told NPR, “campaigning there early and often, and making a strong play to try and win that state.”

Out of 23 candidates, Sanders comes in second place in most polls, behind only Biden, though the difference is by double digits.

Feelin’ the Bern in Pasadena

Actor Danny DeVito and Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream co-founder Ben Cohen introduced Sanders at his rally at the Pasadena Convention Center. His wide-ranging speech touched on domestic policies such as income inequality, poverty, affordable housing, homelessness, jobs, voting rights, unions, legalized cannabis, women’s rights, abortion, education, child care, tuition-free college, criminal justice reform, immigration, health care, climate change and the Green New Deal. He also touched on foreign policy including his opposition to war.

“In 2016, we got more votes here in California than anywhere else in America,” said Sanders. “I don’t want to get my opponents nervous, but we’re going to win California and the Democratic nomination.”

Sanders went after Trump’s economic message, saying American workers have been ignored. And he pointed out that in 2016, the media and political establishment called his ideas too radical, but that a majority of Americans now support them.

“Four years ago, we began the political revolution; this campaign we finalize the political revolution,” he said. “We are taking on Wall Street and will break up the large financial institutions that have wreaked havoc on this economy. We’re taking on the drug companies and will cut the cost of prescription drugs by half. We’re taking on the insurance companies and we will – whether they like it or not – bring a Medicare-for-all, single-payer program to America.”

He said he is often asked by his critics how he plans to pay for all his proposals.

“I will tell you how,” he said. “Ten years ago, the American people bailed out the crooks on Wall Street to the tune of $1 trillion. Well, Wall Street can now help the working families of this country. We will impose a transaction tax on Wall Street speculation.”

He pledged to end gerrymandering and voter suppression that he accused Republicans of engineering across the country.

“In a democracy, we believe we should make it as easy as possible for people to participate, not harder,” he said. “We want America to have the highest voter turnout of any major country, not one of the lowest.”

He condemned states like Georgia and Alabama for passing “draconian” anti-abortion legislation.

“A woman’s right to control her own body is a constitutional right and we will defend that right,” he said. “I will never nominate anyone to the Supreme Court who is not prepared to vigorously support Roe v. Wade. This is an issue for everyone. Men must stand with women.”

He called out National Security Advisor John Bolton for helping lead the United States into war in Iraq in 2003 and warned that Bolton is now leading the charge to drag the country into war with Iran.

“Iraq was a disaster,” he said. “War with Iran will be worse. It will lead to perpetual warfare. Our kids, our grandchildren: never ending war. We must do everything we can to stop international conflicts through diplomatic means, not war.”

He pledged to rally world leaders to cut military spending and use that money to combat climate change.

“Think about a world where instead of building more nuclear weapons, poison gas, tanks and guns,” he said, “China, Russia, India, Latin America, Africa and the United States are coming together to say, ‘We are going to save this planet for our children and our grandchildren.’”

Sanders attacked Trump and vowed to defeat the “most dangerous president in American history.”

“The underlying principles of our government will not be greed, kleptocracy, hatred, lies, racism, sexism, homophobia, xenophobia or religious bigotry,” Sanders said. “We have news for Donald Trump: we are going to end those ugly practices when we are in the White House. The principles of our government will be economic justice, racial justice, social justice and environmental justice.”

Sanders changed his position on impeachment a day before his Pasadena rally, following Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s press conference last week in which he said Justice Department policy prohibited his investigation from considering charging the president with obstruction of justice but would have said Trump did not commit a crime if the evidence so established. Sanders now believes impeachment inquiries must begin, making him the 10th major Democratic presidential candidate to call for them.

A Focus on Immigration

One block away from the Convention Center, Rep. Judy Chu (D-27), whose district includes most of Pasadena, delivered introductory remarks at the immigration forum at the Pasadena Hilton. The event, titled the Unity + Freedom Forum, was hosted by FIRM Action, Community Change Action and CHIRLA Action Fund.

LA Mayor Eric Garcetti also spoke at the event, which was not open to the public, but more than 500 grassroots leaders and immigrant-rights advocates from across the nation were in attendance. About 7.1 million people watched Telemundo’s livestream of the event.

All four candidates who participated – Harris, Sanders, Castro and Inslee – pledged to enact comprehensive immigration reform and revoke Trump’s Muslim travel ban during their first 100 days in office, in addition to other progressive immigration policies.

Harris, who formerly served as California attorney general, said the fight for immigration reform will not be easy, but that it’s “a fight worth having, and I promise you we will win this fight.”

Using executive orders, Harris said she would immediately reinstate Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), restore Temporary Protected Status protections and enact a moratorium on migrant detention facilities, as well as undo the Trump administration’s other “backward, hate-drive policies.” She said the administration’s child separation policy is not border security but rather a human rights abuse committed by the U.S. government.

“Every day that we don’t resolve this issue, there are real consequences to real human beings,” she said. “We need a president who understands the complexity of this issue.”

Castro, who formerly served as Obama’s Housing and Urban Development Secretary, described specific policy proposals he would enact if elected president. His twin brother Joaquin, a congressional representative from Texas, was also in attendance.

“On April 2, I released my very comprehensive and progressive ‘People First’ immigration plan, which includes decriminalizing border crossings and treating them as a civil offense, ending family detention, reuniting families, improving the legal immigration system, reinstating DACA and implementing a pathway to citizenship for DACA parents, increasing refugee admissions, eliminating for-profit migrant detention facilities, stopping the border wall, adding the number of visas to harness talent from around the world and getting rid of 287(g).”

Section 287(g) of the Immigration and Nationality Act authorizes the Department of Homeland Security to deputize state and local law enforcement officers to enforce federal immigration law.

Castro called for a “21st century Marshall Plan” for Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala.

“We need a president who’s not going to look down on these countries but work as a peer in a mutually beneficial way to ensure that people can find safety and opportunity in their home country, instead of having to come here to the United States,” he said. “At the same time, the truth is we need a lot of the folks who are coming to the United States right now, because they add vitality to our country. It would be economic suicide not to have them, because we have a declining birth rate and an aging population. We need a young, vibrant workforce. We need immigrants.”

Sanders called Trump a racist and pledged to establish a pathway to citizenship for the millions of undocumented immigrants currently in the United States.

Inslee, governor of Washington state who is running as a climate change candidate, said he would increase foreign aid to Central American countries, end family separations at the border, give asylum seekers hearings in a reasonable time period and increase the number of refugees – including those displaced by climate change – accepted into the United States to 110,000 per year.

After Pasadena, Sanders, Harris, Castro, Inslee, Gillibrand and nine other candidates traveled to San Francisco for the California Democratic Party Convention, which was the largest gathering of 2020 presidential contenders thus far until the first official Democratic debate will be hosted by MSNBC on June 26-27 in Miami.