Brown & Black Forum to feature seven Democratic presidential candidates

Six candidates are on stage, sitting in chairs.  Joe Biden will get here when he gets here.  There’s an empty chair for him.

"This has been a tough weather day and travel has been challenging to say the least," Ray Suarez, the event’s co-host said at the open.

At 7:13 p.m., the first candidate gets to speak.  It’s John Edwards, asked to address the disparity in black incarceration rates.  Edwards opens by saying he and the other candidates on stage are "proud of what you’ve done," a reference to the hostage situation at one of Hillary Clinton’s campaign offices in New Hampshire.  Edwards continued talking about the young people "who devote their lives" to each of their respective campaigns, and "so we’re all very thankful of the result in New Hampshire." Edwards concluded the open, then launched into his answer.  (Clinton is sitting to the right of Edwards on stage, and nodded her thanks.

She was the next to get a chance to answer the question.  Clinton, too, started by speaking about the hostage situation. "I am very grateful for the prayers and the good wishes of all of my friends here on the stage as well as Senator Biden who called yesterday and we are very relieved at how it turned out," Clinton began, then launched into an answer to the question.  She talks about the difference in sentences for possession of crack v. powder cocaine.  She says it cannot be retroactive.  The rest of the candidates seemed to say the opposite, but it was difficult to hear the answers.

The next question was about the mortgage crisis — to Dodd.  Unlike earlier today, he did not use the question to take a swing at Edwards.

You can hear in the broadcast on Mediacom here in Des Moines the men in the truck or in the control room talking.  Obama cannot be heard by people in the room.  Now, it’s fixed and he’s talking about restoring the middle class.

Now, the candidates get to question one another directly.  Another mic snafu, people in the hall cannot hear Michelle Norris, the co-host.

Dodd is asking about the 2001 Bankruptcy Reform Act.  Clinton, Biden, Edwards voted for it, driving working class families into poverty, according to Dodd, and he asked Edwards about it.

"I was wrong and you’re right Chris," Edwards said.  "it was a bad, bad piece of legislation.".

Dodd responds.  "You were wrong three times; there were three bills."

"I didn’t vote that way three ways," Edwards replied.

It is interesting to note the body positions of the respective candidates.  Dodd seems to be leaning to his left on the arm of the chair.  Edwards and Kucinich have their legs crossed, but Edwards has his ankle up on the knee while Kucinich has knee-over-knee. Clinton is sitting with her legs extended (wearing a pantsuit) with her legs crossed at the ankles. Obama’s sitting with both his feet on the floor, legs spread and his elbows on his thighs, leaning forward as if to hear what’s going on.  Richardson, too, is sitting with both feet on the stage.

There are a lot of microphone problems.  Richardson gets asked a question, but his mic isn’t working.  Now, the question goes to Kucinich, but his mic isn’t working either.  Now, someone takes a handheld microphone on stage.  It must have been handed to Obama, who passes it to Kucinich.

"Barack, I want to thank you for passing the baton in this race," Kucinich jokes.  The crowd laughs.

Now, there is a "quick break" as announced by Ray Suarez.  Perhaps they’re straightening out the microphones.  Well, maybe not.  The candidates are walking around on stage, chatting with one another.  Obama and Edwards have their hands on their hips, chatting.  People in the hall are talking on their cell phones in the area behind co-host Suarez.  There’s a good bit of milling around and Suarez seems to be filling time. 

At 7:36 p.m., "Thanks for staying with us…We seem to have sorted out our audio problems," Suarez tells viewers.  "…Trying to get some order in the house."  Lots of chattering among the crowd.  Richardson just sat back down.

Richardson talks about being the education president.  Now, the co-host is trying to talk and the crowd can’t hear in the hall.

Turning to questions from a panel of folks; the first question is about illegal immigrants, posed to Clinton.  "I deeply regret the way the Republicans are politicizing and demogoguing this issue….attacking those who are here in our country, yes, without documentation but are often doing the work that keeps our country going."  She says "comprehensive" immigration reform is the answer. She gets applause for her answer.

Next question, to Obama, is about hip hop culture.  How would you embrace the hip hop generation?

"One of the exciting things about this campaign is that young people are coming out in record numbers," Obama says.  "…They are eager to be involved.  They haven’t been invited to be involved….They feel as if nobody is listening to them and one of the things we’ve been able to….is to encourage young people to mobilize, get registered and vote." 

Next question, to Edwards, about segregation.  How far have we come as a society?

Edwards: "I think that if you grew up the way I did…I grew up in the 50s and 60s in the south…and I saw up close what it means to have overt discrimination….We have made progress, but we have much progress yet to make.  The extraordinary inequality that we have been discussing tonight….if you are African American in this country today, you are much more likely to not have health care coverage….We have a long march in front of us."

Norris presses — is minority status of your competitors a help or hindrance?

"I’m very proud of the fact that my party has a woman running for president, has an African American running for president and has a Latino running for president," Edwards replied.

Norris asks Obama why Clinton does better among black voters.

"Senator Clinton is very well known…and African American voters are like any other voter which is until they get to know you and their track record, they’re not sure…I believe I can bring the country together and we’re doing pretty well in Iowa so far where people are getting to know that record," Obama concludes.

A path to citizenship for people who enter the country illegally?  Question asked of Edwards.

"The plight of immigrant workers is in many ways similar to the plight of minorities across the board…I think the answer to this is…yes, I support a path to citizenship," Edwards replied.

At 7:51 p.m., Biden is welcomed to the stage. "A seven hour ride from Chicago and I don’t have a plane," Biden says as he takes his seat.

A path to citizenship question, too, to Biden.

Biden says 60 percent of undocumented workers are coming from places other than Mexico.  "We have to provide a path to citizenship," Biden says to get illegal immigrants "out of the shadows."  Biden allows as how he gets 98 percent of the black vote in his state (Delaware).

"Thanks for the opportunity to be here," Biden concludes and crosses himself.

Normalizing relations with Cuba is a question for Clinton.

"We’re going to have that opportunity because I believe that when Fidel Castro does pass on there will be a tremendous pent-up desire among the Cuban people for freedom….It’s tragic in the last 7 years we’ve lost ground in Latin America as more and more people have moved away from democracy….I hope that when I’m president we can get reengaged and we can pay more attention to Latin America," Clinton responds.

Follow-up to Clinton:  If Fidel is still around, would you still normalize relations?

"No," Clinton responds.

Dodd jumps in by talking about his time in the Peace Corps, and allowing the US is making "a big mistake" by not normalizing relations with Cuba.  "This embargo has done nothing but keep Fidel Castro in power," Dodd adds.

Now, each is asked to say whether they’d normalize relations with Cuba.  When it gets to Richardson….

"As the only brown member in this debate, is there any chance we could have civil rights equity and let the brown guy have a little more time?" Richardson offers.  "…We should send a signal to Latin America as we should to African that we care about the third world."

Next up, questions from Des Moines North High students.  First one goes to Obama, about making college education affordable.  "This is a priority.  We’re going to do a couple of things," Obama says, adding a $4000/year tax credit for each student is something he’ll pursue as well as opportunities for college scholarships for those who agree to teach in a city school or work as a nurse in a poor hospital.

Now, Ray Suarez, is asking Clinton about the drivers license for illegals issue, citing statistics that vehicular accidents are #1 causes of death for Latino men. 

"The real problem is in the absense of real, comprehensive immigration reform…you’re asking (state DOT people) to vertify (immigrants are who they say they are)…..If we permit there to be a diversion or distraction instead of keeping the pressure on comprehensive immigration reform….When people are on a path to legalization certain rights and opportunities will be afforded to them….You’re hearing from Republicans….a call to deport everyone….It’s time to call them on it."

Now, same question to Richardson about licenses for illegal immigrants.  "All this talk about comprehensive immigration reform…..the fact is, the congress hasn’t acted and so states like my own need to take steps to ensure the safety of our citizens….four years ago, I signed a bill that gave licenses to undocumented workers….traffic fatalities went donw….The rights of those that drive with licenses need to be protected, too, and they don’t want untrained drivers on the road….All I hear is this rhetoric.  I see a dysfunctional president with a dysfunctional congress."

One of the interesting seating arrangements has former Governor Tom Vilsack sitting right next to Attorney General Tom Miller.  Miller’s backing Obama.  Vilsack is in Clinton’s camp.

Edwards now gets to pose a question.  He’s talking about poverty….praising Obama….will Obama raise minimum wage to at least $9.50 an hour and have it indexed to go up on its own.

"The answer is yes," Obama replied.  "John has done good work on this…." 

Kucinich asks a question, of himself, about his health care plan.  "It is true that I’m the only one up here that advocates a single-payor, not-for-profit health care system….It is time we see health care as a basic right in a democratic society."  Hillary Clinton laughs and applauds.

Another student poses a question, of Biden, about the achievement gap between minority and white students.

"Start from the beginning.  Half that gap exists when a minority child….sets foot in their first classroom," Biden replies, asking for tripling Head Start and hiring more teachers for class sizes are smaller.

Adrian Wing of U-of-I college of law, asking whether Clinton would be in favor of raising taxes to meet domestic priorities.

"First of all, I’m going to end fthe war in Iraq," Clinton says, adding the money being spent on Iraq can be reinvested in U.S., adding she’d repea the Bush-era tax cuts.

Richardson has a change to ask a question.  He directs it to Clinton, asking her "Don’t you think that governors make good president?"  The crowd hoots, as Bill Clinton is in the House. 

Hillary Clinton offers Richardson this answer:  "Well, Bill, I think they also make good vice presidents."  Lots more laughter.

"I’m the only CEO in this race.  seven out of the last eight president have been governors or ex-governors," Richardson adds.

Now, a question to Obama about statehood for Puerto Rico.

"This is a major debate that’s taking place in Puerto Rico and not all the people are of one accord," Obama replies, saying he’ll establish a process to give Puerto Ricans a referendum so they can vote to decide whether to join the union.

Biden gets to ask a question.  "Will everyone on this state support my proposal to eliminate the disparity between crack and powder cocaine?"  All say yes.

Question to Obama:  dismantle or continue the office of faith-based initiatives?

"I would completely revamp it," Obama says, adding the black church has been "bedrock" for the African American community.  Goes on to say Bush used faith-based initiatives to control agenda, which Obama says "weakens the prophetic voice of the church." 

Now, question to Biden about US military and whether he’d reinstitute the draft.

"I would not reinstitute the draft.  Iwould end the war in Iraq which is the thing that is straining the entire system," Biden says.  "…I’m the only one on this stage, the only one in the country who has laid out a distinctive plan (on how to get out of Iraq)."

Kucinich adds his own two cents about hsi own plan for getting out of Iraq.  Biden seems to be cracking his knuckles.  "This is ridiculous.  who is possibly going to move in if we leave?"  Biden says in reply. 

Kucinich continues, explaining his plan.

"This is ridiculous," Biden says and the two men spar for a few seconds.

Now, a question for Dodd.  The crowd applauds, as Dodd hasn’t gotten to speak in a while.  It’s about education and affirmative action.  "I’m a firm believer in affirmative action," Dodd says, adding a few moments later he was the first senator in Connecticut history to nominate blacks to serve as federal judges and U.S. attorneys.

Another student asks a question, of Clinton, about illegal immigrants.

"We have as much controversy and conflict over immigration in part because the economy is not working for average Americans….anxiety…so what we’ve got to do is getting the economy working again….(pass comprehensive immigration reform and crack down on employers)….We don’t need this conflict.  I believe that if we move people on a path to legalization, then employers couldn’t exploit them any more."

Biden gets the same question.

"Let’s get it straight.  Americans will do any job if you pay them properly.  That doesn’t mean we don’t need guest workers…You had Swift meats down in North Carolina.  INS came in 800 people took off…guess what, they had to double the wage and offer health care coverage….We need what, in fact, exists as a need, not as an artificial number to drive down wages," Biden says. 

Question to Edwards, about worker shortage.

Edwards talks about working at a local food bank day before Thanksgiving.  A woman who said her husband had lived in US for 17 years, federal agents are sending him home, adding he would protect immigrants who are abused on the worksite.

Clinton gets to ask a question, mentioning that today is World Aids Day, states her support for international aid to Africa to fight AIDS epidemic and adding that leading cause of death of young African American women is AIDS.  She asks her fellow candidates "to do everything we can to address teh AIDS pandemic rigth here in the U S of A."  Biden says yes.  Kucinich says.  Richardson says 50 percent of new AIDS cases are African American; 19 percent are Latino.  " We need a Marshall Plan to deal with this issue," Richardson adds. 

Now, question to Obama about health care for minorities. 

Now, question about black rappers showing Euros in music videos and about the value of the dollar.  Richardson:  "We’ve got a weakening dollars, jobs going overseas….What’s going to be key is fiscal discipline.  I’m for a balanced budget," he says.  "…Invest in education and kids and science and technology….It’s a competitiveness issue."

Question to Dodd, about the Katrina recovery.

Dodd:  "Well, the dollar amount — whatever it takes…We’re spending $10 billion a month on a war in iraq…and having watched what happened (when New Orleans faced a natural disaster)…I can’t put a dollar number on it."

Richardson gets same question:  "A massive commitment that we’re never going to let this happen again," he promises.

Separated at birth?  Dan Gearino of Lee Newspapers just observed this:  Chris Dodd looks like former Iowa/former Drake men’s basketball coach Tom Davis….

Now, a question to Clinton about economic inequality for minorities and hip hop entrepreneurs.

Now, a candidate-to-candidate question, from Obama about racial attitudes, mentions Jena, LA, and "degree to which a president has to set a tone about bringing people together."  He’s asking Biden about hate crimes legislation.

Biden gets a laugh, during the answer, when he says he’ll make Obama a deputy attorney general.

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About O.Kay Henderson

O. Kay Henderson is the news director of Radio Iowa.


  1. Have u heard of the Save Act HR 4088 ? It will force employers to verify social security numbers. If you use a false number ur fired.
    Take away their jobs and they are forced to self deport. No job, no DLs, & no hope.
    I’m only voting for those candidates that support this bill.
    Contact yr elected reps. today and urge them to cosign the Save Act – HR4088.