Heartland Presidential Forum features five Democrats

It is winter here in Iowa and at least one of the Democrats who was to be at this forum is going to phone in to speak to the estimated 5000 people gathered in downtown Des Moines.

The event started with a Bronx minister who read from the Bible, then offered a prayer — asking, among other things, for "traveling mercies" for those who are trying to get to the spot.

"This is the biggest gathering of potential Iowa Caucus-goers in the state," said state Senator Joe Bolkcom of Iowa City, representing the group "Working Families Win" at the opening of his welcome to the crowd.  (There were 9000 at the JJ Dinner, so I’m not sure this is the biggest gathering of potential Iowa Caucus-goers….but it is the biggest gathering today.)

"We have come through snow and sleet and ice to have our voices heard and they will be heard today," Deepak Bhargava of the Washington, D.C.-based center for Community Change said to open his welcoming address.

Next Lynette Nickleberry of Grass Roots Organzing and Rev. Eugene Barnes of the Central Illinois Organizing Project started recognizing people from out of state.  Oranizers say people from 32 states are at the event.  Now, the duo is giving a speech.   

ext up, Des Moines Mayor Frank Cownie introducing the other mayors who are in the hall. 

Now, Barb Kolbach of Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement is explaining one Republican candidate had said he would come, but lawyers advised that by having just one Republican it would be as if the group sponsoring the forum were endorsing that candidate.

"This is not a debate," Tony Boatman of Organizationso fthe Northeast, is telling the crowd, explaining that the candidates have agreed "not to attack one another" but respond to "real people’s stories" and talk about the issues.

Kolbach is advising the crowd about the proper way to exit the room, letting the 2000 out-of-towners leave first and asking the 3000 Iowans to leave last.  "See, we have an exit strategy,"  Kolbach tells the crowd which hoots and applauds.

At 2:04 p.m. the event’s moderator, Cathy Holmes of Radio One & TV One, was introduced.  She’s giving a speech.

"It is now time to get started," Holmes says at 2:09 p.m.  John Edwards is the first candidate to enter the room.

The first question is about community values.  Edwards begins by praising the community organizers in the room. "These powerful interests…have taken over the government and most of America are left outside that wall," Edwards said. "….What we’re all going to do together, no matter what, is we’re going to tear that wall down….because what we all do together matters."

Edwards then references the "brothers and sisters" in the room, and gets them to respond "yes" to a couple of questions.  "I am in this fight with you," Edwards said.

Virgene Martin of Bridgewater, Iowa, a member of Iowa CCI, is talking about large livestock confinement operations.   Inex Killingsworth of Cleveland is to pose the question about corporate interests.

Edwards is railing against monopolies, without using the word monopoly.  "We see what they’re going," Edwards said. "…How long are we going to let these people run the United States of America?"

Next, another story about "factory farms" from Kurt Kellsey of Iowa Falls, who choked up when he said he wants his grandson to be able to farm if he wants to farm.  "God bless, you first of all….I know what’s happening in your community," Edwards said.  "The starting place is to have a president who will stand up against these corporations….I’m going to stand up to these people…I will be the president who uses the Justice Department to enforce anti-trust laws….At the end of the day is whether you believe we have a real fight on our hands….We’re going to have to have a little backbone…."

Ahmad Rehab of Illinois Coalition for Immigrant & Refugee Rights is talking about discrimination against Arabs.  "The civil rights movement is not over.  We’re still fighting," Rehab says. 

Erica Fernandeez of Oxnard, California is talking about environmental problems in poor neighborhoods.

"Environmental justice is a huge issue in this country….The people who are most likely to get affected by it are the poor, the immigrants…And this is what I mean when I say we have to retake our democracy," Edwards said.  He gets applause for promising to closing Gitmo, secret houses for interrogations and no more torture.  "No torture is permissable in the United States of Amerca," Edwards concluded.

Malik Whitaker of South Carolina Fair Share is asking about racial profiling and incarceration rates for minorities. 

"I’m glad to see a young man from Columbia.  I was born in Columbia and you know what I talk about when I talk about growing up in the south," Edwards said, promising changes in "manditory minimum" sentences and racial profiling.  "The problem is one of opportunity, fairness, equality," Edwards said, mentioning raising the minimum wage, strengtening unions & health care reform. 

A final question, asking if Edwards would meet with the Campaign for Community Values. 

Edwards is offering his closing statement.  The crowd is standing to applaud. 

Now, they’re trying to get Kucinich out on the stage.   

I think the questions are going to be the same, in the same order, because they’re asking about community values.  Kucinich is talking about his work as mayor of Cleveland.  "I understand the process of community," he says.  "…I’m the only one running for president who stands for a not-for-profit health care system, single payor….I know there are people running for president who claim it’s not possible…The defining domestic issue in this election is health care….That’s just one example of why I’m ready to be president of the United States."

A woman from Marshalltown, Iowa, who is part of Latinos in Action is telling her story (her name is not up on the teleprompter).  She’s talking about the ICE raid of the Swift plant in Marshalltown.  "Our community is still living the aftermath," she says, starting to breakdown.  "There is a father of five children who stayed home with the children while the wife went to work.  She never came back.  No child should be left wondering, ‘When is my mother coming back?’

Marvie Chapman of Mississippi Poultry Project who works for Tyson Foods, tells Kucinich she makes $9.30 an hour, asking Kucinich to

"I want you to look at the watch I’m wearing.  I think you’ll recognize it," Kucinich said.  He got it four years ago, at a rally for immigrants rights in Texas.  Kucinich is speaking in Spanish to answer the question.  "There is no illegal human beings," he says in English.  "We need a president who understands that when NAFTA was passed wages collapsed in Mexico….we need to cancel NAFTA and get out of the WTO….We must give those who have come to this country a path to legalization…We need a president who understands that we are one….We need a president who will stand up for a living wage….jobs for all, education for all."

Inhe Choi of National Korean American American Service and Education Consortium is talking about workers’ rights and wages.  Kucinich speaks to her in Korean.  "Full employment economy….not for profit health care…education for all….(bolstering manufacturing sector)."

Vern Tigges of Carroll, Iowa, is a member of Iowa CCI — talking about large-scale operations in his area.  There is a stench that comes from the thousands of hogs at "factory" operations nearby.  "Some mornings when you go outside, the first thing you actually do is vomit," he tells Kucinich.

Deborah Thomas of Clarke, Wyoming, is talking about "factory" farms and gas fields.  "The oil & gas companies are turning my neighborhoods and other neighborhoods throughout (her region)…into toxic-wastedoms," she said.

Kucinich says he hears often about "massive pollution" from oil, gas and coal mining operations.  "Why in the world do we permit these oil companies to have federal lands anyway?  Why do we give them the right to drill?"  Kucinich said.  "…The real underlying thing we have to do is move our economy away from reliance on (fossil fuels)."

Judy Loning of Des Moines, a retired teacher, is talking about the promise of America being "stolen" from corporations, and suggesting taxpayer-funded campaigns.

"What we really need is a constitutional amendment," Kucinich said, in support of public funding for elections.  Now, Kucinich is asking the crowd why we’re in Iraq.  "Oil," a few answer.  "I didn’t hear you," Kucnich says.  "Oil," the crowd says more loudly.  Then, he suggests Bush’s connection to oil interests are the main reason we’re in Iraq.

Same closing question.  "I’ll go better than that.  You can sleep in the Lincoln bedroom," Kucinich says.

Now, the host is telling the crowd Clinton couldn’t get to Iowa because of the weather.  She’ll appear by satellite phone. 

First quesiton, about community values.  "Yes, I will," is Clinton’s brief answer.

Patricia Divine Wilder of Wallawall, Washington, is telling about her nephew, a stay-at-home dad who went without insurance coverage.  After putting off a trip to the doctor, he finally went and was diagnosed with lung cancer.  "James died," Wilder said, breaking down. 

"Take your time," Clinton said during the emotional pause.  The crowd applauds.   

Debra Greenwood of Atlanta is a home health care worker, who is asking the question of Clinton.  "Some 18,000 Americans die each year because they lack health care," Greenwood says, adding the current health care system is "hostile" to the "unwanted."

"First let me say how touched and moved I am by Tricia’s story, a story that is unfortunately all too common," Clinton says. Her connection is a little wonky, so her voice sounds a little Max Headroomish on occasion.  "…We have to lower the cost so that people can afford prevention as well as all the range of health care service sthey should be entitled to.  I am proposing a unviersal health care plan.  I don’t want to leave any American out," Clinton says.  The crowd applauds, then Clinton talks about the details of her plan.  "For those people who cannot afford it, we’re going to provide subsidies thru a…tax credit…and we’re going to provide a public program choice like Medicare to compete with prviate insurance.  I believe in competition…."

Now, the host is breaking in, asking Clinton to abide by the restriction that her answers are to be two minutes or less.

"Yes, ma’am," Clinton replied.  Laughter from the crowd.

Next question from Bret McFarland, a physician at Broadlawns Medical Center in Des Moines (the public hospital in Des Moines — Polk County(.  "Senator, although your plan finally promises insurance for all Americans I find it flawed in preserving the public and private insurance payor mix," he says. Some applause from the crowd.  "With the private insurance industry incurring large administrative costs and striving for maximum profits, eating up 30 percent of every heatlh care dollar, accomplishing this by avoiding the enrollment of the very people who need health care the most, why not expand access to our efficient and effective public health insurances rather than further reward the greed of private insurance with more public monies?" McFarland gets applause from the audience.

"I totally agree with the doctor’s diagnosis and my plan does that," Clinton said.  "My plan provides for a public option to compete with private insurance.  My plan guarantees that every American is covered by insurance….and my plan also regulates the insurance companies…."

Mayte Rodriguez of Santa Fe, New Mexico, talks about her "wonderful mother" for bringing her to the U.S. from Mexico.  "I live in a mixed family," she continues.  "Adding that some of her relatives have been waiting for over 10 years to make it through the legalization process….My success, Senator Clinton, and my community’s success will be America’s success."  Crowd applauds.

Larry Ginter of Rhodes, Iowa, a leader of Iowa CCI, is the next to question Clinton.  He is railing against NAFTA.  "We’ve got to quit treating immigrants like common criminals," he says.  "Is it time to rethink immigration policy and trade policy with poor countries?"

Clinton:  "It is absolutely time to…have comprehensive immigration reform that certainly does protect our borders, creates incentives in countries to our south to have jobs where they come from…to make it clear that employers cannot exploit people and to have an earned path to legalization and as president I will work to make that happen."  Some applause from the crowd.

Next question, again about immigration, from Billy Lawless of Illinois Coalition for Immigrant & Refugee Rights who has an Irish accent.  He asked Clinton if she’s make it a priority, in her first 100 days as president, to give undocumented immigrants a path to citizenship.  The crowd applauds.

"I have been in favor of a path to citizenship for years.  I voted it in the senate….and as president, comprehensive immigration reform will be a high priority for me," Clinton said.

A few people applaud.

"What about the first 100 days, senator?" Lawless follows up.

"You’ve got to get the congress to pass the legislation.  The president can do as much as possible, which I will do," Clinton said. Some in the crowd boo. 

Now, the final question about meeting with community activists. "Thank you for your understanding," Clinton says of her telephone hook-up.  Some in the crowd booed.  .

Chris Dodd is next.  He begins by talking about the Peace Corps, speaks a little S[panish.

Tam Tran LA, of the Coalition for Humane Imnmigration Rights, is one of the Vietnamese "boat people." "Immigration agents raided my family’s home two months ago.  I was separated from my mom, my dad and my little brother," Tran tells the crowd.  "I’ve been raised as an American since I was six years old.  I graduated from UCLA."  She tells Dodd she believes in an America that accepts all immigrants.

Emira Palacios of Witchita, Kansas, of Sunflower Community Action is next to ask a question.  She came to US 22 years ago as an "undocumented immigrant seeking a better way of life," she tells Dodd.  She breaks down and crowd begins chanting something.  I can’t tell what they’re chanting. She composes herself and asks Dodd what the US should do about those who’ve spent most of their lives here, contributing to the economy, but face deportation orders.

"Good job," Dodd says, praising them for their courage in standing up and telling their stories.  Dodd expresses support for Dream Act and lays out how he’d deal with illegal immigration.   The host tells Dodd he’s used up all his two minutes. "I get more time here than in those debates," Dodd said.  "I want to thank you for that." 

Veronia Dahlberg of HOLA Latino Organization is talking about ICE agents taking children out of school and placed in foster care while their parents were jailed.  The families then were deported.

"It’s going to take leadership to bring people together….that’s what I’ve done in every single effort I’ve made in 26 years," Dodd replied.

Next story from Cary Martin of the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless.  Kenya Bradshaw of Memphis asks Dodd what he’d do to ensure her generation doesn’t spend its entire life burdened by the expense of basic needs.

"Let me tell you what I’ve been doing," Dodd says, telling the crowd he fought against the recent bankruptcy reform act.  "That was one of the worst pieces of legislation ever passed in the past 35 years," Dodd says.  Dodd breaks the rule of not attacking a rival, as he levels some first at Edwards. "I like the speeches we’re hearing today," Dodd says.  "I just wish they’d been with me six or seven years ago."

Matt Russell of Lamoni, Iowa, a member of Iowa CCI is asking another question, about reducing federal investment in the "public good." 

Dodd says he’s made the commitments over the years to lift people out of poverty.  "I’m no Johnny Come Lately to these questions," Dodd says.  Another hit at John Edwards?

Final question, again, will dodd meet with reps of the Campaign for Community Values. "I’ll meet with you a week after I’m elected, in November of next year."

Barack Obama is the last to appear on stage.  First question is about community values.  "Absolutely," Obama says.  "Let me just for those of you who don’t know my background let me just explain that this idea of community values….is the cause of my life….I didn’t originally come from Chicago.  I moved to Chicago after college because I wanted to work at a grassroots level for people who needed help….It is important for America that we recognize responsibilities not just for ourselves but for each other….I take the same principles of community organizing and mutual responsibility to everything I do and that is what I’m going to take to the (Oval Office)."

Dedra Lewis of Massachusetts is telling the story of her 10-year-old daughter who got an eye disease that would render her blind if she didn’t get daily eye drops & pills. In the middle of all this, "the Unspeakable happened," Lewis says as she lost her health insurance.  But she got coverage for her daughter thru SCHIP.  "Don’t all God’s children deserve health care?" Lewis asked.

Absolutely," Obama responded.  Then, the host suggested 10-year-old Alexiania go over and meet Obama.  She walked across the stage.  Obama dropped his head and the girl whispered in his ear.  Obama dropped the microphone, too, so the exchange wasn’t caught on audio.  Then, Obama answered the question.

"First of all, Dedra and Alexiania, I’m so thankful you shared your story….govt has a role to play in making sure that the American p0eople can live out their dreams.  They don’t expect govt to solve all their problems, but they do expect govt to break down barriers….and it means that every single person in America should be able to get health insurance….It should be health insurance they can count on.  The notion that the private marketplace can take care of that is just not true….Every single person, they will have coverage that is as good that I have as a member of congress….We are not going to wait 20 years from now or 10 years from now.  We are going to do it in my first term as president."

Now, the woman who delivered the opening prayer is back, asking about the mixture of private and public insurers in Obama’s health care reform plan. 

Obama talks about watching his mother struggle with the system when she had ovarian cancer.  Obama says that if he were able to "start from scratch" he’d do the single-payor method, but since that’s not possible, he offers a mixed plan.  "

Now, a story from Debra Carr who tells Obama she’s from Des Moines, Iowa, formerly from Waterloo, Iowa. 

"I want you to Caucus for me," Obama quickly says.  "I’ve gotta ask everybody from Iowa."

Now, Carr is talking about predatory home mortgages.  73-year-old Robin Ghormley of Des Moines, a member of Iowa CCI, is talking about widening gap between the rich and the poor.  She went back to work a few years ago because she couldn’t make ends meet. 

"It’s an excellent question….Look, this is one of the reasons I am running…because we’ve lost balance in our economy.  We have CEOs making more in 10 minutes than most people are making in a year…It’s not good for America…We’ve got special interests who have been driving the agenda in Washington for too long….(mentions he doesn’t take lobbyist money — an attack on Clinton, without mentioning her name)….Rolling back tax cuts for the top 10 percent…We are going to give tax relief to people who need it….We’re going to close the loopholes to companies that are shipping jobs overseas….

Senator, Obama, we’re out of time,"

"I’ve got lots more ideas," he says.

Barbara Anderson of Empowering & Strengthening Ohio’s People, talking about predatory lenders.  "Some things aren’t right and some thing ain’t right and predatory lending," she says.

"Ain’t right," Anderson & Obama recite together.  She continues, and asks about the issue.

"I’m going to make it right," Obama said, then explained some of the details of his answer to the mortgage crisis.  "…We’ve got to have a federal govt that says you’ve got to fully disclose the interest rates that people are getting…You’ve got to explain if you’re secretly stripping the equity out of their homes."

Obama also said on Monday, he’s be releasing additional plans to deal with massive credit card debt.

Now, the last question.  "Before I even get inaugurated, during the transition we’re going to be calling you in to help us shape the agenda….so that you have input into the agenda for the next POTUS."

4:08 p.m.  forum over.

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About O.Kay Henderson

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


  1. Barack Obama just gets it. If nothing else new was said all night, he hammered the last question at the Heartland Forum.
    Republicans, Independents, Democrats, Greens and everyone else that considers themselves an American, listen up. Inviting those groups to participate in the agenda of our country before he’s even inaugurated is more than symbolism, its the foundation of Democracy and the framework of his candidacy. The lesson of democracy? The voice of the people … that’s it. There are no secret rules, there are no coded messages, there is only that one simple truth. The government promised in a democracy is to be fueled by the will of the people. How can you claim a place at the pantheon of our democracy without being the servant of that voice? How can you connect with the will of the people from behind closed doors? How can you trust the answer of a poll question to steer your decision making without a discussion to understand it? Haven’t we already seen where these things get us? We need a trustworthy sould to be the delivery system for that voice. It won’t take 100 days for Barack Obama to agree to hear the voices of America, he’s been doing it his entire political life. He’ll be doing it again tomorrow and every day after that. Get ready for a ride America, the chance for the day your voice will once again be heard has been tossed our way. Catch it, grab it, hang on for dear life. We can’t drop the ball on this one.
    This is Obama’s moment in time.