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Democratic Town Hall in Iowa: The Candidates’ Answers to Questions on Jobs


As we get closer to the election, the primary races start to feel more like a boxing match. The Democrats are less likely to throw blows at one another than the candidates in the wider Republican field, but they do fall into the kind of media caricatures that feel more appropriate for professional athletes. You can even imagine what would be painted on their boxing robes: Bernie Sanders, the Heart; Hillary Clinton, the Head; Martin O’Malley, the Dark Horse. Last night’s CNN Iowa Democratic Presidential Town Hall allowed the candidates to speak slightly more in depth, and try to get beyond the sound bites by answering voters’ questions directly.

hillary in iowa

(Photo Credit: Hillary Clinton at the Iowa State Fair in 2015. Phil Roeder/Flickr)

Questions ranged widely, touching on everything from foreign policy and security to mending the rifts between the Republican and Democratic parties to making college more affordable. For this post, we’ll be looking at the answers that pertained specifically to employment and pay.

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A note, in the interests of fairness: because the candidates answered different questions, the selected excerpts below, which all pertain to job creation and wages, do not provide a head-to-head comparison of where each stands on all the issues. 

Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders:

In answer to a question about how he’d fund proposals like free college tuition at state universities and colleges and a single-payer healthcare system, Sanders said:

Now, I believe that we have an infrastructure that is crumbling. That’s roads, bridges, rail, airports, levies, dams. We all know what’s happening in Flint, Michigan. Water systems, wastewater plants.

I believe that if we end this absurdity of allowing corporations who make billions of dollars a year in profits to stash their money in the Cayman Islands, Bermuda, and other tax havens, we eliminate that, we’re going to bring $100 billion into the Treasury. That money goes into rebuilding our infrastructure, creating 13 million jobs in five years with a trillion dollar investment.

In response to a question about losing endorsements from organizations like Planned Parenthood, Sanders talked about raising the minimum wage:

…as you know, women are making 79 cents on the dollar compared to men. That is nothing but old-fashioned sexism, and I am a strong advocate and will fight for pay equity for women.

I believe that – and it’s not only women, although it impacts women and women of color even greater, this level of pay inequality, inequity, is extraordinary. So we’re going to fight for pay equity, make sure that everybody earns the same amount for the same work.

Also, what we have got to do is people cannot make it on 8, 9, 10 bucks an hour. We have got to raise the minimum wage in this country to a living wage. That will impact all people. It will impact women more than men as we raise the minimum wage to 15 bucks an hour.

Former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley:

In response to a question about which issues should be most important to young voters, O’Malley said:

Climate change is the greatest business opportunity to come to the United States in 100 years. And I am the first candidate in either party to put forward a plan to move us to a 100 percent clean electric energy grid by 2050, and create 5 million jobs along the way.

And this is another one of those instances, Chris, where Iowa is pointing the way forward. Look at what you have already done in your state. Thirty to 35 percent of your energy now comes from clean Iowa wind, which wasn’t there 15 years ago.

And you employ 5,000 people in the new industry, and the great thing about those big component parts you see rumbling down the highway on I-80 is they’re too darn big for it to make a whole lot of sense to import them from other countries.

In response to a question about the possibility of re-establishing a draft, and also offering ways for young people to serve their country in a non-military capacity and earn free tuition, O’Malley said:

…one of the goals is to cut youth unemployment in half in the next three years. And I propose to do that by making national service a universal option for every kid in America, to serve their country in environmental restoration, or in public health, or in other avenues in addition to the military.

And I believe that that will not only allow our kids to go to college in a more affordable way, giving them an increased Pell grant benefit, but I also know that it will do a great deal to tap that goodness within the next generation and bring it forward, bring their ethic forward.

Let me talk a little bit about veterans because another one of our – my strategic goals is full employment for the veterans of ours who come home from Iraq and Afghanistan.

We do a very poor job of transitioning our veterans back to civilian life. And I have found, as a governor attacking this problem, that the key is employment.

In response to a question about the economy and growing jobs, O’Malley said:

Our nation’s creating jobs again and we’re the only species on the planet without full employment, so jobs are important, right? Without jobs, nothing works very well.

But here’s another thing that doesn’t work very well in America, unless it’s going in the right direction, and that is wages. For the first time this side of World War II, 70 percent of us are earning the same or less than we did 12 years ago. So as I look at this, I believe that we need to first and foremost remember that our economy is not money. It is people. It is all of our people.

And we need to restore common sense wage and labor policies that make wages rise again. Things we used to do, Democrats and Republicans together all the time, like keeping the minimum wage above the poverty line, paying overtime pay for overtime work.

How about this, the long deferred promise of equal pay for equal work for men and women? Making it easier for people to join labor unions instead of harder. And then … and here’s another one to make wages go up instead of being a drag on wages, let’s get 11 million of our neighbors out of the underground shadow economy by passing comprehensive immigration reform … with a pathway to citizenship for all.

… I’m the first candidate in either party to put forward a new agenda for America’s cities. America’s cities are where we have some of the worst problems of structural unemployment and where we can do the most good with investments in mobility, mass transit, a new era of workforce housing, making our cities the leading edge to this clean green environment.

And then the third piece I come back to again is squaring our shoulders to climate change and training people to actually be part of the retrofitting and the distributed energy future that is America’s.

Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton:

In response to a question about income inequality, Clinton said:

Now, when you focus just narrowly on economic inequality, I’ve also been in that fight. I was in that fight during my husband’s administration. And let’s remember what happened there.

At the end of eight years, we not only had 23 million new jobs, what was most important is incomes grew for everybody, not just those at the top, more people were lifted out of poverty, incomes rose, in the middle and working people.

And today in Knoxville, in my town hall, I called on a man. He said, we never had it so good except when your husband was president. Because we tackled income equality and produced results, not talk, action. And that’s what I will do as president.

All quotes are taken from CNN’s rush transcript of the debate, and lightly edited for clarity.

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Jen Hubley Luckwaldt
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