This week, 20 Democratic candidates will descend upon Florida’s poorest congressional district for the first debate between those who believe they can unseat Donald Trump as President. We expect this will be an opportunity for many Black voters to learn more about the candidates who are unfamiliar to them and gain a deeper understanding of where each of them stands on the issues and policies most important to the Black community.
On Wednesday night, you’ll see New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker, former HUD Secretary Julián Castro, former Maryland Rep. John Delaney, Hawaii Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, Washington Gov. Jay Inslee, Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar, former Texas Rep. Beto O’Rourke, Ohio Rep. Tim Ryan and Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren.
Before you sit down to watch this potential clash of the titans, Chief Content Officer of theGrio and EVP, Digital for Entertainment Studios Global Media, Amy DuBois Barnett, wants to get the conversation started with a two-part cautionary tale on what she believes is needed for the right candidate to oust Trump.
Let’s be honest, there’s already a lot going on in the 2020 Presidential race. With 80 million Democratic candidates running, it’s hard to keep track, but the bottom line is that Donald Trump must go and in discovering who can unseat him, we must also determine who will fight for us the most?
I’d like to take a moment to share my thoughts on a few of the top contenders who will be speaking on Wednesday from a key perspective that’s pivotal to 2020 and the Dem base: Black women.
Senator Cory Booker
There’s perhaps nobody in the top tier of candidates struggling to gain traction quite like Senator Cory Booker. Still polling only in the single digits and lagging behind in fundraising and buzz, he’s not exactly the second coming of Barack Obama. While he may be lacking a bit in charisma and electability, his stance on some key issues are at least on point.
He has been a huge proponent of overhauling the criminal justice system, beyond just lip service by working in a bipartisan manner on the issue for years, including, of course, co-sponsoring the First Step Act. Booker became the first 2020 candidate to introduce a sweeping criminal justice reform bill known as the Next Step Act which would implement things like reducing mandatory minimum sentences in half for nonviolent drug offenders.
He also introduced an extensive 14-part gun control plan which includes a ban on assault weapons and high-capacity magazines as well as the implementation of a gun licensing program. He has been a champion for women’s rights, the LGBTQ community and more.
Unfortunately, despite these notable efforts, Booker has failed to make headway or connect with voters outside of New Jersey for one reason or another. Perhaps he’s too polished or too much of a politician. Whatever the issue is, he remains behind many of the other contenders.
Bottom line is, if we want to beat Trump, we can’t risk our vote and our futures on a ‘maybe’ candidate.
Senator Elizabeth Warren
There’s perhaps no one with a more extensive policy platform than Senator Elizabeth Warren. What’s more – she’s not afraid to talk about it or about racial disparities that continue to plague every aspect of American society. She’s taken her message to the people and the people have responded. Since March, she has significantly increased her standing in the polls, more than any other candidate. She’s garnered the support of Black activists, Black women and the Black community, and isn’t afraid to come and speak to us directly.
Warren often addresses the financial difficulties of middle-class/lower income communities, and specifically to Black families who are suffering from racial disparities everywhere. Warren has an affordable housing plan which includes 3.2 million new housing units as well as federal assistance for people of color who have lived in a redlined area or first-time homebuyers.
She supports decriminalizing marijuana, ending crony capitalism on Wall Street, affordable college, worker’s rights and more. What distinguishes her from Senator Sanders, however, is that she doesn’t run away from the conversation about race, but rather focuses on it because it is so interconnected with many of our current inequities.
I support her policies and her in-depth platform, but I can’t forget her embarrassing stumble with the handling of Trump’s derogatory ‘Pocahontas’ comments and her unsuccessful response. Instead of reaching out to the Native community, seeking their input and responding accordingly, she ignored them by taking it upon herself to try to justify things. All she did was make herself a laughing stock and an even bigger target for Trump.
Going forward, Warren needs to ensure that she doesn’t marginalize the very groups that she’s trying to reach. If she can master that, there’s no telling how far she may go.
Former Rep. Beto O’Rourke
Former Texas Congressman Beto O’Rourke is an interesting one to say the least. Even though he lost his Senate bid to Ted Cruz last year, he gained national notoriety and fame thanks in part to tons of favorable media coverage, comparisons to the Kennedys and of course his own social media maneuvering (including infamous IG posts). All of that is great, but where exactly does he stand on the issues?
O’Rourke has been vocal on key subjects like immigration, the Dream Act and a legal path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants. He’s taken the fight directly to Trump on the issue, holding a massive rally in El Paso earlier this year to counter the President’s messaging and efforts to hijack the city and state. As for gun control, he supports universal background checks, limits on magazines and other gun control measures. He’s advocated his support for health care for all but, thus far, has been light on the specifics.
O’Rourke too has touched on decriminalizing marijuana and criminal justice reform, but as I often say, talk is cheap. A good indicator of future behavior is past behavior and in 2017, he did something that makes me go hmm …
Beto voted in favor of the Thin Blue Line Act, a bill that pushed for the death penalty to be applied when law enforcement officer is killed or attempted to be killed. There are already harsh punishments and enforcement across the country any time an officer is killed. This bill was nothing more than the conservative draconian response to the Black Lives Matter protests and the people who were advocating for police reform. It was designed to alter the narrative and take attention away from a system that still discriminates and sometimes kills us under the long arm of the law.
The fact that O’Rourke voted for it is disturbing to say the least as a potential violation of our civil liberties and criminal justice, and like many other Dem contenders, he needs to address this and reach out to us with specifics. Exactly what does he plan to do to improve police/community relations and what policies will he implement in order to make it happen?
Anything less than that is nothing but more pandering, and we are simply tired of it.
Come back on Wednesday when I give you my thoughts on Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, California Sen. Kamala Harris and former Vice President Joe Biden.
Amy DuBois Barnett is the Chief Content Officer of theGrio and EVP, Digital for Entertainment Studios Global Media, one of the largest independent producers and distributors of film and television.