SALEM, N.H. — The even-keeled democrat from a purple state drew Lefty Keans’ attention during the first democratic debate. Though Keans, of Derry, admits Sen. Michael Bennet (D-Colo.) was one of the many candidates she had to ask “who is that again?”
Bennet is in New Hampshire campaigning this weekend to be the 2020 Democrat nominee when he stopped by a Salem house to talk with voters. Polling and donations secured the businessman turned school superintendent turned senator a podium at the second Democrat debate set for July 31 in Detroit.
Keans, having seen Bennet in person, likes his demeanor and the fact that he was superintendent of Denver Public Schools for five years.
“I’m a Democrat, but I’m looking for someone who can win. I want someone who can pull in the Independents,” Keans said. “We’re pretty luck in Derry (with public schools), but I want people to be able to have access to a good public education. We don’t have a lot of people from education in politics.”
Bennet, who began campaigning in May, is using his Colorado experience — winning a Senate seat in the 2010 and 2016 elections, both of which where Democrats lost seats in both the House of Representatives and Senate — to tell voters why he is the best candidate to beat President Donald Trump.
Bennet said that voters across party lines typically care about the same things that let them live their lives like healthcare and education. He told Salem voters about his public healthcare option called “Medicare X” to make it more affordable.
Bennet also talked about building a coalition of public educators across the country to make education more equitable when so much is controlled at the local level.
As for higher education, people should be able to graduate from four-year college programs debt free, Bennet said, adding he didn’t know if that meant making it totally free.
“For kids who don’t go to college we need to transform our high schools and community colleges so that those kids are on a path to earn a living wage, not a minimum wage,” Bennet said.
His first act as president would be to assemble a coalition to combat climate change.
“We have to not only act urgently, but we have to act on it in a way that will endure, and we don’t have that currently,” Bennet said. He added that he doesn’t want legislation to be as disposable as he sees it has been, changing every two years as a new House of Representatives is elected.
“We’re destroying the planet, I would like to see that stop,” Brenda Berkal of Salem said. “Climate change is real. And I’m worried.”
Bennet also talked about decreasing the national debt, and ending gerrymandering.
The last question of the evening came from Sabina Chen, a local business owner and Pelham’s Democratic Party Chair.
“Everybody talks about unity, how we have to bridge this gap, we are so divided as a country and we have to come together. Everybody talks about that. Nobody talks about how,” she said. She went on to talk about how as a woman of color and the American-born daughter of Taiwanese immigrants that the president’s recent rhetoric about telling four Congresswomen to go home to their countries was hurtful.
“I’ve been told that since I was eight years old,” she said. “I don’t want to particularly unify with my neighbors who are cheering that on. How do you get them all together?”
Bennet started telling his family’s story.
“I’m not trying to out compete you on anything, but I want to tell you where I come from, too,” he said. “My mom and her parents were Polish Jews who survived the Holocaust. My mom called me when the kids were separated from their parents at the border and said that ‘I see myself in these kids,’ she was separated from her family for years.”
He said that his mother’s background informed him as he worked on immigration policy, passing bipartisan immigration laws in 2013.
“I think our pluralism in America is our greatest strength” Bennet said. “There are very few societies that have managed to be as successful and as pluralistic as we are, notwithstanding all the imperfections we continue to have. There are people who deny people’s capacity to participate meaningfully in this exercise in pluralism, and those people are not friends of democracy, and those people do not need to be compromised with.
“For the people that don’t fall into that category, that are not racist and are not anti-immigrant, I think that we should not be treating out political disagreements as if we are enemies,” Bennet said. He went on to say that contradictions helped democracy grow.
Bennet’s example was Fredrick Douglass, who was a slave who became free and ultimately helped rewrite part of the Constitution to outlaw slavery. He sees individual citizens as founders themselves, helping to change the document to help people live to its ideals.
“The idea was not that we would agree with each other, it was that we would disagree with each other in a republic, that was one of the reasons to be in a republic,” Bennet said. “Because out of those disagreements they thought you would create more imaginative, more durable solutions than any king or tyrant can come up with on their own.”