About 200 people welcomed presidential candidate Tulsi Gabbard with an “aloha” Monday when she visited the Fairfield Arts & Convention Center.
Gabbard, who represents Hawaii’s Second District in the U.S. House of Representatives, is seeking the Democratic Party’s nomination for president in 2020. Fairfield was one of her first stops in Iowa after announcing her intention to run for president on Jan. 11.
Fairfield Mayor Ed Malloy introduced Gabbard, who spoke at a podium set up in the atrium of the convention center. Gabbard’s refrain throughout her speech was the need to put “service above self.” A few times she referred to how she would bring “soldier values” to the White House. Gabbard served in the Army National Guard for 15 years and deployed twice to the Middle East.
“When I raised my hand to serve and protect our country and our people, to uphold our constitution, it was driven by love – love for our people and our country and this desire to be of service,” she said.
Gabbard said she had been “very active in protecting the environment since I was a kid.” She talked about the importance of ensuring clean air, water and healthy food. She said urgent action is warranted to deal with the “climate crisis.”
She criticized private prisons for “making money on the backs of the American people,” coupled with “outdated laws” that punish people for non-violent drug crime. She said that was especially galling in the face of pharmaceutical companies like Purdue Pharma, which she mentioned by name, “spreading their addictive opioid drugs across our country and around the world,” while walking away with a fat paycheck.
Gabbard talked about the need to reform medical insurance, the first step of which was passing Medicare-for-All. One member of the crowd booed loudly at this suggestion, which caused the rest of the crowd to cheer even louder.
The congresswoman said one of her priorities is bringing down the cost of prescription drugs by having Medicare negotiate directly with the drug companies. She said a provision allowing for such negotiations was in the initial draft of the Affordable Care Act, but was not in the final version.
“Do you think it was because so many of you stood up and said this provision must be taken out of the bill?” she asked rhetorically. “No, it was the prescription drug companies and their lobbyists who made sure it was taken out of the bill because it would have hurt their bottom line.”
Gabbard said one political issue surpasses all others, and that is the issue of war and peace. She was highly critical of what she referred to as “regime-change wars” and the prospect of entering an arms race with other powers. She criticized President Donald Trump for his decision earlier this month to withdraw from the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) treaty, over concerns that Russia was not living up to it.
Gabbard said a nuclear arms race would cost “trillions of dollars” and make the world less safe. She also claimed the United States was at a greater risk of nuclear catastrophe than at any time in the country’s history.
She talked about a false ballistic missile alert that Hawaiians received in January 2018, which indicated a ballistic missile was incoming to Hawaii and advised residents to seek shelter. The message was played on television and radio, and sent to mobile phones. Thirty-eight minutes later, the Hawaii Emergency Management Agency sent a message stating the first was a false alarm.
“College kids were frantically running across campus looking for shelter,” she said. “One father lowered his child down a manhole, believing that was the only place she would be safe.”
Gabbard said the harsh reality is that there is no shelter from nuclear war. To prevent it, she recommended ending regime-change wars and instead build partnerships with other countries “based on cooperation and not conflict.”
After her speech, The Ledger asked Gabbard how she felt about the United States encouraging members of Venezuela’s military to defect from President Nicolas Maduro and back opposition leader Juan Guaido instead.
“I’ve been quite outspoken since this began, when Trump started talking about U.S. intervention in Venezuela in 2017, in strong opposition to yet another U.S.-led regime change,” she said. “We have seen throughout history in Latin America, the Middle East and elsewhere, how regime change has resulted in more suffering for people in those countries, and in many cases made our country less safe. We need to keep our hands off Venezuela. Let them determine their future and their governance.”
When asked if the United States should accept Venezuelan refugees in light of the dire situation they find themselves in, Gabbard responded, “We accept refugees who seek asylum in this country from many different places, and we should continue to do so.”