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Democratic Presidential Candidates Speak To Latinos In Kansas City

Elle Moxley

The Democratic presidential primary was being fought in Kansas City Monday. 

Three out of five announced candidates – former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders and former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley – were in town to address the National Conference of La Raza, meeting in Kansas City

Conference leaders said none of the Republican candidates accepted an invitation to speak before the group, one of the most influential Latino political organization in the United States.

The day started with Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, who spoke in favor of free public university tuition, expanded health care, and immigration reform.

"I believe there should be a responsible path to citizenship, so individuals can come out of the shadows, people can walk the streets with safety, and people can hold their heads high," said Sanders.

Sanders said it’s past time for the U.S. House to take up immigration reform passed by the Senate two years ago. 

Shortly after lunch, O'Malley, who just left office in January, spoke to the convention.

Credit Elle Moxley / KCUR
Martin O'Malley, Democratic candidate for president, speaks at the National Council of La Raza conference Monday in Kansas City.

He hit on all of the usual progressive issues: a higher minimum wage, Wall Street regulation and comprehensive immigration reform.

But his harshest comments were aimed at Donald Trump.

“The real problem isn’t that the Republicans have such a hate spewing character running for president. The problem is, it’s so hard to tell him apart from many of the other candidates they have in their field,” O'Malley said.

O'Malley said he would release details on comprehensive immigration reform on Tuesday.

Clinton was running late, so 13-year-old Mariachi singer Sebastien De La Cruz came out to entertain the crowd.

De La Cruz dedicated his song to “all the ladies out there.” Latinas were the focus of the former Secretary of State’s speech, too. Clinton framed equal pay for women as a strategy for economic growth.

Credit Elle Moxley / KCUR
Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton addresses the National Council of La Raza. The annual conference is focused on Latino rights.

“Forty percent of married Latina mothers bring home at least half of their family’s income. So when women are held back, families are held back,” Clinton said.

Clinton says low pay isn’t the only barrier keeping women out of the workforce. She says it’s time to stop treating quality, affordable childcare as a luxury.

Like Sanders and O’Malley earlier in the day, Clinton also called for comprehensive immigration reform. She pledged to stand up to any attempt to deport DREAMers, young adults who were brought to the U.S. illegally as children. And then she called out Republicans for not doing more to distance themselves from Trump.

“The sad truth is even if some of the other candidates condemn those words, if you look at many of their policies, it’s hard to tell the difference. When they talk about legal status, that’s code for second class status,” Clinton said.

The Latino vote may prove pivotal in next year’s presidential election, but it’s less clear what impact the growing demographic will have in the Democratic primary. 

“I’m not team anyone at this point,” Jade Franco of Boston said after Clinton's speech. “I think a lot of Latinos are similar, we are very cautious and we don’t want to just hear people saying what we want to hear, we also want to make sure those actions back up those words.”

Lisa Rodriguez also contributed to this report.

I’ve been at KCUR almost 30 years, working partly for NPR and splitting my time between local and national reporting. I work to bring extra attention to people in the Midwest, my home state of Kansas and of course Kansas City. What I love about this job is having a license to talk to interesting people and then crafting radio stories around their voices. It’s a big responsibility to uphold the truth of those stories while condensing them for lots of other people listening to the radio, and I take it seriously. Email me at frank@kcur.org or find me on Twitter @FrankNewsman.
You deserve to know what your taxpayer dollars are paying for and what public officials are doing on your behalf – I’ll work to report on irresponsible government spending in the Kansas City area and shed light on controversies that slow government down. And when you hear my voice in the morning, you know you’re getting everything you need to start your day. Email me at sam@kcur.org, find me on Twitter @samzeff or call me at 816-235-5004.
Elle Moxley covered education for KCUR.
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