Sanders greets Iron Range: Admirers cite presidential candidate's 'courage'
HIBBING, Minn. -- Following what was described as a raucous campaign speech in Chicago the night before, the Bernie Sanders who showed up in mining country Friday was more fireside and less fiery. Saying he was in a storytelling mood, Sanders unf...
HIBBING, Minn. -- Following what was described as a raucous campaign speech in Chicago the night before, the Bernie Sanders who showed up in mining country Friday was more fireside and less fiery.
Saying he was in a storytelling mood, Sanders unfurled a measured indictment of a status quo he says is devastating working-class Americans.
"The grotesque levels of income and wealth inequality is unacceptable," he said, opening to a standing ovation from an auditorium about one-third full.
The symbolism of Sanders speaking in the Hibbing High School auditorium was not lost. The school is a wonder of craftsmanship and architecture, built more than 90 years ago by the mining industry as a goodwill gesture for having to move the town to accommodate mine expansion.
It's the sort of corporate altruism that doesn't square with the state of corporate America as Sanders and his supporters see it today. The Vermont senator has pledged to tax corporations to pay for a $1 trillion rejuvenation of the nation's roads, bridges and other infrastructure, and tax Wall Street speculation to fund free tuition to state colleges.
Sanders is vying with Hillary Clinton to become the Democratic presidential candidate. Minnesota is among a dozen states either going to the polls or caucusing on Tuesday -- dubbed Super Tuesday for the volume of states in play during this primary election season.
In front of the Iron Range supporters, in his roughly 50-minute speech, Sanders made a point of hitting the word "radical" like it was a cymbal -- as when he did while speaking about soaring incarceration rates among minorities.
"Here's a radical idea," Sanders said, "invest in jobs and education for kids on the reservations and kids in the ghettos."
At times, voices in the crowd called out to him. In one exchange, a woman said she paid $1,000 monthly for union insurance. Sanders, touting his Medicare for all plan, seized the example.
"This woman is spending half her income on health care despite having union health care," he said. "That is insane."
The crowd was in full support.
Hibbing resident David Bednarczuk took the day off work from the county and wore his vintage campaign T-shirt featuring the slogan, "Get on the bus" -- an appeal made popular by the late Minnesota Sen. Paul Wellstone.
"This guy is the best thing since Wellstone," Bednarczuk said. "He's got courage. Wellstone had courage like a lion."
Retired social worker Vicki Andrews of Grand Rapids had third-row seats just below the stage. She was beaming following Sanders' address.
"I loved it!" she said, explaining how she appreciated Sanders' coverage of so many issues.
"I worked with people without a chance," she said. "I want to see them have that."
Before the address, Sanders met with tribal leaders from four northern Minnesota tribes. He called the United States' treatment of Native Americans "from Day One a national disgrace."
"We will change that," he said.
He followed that by meeting with about two dozen Steelworkers. He left that meeting with a windbreaker from United Steelworkers Local 1938 that he wore to the stage.
"A lot of my friends' parents are laid off," said Megan Andrew, a high school senior from Virginia who said her own dad was fortunate to still be working his shift as an electrician at the Minntac mine.
Sanders railed against the last 30 years of international trade agreements, saying new trade agreements under his presidency would "work for working families and not just CEOs."
"Not a very radical idea," he said.
From taking corporate money out of politics to ending the scourge of opiate addiction, Sanders struck all of his chords -- just not as emphatically as you might be used to seeing him do it.
In one exchange, he challenged Clinton to release the tapes of what she says during her events with private donors.
"I am proud to release all transcripts I got from secret meetings with Wall Street," he said. "Here they are!"
Sanders opened his arms as if releasing butterflies and nothing flew out.