Colorado Senator and Democratic Presidential Candidate Michael Bennet talked education, immigration and corruption at a town hall meeting on the Tempe Campus Friday afternoon.
Bennet, who was brought to campus by the ASU Young Democrats, spoke at the event in Discovery Hall. The crowd was mainly composed of students, but there were community members in attendance as well.
Mariana Peña, president of ASU Young Democrats and a senior studying political science, said the club jumped at the opportunity to have the senator and presidential hopeful speak at a meeting.
"(Bennet) was in the area for a Democratic Party dinner ... they reached out to us because they recognize the work we do," Peña said. "It was nice to have someone on a national stage come in and talk about our issues."
Bennet started off the town hall with a monologue about his platform and background. He stressed his past as the superintendent of Denver public schools. He mentioned this often throughout the event, citing it as the driving force for his emphasis on education, from better funding for our schools to making college more affordable.
Another motif from the town hall was Bennet's criticisms of the House Freedom Caucus, which he accused of being counter-productive to progress in this country. Rep. Andy Biggs (R-Gilbert) was recently named chair of the caucus.
In his introduction, Bennet emphasized the importance of battleground states, not only in presidential elections but in House and Senate races as well.
"We can take the mystery out of these elections ... it comes down to the work we're willing to do."
Bennet said that citizens should not lose faith in democracy, even if it may seem easy to do so. One of the first questions involved competitive Senate races in battleground states.
In Colorado, Republican Sen. Cory Gardner is up for re-election and has already amassed several Democratic opponents. One of his opponents is former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper, who had launched a short-lived presidential bid before moving his priorities to the Senate.
Bennet went on to announce that he is formally endorsing Hickenlooper in the race.
While supporting the need to elect Democrats to office, Bennet was also critical of the Democratic National Committee (DNC). When asked what he thought of the primary election process, Bennet did not mince his words.
"The DNC screwed it up by setting their debate qualifications," said Bennet. While he has failed to qualify for both last month's and this month's Democratic debates, he argues that the new thresholds favor the candidates that are rich or famous.
With Bennet's experience as a former superintendent, education was a major theme at the town hall. He talked about the rising cost of tuition and the amount of student loan debt, saying that the income of a student's parents should not determine their pursuit of higher education.
His proposal to deal with this issue is to fight to lower the cost of higher education, rather than a plan like Sen. Bernie Sanders' College for All. Bennet went on to say that he favored a free pre-kindergarten program to a collegiate one.
Healthcare is another topic where he differs from ideas championed by Sanders and other progressive candidates. His plan, Medicare X, is based on a public option. He touts it as "better policy and better politics" than Medicare For All, saying that Medicare X is focused on "finishing the job we started with the Affordable Care Act."
Bennet also spent a portion of his time speaking about corruption.
He emphasized the need to overturn Citizens United, a Supreme Court decision that allows for the monetary influence of interest groups in the U.S. political system.
He also spoke out against gerrymandering, a practice of redrawing districts to favor a certain political party or demographics.
Bennet pledged to stop the "revolving door" of former politicians going to work for lobbying organizations.
There were many questions asked about climate change, another issue Bennet feels strongly about. When asked about Colorado's favorable ratings for air and water quality, he argued for the need to regulate both at a federal level in order for all states to enjoy the same benefits.
He stated the need to fight for conservation, especially in terms of public lands. It is a big part of his climate policy, saying that a key to solving the climate crisis is "using conservation practices."
Orion DiFranco, a sophomore majoring in political science, attended the event because he was interested in learning more about the candidate. While he enjoyed the opportunity, he had his criticisms.
"I think it was exciting for a lot of students to meet in person with a presidential candidate," he said. "But I'm not sure how well young people will appreciate his criticisms of our supposed 'era of free stuff.'"