By Steven Barker
On the eve of a November election cycle in which 173 Democratic candidates are running for state and federal office, Vice President Joe Biden rallied for Democratic support during a political rally held in California State University, Bakersfield’s Icardo Center on Oct 7.
His message: “You’re not going to get two better choices than the two people standing behind me.” The two people were a reference to Alex Padilla and Amanda Renteria, Democratic candidates for California’s Secretary of State and the 21st congressional district respectively.
Functioning as the rally’s keynote speaker, Biden framed this election cycle within the context of America’s rebuilt middle class. Speaking candidly about financial hardships his family faced in his youth – he talked about a time in which his father, out of necessity, asked his brother-in-law to house Biden’s mother and three siblings – Biden talked about his father’s certainty that he would persevere through their circumstances.
“I remember my dad sitting at the end of my bed in my grandpa’s house and him looking at me saying, ‘Joey, it’s gonna be okay,’” Biden said to the 2,797 in attendance. “‘It’s absolutely going to be okay.’ And he meant it. He was confident because he thought that the playing field was kind of level – that if he worked like hell […] then he could make it.”
Citing the national unemployment rate’s drop to below 6 percent last month and the creation of 10 million jobs over the last four-plus years, among others statistics, Biden framed this November’s vote as an opportunity for Californians to continue America’s economic growth and guarantee his father’s belief that everything would still be fine for Americans.
“That’s what this campaign’s about,” Biden said. “We’re fighting for it here. It’s for average women and men to be able to look their kids in the eye and say with confidence, ‘It’s tough, but it’s gonna be okay. I promise you, it’s going to be okay.’”
Responding to unnamed articles stating that America’s government needed to downsize, Biden rejected the notion that government should shrink. Saying that there is no reason why the nation cannot restore its prior confidence and growth, Biden instead insisted that now is the time for tax and economic reform.
“It’s time that we had a fair tax structure, where we valued the paycheck […] as much as we did American wealth, where we close tax loopholes that could reduce the deficit,” Biden said to a large applause. “It’s long passed time that we pass the minimum wage for the Lord’s sake and raise it, taking 28 million people out of poverty.”
Biden also advocated for immigration reform, saying that the constant flow of immigrants since America’s inception has been one of the primary reasons for the nation’s innovation and continued prosperity. Addressing Latinos specifically, he added they would help rebuild America.
The Vice President concluded with another endorsement of Padilla and Renteria. Of them, Biden said: “They’ve got real courage. They’re not afraid to say what’s on their minds. They’re not afraid to stand up.”
Pitching the team
Biden’s encouragement to voters to vote Democratic this election season was one of many similar speeches delivered during the rally. The event, paid for by the organization Friends of Renteria, functioned as a platform for various Democratic candidates to garner voter support.
Citing legislation in other states that made voting rights less accessible – Texas, Florida, Wisconsin and North Carolina were listed as specific examples – Padilla said that his first goal as California’s Secretary of State would be to make voting more accessible to the general public. “Job number one would be to advance our voting rights – not just defend them but advance them [and] strengthen our democracy,” Padilla said.
As the penultimate speaker, Renteria briefly recounted accolades that she was the first person to accomplish. Renteria was the first Mexican-American woman from her high school to attend Stanford University, and she was the first Latina Chief of Staff for the United States Senate. However, when describing her campaign, she denied the idea that her candidacy was centered around being the first Latina to serve as a representative for the 21st congressional district.
“The reason I’m running is not about being first; it’s about making sure I’m not the last,” Renteria said.
She also advocated for immigration reform and expressed a desire to bring national recognition to the Central Valley.
“We don’t need to be ignored here in the Central Valley,” Renteria said. “People drive past us. People fly over us. It’s time we show the country we feed and fuel the country, right here in the Central Valley.”
Other speakers included Nicole Villaruz, Chair of the Kern County Democratic Party; Donny Williams, from the Kern, Inyo and Mono County Labor Council; Arvin City Councilmember Jose Gurrola Jr; and 12th district state senate nominee Shawn Bagley.
‘Worth the Wait’
As the starting time drew near and the waiting lines extended, students expressed excitement at the prospect of seeing the Vice President live.
“The Vice President of the United States is sort of a big deal to me, and I feel like it’s a good educational experience, not only for myself but for my daughter, who went to the presidential inauguration” said Kia Villarreal, a 32-year-old sociology major. Villarreal, who said she began waiting in line since 8:30 that morning, said she looked forward to hearing speakers talk about the drought.
The event was also a huge draw for students outside of CSUB. Take Jose Verduzco, a political science major at Fresno State, for example. For him, Joe Biden alone was worth the drive to Bakersfield.
“It’s Uncle Joe man; simple as that” Verduzco said with a smile. “You get to tell your kids and grandchildren someday.”
Verduzco, who waited in line since 10 that morning, said the wait was nothing compared to the 10-hour wait he experienced when attending the presidential inauguration, another event he said he was proud to attend.
As the crowds streamed from the Icardo Center after the rally concluded, students demonstrated similar satisfaction with the event.
“It was definitely a great experience,” said Magna Gonzalez, an 18-year-old criminal justice major. “I think it was really motivational, and I think it’s really going to help our county vote for Amanda Renteria, because [the rally] was really convincing.”
Even though Biden didn’t discuss how the federal government would handle the drought, Villarreal said the rally was excellent.
“It was well worth the wait,” Villarreal said. “I got to know the candidates, and it was an excellent experience – well worth it.” She said the event “highly enhanced” her voting in the upcoming elections.
For Mike Jennings, a 39-year-old self-described ‘worker bee’ with Assembly member Rudy Salas’ office, Biden’s speech was inspiring.
“His speech and his information on immigration reform and the fact that this is a nation of immigrants and […] that’s what will make us successful in the future – that was good stuff,” Jennings said.
He added that the idea to expose students to the political process through rallies is a great way to improve voter participation among young people. According to a 2013 civicyouth.org voting-by-age demographic, only 41.2 percent of registered voters ages 18-29 voted in the 2012 presidential election. That percentage is the lowest turnout of any age demographic.
How it happened
As reported by The Runner on Sept. 25, Renteria claimed her efforts were pivotal in securing Biden’s visit to the campus.
When asked by a reporter who exactly was responsible for ensuring his visitation, Renteria answered: “Me. Me. I asked him to come here, and I’m glad he’s coming here.”