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Think Hillary Clinton has a lock on Hawaii’s presidential preference poll this coming Saturday?
Two enthusiastic Honolulu receptions on Sunday for the wife of Clinton’s chief opponent, Bernie Sanders, suggests that supporters of the Vermont senator believe the Democratic primary process is far from over, despite the substantial delegate lead for the former secretary of state.
Jane Sanders flew into town to meet privately with about two dozen veterans at Tommy Kakesako Hall on Nimitz Highway, an event well covered by local media.
Then she traveled to the Church of the Crossroads on University Avenue where hundreds of people stood in line and then packed a poorly ventilated auditorium.
You might say the church audience was “feeling the Bern” as well as the burn.
At both events Sanders was accompanied by U.S. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, who has visibly and repeatedly broken with party leadership and the Democratic establishment to embrace the candidacy of a man whose political viability was once deemed as unlikely as … well, as that of Donald Trump.
It has included campaigning for Sanders in places like Detroit, Miami, Raleigh, North Carolina, and Springfield, Missouri.
“Political and economic decisions are in the hands of fewer and fewer people every year.”—Jane Sanders
For Gabbard, a military veteran, the “core issue” of the 2016 presidential campaign is war and peace.
In her view, Sanders is the one candidate who as president and commander-in-chief will, as she said, “stop sending our troops into this unnecessary interventionist regime change.”
The reception for Gabbard at the Church of the Crossroads was nearly as effusive as for Jane Sanders. At one point an audience member shouted out the words “vice president,” and the crowd cheered loudly.
On Saturday, Hawaii Democrats will show their true colors in the presidential preference poll, a type of caucus. Clinton’s supporters include Gabbard’s other three Hawaii colleagues in Congress, many leaders in the Hawaii Legislature and several past governors.
But supporters of Sanders are hooked on his message, one shared by Jane Sanders on Sunday at the church, albeit with a raspy voice that came from a cold.
“Political and economic decisions are in the hands of fewer and fewer people every year, the income-wealth gap grows wider every year, and the lobbyists in D.C. really control what is being discussed,” she said.
Explaining how the couple came to decide to run, Sanders said she and her husband decided that they could either keep talking about the way the country was headed or do everything they could possibly do to change it. They chose the latter, obviously.
Sanders took questions from the audience, including on issues important to the Sanders campaign: GMOs, health care, fair taxation, homelessness, mental health and indigenous rights.
One young person asked if Bernie Sanders could do something to make school lunches better. After the laughter subsided, Jane Sanders explained that her husband supports farm-to-table agriculture.
Former Gov. Neil Abercrombie gave a typically impassioned testimonial to the authenticity of Bernie Sanders, with whom he used to serve in Congress and of whom he clearly admires. He said people are voting for Trump because he appeals to anxiety, fear and disillusionment.
“This caucus is going to be very, very important to make a statement all across the country that the individual still matters,” he said, referring to Saturday’s vote in Hawaii.
For her part, Jane Sanders said the campaign had “done the math” on the delegate count and acknowledged the “rocky road ahead.” But she said Sanders would do well in the remaining states and said the campaign could potentially overcome Clinton in pledged delegates by the time California votes on June 7.
UPDATE: Sanders will leave for California Monday to be with her husband Tuesday night, when primaries are held in Arizona, Idaho and Utah. But before departing she was scheduled to tour a sugar plantation in Kahului and meet with supporters in Wailuku.
The Church of the Crossroads included supporters like Hugh Folk, 85, a professor of management at the University of Hawaii. He said he had voted Democrat ever since his first election, when he cast a ballot for Franklin Delano Roosevelt.
At the more intimate veterans roundtable, Sanders and Gabbard heard from veterans of Iraq, Kuwait, Afghanistan, Vietnam and elsewhere.
Among the concerns the women heard was about suicides in the ranks, something that Rodenay Joseph, an Army staff sergeant said is “off the charts.” And yet, military brass doesn’t want to hear about it.
(Read Civil Beat’s Nuclear Victims: Will We Help Vets Who Cleaned Up After Atomic Blasts?)
“We need our government to acknowledge us. We are dying every day.”— Army medic Oliver Morgan
Randy Gonce, an Air Force enlisted man, complained that the Veterans Administration will not cover his medical marijuana treatments for post-traumatic stress disorder, since pot is a federally listed Schedule I drug ranked similarly to heroin.
And Oliver Morgan, an Army medic, said the federal government has not been responsive to the needs of veterans who helped clean up Enewetak Atoll in the Marshall Islands to remove debris and soil contaminated by nuclear testing.
“We need our government to acknowledge us,” said Morgan. “We are dying every day.”
Sanders did hear some positive things, including improved conditions at the local Veterans Administration and praise for personnel at Tripler Army Medical Center. But the main complaint was that many vets had received little more than “lip service” from their government, as one veteran put it.
An aide for Sanders took notes while Sanders assured the veterans that they could count on Bernie Sanders to “keep us out of war” unless absolutely necessary.
“We should take care of veterans when you come home, because you took care of us,” she said.