Las Vegans discuss issues with candidates at presidential forum

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Steve Marcus

Democratic presidential candidate and former HUD Secretary Julian Castro speaks during an American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Public Service Forum at UNLV Saturday, Aug. 3, 2019.

Sun, Oct 27, 2019 (2 a.m.)

Chris Gitre, a video producer and professional poker player, and Andrew Didier, a computer science student, sat outside the East Las Vegas Community Center on Saturday afternoon waiting on 2020 presidential candidate and businessman Andrew Yang to speak.

“I’m really thankful for him running as a presidential candidate because it actually inspires me to get involved politically, and he connects with me and inspires me to do better as a person,” said Didier, who was sporting Yang apparel.

The two were front and center at the Nevada Presidential People’s Forum, where Yang, Julian Castro and Independent Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders spoke to potential voters. Sanders participated via video conference in the event hosted by the Progressive Leadership Alliance of Nevada Action Fund and People’s Action.

Kanesha Lenore Jean-Baptiste of the leadership alliance said the event was designed for residents to directly speak to the candidates about issues most pressing in their lives.

“It’s just to put the power back into the hands in the people,” she said.

The questions were posed by Nevadans like Frankie Perez, a U.S. Air Force veteran and UNLV student. Perez, a transgender man, criticized President Donald Trump’s policy banning transgender people from the military.

“I have heard candidates say that any person that chooses to join the military and defend this country should have the right and they will have the right … and that’s great, so they’re supporting trans folks serving,” Perez said. “However, nothing has really been said on what exactly would they do, besides getting rid of the military ban because that can obviously come up again.”

Perez asked a question on the issue to Castro, the former Housing and Urban Development Secretary. Castro criticized the decision to bar transgender people from military service, calling it a step backward.

“I would go forward and undo what they’ve done so that no matter who you are, if you’re willing to serve you can serve,” Castro said.

Jean-Baptiste said Nevada is an “extremely important” voice in the 2020 campaign, and that it’s the first state with a significant minority population to vote.

“We need to be in the conversations, we need to be leading the conversations and making sure that our voices are being heard,” Jean-Baptiste said.

Nevada, Castro said during his response, can be seen as a stand-in for the country as a whole.

“In many ways Nevada represents a microcosm of the challenges and also the opportunities that we’re dealing with,” Castro said. “When I think about immigration, when I think about the housing market and the experience of people down here in housing, when I think about jobs and the economy … and I think about all these other issues that affect … individuals and their families, I think of this state.”

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