Vice President Joe Biden was the star of an old-school political rally Tuesday on the campus of Cal State Bakersfield, and he responded with a speech built on the populist Democratic Party values of income, racial and gender equality.
Biden talked about the need for immigration reform and the future of Hispanics in the United States. He said granddaughters must have the same opportunities as grandsons. But time and again, in one way or another during his nearly 30-minute speech, Biden focused on the struggles of the middle class.
“When the middle class does well, the rich do very well, and that’s good, and the poor have a way up,” Biden said. “But when the middle class is in trouble, we have a problem. The middle class is why we have social stability in America.”
What he didn’t talk about was water or drought, probably the top political issue in the central San Joaquin Valley. Not once.
It didn’t seem to matter to the packed house in the Icardo Center, though several people said before the speech that they were looking for serious policy talk — and not so much politics — from Biden. And that included water.
Michelle Henry, a Bakersfield community advocate who represents some farmers, said she wanted “to hear their perspectives on how they’re going to address the water issues.”
Antonio Colley, who recently moved to Bakersfield from Michigan, said he desired “to hear what Joe Biden has to say about a range of issues, from the war in Iraq to the drought in the local area. It’s not one particular thing. It’s just a range of issues. How much money they spend on colleges instead of jails.”
The entire feel of the event was like the political rallies for candidates that were once common in the Valley and would feature major politicians coming to the region in support of congressional or other candidates in high-profile races.
And though Biden was the day’s main attraction, the campaign of Sanger Democrat Amanda Renteria was the always-present focus of the event — much like in days past. Renteria is challenging incumbent Republican David Valadao in the 21st Congressional District, and she was the one who convinced Biden to come to the Valley.
Biden started his day at the L.A. Baking Co. with Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti for an event on raising the minimum wage. At noon, he attended a fundraiser for Renteria and state Sen. Alex Padilla at the City Club of Los Angeles. Padilla is running for Secretary of State against Republican Pete Peterson.
Renteria and Padilla then flew with Biden to Bakersfield and shared the Icardo Center stage with him.
Before they arrived, a parade of speakers that included elected officials and others hammered home the unofficial theme of the day — vote.
Assembly Member Rudy Salas, who is seeking re-election in the South Valley’s 32nd District, put it succinctly: “We vote, we win.”
Organizers even got Jon Bauman — Bowzer from the 1950s retro band Sha Na Na that gained fame in the ‘70s and who is now an official senior citizen and co-founder of Senior Votes Count — to speak. His message, besides saying his organization was endorsing Renteria, was to tell those present to participate in the process.
It’s an issue in the 21st Congressional District — which covers parts of Fresno, Tulare and Kern counties and all of Kings County — where Democrats have a 17-percentage-point voter registration edge, but have troubles getting those who are registered to actually cast ballots.
Biden didn’t bother with such exhortations, though he did tout both Renteria and Padilla as great candidates and told the audience not to let them down.
“This is a really, a really big election, and there’s a reason for that,” Biden told the audience. “The economy got absolutely clobbered in the Great Recession, and nobody got hit harder than hard-working Americans. People, who through no fault of their own, people who never missed a mortgage payment in their life but two houses in the neighborhood went under and all of a sudden they found out they owed more on their house than their house was worth. People who worked their whole life.”
Biden never directly mentioned any Republicans, but his belief was clear — Democrats are better equipped to help the struggling middle class.
The vice president also highlighted the need for immigration reform.
He said 25% of high school students, 17% of college students and 14% of the military are Hispanic.
“Folks, here’s the deal, we should stop asking what we can do for them,” Biden said, “it’s what Latinos will do for America. This is not about any single group of people. It’s about how we rebuild the United States of America.”
If immigration reform passed, he said, it would add a jolt to the economy, reduce the deficit by $850 billion and add $300 billion to the Social Security Trust Fund, increasing its life.
Biden’s failure to mention water or drought once was what most caught the attention of the Valadao campaign.
“In the midst of the worst drought in California history, the vice president failed to even utter the word water once,” Valadao campaign spokesman Tal Eslick said. “Instead of providing solutions for the Central Valley, Amanda Renteria and Vice President Biden chose to play politics, and that’s too bad.”
Padilla and Renteria both spoke before Biden, and Renteria did talk about water.
Renteria told the crowd she was the one best equipped to handle the region’s many critical issues, from water to jobs to education to immigration.
“I need you to believe that the Central Valley can be better ... I need you to believe in better,” she said.
Esther Lara, a Bakersfield resident who grew up in Fresno and graduated from Roosevelt High, loved the event, even though she had second thoughts about attending.
“I love Amanda,” she said. “I think she’s going to be really, really good for the Valley ... We have to get out there and vote for her. Vote, vote, vote. It is so important. It’s not going to happen unless we get out there and vote.”
Following the event at Cal State Bakersfield, Biden left for the Bay Area, where he attended a Democratic National Committee fundraiser.