Local grocery stores in food deserts. Food banks. Soup kitchens. Underground homeless encampments.
On his numerous trips to Southern Nevada, presidential candidate and former U.S. Housing and Urban Development secretary Julián Castro said he has tried to make stops at places and talk with people who are often overlooked and forgotten.
“I grew up in neighborhoods that have been left behind with people who have felt like they had been left behind,” Castro said during an interview with Nevada Current. “I know often times there is a whole other world that’s not covered by most media and not talked about in a political dialogue. I tried to go into those places. I know people are hurting and at the same time not part of the conversation. So I want to lift up their stories to make sure they are part of the conversation in this campaign.”
That brought him to Mario’s Westside Market on Martin Luther King Boulevard, located within 89106 where, according to Housing and Urban Development categorizations, more than half of all households are low-income.
“So much of our political conversation focuses on the middle class, which I get and know we should talk about how we are going to benefit the middle class,” Castro said. “But over the last 30 years, we’ve forgotten to talk about the people who are poor and struggling and people who are working poor.”
A sign near the checkout line at Mario’s reminds customers to “Vote with an Agenda.”
“What are your issues?” the sign reads followed by a list of topics. “Affordable housing. Income inequality. Community revival versus gentrification. Local business ownership. Real small business growth. Strengthening the Black community.”
The Trump administration has proposed cuts to several social service benefits designed to help low-income families including restricting eligibility requirements for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF).
Over the summer, the Nevada Department of Welfare and Supportive Services estimated more than 46,000 residents would be affected by the proposed rule change.
Castro argued it is especially salient to connect with low-income communities affected by these changes in order to identify solutions that work for them.
“There is a myth that took hold in America that the vast majority of poor people are somehow getting by off the public or manipulating the public till,” he said. “This administration has moved backward when it comes to housing opportunities and basic resources to get by. And (the administration) has scapegoated the people who are working for a living. It’s important to highlight their struggles because the next administration has to undo all that damage.”
‘Police violence is gun violence’
As one of the few candidates of color and only Latino running in the race, Castro said he knows the importance of speaking directly to the issues faced by black and brown people.
“A lot of times the tendency for candidates of color is to run away from dealing with these issues head on,” Castro said. “I haven’t been afraid to tackle these issues and risk being labeled a candidate who is overly tending to issues within communities of color. Even though my platform is for everyone, I understand there are communities that hardly ever have their issues raised up.”
A lack of connection with people of color, he added, can become apparent when politicians propose policies.
“A lot of times politicians talk about policies but — not through any intention — often times there is not a connection to black and brown America,” he said. “Gun violence is a good example of that. That’s connected to police violence, especially for young black men. Police violence is gun violence. These policies we talk about whether it’s guns, education or health care or housing, we need to do a better job of understanding the nuance and how they impact certain communities.”
Poverty is not a crime
Wearing a button that reads “poverty is not a crime,” Castro took time Wednesday to speak at a local protest where civil rights groups and homeless advocates protested a proposed city ordinance that could punish the homeless for sleeping or camping in a public right-of-way.
It’s not his first time meeting with local homeless groups. Before he arrived, advocates were talking about how they were impressed not just by his willingness to visit homeless encampments within the underground tunnels of Las Vegas but to carry out meaningful conversations with the people there.
During an earlier event Wednesday at Hispanics in Politics, Democratic Assemblyman Edgar Flores, who endorsed Castro, said he hears time and time again that people are impressed by the work he is doing.
“One of the things I constantly hear is, he is my favorite’ but then there is a ‘but,’” Flores said.
Those people, he added, explain that they will pass over Castro, who they prefer, to back a candidate they think is electable, or who they think others find electable.
“It’s almost like we haven’t learned from what the past two administrations have taught us,” he said. “The same exact individuals who are saying the ‘but’ are the ones who were saying a Trump Administration wasn’t possible or electing the first black president wasn’t possible.”
Despite high remarks from the groups he is trying to reach, Castro hasn’t risen in the polls.
Some of this, Castro noted, comes from disparities in media coverage.
“Sometimes in mainstream media, the question of whether I would resonate with the Latino community has been reduced to whether my Spanish is completely fluent or not,” he said. “It’s a very one-dimensional way to look at things without understanding the community.”
The lack of diversity in the newsroom, he said, has also created gaps in media coverage, adding that “Democracy suffers because of that.”
Some Democratic voters have also wondered if only a white male can beat Trump. Castro sees it differently.
“If we’re going to win in 2020, we need to excite the coalition of people Barack Obama excited in 2008 and 2012,” he said. “That starts with building a coalition of young, diverse working people. And that’s what I’m doing.”
He also goes back to focusing on people who have been left behind and, with intention, bringing them into the political process.
“If we want to win, we’ve got to bring people off the sidelines and into the voting booth,” he said.