California congressman makes Iowa State first presidential campaign stop in Iowa


Jillian Alt/Iowa State Daily

Eric Swalwell talks about healthcare in America being “less like healthcare and more like sick care” during his presentation in the Gallery Room of the Memorial Union on Thursday. 

Devyn Leeson

Eric Swalwell, represenative of California’s 15th congressional district and 2020 presidential candidate, chose Iowa State as his first Iowa campaign stop Thursday.

Swalwell, who announced his candidacy Monday, faces a tough primary between more than 18 Democratic candidates. He said he hopes his campaign strategy and slogan of “Go big. Be bold. Do good.” will help set himself apart from others in the race.

To Swalwell, this slogan also serves as a way to promote and advocate for certain policy positions.

“I see myself as a candidate who will ‘go big’ on the issues we take on,” Swalwell said in an interview with the Daily. “So we are not playing small ball here. Healthcare, gun violence, student loan debt: Those are three signature issues I want to take on. ‘Be bold’ with the solutions, so no incrementally seeking change. On health care we want coverage for all and finding cures in our lifetime. On gun violence, banning and buying back assault weapons.”

Before the forum Thursday, sophomore in political science Zach Johnson said he was moderately excited to see Swalwell, but didn’t think he would be able to set himself apart from many of the other candidates vying for the Democratic primary.

“I think his demographic is young people, but Bernie [Sanders] and Pete [Buttigieg] have that covered,” Johnson said. “I don’t know who his audience is.”

After the forum, however, Johnson said Swalwell had a few policy positions that would help set himself apart.

Swalwell focused much of his speech on five main policy areas he said young people bring to him the most including gun violence, “climate chaos,” student debt, health care and racial equality.

Gun violence

Gun reforms constitute the defining issue of Swalwell’s campaign, being the only current Democratic candidate to advocate for a ban on all assault-style weapons and the creation of a government buyback program for all guns the ban applies to.

“Too many kids are dying for the next president to not make gun reform a top issue,” Swalwell said.

One of Swalwell’s first campaign stops was with students and families of Parkland, Florida, a community which gained national news attention after a school shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School that killed 17 people on Feb. 14, 2018.

Outside of a buyback program, Swalwell said he also supports universal background checks for guns and ammunition — a position he said a majority of NRA members support.

“I will no longer accept the argument that this is a divisive issue,” Swalwell said about gun reforms generally.

As president, Swalwell said these reforms would be the first legislative priority of his first 100 days in office as well as reforms to ensure students and young people get the mental health care services required to reduce the threat of school shootings.

Shelby Young, a board member of March for Our Lives Iowa, a subset of the larger March for Our Lives organization started by survivors of the Parkland shooting, said she was very happy to see the level of gun reforms Swalwell mentioned.

“He has a lot of work to do, but I think he can with his message,” Young said when asked if Swalwell would be able to stand out in a crowded Democratic field. “He is great at making those personal connections with people, so I like that.”

Jeff Shady, a Story City resident, asked if gun reforms are the correct solution and if California, which has stronger gun restrictions than Iowa, would be a good model for gun solutions if California has higher rates of gun violence.

Swalwell responded saying national reforms would be the correct solution as states “are only as safe as their neighbors,” and that in his experience as a prosecutor, he has found much of the gun violence in California comes from guns bought in nearby states with lesser controls.

Health care

“[Current health care is] less like health care and more like sick care“ Swalwell said about the largest problems facing health care in the United States.

Swalwell’s solution includes universal healthcare through a public option and support of research into genomics, a branch of molecular biology concerned with the mapping of the human genome. Swalwell hopes this research can help people understand what illnesses people are predisposed to, allowing them make personal changes that could ensure people stay healthier longer.

Ensuring care for everyone would also encourage people to go to the doctor before an underlying medical issue becomes a more serious problem.

“With the system I am proposing, if you are sick you are seen, and if you are seen then you don’t go broke,” Swalwell said.

By advocating for a public option, Swalwell also distanced himself from solutions like “Medicare for All,” which would get rid of private health insurers and put everyone on the same government-provided health care plans.

“Some people want private insurance and others want government health care,” Swalwell said in an interview with the Daily. “People want choices, they want the freedom to choose how they are covered, so why not have both.”

Swalwell did recognize one of the largest issues facing “bold policy positions” is the likelihood they wouldn’t pass even a universally held Democratic government in 2020, especially when the filibuster rule in the Senate requires 60 votes to overturn.

In order to prevent this from being an issue, Swalwell said he would support a congress that overturns the filibuster rule and allows for some of the more progressive policies to be enacted.

“We can’t wait for change,” Swalwell told the Daily. “Climate chaos is causing floods and fires. Student loan debt is making the next generation unable to buy homes and starting businesses. Gun violence is the second leading cause of death for children and the leading cause of death for black children. We can’t wait for change.”

Student loan debt

While explaining his experiences visiting communities across the country, Swalwell said one of the biggest issues he saw was in relation to student debt.

“I found so many communities where the best export was a young person who went away to college, got skills that were important, but would never come back home,” Swalwell said.

To make sure people aren’t burdened by their debt after college, Swalwell had a few proposals.

For those who currently have student loan debt, Swalwell would make all federal loans have zero percent interest rates. For those coming into college, Swalwell had what he called the college bargain. If a student does work study while at the university, and then does volunteering in a community that needs it when they graduate, they could have the ability to forgive their student debts.

Swalwell also proposed a set of requirements for all publicly funded institutions to continue receiving federal aid: They must graduate students in an average of 4 years, they must help students find jobs out of college within the first 6 months of graduating and they must not pay administrators “outrageous salaries.”

“If you are within those metrics you are eligible for aid, and if you are not in those metrics then you are less eligible,” Swalwell said. “I believe states would be more likely to fund higher education if we leverage that and institutions will put forward better curriculum and students will be more likely to have their degree mean something.”

‘Climate chaos’

While not discussed as much during his campus speech, climate change is one of the largest issues Swalwell said he wants to adress. In fact, starting work toward a climate summit with world leaders would be his first action if elected.

“[I would take] the oath, go ashore to assure allies that we are still with them and tell world leaders we will host a climate summit to address the climate chaos we face,” Swalwell said. “That should be the day one responsibility of our next president.”

Swalwell also said he is an “unapologetic supporter” of the Green New Deal, a set of climate reforms proposed by progressive representatives like New York’s Alexandria-Ocasio Cortez.

Bella Guyll, a junior in mechanical engineering, said she hoped Swalwell would focus more on climate change as it is the policy position that matters most to her.

Other policies

Among other things, Swalwell said he hopes to have publicly financed campaigns within his lifetime and other solutions to campaign corruption, like gerrymandering, by putting independent groups in charge of redistricting in all 50 states.

When asked by Maria Hakimi, a microbiologist who graduated from Iowa State two years ago, about troops in Afghanistan, Swalwell said he would draw back overall involvement in the area and limit involvement to training purposes.

Hakimi, who is currently working at the Iowa State Veterinary Diagnostics Lab under a work visa, said she hadn’t seen her family in Afghanistan in more than seven years. Swalwell said he had worked with others in Afghanistan on visa issues and that he would talk to Hakimi after the forum about her status.

Swalwell also talked about committing his presidential cabinet to have members of both Republican and Democratic backgrounds.

One audience member criticized this position saying the Republicans would never offer the same courtesy and signals to the public that Republicans can address certain policy areas that Democrats are otherwise incapable of solving.

Mike Murry, a staff member at Iowa State, agreed with this criticism saying Democrats surrender policy areas too often and that, “I think he must have brought some of the weed from California with him.”

On electability, Johnson said he doesn’t think Swalwell currently has a great chance, but at 39 years old, he could be a strong candidate in the future.

“He brings a lot of the same youth as Buttigieg,” Johnson said. “I don’t know if now is his time, especially in such a crowded field. I really liked what he had to say and I think he has a really bright future in democratic politics.”