The head of the national Democratic Party and an icon of the women’s rights movement campaigned for President Barack Obama in the Denver area on Saturday, touting the administration’s economic policies and commitment to funding education and preserving Medicare, but state Republicans called on the Democrats to “abandon political distractions” and instead focus on what they termed “terrible economic news.”
U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Florida, who chairs the Democratic National Committee, and Lily Ledbetter, namesake of legislation that was the first signed into law by Obama, spoke on an education panel on Saturday morning at Regis University in Thornton and later that afternoon helped officially open an Obama campaign office in south Denver.
Republicans protest the arrival of DNC Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz in the parking lot of Regis University in Thornton. Wasserman Schultz took part in a panel discussion on education inside the facility.
Speaking to a crowd of supporters estimated at 225, Wasserman Schultz fired up Obama campaign volunteers with scorching criticism of Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney and his running mate, U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin.
“They want to dial us back to a time when it was right-wing extremists and people who focused on the success of millionaires and billionaires who decided where we were going to go as a country,” she said, standing on a folding chair so the packed crowd could see her. “I don’t know about you, but — actually I do know about you,” she said with a wink as the crowd broke into laughter, “but we’re not going back!”
The newly minted Obama campaign office in a strip mall near East Evans Avenue and South Monaco Street was the 48th Obama field office to open in the state, but by press time the campaign had opened five more, for a total of 53. The Romney campaign has nine offices in Colorado.
Noting that Colorado’s unemployment rate had officially risen to 8.3 percent the day before Wasserman Schultz’s visit, state GOP Chairman Ryan Call greeted her arrival with harsh words.
“I think the congresswoman owes Colorado voters, and women in particular, an honest explanation of why they should feel better off now than they did four years ago,” Call said. He added: “There are over 227,000 Coloradans out of work today. I’m calling on Congresswoman Wasserman Schultz to stop hiding the President’s failed agenda behind political distractions and address, in an honest way, the issues that matter to voters.”
About a dozen Republicans greeted Wasserman Schultz at the Thornton stop with signs — “DWS doesn’t speak for Colorado,” read one; “Smart Girls 4 Romney Ryan,” read another — and played a compilation of her appearances on cable news shows.
Inside the university’s satellite campus, Ledbetter said she relies on Social Security and Medicare and worries about Republican plans to trim benefits.
“We have got to keep this president in the White House, someone who understands what it’s like to walk in the middle-class life,” said Ledbetter. “Those two running against him, they have never been there,” she added, referring to Romney and Ryan.
The Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay Act — which made it easier to sue for pay discrimination by resetting the statute of limitations with each allegedly discriminatory paycheck — was a response to a 2007 Supreme Court ruling against Ledbetter after she sued Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co., claiming she had been paid less than men doing the same job.
“The main lesson I learned is one person can make a difference,” Ledbetter told a group of about 40 educators, campaign volunteers and Democratic officials. “We can start a battle — we may lose it, but a lot of people can help us win the war.”
Wasserman Schultz said the choice between the Democratic and Republican tickets was stark.
“We want to make sure that Coloradans understand the two paths and the two visions that have been laid out, over the next 80 days, that we have an opportunity to continue to fight for the middle class and working families, create jobs and get this economy turned around, and move our economy forward, or go with Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan’s view that we should give more tax breaks to the wealthiest, most fortunate Americans, have the middle class pay for those tax breaks, and take us back to the failed policies of the past — policies that didn’t allow for fairness for everybody,” she said in an interview after the panel discussion.
After pointing out that she serves on the House Budget Committee chaired by Ryan, she said she’s had an up-close and personal look at the economic policies of Romney’s running mate and suggested they won’t sit well with voters.
“Mitt Romney can’t run from the fact (that) he said, the other day, that his plan on Medicare and on the budget was nearly identical to Paul Ryan’s,” Wasserman Schultz told The Colorado Statesman. “Their plans for Medicare and the budget are interchangeable — both of them would end Medicare as we know it, turn it into a voucher program, and take us back to a time when seniors and their families could go medically bankrupt with the slightest illness that would turn into catastrophic illness, as we know happens to seniors so often. They would focus on making sure that we give millionaires and billionaires more tax breaks, paid for by the middle class and working families.”
She acknowledged that nobody likes to raise taxes but argued that her “wealthy constituents” wouldn’t mind paying a little more under Obama’s proposal to allow the Bush tax cuts to expire on income above $250,000 a year.
“I can tell you,” Wasserman Schultz said at the Thornton discussion, “that my constituents in south Florida would say, ‘You know, Debbie, I’d prefer that you don’t raise my taxes, but millionaires and billionaires can afford to pay more so that we can make sure that we can continue to grow the middle class and grow the economy.’ Because my constituents understand, and I’ve heard some of them say this, ‘Debbie, I probably won’t have to sell my second home if you raise my taxes a little bit, and I probably won’t have to go out to fewer nice meals, if my tax rate changes.’ But what they tell me they do know is that, ‘I know if you do, I’ll be fine, but you’ll be able to make investments in education, and in health care, and in research, and making sure that this country can continue to be the beacon that it has been for so many and the greatest country on the face of the earth.’”
Colorado Education Association Vice President Amie Baca-Oehlert, a former counselor at nearby Northglenn High School, said she was thrilled to sit on the panel with Ledbetter.
“As a woman and an educator,” she said, “it was amazing just to see and meet a hero, who has fought for women’s rights over the years. I also have two young daughters, so it was very inspiring — it felt like a full-circle moment.”