Standing alongside some of North Carolina’s most influential black elected officials at Hillside High School, Democratic presidential front-runner Hillary Clinton promised Thursday to shred barriers to minority achievement, protect voting rights, and partner with schools to improve education.
The former secretary of state and U.S. senator from New York vilified the National Rifle Association while calling for more gun laws. She spoke disparagingly of Wall Street, pharmaceutical, insurance, and oil companies. But the majority of her speech focused on education.
It was a message that appeared to resonate with the 1,200 enthusiastic supporters inside the steamy school gymnasium, where one person in the crowd fainted.
“I’m running for president to knock out every barrier that stands in your way,” Clinton said. “Here in this … historic high school, I want to talk about another barrier, the barrier of education.”
She said every child deserves a good teacher, and a good school regardless of their zip code. As a mother and grandmother, she said, she knows the solution: “TLC — teaching, learning, and community.” She would like to see more early childhood education programs.
Clinton said communities need to be more involved in demanding better education. She said she wants to partner with local school boards, teachers, and principals, and begin a national recruitment drive to bring more young people and career educators back into the classroom.
She recognized former U.S. Sen. Kay Hagan sitting in the crowd, saying Hagan had been right in warning that Republican policies would damage North Carolina’s education system. She said teacher salaries have been slashed in the state, and teachers are leaving their jobs by the thousands to seek work in other states.
That prompted Gov. Pat McCrory to post a retort on Twitter: “Hey @HillaryClinton… ‘NC is a net importer of teachers,’ ” to which was linked an article about the flow of teachers to North Carolina by Terry Stoops, director of research and education studies at the John Locke Foundation.
“We need more good jobs and rising income for hard-working Americans,” Clinton said. She is proposing to create them through infrastructure projects, manufacturing, and renewable energy.
“Let’s invest in more research right here in the Research Triangle,” Clinton said.
Clinton said she was “very proud of President Obama’s success in establishing the Affordable Care Act, and I will fight every attempt by the Republicans to repeal it and to turn it back to insurance companies.” She said women again would pay more for their insurance, and children might no longer remain on their parents’ policies up to age 26 if the act were repealed.
She said she would work to lower health care costs and expenses.
“We should not start over. We should not in any way throw our country into a contentious debate about health care,” she said.
“I want to stand up for voting rights. … It is outrageous that in 2016 we have to say we’re for voting rights,” she said. And she said she would face down the NRA lobbyists.
“I stand with the families of Sandy Hook [Elementary School]” in Newtown, Conn., who are suing the manufacturers of AR15s to prevent other parents from experiencing the tragedy that befell their families when a crazed killer fatally shot 26 students and teachers, Clinton said.
She criticized her primary opponent, U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, D-Vt., for voting for a law that granted immunity to gun makers when the firearms they manufacture are used to commit crimes.
“I will do everything I can to make sure gun makers and sellers are accountable just as any other business in America,” Clinton said.
She spoke of the warmth and beauty of springtime in North Carolina. “Of course that reminds us that climate change does have to be taken seriously,” Clinton said.
Durham Democratic Mayor Bill Bell lauded Clinton as “the only candidate” who will improve the country, and keep Obama’s progress moving forward.
“We cannot afford to lose our future. We have to show up, and show out” to vote for Clinton, state House Minority Leader Larry Hall, D-Durham, told the crowd. “We have to have a Democrat nominee who has a deep understanding of the barriers that exist in this country, especially for communities of color.”
Hall said Clinton “knows that we have got to address the epidemic of gun violence, and we know that here in Durham especially,” where there were 42 murders in 2015, most by shooting.
U.S. Rep. G.K. Butterfield, D-1st District, said there is “no one more capable, no one more prepared, no one more committed to break down barriers than Hillary Clinton.”
Butterfield said she would fight for all Americans “regardless of their gender, their race, their religion, or orientation,” and would thwart “Republican efforts to suppress voter participation at the ballot box, which we have seen right here in Durham.”
Grace Li of Houston, Texas, the daughter of Chinese immigrants who is a Duke student and Clinton supporter, skipped two classes to go to the rally.
“I wanted to see her in person. This is incredibly exciting. Oh my God,” Li said. “Hearing her say the importance of education, I actually am considering doing something with teaching in my future, so it really resonated with me.”
While many people her age are voting for Sanders, Li said: “I like a lot of Bernie’s policies, but I feel like he’s really idealistic, and Hillary has like an incredible track record.”
She said the controversy over Clinton’s use of a private email server and exchange of classified information “was like an oversight maybe, but I think it’s really been overblown.”
Vernon Langley of Durham, 63, said Clinton’s stance on public education was important to him. He said the controversy over Benghazi is “Republican rhetoric.”
Esther Mateo-Orr of Chapel Hill said she is an educator, and listening to Clinton’s ideas about education, especially opening up science and technology programs for underserved minority children, helped her to decide to vote for Clinton instead of Sanders.