The October 13 Democratic debate on CNN offered the public a first look at a slate of candidates whose policy positions offer a stark contrast to their counterparts in the Republican party. However, in an election season that could determine whether or not the country continues to make strides toward progressive goals or instead takes steps backwards, it is crucial that the next debate explore these substantive differences even further. Here are some suggestions for the second Democratic debate scheduled to be hosted by CBS, KCCI, and the Des Moines Register on November 14:
- Ask About The Crisis Of Money in Politics. Although the topic was brought up spontaneously, the next round of moderators should ask the candidates their thoughts on how to fix what is recognized to be an immediate threat to our democracy -- the explosion of barely regulated money flooding American political campaigns to the detriment of an informed electorate. As a unifying issue among the Democratic candidates, the wealthy's role in influencing politics in the wake of the Supreme Court's 2010 Citizens United decision should be highlighted in full in the next debate so Americans can decide which presidential candidate has the best chance to address the crisis. The numbers are as stark as the issue's importance: the New York Times reports that “just 158 families have provided nearly half the early money for efforts to capture the White House,” an undue political influence that Americans largely reject. According to a recent Bloomberg Politics poll, 78 percent of those polled -- across the political spectrum -- are in favor of overturning Citizens United, a figure that was ignored by the media. Sanders, Clinton, O'Malley, Chafee, and Webb have all expressed concern over the role money currently plays in politics and they deserve an opportunity to explain their approaches to the American public who badly need a solution.
- Ask About The Concerted Attack On Reproductive Rights. Reproductive rights are under assault across the country, from statehouses to courtrooms to clinic entrances themselves, in an unprecedented fashion. Unlike the candidates across the political aisle, the Democratic slate recognizes this as a national emergency. The current Planned Parenthood defunding scheme was mentioned on stage on October 13, but does the electorate fully understand the threat and the right-wing forces behind it? For example, the Supreme Court will likely have a crucial role in deciding issues of access to reproductive health care in the coming 2015 session, with the Court likely to take on a case examining an anti-choice law in Texas, which mandates abortion providers have unnecessary admitting privileges at hospitals and comply with the same building guidelines as ambulatory surgical centers. As has been extensively documented, these laws are a thinly-veiled attempt to limit the reproductive rights of women whose health often depends on the availability of these targeted clinics. In Texas, the requirements -- if allowed by the Court -- could close all but ten abortion clinics in most in the state. Should Texas' law and similar ones be allowed to stand, the effect would perversely continue to allow abortion in theory, but in practice render it unavailable in many states as these unnecessary regulations block long-standing and safe providers from operating. It is likely the next president will have the opportunity to appoint new successors to the Court. With the wave of anti-choice legislation flooding the courts from conservative legislatures across the states, these possible appointments could very well determine the course of reproductive rights in this country.
- Ask About The Ongoing Civil Rights Revolution For The LGBT Community -- And The Backlash. There are still a number of important LGBT issues that presidential candidates can address now that the debate over marriage equality has been largely settled. One would be the candidates' positions on the Equality Act, a bill that would extend vital non-discrimination protections to LGBT people at the federal level, an extension of civil rights law that is opposed by many prominent Republicans. For example, even some current GOP presidential candidates are pushing for so-called religious protections for individuals who refuse to serve or recognize same-sex marriages, like the federal First Amendment Defense Act (FADA). Beyond non-discrimination protections, the next debate could address the fact that 2015 has seen an unprecedented spike in recorded murders of transgender women, and especially transgender women of color. Asking candidates about how they plan to address the most marginalized and victimized members of the LGBT community would help flesh out their substantive plans for fighting anti-LGBT bias beyond the marriage question.
- Ask About The Need To Protect Collective Bargaining And The American Worker. During the first Democratic presidential debate, the CNN moderators pressed the candidates with a range of questions pertaining to the American economy, but several important issues fell through the cracks. The candidates were not asked explicitly about their stances on proposals to raise the federal minimum wage, expand workplace protections guaranteeing women equal pay for equal work, or stimulate the economy through investments in vital infrastructure projects -- though several did offer unprompted outlines of their vision in those areas. The candidates were also not asked any questions about labor unions or workers' rights to collectively bargain, despite the Republican Party's continued assault on organized labor through so-called “right-to-work” laws implemented in cities and states around the country. For example, Gov. Scott Walker's (R-WI) decision to suspend his presidential campaign did not mark an end of his party's anti-worker antagonism, and conservative media continue to target unions in an attempt to strip workers of the hard-fought benefits they provide. The Democratic debate audience, and American voters as a whole, deserve to know where the candidates stand on these issues as the campaigns move forward.
- Ask About Our Children's Rights To Quality Education And Protections For The Teachers Who Provide It. Last night's debate included a substantive question on college debt and answers that focused on policy differences and referenced candidate plans, but the questioning avoided K-12 students and teachers completely. In fact, CNN's official transcript reveals that the words “teachers,” “testing,” “curriculum,” and “Common Core” were never uttered. “Students” and “schools” received only passing mentions, mostly in the context of the candidates' backgrounds or in answering the question on college debt. The candidates themselves connected education policy priorities with other topics, such as income inequality and criminal justice reform, and briefly outlined their views on in-state college tuition for undocumented immigrants -- all important issues -- but the opportunity to discuss public schools and federal policy at length never materialized. How candidates will ensure quality K-12 education for all deserves more than a passing mention. The law that determines federal funding and support for schools across the country, the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, is currently in the pipeline for a long-overdue reauthorization. Both of the nation's largest teachers' unions, the National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers, have formally endorsed Clinton in the presidential race. National polls and the prevalence of the recent opt-out movement in several states indicate that voters would value a discussion of standardized testing and school accountability policies. Candidates and voters would benefit from the opportunity to combat misinformation around the Common Core state standards, teacher evaluations, school curriculum, voucher programs, and other “third rail” K-12 education topics, and to address policies that directly impact students, teachers, and parents.