Bernie Bits: In Louisiana, Sanders Talks Race, Guns | Off Message

Bernie Sanders
Bernie Bits: In Louisiana, Sanders Talks Race, Guns


After a brief stop in Iowa Friday, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) took his presidential campaign to the bright red state of Louisiana over the weekend, making stops in Baton Rouge, New Orleans and suburban Kenner. 

A week after Black Lives Matter protesters interrupted his appearance at a Netroots Nation conference in Phoenix, Sanders addressed racial injustice directly Saturday night at the Southern Christian Leadership Conference's national convention in Baton Rouge. 

“To my mind it makes eminently more sense to invest in jobs and education, rather than jails and incarceration,” Sanders told the civil rights group, according to the Washington Post. “That is an issue that we have in common, do we not?”

More from the Post:

Sanders came to Baton Rouge armed with a bevy of statistics about black Americans and a handful of policy pronouncements. He called for the “demilitarization” of police forces, widespread use of body cameras, an end to privately run prisons and an effort to address the “over-incarceration” of nonviolent offenders.

His speech was interrupted frequently by applause — albeit more tepid than he typically elicits at campaign rallies.

 Sanders' visit came two days after a gunman opened fire at a Lafayette, La., movie theater, killing two and wounding nine. But the Vermont independent, who has been criticized from the left for his mixed record on gun control, did not raise the issue of gun violence at the SCLC convention, nor at the Louisiana Democratic Party's Jefferson-Jackson dinner later that night in New Orleans, according to MSNBC:

[W]hen asked by MSNBC later about guns, Sander lamented the tragedy and said, “I strongly believe that we need a sensible gun control policy in America.”

“I know there’s some kind of mythology about me, but I have voted for instant background checks, I voted to ban assault weapons, and I voted to end the gun show loophole. I don’t know what other people think they have done that I haven’t done,” he said.

Both guns and race came up Sunday when Sanders appeared on NBC's "Meet the Press" from New Orleans — and, in both instances, Sanders interrupted moderator Chuck Todd to dispute the premise of his questions.

"You've continued to walk a, straddle a line here," Todd said of Sanders' gun rhetoric. "You talk about your sort of pro-[National Rifle Association] votes in Vermont having to do with being about Vermont, not about the nation as a whole—"

"Chuck, Chuck, that's not what I said," Sanders cut in. "I come from a state that has virtually no gun control. And yet I voted to ban certain types of assault weapons. I voted to close the gun show loophole, and I voted for background, instant background checks. And what I've said is that, as a nation, we can't continue screaming at each other, or else we've got to find common ground."

Sanders argued that, as a Vermonter, he was better equipped than other candidates to lead a conversation on gun rights.

"Coming from a rural state, I think I can communicate with folks coming from urban states, where guns mean different things than they do in Vermont, where [they are] used for hunting," he said. 

When Todd characterized his appearance at the Netroots Nation conference as "a confrontation" with the Black Lives Matter movement, Sanders again interjected.

"I didn’t have a confrontation," he said. "What I had was: I was there to speak about immigration reform, and some people started disrupting the meeting. And the issue that they raised was in fact a very important issue."

When Todd noted that "some people" thought the candidate had been "too dismissive of the protesters," Sanders said, “No, I'm not dismissive. I've been involved in the civil rights movement all of my life. And I believe that we have to deal with this issue of institutional racism." Economic inequality and institutional racism, he argued, "are parallel problems."

Sanders ended his weekend with yet another large rally — this time in Kenner, at the Pontchartrain Center. According to the Times-Picayune, 4,500 people attended the red-state rally:

It was an unusual sight: A liberal White House hopeful stumping in red state Louisiana so early in a race. The first state primaries are in February; Louisiana's, in March.
The rarity of his visit was not lost on Sanders. He opened with a volley aimed at the Democratic Party, arguing its leadership had not focused enough on states it had ceded to Republicans.

"I think my colleagues in the Democratic Party have made a very, very serious mistake and that is they've kind of written off half of America, including Louisiana," Sanders said. "I'm here to tell you that the time is now for us to fight in 50 states."
Watch Sanders' full "Meet the Press" appearance here: