Sanders tells Ohio audience: ‘Do not allow people to divide us’

PORTSMOUTH, OH - AUGUST 22: Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) holds a rally on jobs, health care, and the economy at Shawnee State University on August 22, 2017 in Portsmouth, Ohio. In the 2016 election, Sanders received more votes from people under 30 than Clinton and Trump combined. (Photo by Maddie McGarvey/Getty Images)
Caption
PORTSMOUTH, OH - AUGUST 22: Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) holds a rally on jobs, health care, and the economy at Shawnee State University on August 22, 2017 in Portsmouth, Ohio. In the 2016 election, Sanders received more votes from people under 30 than Clinton and Trump combined. (Photo by Maddie McGarvey/Getty Images)

Vermont senator calls for tuition-free public colleges, $15-an-hour minimum wage.

Sen. Bernie Sanders ventured into the heart of Republican country in Ohio Tuesday to address what he said are the most important issues facing the country.

One of those issues was made clear by the hundreds of hands that shot up when Sanders, I-Vt., asked the audience if they knew anyone struggling with drug addiction.

Joe, a college dropout who is saddled with $30,000 in student loan debt, said his sister used to drive from Cleveland to Portsmouth to score prescription opiates.

“She didn’t get them from a drug dealer, she got them from a doctor,” he said.

Explore RELATED: Dayton sues drug companies for role in opioid crisis

Devon, another audience member who spoke during Tuesday’s town hall meeting, said his father overdosed in 2008, his mother still struggles with heroin addiction and he was largely raised by his grandparents. His parents, he told Sanders, were fueled by a drug state and had forfeited all hope of a normal life.

Sanders spent more than an hour talking with some 650 people at Shawnee State University about the opiate addiction crisis as well as the need to make tuition free at public colleges, raise the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour, expand Medicare to provide health care to every American, institute criminal justice reform and provide jobs and hope to citizens.

“I am in Trump country because I think the issues you face here in southern Ohio are not any different than in Vermont or California or any other state,” he said.

Explore RELATED: Ohio Lt. Gov. Mary Taylor opens up about sons’ opioid addictions

Trump won 65 percent of the vote in Scioto County.

“I think it’s high time we focus on the most important issues facing our country and do not allow people to divide us up based on the color of our skin, our sexual orientation…We have to be smarter than that,” Sanders said.

Ohio Republican Party Chairwoman Jane Timken said in a written statement: “The only place Bernie Sanders’ socialist sales pitch will be welcomed today is in Sen. Sherrod Brown’s office. Scioto County voters rejected socialized health care and the job-destroying economic policies of Sanders and Brown last year by overwhelmingly electing President (Donald) Trump. With the economy booming and the president keeping his promises, Sanders and Brown are out of touch and out of luck in Scioto County.”

Brown is up for re-election next year.

Explore RELATED: Bernie Sanders rallies millennial vote in Cincinnati

Portsmouth was the second stop on a three-city tour for Sanders this week. He held a rally in Indianapolis on Monday and was scheduled to hold a town hall in Detroit with long-time U.S. Rep. John Conyers on Tuesday.

Former Ohio governor Ted Strickland, a Democrat who served as a Methodist minister in Portsmouth, said while Scioto County voted for Trump, this isn’t Trump country.

“I think it was a temporary relapse,” Strickland said after the Sanders event. “I think that Trump had a message that resonated here, but being the charlatan that he is, it was a hollow message because there is nothing that he told the people who live here that he wanted to do for them that he has actually done. In fact, quite the opposite.”

Democrats need to win back voters in this area by emphasizing issues such as health care, jobs, the environment and education, Strickland said. Coincidentally, Sanders on Tuesday focused on some of those same issues.

About the Author

ajc.com