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Thousands Flock to Boise State to See Presidential Hopeful Bernie Sanders

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Attracted by his criticism of establishment politics, thousands of Idahoans braved long lines March 21 to hear presidential hopeful Sen. Bernie Sanders (D-Vermont) speak at Boise State University's Taco Bell Arena.

"I really believe in his liberal spirit," said Boise High School student Alexis Bigby, who added she's beginning to think about where she'd like to attend college. She was particularly attracted to Sanders' campaign promise of providing free public college and university education to United States citizens. 

"At this point in our lives, that sounds pretty good," she said.

Bigby had come with some friends from Boise High, Hannah Bain and Heidi Apsley. They said Sanders resonated with them for his stances on climate change and regulating Wall Street.

Elsewhere in the queue, Sri Arjuna said it was Sanders' consistency that brought him to stand in the line, which stretched from Taco Bell Arena to the far end of the Boise State quadrangle. 

"It's hard to find a politician who keeps saying the same thing for decades," Arjuna said.

- Erin Cross, right, attended Bernie Sanders' campaign event with her son, Charlie. -  - HARRISON BERRY
  • Harrison Berry
  • Erin Cross, right, attended Bernie Sanders' campaign event with her son, Charlie.
Others, like Meridian entrepreneur Erin Cross, who attended the rally with her son, Charlie, said she didn't approve of the involvement of "big money" in politics.

Though some pundits have said Sanders' proposed $15 minimum wage could be economically jarring, Cross said a living wage helps employers retain workers. 

"The people who work for you can have their lives. If they can't get by on the wage you're giving them, they'll find new jobs," she said.

Inside the arena, Bernie Sanders volunteer and Boise State Associate Professor of History Lynn Lubamersky said she had plans to visit San Francisco, but chose to attend Sanders' rally instead.

"I feel strongly a lot of people would've been in this room but couldn't because of spring break"—a fact, she said, that could affect Sanders' outcome during Idaho's Democratic caucuses, scheduled for March 22.

Like many in the crowd, Lubamersky said if Sanders lost the Democratic nomination she would cast her vote in the General Election for Hillary Clinton, though she was more passionate about Sanders' candidacy and openly disdained the current Republican frontrunner, businessman Donald Trump.

"I think if people say they won't vote for Hillary, they're being disingenuous," she said.

Sanders' introduction came from actress and activist Susan Sarandon, who arrived in Boise March 20. She told the crowd because of the Citizens United Supreme Court decision , which ushered a flood of corporate money into the electoral system, a candidacy like Sanders' won't "happen again in our lifetime."

"We have a candidate whose only special interest is you," she said.

Taking the stage amid a sea of Bernie Sanders placards, the candidate announced to cheers his intention to repeal Citizens United and strip the billionaire class of its oversized political clout—calling out by name GOP mega donors the Koch brothers and Sheldon Adelson.

"That is not democracy," Sanders said of the sway corporate cash holds over elections. "That is oligarchy."


Sanders went on to speak about a wide sweep of issues for more than an hour and a half. Some of the highlights:

On Republican governors' efforts to tighten voting restrictions:

"If you don't have the guts to participate in free and open elections, get out of politics. Get another job."

The Walton family, which owns Wal-Mart, pays its employees so little they rely on public assistance, which is paid for by tax dollars. 

"That is nuts. ... [To the Waltons] get off welfare, pay your workers a livable wage."

America's "broken criminal justice system" and high incarceration rates could be corrected with investments in education.

"It's a better investment to send a kid to the University of Idaho than to jail."

Marijuana as a Schedule 1 drug, along with opioids like heroin:

"Nobody thinks marijuana is heroin."

The criminality of drug possession and use:

"It's the decision of states, but it should not be a federal crime."

Drug addiction:

"We have to look at it as a health issue, not a criminal issue."

Sanders' success as a political candidate:

"The reason we're doing so well is because we are listening to people and not the special interests."

Campaign finance:

"We don't want [special interests'] money, we don't need their money. ... We can win a national campaign without being dependent on big-money interests."

Hillary Clinton delivering speeches on Wall Street:

"It must be a speech that would turn around modern civilization. ... And if it's such a great speech, she should share it with the world."

The minimum wage:

"If you're working 40-50 hours a week, you shouldn't be living in poverty."

Health insurance:

"You can't make it on $11,000-$12,000 a year. We're not going to cut Social Security: We're going to expand Social Security."

Women and the wage gap:

"That has nothing to do with economics. That's just old-fashioned sexism."

Millennials:

"Our progressive agenda is the future of America. ... What we're experiencing today is the American Dream reversed."

Student debt:

"Why is it that we're punishing millions of people because they did the right thing getting an education? We need to reward people for getting an education, not punishing them."

High levels of lead in the Flint, Mich., water supply:

"Why do we have money to fight a war in Iraq we shouldn't have been in anyway, but we don't have money to invest in America?"

Climate change:

"Climate change is real, climate change is caused by human activities, climate change is already causing harm here and around the world."

The Affordable Care Act:

"In my view, health care is a right of all people, and we need to move to a Medicare or single-payer program."

Abortions:

"What [anti-abortion activists and so-called "family values" conservatives] mean is that no woman should have a right to control her own body. I disagree. ... They want to get government off your backs, except when it comes to a woman making a very personal choice. That's hypocrisy."

LGBT rights:

"People should have the right to love whoever they want, regardless of gender."

Donald Trump:

"We are not going to elect a president who insults people every single day. Much of what he says is simply not true. ... To be conservative is not to be dishonest. Donald Trump is a pathological liar."

The 'Birther' movement:

"My father was born in Poland. The president's father was born in Kenya, but nobody has asked where I was born. Maybe it has something to do with the color of my skin."