Nearly 100 residents, activists and observers gathered in the pews of Birmingham Unitarian Church Friday to hear Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., campaign for the presidency. The event, hosted by the Birmingham-Bloomfield Democrat Club, brought Gillibrand to Birmingham as a part of her “Trump’s Broken Promises” bus tour, highlighting the discrepancies between President Donald Trump’s campaign promises and his actions taken while in office.
“The number one thing (voters) want in a nominee is someone who can defeat Trump, so I am here to show the American people how I’m going to defeat Trump,” Gillibrand said. “In fact, I can go right into his backyard, go right into states that he won and communities in Michigan that he was able to deliver and show the American people that he lied to them.”
For the tour, Gillibrand and her team spent two days bussing to stops in Pennsylvania, Ohio and Michigan — three states which voted for President Barack Obama twice, but flipped red for Trump in the 2016 election.
With each stop, Gillibrand touched on different policy issues on which she believed Trump conveyed a false message to voters in the 2016 election. In Birmingham, Gillibrand’s focus was gun reform.
“I don’t know if anybody remembers, but candidate Trump ran on common sense gun reform, and I think there were a lot of voters who listened to his words and believed him,” Gillibrand said. “I think (Trump) ran as somebody who would do the kinds of things that could make a difference in Michigan: common-sense gun reform, no bad trade deals, fix the rigged system, but the truth is, President Trump lied every time.”
More than 10 representatives of Moms Demand Action from three different Michigan chapters attended Gillibrand’s event to educate and energize attendees as well as push Gillibrand on controversial gun reform issues. Carmi Finn, Oakland Macomb Chapter local spokesperson, described Moms Demand Action as a nonpartisan, genderless organization which supports the passage of “common-sense gun laws.”
“All the cost of (gun violence) in emotional and physical and financial areas, it’s a crisis in our country and there are other problems that loom large, but that’s a pretty big one,” Finn said.
Renay Weiss-Stansell, Western Wayne Chapter local group leader, explained there were many “common-sense gun reform” bills introduced to the Michigan legislature this session, but none have received a hearing, the next step in the legislative process.
“The people who are in charge of making those decisions are not necessarily gun sense proponents, so they don’t have any interest in seeing those laws progress,” Weiss-Stansell said.
Two such bills received sponsorship from freshman state Rep. Mari Manoogian, D-Birmingham, who was in attendance at Gillibrand’s event. In an interview with the Daily, Manoogian reiterated Weiss-Stansell’s sentiment regarding disinterest in gun reform among House leaders, particularly Speaker Lee Chatfield, R-Chippewa.
“It appears that (Chatfield) does not have an appetite for passing gun safety legislation,” Manoogian said. “We know that this legislation is supported by a majority of Michiganders and a majority of Americans, so obviously it’s incredibly frustrating to see it introduced and collect dust.”
Manoogian said she hopes her fellow legislators allow Michiganders the opportunity to voice the stories of their tragic encounters with gun violence, because she sees it as the only way to evoke support for gun safety legislation in the Michigan House.
Gillibrand said she believes the problem lies in campaign financing. She told the audience keeping elections fair and free will ensure those politicians who refuse to act on their constituents’ wishes, especially in the sector of gun reform, will not win back their seats.
“Once you get money out of politics, you can begin to change the player’s list … who runs for office changes, who participates in the election changes, who has a seat at the table changes,” Gillibrand said. “And when you do that, that’s when you can pass universal background checks to guarantee that no one who shouldn’t have a gun has access to a gun.”
Gillibrand touched on other policy issues on which she believes her opinions set her apart from the 24 others running for the Democratic nomination. These included campaign financing as well as the Green New Deal, changes to the criminal justice system, abortion rights and American troops stationed in Iraq. With progressive opinions on each, Gillibrand hoped to appeal to estranged voters by casting herself as a negotiator they could trust.
“Every time there is a negotiation over healthcare or funding (in Washington), the door on the negotiating room closes and deals are made,” Gillibrand said. “What I ask you is when that door closes on the negotiating room, when Mitch McConell walks into the Oval Office to negotiate, ‘Whatever, whatever, whatever,’ who do you want behind the desk?”
Gillibrand waged these progressive opinions as a reason why college-age voters should support her as well.
“I think for young voters, they’re really looking for a champion who speaks from the heart about the issues they care about,” Gillibrand said. “I am a candidate who not only shares their values, but will lift up their voices and make sure they are heard in this democracy.”
Sue Longstreet said she takes an interest in Gillibrand for the opposite reason; she believes Gillibrand is a more established option than many of the others running.
Though Longstreet has lived in the Birmingham and Bloomfield community for over 50 years, she had never attended a BB Dems event before Friday. Longstreet identifies as an Independent, but said she intends to vote for a Democratic presidential nominee in 2020.
Longstreet said she is “still investigating” her options among the 25 Democratic candidates running.
“The number of candidates is overwhelming, and I’m anxious for them to narrow it down,” Longstreet said.
Gillibrand is consistently polling at under 1 percent and has yet to meet the federally-imposed 130,000 donor threshold to sustain her campaign through September. Still, Longstreet feels Gillibrand is a viable option given her experience in politics.
“She has some impressive qualities,” Longstreet said. “I’d like to see her do better.”
According to Manoogian, appearances by presidential candidates in Michigan, like Gillibrand’s on Friday, will be a deciding factor in the 2020 election.
“We saw from 2016 that it’s incredibly important that folks focus on Michigan,” Manoogian said. “The road to the White House runs through our state, and we know that when folks come to Michigan to campaign, the electorate gets energized and they turn out to vote.”
Manoogian noted Oakland County as a particularly salient location for Democratic candidates and said she is happy to hear candidates like Gillibrand speaking on issues important to Michiganders such as gun safety, comprehensive health care and clean water.
“In the 40th District, in 2016 it actually voted for Hillary Clinton by 11 points, so we know that there are voters here who are excited and motivated to turn out for candidates that share our values,” Manoogian said.