By Tyler Leeds

The Bulletin

Former President Bill Clinton visited the campus of Central Oregon Community College on Thursday afternoon to champion the prospect of a second Clinton presidency.

Clinton was campaigning on behalf of his wife, Hillary, who holds a strong lead over U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders in the Democratic primary contests ahead of the party’s convention in late July. Oregon’s primary is May 17, and though Sanders has a good shot to win in the state, it’s unlikely the Vermont senator will be able to overcome his opponent’s overall lead.

While Clinton, 69, rarely referenced Sanders in his speech, the nation’s 42nd president emulated the populist style of his wife’s primary opponent, taking aim at the nation’s wealth gap and avarice in board rooms.

Clinton also emphasized his wife’s experience as secretary of state and a U.S. senator from New York while highlighting her commitment to a number of progressive causes, including renewable energy and student debt relief.

As Clinton took the stage before a packed crowd in Coats Campus Center, his face appeared in miniature on countless smartphones as cheering attendees snapped pictures. Playing to the crowd, Clinton began by saying the nation should be run more like a community college, a theme he touched on again before exiting the stage about 45 minutes later. He praised community colleges for their openness regardless of “your income, your grades, your race, your sexual orientation, your whatever,” and their commitment to responding to changes in the economy.

Over the course of his speech, the former president emphasized how a number of progressive goals seemingly unrelated to the economy can help people find jobs. For example, Clinton noted, “Our party still believes in science,” earning loud applause, before acknowledging the threat posed by climate change. He also, however, said that a buildup in the nation’s supply of solar panels and wind turbines could bring jobs to parts of the country where they are desperately needed, singling out Native American reservations as potential beneficiaries.

He also discussed his wife’s commitment to making college affordable, describing the difficulty students have recovering from loan debt. Eliciting chuckles from the audience, he noted an aspiring business owner may dream of “opening an organic bakery in Bend,” but be far too deep in the red to make it happen.

Clinton said his wife supports increasing aid for those students who need it, and allowing students to mortgage their debt. Under such a system, payments would never exceed 10 percent of one’s after-tax income. He also said Hillary proposes giving large tax credits for those in debt if they serve two years in an AmeriCorps position and an additional year working in a job that benefits their community.

“This could unleash the energy of millions of young people,” Clinton said.

While discussing student debt, Clinton drew a distinction between his wife and Sanders, who has called for free college tuition. Clinton noted, “The people who can pay should pay,” noting that even states with liberal governors are struggling to support universities. To help both the students and schools, Clinton proposed giving students access to 10 hours a week of work study, providing a source of income while also lowering operating costs for colleges.

Despite that distinction between his wife and Sanders, the former president took aim at the gap between the nation’s haves and have-nots in a way reminiscent of Sanders, who identifies as a democratic socialist.

“America doesn’t work without broadly shared prosperity,” Clinton said, going on to praise Oregon’s new minimum wage law, which he noted should be replicated “everywhere.”

He said corporations spend “80 to 90 percent of profits on shareholders and management,” calling that “a big problem” and linking it the impact of “hedge funds and billionaires.”

Despite his criticisms of the nation’s wealth gap, in contrast to Republicans who have painted a picture of America in crisis, Clinton said if he “had a magic lamp with a genie” who gave him the ability to live anywhere in the world in 30 years time, he’d stay put.

He praised President Barack Obama’s work following the Great Recession, saying, “I believe he’s done a far much better job than he’s gotten credit for.”

Despite America’s strong recovery, Clinton noted the country faces a number of challenges, including threats to its economy stemming from instability abroad. He pointed to the slowing Chinese economy, a European Union divided over how to respond to its refugee crisis and the bellicose actions of Russia.

With such strife abroad, Clinton said, “We cannot have a president go in there who does not have the confidence of world leaders,” an allusion to Donald Trump, the likely Republican Party nominee for president.

Clinton directly attacked a number of Trump’s proposals, including one to ban the immigration of Muslims, which the former president called “nuts.” He also lampooned Trump’s calls for building a wall along the nation’s border with Mexico in an effort to increase national security.

Clinton joked the country could also build a wall along our northern border with Canada, suggesting such a project could employ a few Oregonians. National security, Clinton said, requires more nuance than the building of physical barriers, pointing to the social media radicalization of the terrorists behind the San Bernardino shooting in December.

— Reporter: 541-633-2160, tleeds@bendbulletin.com

13657450