This is a “perilous time for our country," Democratic presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren told a crowd of more than a thousand as she began her speech in a Salt Lake City concert hall on Wednesday night.
The Massachusetts senator proceeded to detail her family’s path through financial hardship — a journey she contrasted with the growing challenges facing today’s middle class as evidence of a broken Washington that benefits the wealthy few at the expense of the many.
“We need big, systemic change in this country,” she said. “And I got a plan.”
Warren then outlined a three-part plan that begins with attacking corruption “head on” and culminates with the rewriting of “some basic rules” in the United States economy and in politics. She wants things like Medicare for All, the end of lobbying “as we know it,” a wealth tax, stronger unions and the repeal of Citizens United — a landmark Supreme Court campaign finance decision.
“When you see a government that works great for those who have money and can hire armies of lobbyists but isn’t working great for anyone else, that’s corruption, pure and simple,” she said. “And we need to call it out.”
Her ideas seemed to resonate with the crowd of more than a thousand people in blazing red Utah’s blue capital city. After waiting in a line that snaked around The Depot — and then for the hour it took her to come onstage after her scheduled start time while she was talking with those who weren’t able to get inside — they cheered as Warren outlined her policy positions, laughed at her jokes, chanted her name and booed a heckler who was eventually escorted out of the building.
And when it was over, many of them chose to wait in line again.
“I find her moving,” said Jeff Nielsen, 42, as he stood near the back of the line for a photo with Warren. “Something I think is ineffable, some charisma. She’s the one who when she’s talking on television has me nodding at the screen. I don’t know what that is.”
Though Nielsen joked he would vote for a “potted plant” over President Donald Trump, he said the former Harvard professor likely has his support among the huge crowd of Democrats who have entered the presidential race: 18 and counting.
Angela Landa, 23, a student at Utah Valley University who said she would stand in line “as long as it takes” to get a photo with Warren, felt similarly.
“She’s my woman crush,” Landa said with a smile. “I just feel like she really cares about people. I’ve looked at her platform, and I think it’s the most complete of all the Democratic candidates.”
In keeping with her reputation as a policy wonk, Warren outlined a number of public lands policies in a post on Medium.com ahead of her visit to Utah.
And on Wednesday afternoon, she made a brief afternoon stop in Big Cottonwood Canyon to highlight those proposals.
As she walked under snowcapped mountains and bare tree branches in the afternoon, she received a firsthand account of the challenges in Utah’s Wasatch Front canyons from Carl Fisher, executive director of Utah’s Save Our Canyons organization. He cited climate change, biodiversity loss and high visitation rates during their half-hour walking tour near Storm Mountain Picnic Area and Amphitheater in the Wasatch National Forest.
“There are so many places that we could be for our national parks and forests, but this is one good example of our national treasure and why it’s so important to protect our national treasure — not to be selling it off for pennies on the dollar for drilling and mining,” Warren told reporters before her tour. “That’s what my new proposal about our national forests and parklands is all about.”
Among Warren’s broad-ranging policy positions is a pledge to restore the state’s Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante national monuments if she is elected in 2020.
And while she recognized that’s been a divisive issue in Utah — with top Utah politicians celebrating Trump’s executive order shrinking the monument and many tribal groups and conservationists opposing the move — she said it’s necessary to do what’s best to protect the lands.
“I think it’s very important that we have a lot of local consultation and that decisions are made as much as possible with everybody who’s in the area," she said. "I understand that there are people who support expansion and people who don’t. Ultimately, we have to think about what is best for the national forests. They belong to all of us. They are a treasure for all of us.”
Bears Ears monument originally was designated under President Barack Obama just before he left office. Grand Staircase-Escalante was created more than 20 years ago by President Bill Clinton.
Trump’s executive order to shrink the monuments by 2 million acres is being challenged in court by separate consolidated lawsuits in federal court in Washington, D.C.
While not all of the policy positions outlined in her public lands agenda Monday specifically mention Utah, many would greatly affect the state, where about two-thirds of the land is federally owned.
She promised, for example, to sign an executive order on her first day as president to put a “total moratorium” on all new fossil fuel leases on public lands. She also said she would reinstate a methane pollution rule to “limit existing oil and gas projects from releasing harmful gases that poison our air,” reinstate a clean water regulation and work to provide 10% of the country’s overall electricity generation from renewable sources offshore or on public lands.
Warren is the third and best-known of the Democratic candidates to visit this red state so far and one of a half dozen women in the race.
Utah will hold a presidential primary election next year on Super Tuesday. That move has significantly changed the state’s role in the presidential election and will likely mean a few more visits from presidential hopefuls in the future.