Transcript: Sen. Bernie Sanders’s speech at the New Hampshire Institute of Politics on April 12, 2014 – Part 1

Part 1 – Partial transcript of remarks by Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont) at the New Hampshire Institute of Politics on April 12, 2014:

…As Vermont’s Senator in my political career, I have done hundreds of town meetings in the state of Vermont, and it is great to do a town meeting here in New Hampshire.

And the reason that I do town meetings and I think the reason why St. Anselm holds meetings like this in the Institute of Politics is I think that there is an understanding that the way we do politics in this country very often is basically not the right way.

The smartest guy in the world cannot talk about the major problems facing this country in a 5 second soundbite, and the media does a disservice to us and to our nation when they look at politics as an American Idol show – who’s going to win, who’s ahead, who’s up today and who’s down tomorrow.

The problems are serious, and if we take our responsibilities seriously as American citizens, we need to talk about the real issues, respect each other’s different point of view, and learn from each other.

Let me begin by telling you a little bit about myself and about my political history, which is very different I think than most folks in the United States Senate.

I started off my life living in Brooklyn, New York. You all heard of that town south of here. [Laughter]

And my dad was a paint salesman. That’s what he did his whole life. He came to America from Poland at the age of 17 without a nickel in his pocket and he didn’t end his life with a lot more than that. He worked very hard, never made a whole lot of money.

But it turned out not being very political – we were not a political family – he ended up, I perceived as I grew older, how much he loved this country, and he loved this country because it gave him the freedom to raise two kids. He never went to – didn’t graduate high school but his kids graduated college. That was a pretty big deal in our family.

And he had financial security in the sense that he always had a job. Never any money but he had a job. And that meant something to somebody who started off without any money.

I went to the state of Vermont just about 50 years ago, which was the best decision I have ever made in my life. That’s great.

And in the early 1970s, I ran for statewide office. Sen. Winston Prouty – some of you may remember he had passed away. There was a special election and I contested that election. And I ran really hard all over the state and on election day, I ended up with 2% of the vote.

But I was a persistent guy. I wasn’t going to give up in one election. Then we had the regular election in ’72 and I ran on a third party – third party – and I got 1% of the vote. Still, not being the smartest guy in the world and not knowing when to quit, came back and ran for Senate again and I got 4%.

I ran for governor of Vermont in ’76 and got 6% of the vote.

And then I did figure out that was enough, that was enough. I got a clue – all running on a third party without any money.

But then back in 1981, a friend of mine came up to me, and he said “You know, there’s a race for mayor in Burlington” where I lived, and Burlington as you all know in New Hampshire is the largest city in the state of Vermont. It has only 40,000 people, but it is our largest city, beautiful city.

And he said, “You know, looking over the election results for the last time you ran, while you only got 6% of the votes statewide, you got 12% in Burlington and there was some low-income and working wards where you got more than that. You got 12%. You got 14%. And maybe you should run for mayor.”

So we got some people together and we thought about it. And I decided to do it, running as an independent, running as an independent.

And I was taking on at that point back in 1981 an incumbent mayor who had served 5 terms, and nobody – nobody – that this Democratic mayor was – that one could beat him.

And the point that I want to make is not that I won the election by all of 10 votes to everybody’s great shock. That was after the recount. There was 14; it went down to 10. But that how we won that election became a political lesson that has stayed with me for my whole life.

Nobody thought that we had a chance and what we did is we put together a coalition. You all know what a coalition politics is about? It’s kind of an old phrase, not much in vogue now.

But what we did is we said to the low-income people in the city who did not think they were getting a fair shake in terms of city services, “We’re going to stand with you.” In fact, I did press conferences in low-income housing projects.

And we talked to the union – the union workers, who work for the city – the AFSME, the police union, and the fire union. We said, “Look, you’re working hard. You deserve a fair shake in terms of contract negotiations.”

And we talked to women who had never had an opportunity to get into city hall at that time and we said, “We’re going to open the door to everybody – working people, low-income people, and women. You’re not represented at city hall, and we’re going to do that.”

And we talked to the environmentalists in the community who were concerned by a number of projects that were anti-environmental.

And we put together this strange coalition. It was so strange. I often worried about what would happen if we got them all in the same room at the same time because they were very different people. But they have the belief that we should open the doors of government, that we should allow everybody in, that government should not just work for the downtown, for the big money interest but it should work for all people.

And we won that election. We won that election by 10 votes.

Now, I am very proud by what I accomplished as the mayor of Burlington. I think many of you have been to Burlington. Great city.

But of all of my accomplishments as mayor and of all of the many accomplishments that I am proud of that I did when I was in the House and that I’m doing in the Senate, probably the very, very top of that list is one that most people – most media people – would think is irrelevant. But here’s what that accomplishment was: We doubled voter turnout from 1981 to 1983. [Applause]

Now, how did we do that and what is that lesson for today?


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