Democratic senator, presidential candidate wants to see progress through change

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Thousands of fans and some detractors packed St. Mary’s arena to see Hillary Clinton.

By Regis L. Roberts

Hordes of people packed St. Mary’s University’s Bill Greehey Arena Wednesday to hear the New York senator and Democratic presidential hopeful give a message of not only change, but progress.

“Change is going to happen anyway,” Sen. Hillary Clinton said. “Change happens whether we like it or not. The president’s job isn’t whether the people have change, but whether we will have progress.”

“Change” as a campaign slogan was first adopted by Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., Clinton’s closest rival for the Democratic nomination, but it soon was picked up by Clinton. Currently, Obama is leading Clinton in the delegate count, 1,253 to 1,211.

Clinton said she wants see America achieve “the kind of goals that can be part of making it clear that our best days as a nation are ahead of us.

“This does not happen by wishing for it,” she continued. “It doesn’t even happen by hoping for it. People live in hope. We have hope. What we need is help, and help is on the way.”

She received impassioned introductions from state Rep. José Menendez, D-San Antonio; County Judge Nelson Wolff; and Democratic state Sen. Leticia Van de Putte.

“Some people talk about ‘can;’ Hillary Clinton talks about ‘will,’” Van de Putte said.

Clinton also was greeted with about a minute of screams, chants and shouts of “I love you” from the crowd before she was able to speak over the ruckus.

The arena, which seats 3,500 people in the stands, was awash with blue campaign signs. Hundreds of additional people stood in front of the stage, and thousands of people outside were unable to get in.

Some of the most enthusiastic audience responses came when Clinton brought up economic issues.

“I believe that anyone who works full time in America should not be below the poverty line,” she said to massive applause.

She briefly outlined her ideas to make the economy work for more people, including creating a sector of “green collar” workers to help make a more sustainable energy policy that does not depend on oil from foreign sources.

Where Clinton really hit a sweet spot with supporters was her plan for health care reform.

“It’s time that every single man, woman and child has access to quality, affordable health care,” she said, drawing out her words to emphasize her point.

She said she and fellow senators receive great health care on the taxpayers’ dime. “I believe health care is a moral right, not a privilege,” she said.

During her first year as First Lady, she was assigned by her husband to chair the President’s Task Force on National Health Care Reform, where she put forth a plan that was meant to give all Americans health coverage.

The health care plan she championed was meant to give consumers of private insurance more options at lower prices, allowing buyers to chose the plan right for their needs and budget. The ultimate goal was to get as many people as possible insured.

The 1993 health care proposal is similar to the one she has put forth in her campaign for president, and it now includes tax credits to further help poor people to afford coverage.

Although the Clinton plan proposed that people buy coverage from private insurance companies receiving subsidies, the plan was criticized as being “socialist” by Republicans and conservative Democrats, and was dubbed “Hillarycare.”

Luis Vera, national general council for the League of United Latin American Citizens, said health care reform is a winning area for her among for Latinos.

Vera gathered 50 college students from campuses around San Antonio to campaign for Clinton in Phoenix on Super Tuesday.

Today, the Clinton campaign receives more money from the health care industry than any other candidate from either party who is currently running: from health care professionals, $2,361,665; health service and HMOs, $353,431; hospitals and nursing homes, $566,912; insurance companies, $710,899; and other health-related industries, $143,668.

Clinton’s economic agenda also encompassed plans to help people go to college.

She said she wants to make college affordable. Her campaign Web site says she plans to do this through such proposals as a $3,500 tax credit, increasing Pell Grants and funding community colleges with a $500 million investment.

Her Web site also says she plans to give college access to at-risk youth by funding programs like early college high schools as much as $1 billion.

A consistent message from supporters was that they believe she has the experience to get things done in Washington.

Menendez, referred to Clinton’s “opponent,” never using the name Obama, who became Clinton’s only challenge for the party nomination after former Sen. John Edwards, D-N.C., dropped out of the contest after failing to carry his home state of South Carolina. Menendez said the Democratic Party had the two best possible candidates running, and both can serve, but only one is ready to serve today.

This statement was met with one of the largest chants of “Hillary! Hillary!” of the night. The arena rumbled with the stomping of feet.

David Colunga, a senior at O’Connor High School, turned to his friend and yelled, “Yeah, we started that!”

Colunga said America is at a crossroads following the presidency of George W. Bush, and that the 2008 election is the most important one yet. He supports Clinton because, he said, “She knows how Washington works.”

Clinton said it was in San Antonio about 36 years ago, when she was here three months to help register voters, that she came to love South Texas and “become addicted to Mexican food. I eat a lot of hot peppers. They keep me healthy, they keep me going, and they remind me of South Texas.”

Not everyone in the arena supported Clinton, however.

Pat Donahue, an economics freshman at Trinity University, held up homemade signs written on notebook paper for Rep. Ron Paul, R-Texas, who is running for the republican nomination. One sign simply said “Ron Paul!” while another said “Don’t tax me, bro.”

It was a reference to a University of Florida student who yelled “Don’t tase me, bro,” to police after asking Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., about journalist Greg Palast’s investigation of possible voter fraud in Bush’s favor in the 2004 election, and the Senator’s involvement in the Skull and Bones fraternity at Yale University.

“I used to consider myself a Republican,” Donahue said. “The party left me.”

Modesto Herrera, a finance sophomore from the University of Texas at San Antonio, sat in the stands before the speech playing with his cell phone, uninterested in the proceedings.

Wearing a Rage Against the Machine T-shirt, he said he didn’t support any of the candidates, saying they were all basically the same.

He said his girlfriend dragged him to the speech.

One of the harshest detractors at the event was John Haring, a former student at St. Mary’s who said Clinton was “the single, largest supporter of abortion in the last 50 years.”

Haring carried a folder with a blue book inside, giving her a grade of F for her speech.

He said he was “deeply disappointed in my very good friend, President Charles Cotrell of St. Mary’s, because this is completely contrary to (Catholic) Church teachings.”

He said he supported the statement released Tuesday by San Antonio Archbishop José H. Goméz San Antonio, which said, “It is clear that the records of Sen. Clinton and some of the other candidates for president on important life issues are not consistent with the teaching of the Catholic Church.”

Goméz said he was not advised or consulted about Clinton’s appearance.

Vera said the reason Clinton came to St. Mary’s is obvious.

The bus that the group to Phoenix rode took off from St. Mary’s and most of the students came from the university, he said.

Vera said he has personally fielded 400 calls about volunteering for Clinton.

He and Choco Meza, Clinton campaign coordinator for the Bexar County Democratic Party, hosted a briefing for Clinton supporters Tuesday.

While about 55 volunteers talked strategy in a suite upstairs in the arena, about 20 of the student volunteers made campaign signs.

Juán Hernandez, statistics freshman and the only student from this college to go to Phoenix, said he enjoyed being politically active, and that it would be something he would do in future elections.

Hernandez, 18, will be voting for the first time in November, and Wednesday was the first time he heard Clinton speak in person, although he saw Bill Clinton give a speech in Phoenix.

He laughed and joked while making signs with Marci Pineda, exercise and sport science freshman at St. Mary’s, and James Escamia, political science junior at St Mary’s.

Escamia asked his sign-making partners if it would be appropriate to make a sign that had the word “crunk” on it, to which Pineda he might get tasered if he were to do it. 

Hernandez mocked the “Don’t tase me, bro” line in a whiney voice.

After the speech, he said he was impressed by seeing Clinton in person, and wanted to meet her, but the swarm of people around the rope line at the stage would make it nearly impossible.

Hillary Rodham Clinton was born Oct. 26, 1947, in Chicago, the first child of Dorothy and Hugh Rodham.

She was politically active even at a young age, and for a while was a self-described “Goldwater Girl,” a supporter of 1964 Republican presidential candidate Barry Goldwater.

She attended Wellesley College where she was tapped to deliver her commencement speech in 1969 — criticized as too radically feminist.

She then attended Yale Law School, where she met Bill Clinton. Upon graduation from Yale, she moved with Bill to Arkansas, where he was born.

They married in 1975, and he was elected Arkansas attorney general the following year. She became First Lady of Arkansas when Bill was elected governor in 1978.

They had their only child, Chelsea, in 1980.

Bill Clinton served nonconsecutive terms as governor until he defeated George H.W. Bush, the current president’s father, in the 1992 presidential election.

Hillary Clinton was elected New York senator in 2000 and easily won re-election in 2006.

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