AUSTIN, Texas (Nexstar) — SXSW is partnering with the Texas Tribune for a two-day series called “Conversations About America’s Future,” bringing top political leaders to Austin for the conference.
Sunday’s speakers included Gov. Jay Inslee of Washington, former U.S. Housing and Urban Development Sec. Julián Castro and former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper. All three have launched presidential bids. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy also spoke during Sunday’s session.
Hickenlooper, who said he is a capitalist but complained labels cause divisiveness, advocated for legalizing marijuana and prostitution. He said he initially resisted legalizing weed in Colorado, but offered that the state created a better system than the one that was in place. He said regulating prostitution would better protect young women subjected to abuse.
“Legalizing prostitution and regulating it, so there are norms and protections and we understand more clearly how people are being treated and make sure we prevent abuse, I think it should be really looked at,” Hickenlooper said.
The former Colorado governor, who also served as Denver mayor, a restauranteur, and petroleum geologist, said the country needs to do more about climate change.
“We’re rapidly approaching the point of no return,” he said. Hickenlooper has a record of supporting initiatives to combat climate change.
Julián Castro, the former San Antonio Mayor and Obama official, said he supported a new plan put forward this year in the Democrat-led House.
“I’m proud that my brother is one of the co-sponsors of the green new deal,” Castro said of his identical twin, San Antonio Democratic Congressman Joaquin Castro, who is also his campaign chairman.
Candidate Castro also said Saturday he supported reparations for families of slaves.
“I would appoint a commission to actually determine (how),” Castro said. “I think that the process here is just as important as the result.”
Not all of Saturday’s speakers were presidential hopefuls. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy said he and his fellow Republicans are taking a hard look at how their party can regain some of the seats lost in 2018.
“I wake up every day… what can i do to get us back in the majority,” McCarthy, the Bakersfield, Calif. Republican said.
He said one way he has tried to swing momentum is gum up the Democratic progress by using legislative tactics.
During his hour long discussion, McCarthy remarked at the behavior of Democrats and Republicans as the 2020 cycle picks up steam.
“Structure dictates behavior,” he said, adding that timing is everything.
As he shared his “first impressions” of the liberal candidates and what successes or failures he expected them to have on the campaign trail, he doubled down on his support for President Donald Trump.
“I bet you Trump wins reelection,” McCarthy said.
Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz also will speak at other sessions at SXSW.
Speakers participating at the session on Saturday included former Ohio Gov. John Kasich, former Massachusetts Gov. Bill Weld, South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg, Minnesota Sen.Amy Klobuchar and Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts.
Kara Swisher, co-founder of Recode, interviewed Klobuchar. Swisher’s first question was about the February article in The New York Times regarding how she treats her staff.
“I have high expectations for myself and people who work for me and more importantly, expectations about this country,” she told Swisher.
Klobuchar characterized the report about her eating a salad with a fork as “doing a mom thing.”
“I didn’t have a fork, I used a comb very briefly,” she said.
The Democrat from Minnesota spoke about issues rural counties face, such as hospital and rural broadband access, as well as the cost of pharmaceuticals, the rise of big tech companies and privacy online.
“For so long these companies have said, ‘we’ve got your backs,'” she said. “Well, that’s just not true. And they’ve somehow equated a free and open internet, which we all support net neutrality and this idea that everyone should have access to it, that’s true, but that doesn’t mean that we just say, okay so just take all my data, I trust you.”
She stressed the need for a “check and balance” in order to protect people’s safety, highlighting how companies have misused people’s information online. She said she’s working on bi-partisan privacy legislation that would ensure companies remain compliant in protecting consumers’ data online.
“I don’t trust these tech companies,” she said. “I like that they bring in new ideas, new innovations and have employed many people.”
Klobuchar has also joined 23 other Democratic senators this month asking the Federal Election Commission to finalize a rule for online political ad disclaimers.
Swisher asked Klobuchar, who announced her run for 2020 in February, how to “manage 412 running.” Klobuchar said there are good candidates interested.
“May the best woman win,” she added.
Warren, who is another Democratic presidential hopeful, was interviewed by Anand Giridharadas. She recently outlined plans to break up big tech companies, like Amazon, Facebook and Google.
“The whole idea behind this is actually for the people in this room,” she said. “It’s for people who are tech entrepreneurs. It’s for people who have small businesses and want to grow them into big businesses, who have medium-sized businesses, who are entrepreneurs and try that new idea. It says that we want to keep that marketplace competitive, not let a giant who has an incredible information advantage and a manipulative advantage be able to snuff you out.”
What concerns Warren about companies like Facebook, Amazon and Google is how venture capitalists refer to the space around them as “the kill zone,” she said.
“Because if you try to step a small business into that, one of two things happen – it either gets bought up when it shows its worth and before it can actually grow into something that’s really strong and valuable or it just gets wiped out.”
However, Weld, who is exploring seeking the Republican presidential nomination, said that may not be the best solution.
“I’m not sure the answer is to blow up the companies,” he said. “It’s maybe more societal – socializing. Maybe it takes a village to raise a child, but what about parents? Parents have a big role here.”
Former Ohio Gov. John Kasich said he hasn’t made a decision on joining the 2020 presidential race.
“I don’t know,” he said. “There’s an internal clock and there’s deadlines for some people but they’re not here yet.”
“We assess things,” he added. “We’ll see. We’re not closing anything down – just don’t know at this point.”
Kasich said new trends like artificial intelligence have the potential to have a positive impact on America’s future, however, issues of privacy are an outstanding concern
“I think AI, data analytics – these things are really good, we just have to figure out what are the boundaries,” he said. “If we could actually create a way for very smart, not just smart people, but practical people, to begin to discuss these things in a way that can find themselves into laws that we may need.”
He says people shouldn’t kill developing technologies, but they should think about their implications.
Buttigieg, who will also speak at CNN’s town hall event at SXSW on Sunday evening was interviewed by Ana Marie Cox of Crooked Maria. Cox asked him when he started to become aware of his “white male privilege.” He broke down a story about when he was caught with marijuana while in college and explained how the college officer drove off.
“A lot of people had probably the exact same experience and would not have been believed and would have been a lot worse than yelled that and would not have slept in their own beds that night and maybe would have been derailed in their college career because of it and it’s one of the many reasons why I think we’ve got to end the war on drugs and move to the legalization of marijuana,” he said.