Hillary Rodham Clinton’s carefully choreographed round-table discussions with voters don’t lead to many moments of surprise. But Mrs. Clinton has seemed to have had some legitimate jolts when conversations in Iowa and New Hampshire repeatedly drifted back to drug abuse.
Mrs. Clinton called heroin and methamphetamine addiction in rural America a “quiet epidemic” and told her policy advisers in Brooklyn to put it on the list of priorities as her campaign inched closer toward presenting a specific policy platform.
As part of that effort, last week senior campaign policy advisers held Google Hangout discussions with local officials and substance abuse activists in Iowa and New Hampshire to see how the campaign could best address the problem, the first of such discussions that will take place in the early nominating states, according to the campaign.
In the six years Mrs. Clinton has been mostly out of the discussion on domestic policies, heroin use has swept rural communities, and although aides say she was aware of problem in an abstract way, from reading policy briefings and talking to academics and advisers, her discussions with voters on the issue were particularly eye opening.
She instructed her policy team “to go beyond standard policies and really take a hard look at some of the more creative or forward-looking policy positions,” said Jake Sullivan, the campaign’s senior policy director.
The Google Hangouts, led by the senior policy advisers Ann O’Leary and Maya Harris, are part of that effort. Moving forward, drug addiction, according to aides, will be a central part of the “four fights” that Mrs. Clinton routinely references in her prepared remarks.
Participants in the hangouts included Candace Accord, of the Community Based Correctional Facility in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, and Abigail Shockley, executive director of the New Hampshire Alcohol and Other Drug Service Provider Association, among other local community leaders and elected officials.
Based on their suggestions, Mrs. Clinton is likely to propose better-financed prevention and treatment options before criminalization and better access to mental health services (an area that aides and voters have said is lacking under the Affordable Care Act). She has already called for reform to the criminal justice system and a prison system overflowing with low-level drug offenders.
Drug abuse has not been a central campaign issue since the 1980s and early 1990s, when crime was on the rise and the crack cocaine epidemic threatened American cities. Candidates, particularly Republicans, and the more centrist-minded Bill Clinton were elected by vowing to be tough on drugs. Under President Bill Clinton’s administration, drug offenders received stiffer penalties under federal law.
In the 2016 election, Mrs. Clinton enters a very different situation, in which rural areas, like the ones she has visited in Iowa and New Hampshire, are seeing an increase in addiction. She is expected to present more specific policy proposals after her campaign’s official kickoff event on June 13.
“We have an increasing problem that is only beginning to break through the surface so that people – I think a lot of people are thinking, well, that’s somebody else’s problem, that’s not my problem,” Mrs. Clinton has said.
By Amy Chozik - The NY Times/ June 1, 2015
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