Bernie Sanders talks recreational marijuana, the NSA and what tattoo he would get

By Beth Slovic for Wallamette Week

Bernie Sanders to Oregonians: Drop Off Your Ballots or I’m Toast

With two days to go before ballots are due in Oregon’s presidential primary, U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders (D-Vt.) is campaigning hard to get out the vote … in Kentucky.

But the candidate took a break in Paducah, Ky., on Sunday morning to call WW to urge more Oregonians to vote, saying high turnout will be the key to victory for his underdog campaign against Hillary Rodham Clinton.

“We will win in Oregon if voter turnout is high,” he says. “We will lose in Oregon if voter turnout is low.”

In his brief interview with WW, Sanders talked about everything from gun control to NSA spying, public campaign finance, tuition-free college—and what kind of tattoo he would get. Hint: It has wings.

WW: If you were elected president, what would your attitude be towards states such as Oregon that have legalized recreational marijuana?

Sanders: In Vermont, if there were a vote to legalize marijuana, I would vote for it. When you talk about reforming the criminal justice system, we also have to talk about taking marijuana out of the federal Controlled Substance Act, where it’s now considered a Schedule I drug. I’ve got legislation that would take it out so the possession of marijuana would not be a federal crime.

WW: Oregon has no limit on campaign contributions. So a candidate for Oregon Secretary of State recently took a $250,000 contribution from former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg. What do you think of that?

Sanders: I think it’s a terrible idea. We have a corrupt campaign finance system in which billionaires are able to buy elections. And that is not what American democracy is about, so one of my major priorities as president would be to overturn the Supreme Court’s decision on Citizens United and in fact move to public funding of elections. Billionaires should not buy elections.

Sanders: Well, Jeff is one of the most progressive members of the United States Senate. People should understand he’s doing a great job for them in the Senate. Obviously, Jeff Merkley would be somebody I would give very strong consideration to for positions.

WW: In all seriousness, what did his endorsements mean to you? 

Sanders: It’s very good. Actually, we are taking on the entire Democratic establishment. Jeff is the only person in the United States Senate to have endorsed me, so I appreciate that very much. We have won 19 states so far in this process. We hope Oregon will be the 20th. But we have been very strongly opposed by the Democratic establishment, and I very much appreciate that Senator Merkley had the courage to be the only member of the United States Senate to publicly endorse me.

WW: What advice did he give you about Oregon?

Sanders: Just be true to one’s self. Oregon is one of the most progressive states in this country. And I’m one of the most, if not the most, progressive member of the United States Senate. And if we tell the people of Oregon what we believe in—raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour, making public colleges and universities tuition free, pay equity for women, making sure the wealthiest people and large corporations start paying their fair share of taxes, rebuilding our infrastructure—I think those are issues that resonate in Oregon.

WW: I notice that you’re saying Orygun not Ore-gone. Is that because you caught flak for mispronouncing it before?

Sanders: I think I know it. (Laughs) I know how to pronounce it.

WW: Oregon has been the site in recent years of three mass shootings. You’ve been criticized by your opponent as being weak on gun control issues. Why should someone in Oregon who wants more limits on guns vote for you?

Sanders: That’s not an accurate characterization of my position. Back in 1988, when I ran for Congress from Vermont, I proposed and supported a ban on assault weapons. This was in 1988, before it was popular. And I was opposed by all of the gun groups in Oregon for that vote. I strongly support what President Obama is going to do to expand and improve the instant background check on people who should not have guns—people with criminal backgrounds or emotional issues. I strongly support doing away with the gun-show loophole, making the so-called straw-man provision a federal crime. People who check my record will find it a very strong record.

WW: Are you as concerned as Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) about Big Brother and the NSA’s power of surveillance?

Sanders: Yes, I voted against the U.S. Patriot Act, and I voted against the re-authorization of the U.S. Patriot Act. And I think we need public policy to keep up with the incredible changes in technology which now give both the government and private corporations significant ability to know much more about us. We have got to be vigorous in protecting our privacy rights. Sen. Wyden has done a very good job in that regard.

WW: What’s the biggest difference between you and Hillary Clinton on an Oregon-specific issue?

Sanders: The biggest difference is that I believe we should raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour. She thinks it should be raised to $12 an hour. I don’t have a Super PAC receiving millions of dollars from Wall Street as does Secretary Clinton. I vote against and led the opposition against the war in Iraq. Secretary Clinton voted for the war in Iraq.

WW: One last question. We asked the same one of Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton in 2008. If you were to get a tattoo, what would it be? If you don’t like the idea of getting a tattoo, pretend you’re under duress.

Sanders: If under duress I had to get a tattoo, what would it be? A bird. A Portland bird.

WW: Anything else you want to say?

Sanders: I think we will win in Oregon if voter turnout is high. We will lose in Oregon if voter turnout is low. There are just two days left in which people can bring their ballots into the ballot boxes, and I would hope very much that in one of the most progressive states in this country, we win and we win a strong victory. But that’s not going to happen unless large numbers come out to vote. I hope very much Oregonians come out in big numbers and we can win a good victory on Tuesday.

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