In his second trip to Story County since announcing his candidacy for the Democratic presidential nomination, former United States Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Julian Castro stopped by Farm Grounds in Nevada for coffee and conversation with a goal to “invest in people, not things.”


“If I’m elected president, I will spend every single day working so that you and your family can have good health care, that your kids and grand-kids could get a good education and that you can get a job opportunity no matter your background,” Castro said to the crowd of about 50 people who filled the Nevada coffee shop.


The former HUD secretary’s first visit to the county was as a headliner at the Story County Democrats Soup Supper in February alongside fellow Democratic candidates, Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., and former Colorado governor John Hickenlooper.


The candidate said he’s running for president to bring new leadership and a new vision to the United States of America.


“I believe it’s time for a president that is for all Americans, and I believe that we can move forward as one nation,” Castro said.


Castro touched on a variety of topics, from criminal justice and immigration reform to universal education, but told the Tribune the most important issue today is helping working-class Americans “get ahead.”


“Right now the most important thing is there are too many people in our country that are working hard, but are not able to get ahead,” Castro said. “This is why we need to do things like raise the minimum wage, and also make housing affordable to the middle, lower-middle class and the poor because we have an affordability crisis.”


Castro , who like other Democratic candidates supports increasing the minimum wage to $15 per hour, said that’s what he pays his staffers and interns as a base, and encourages them to unionize.


In the area of educational investment, the former San Antonio mayor referred to himself as a product of public schooling and said that universal Pre-K is a must, and universally accessible and affordable higher education is needed for younger generations to compete for skill-based jobs.


“For the United States, we don’t have a single person to waste, and we also know that jobs require more skill and knowledge than ever before. So we ought to make higher and public education tuition-free,” Castro said.


Healthcare was a big concern for at least two people in attendance Saturday.


“The cards are stacked against us in terms of healthcare in this country,” said Mike Coverdale of Nevada. “My wife is diabetic, and she’s coming back today from Mexico where she can buy cheaper diabetic medicines than she can across the street here at the pharmacy, so it’s a big issue.”


Coverdale also said he liked that Castro focused on unity in the country and on immigration.


Dava James, of Nevada, said healthcare was also a primary issue for her in 2020.


“I’m concerned for senior citizens,” James said. “The pharmaceutical companies (are) making money off of medication and … I’m paying more out of pocket.”


Sarah Rosenblum, of Marshalltown and a librarian for the city, said diversity is an important topic for her, particularly because of the diversity of Marshalltown.


“Immigration is very important to us, and we need to have some real conversations about immigrants and the importance of them to our community and our nation,” said Rosenblum, whose mother is a second-generation American whose family fled Lithuania in 1913.


Castro said if elected, his first order of business would be to issue an executive order to enter the United States back into the Paris Climate Agreement, a United Nations climate-action pact the U.S. withdrew from on June 1, 2017.


Reform of the immigration and criminal justice system in America are also some immediate action-items for the third-generation Mexican-American.


“If we’re going to be the fairest nation on earth we need to reform our justice system,” Castro said. “We need to reform our immigration system. […] We don’t have to choose between border security and being compassionate human beings.”


While taking questions from the crowd, Castro was asked on how he would ensure air and water quality protections in the future, a heavily-debated issue in Story County.


Castro said that he would appoint members to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), that “works for you” to enforce clean air and water laws.


“What I believe is that we need to have people who will enforce clean air and water laws, and hold agriculture to a standard,” said Castro.


When asked by the Tribune on how he plans to stand out in a Democratic field that is at 17 and counting, Castro said, “I wasn’t born a frontrunner, a lot of people who were here today never felt like a frontrunner and I’m going to make sure that their kids have a good education, and they have good healthcare when they need it. I am confident that with the support of a lot of Iowans, by the time the Iowa Caucus rolls around on Feb. 3rd, I will be the frontrunner.”