San Marcos Mercury | Local News from San Marcos and Hays County, Texas
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About 100 people turned out to greet Chelsea Clinton at the Hays County courthouse on Monday. The former First Daughter was campaigning for her mom, Hillary Clinton, ahead of the March 4 primary. NEWSTREAMZ PHOTO by BRAD ROLLINS.

By KELLY MERKS
Correspondent

While Sen. Hillary Clinton was back in Washington on Monday, her daughter Chelsea Clinton showed up at the Hays County Courthouse for a conversation with San Marcos and Hays County residents.

The meeting was planned to take place outside the east entrance of the courthouse. About 50 chairs were set up on the lawn hours in advance, but shortly before Clinton was scheduled to speak, the crowd was told to move inside the courthouse because of the skirt-lifting breezes and unexpected, summer-like heat.

Once all were comfortably inside, Hays County Judge Elizabeth Sumter introduced Jehmu Greene, former president of the non-profit organization Rock the Vote and Democratic strategist and commentator for the Fox News Network. Greene is a Hillary Clinton supporter because, above all, Clinton is “a voice for the voiceless.” She urged those backing Clinton to talk to those “on the fence and those who have made up their minds based not on the issues.”

Greene exuded energy and excitement for Texans as she explained to the audience “for the first time in 48 years, Texas has the chance to decide who the democratic nominee is. I see some of the young faces in this crowd, and I am encouraged to see that Barack Obama does not have a monopoly on the youth vote.”

“I am proud to say I am voting my race — the human race,” Greene, an African-American female, said.

Soon after Greene spoke, surprise guest Sean Astin took the floor. Astin, who is best known for his acting roles in the films The Goonies, Rudy, Encino Man and Lord of the Rings, was appointed in 2003 to the President’s Council on Service and Civic Participation.

Monday, February 25 — today — is his birthday, Astin told the audience. But he celebrated with his wife and daughters yesterday, because today he did not “want to be anywhere else than with you, here.” Astin spoke of Hillary Clinton’s credentials and experience, and even commented that “as a citizen and a voter, I know she will be the best commander-in-chief of all three” candidates in reach of party nomination, including Senators Barack Obama (D-Ill.) and John McCain (R-Ariz.).

“This woman and her husband have worked their whole lifetimes, brick by brick” to improve the quality of life and give “voice to the voiceless,” a the near-too-oft-mentioned phrase the Clinton campaign seems to have embraced just like Obama’s campaign and the word “change.”

After Astin put in his two cents, Clinton, who walked in the courthouse nonchalantly and with to-go coffee in hand, assumed the proverbial podium. She has the reputation of a shy nature, but an observer in today’s smallish audience would not get this impression.

Clinton thanked those in attendance at the courthouse, and those who had already voted for her mother in early voting.

“Thank you for being a part of this conversation, and I want to hear your questions,” Clinton said. She launched into a small, pre-conversation monologue, and the meeting’s remainder was spent fielding questions from the audience.

The first question posited to Clinton was about her personal life: What is the role she would have if her mother is elected? None, she said. She is looking forward to returning to her private life and career in the financial sector of New York City.

Because Clinton is the first child since Amy Carter to spend many of her formative years in the White House, the country is seeing a different Chelsea than the 12-year-old with braces that scores of Americans remember. Aside from the possibility of visiting “first kid” status for the second time, she would surely have a very different role, if any, than the one she had before.

Clinton, who is headed to Lubbock to stump for her mother on the Texas Tech University campus Monday evening, said she is “fiercely proud of her father and mother” and of how her father, former president Bill Clinton, improved the quality of life for the American middle class in the 1990s.

When an audience member voiced concern of President George W. Bush’s precedent of obtaining excessive executive power, Clinton replied that her mother “believes in the Constitution … and in checks and balances and Congressional oversight.” She claims Hillary believes America should operate at a state level. Thus, she would return “stolen” executive powers to the states.

Clinton was questioned on more domestic issues, such as ensuring food safety, rights for imprisoned criminals, the housing market, tax breaks and Bill Clinton’s controversial “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy for homosexuals in the military.

She cited tax discrimination against gays and transsexuals that her mother would ameliorate, and Astin added, “Bill was criticized for ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,’ but it really was a massive improvement… Hillary is not going to overturn something her husband worked so hard for.”

Clinton and Astin shared microphone time, the only telling move of her shyness; she would answer some questions in whole, but occasionally passed off the microphone to him, as if he was assisting her in answering a difficult question.

Astin, hypothesizing a Clinton White House victory, said when this time is looked back upon in 200, 300 years, “the time of Clinton will be one of blessing and grace.”

Among present Clinton rally-goers, healthcare was the primary concern and frequently the deciding factor among those who were once fence sitters.

Briana Noelle Parramore, an English senior at Texas State, said healthcare is her big issue because “I’m graduating in May, and after that I’m left with no healthcare.”

Parramore, like other fresh college graduates, is seeking shelter from the limbo-land of no health insurance that many graduates experience between the time they graduate and the when they finally land that first benefits-included, full-time job.

But there are others who feel it more personally.

Carolyn MacDonald, who lives and works in Wimberley, is an avid Clinton supporter because “she votes for the low — and that’s where I am. I am 65 years old, and just got out of the hospital with a $10,000 bill. And I’m just one person.”

“She just fights for the poor, and that’s what we need,” echoed her husband, Dennis. “Hillary is for everybody, helping people since she and Bill were in Arkansas. 25 years. She speaks from her heart.”

When Clinton was asked if her mother would be coming to San Marcos following Obama’s rally in Sewell Park Wednesday night, and following local criticism that the candidates are sending surrogates to San Marcos rather than visiting the city themselves, she smiled and politely said she did not know.

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