SIOUX CITY -- In a visit to the home of Sioux City attorney Al Sturgeon, former Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Julián Castro made his pitch for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination.
He spent Friday touring towns in Northwest Iowa, just over a month after announcing his candidacy.
If elected, Castro said the first thing he'd do on Jan. 20, 2021, is sign an executive order re-committing the U.S. to the Paris Climate Accord.
"We need to address some of the long-term threats to this country: climate change being number one," he said.
Castro, who made a point of personally greeting attendees crowded into Sturgeon's kitchen and dining room before he spoke, joked about his twin brother, Congressman Joaquin Castro, and the difficulty in visually differentiating between the two identical men.
"He likes to go around telling people that the way to tell us apart, is that I am a minute uglier than he is," Castro said to laughs from the crowd. "It's not true, don't believe it. In fact, these days, he's growing out a beard, so that people can tell us apart. So if you see him, you will know that he's the uglier one."
The audience included state senator Jackie Smith; Woodbury County Elections Commissioner Pat Gill; and J.D. Scholten, who ran an unsuccessful campaign last November to unseat longtime 4th District Congressman Steve King.
Speaking of Scholten's loss to King, Castro recounted an encounter he had Thursday with Congressman King at a Des Moines television station.
"I had a pleasant conversation for two minutes with him, but it reminded me that he does not represent the people of Iowa," Castro said of King.
Castro pitched ideas including affordable healthcare and college, a $15 minimum wage, support for labor unions, addressing climate change and affordable housing, criminal justice reform, universal pre-K education and immigration reform.
He told the story of his grandmother, who immigrated to the U.S. in the early 1920s at age 7, an orphan of the Mexican Revolution. In her later years, she suffered diabetes and lost a foot.
"Thank God that Medicare was there for her," Castro said of his grandmother. "I believe that Medicare should be strengthened, and it should be there for everybody."
In 2014, more than 90 years after his grandmother arrived in Texas, President Obama called Castro to offer him a position as HUD secretary, a position he held for two and a half years.
"It's not every day that a president calls you and asks if you want a job. I had just gone through the drive-through at Panda Express," Castro said to more laughs from the audience. "I didn't tell him that I had a bag of Panda Express on the passenger side of the car."
In advocating for free post-secondary education, Castro said the U.S. will need an educated workforce to keep up with competition from other countries that churn out educated young people.
"Some of the folks in this room will remember, that it wasn't that long ago, that a lot of our state university systems were tuition free," he said. "Go talk to the young at heart, folks that went through college a couple generations ago, and they'll tell you it was $50 a semester, or it was free."