Former Starbucks CEO asks Kansans to help him decide on presidential run

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Former Starbucks CEO and potential independent presidential candidate Howard Schultz shakes hands as he arrives at a listening tour stop in McPherson on Wednesday afternoon, April 10, 2019. Former Starbucks CEO and potential independent presidential candidate Howard Schultz shakes hands as he arrives at a listening tour stop in McPherson on Wednesday afternoon, April 10, 2019.
Howard Schultz shares his thoughts on what's needed to fix the country with possible supporters at a listening tour stop in McPherson, Kan, on Wednesday afternoon, April 10, 2019. Howard Schultz shares his thoughts on what's needed to fix the country with possible supporters at a listening tour stop in McPherson, Kan, on Wednesday afternoon, April 10, 2019.
The crowd that greeted Schultz in Wichita was almost twice as large as the one in McPherson.  Again, he shared his ideas then answered questions for about an hour on Wednesday afternoon, April 10, 2019. The crowd that greeted Schultz in Wichita was almost twice as large as the one in McPherson. Again, he shared his ideas then answered questions for about an hour on Wednesday afternoon, April 10, 2019.
Not everyone agreed with everything Schultz had to say.  When Claudia Amaro called him out on some of his terminology regarding immigration he listened closely. Not everyone agreed with everything Schultz had to say. When Claudia Amaro called him out on some of his terminology regarding immigration he listened closely.
McPherson and Wichita, Kan (KAKE) -

"If I was elected president I would do everything humanly possible to work with both sides," Howard Schultz told a crowd in McPherson Wednesday afternoon.  "I would be there for the right reasons."

It's presidential-style campaigning with a jolt of caffeine.  It's never been done before, an independent candidate has never won the presidency.  But, the former CEO of Starbucks says it would be un-American to say he can't do it.

"I have to demonstrate to the American people over the next 18 months that this is legitimate, it's credible, and that we can transform the system, that it's not a wasted vote," he told potential supporters.

On visits to Topeka, Abilene, McPherson, and Wichita Wednesday, Howard Schultz was very careful to call this a listening tour not a campaign run.  Kansas is just one of several states he's visiting as he decides whether to officially throw his hat in the ring.

At each stop he begins by sharing his thoughts on the importance of the 2020 election. 

"On the character/morality issue alone, this president needs to be defeated and we need to restore dignity to the White House," he said in McPherson.

He also is quick to point out the benefits fo an independent candidate.

"I've never seen a level of dysfunction, polarization on the issues," he told KAKE News Pilar Pedraza in a one on one interview.  "$22 trillion in national debt, a health care crisis, K through 12 education in disarray, an immigration problem, our standing in the world.   All of these problems have been with us for a long time, not only under President Trump's watch.  And they're problems because both sides' ideology are unwilling to do the people's business.  So I strongly believe that we have to disrupt and transform the system."

After making an introductory speech at each stop, Schultz opened the floor to questions.  Kansans asked about everything from immigration to healthcare.

"DACA, the Dreamers should be viewed through the lens of humanity," he said while outlining ideas that span from tighter border security using the latest technology to increased opportunities for legal immigration and finding a path to legal status for those brought here without documents as children or who have overstayed their visas.

As for healthcare, he says, he supports the ACA or Obamacare, but that it needs fixing.  He suggests a form of universal catastrophic health insurance for emergencies and pre-existing conditions coupled with a lower tax rate for employers who offer comprehensive healthcare to all employees, full- and part-time, as he did with Starbucks.

On his chances of winning, he says America is the place where dreams come true.

"It would be un-American to say to an entrepreneur like me, who built a global industry and a global company, who gave free healthcare and ownership and free college tuition to every employee, that this can't be done," Schultz told KAKE's Pilar Pedraza.  "Also, the facts are that about 40% of the American people affiliate themselves as an independent. and they are fed up and disgusted with the polarization."

His stops drew dozens of Kansans, some with an idea of what Schultz stands for.

"I'm looking for something different and someone different," said Ann Engel in McPherson after listening to and questioning Schultz.  "He believes in a lot of the things that I do.  I like his take on people and equality and there are things wrong with this country and I agree with the things he wants to fix."

Others showed up not knowing what to expect.

"Honestly, I didn't know it was political," said Claudia Amaro, an immigration activist in Wichita who grilled Schultz on his immigration ideas and terminology. "I thought it was going to be business."

Both Amaro and Engel said they particularly liked it when Schultz preached that all votes matter, even if they aren't for the Kansas Republican establishment.

"I want to vote for the person that I think will do the best job," Engel explained after questioning Schultz on the topic.  "And then I get afraid sometimes because of the other person that's running and I don't want them to win.  Then I'm wondering, is my vote a waste?  But I just don't believe that.  I think every vote counts and we should all vote for who we want to be there not who we don't want to be there."

"l really liked when he talked about the vote in Kansas," Amaro said.  "It's basically not worth it.  We hear that all the time, 'I don't want to vote because my vote doesn't matter.'   Just having a person not caring about.. not looking closely to that but saying, 'Hey, I still want to go there and listen to Kansas,' that means a lot."

He says he chose Kansas precisely because it's usually overlooked by politicians considering a run in favor of the more purple Iowa, home of the First in the Nation Caucuses.

"I'm here because no politician in my experience comes to Kansas.  But I'm here really to listen and learn.  There is a fact though that Kansas has been a Republican state for over 50 years.  If I enter the race as a centrist independent, I think there's a really good chance that Kansas, unlike any other time in the last 50 years, is in play," he told Pedraza. "But I'm here to listen and learn.  And, what I've learned today has been really stunning.  The concern farmers have about what's happened to their livelihood as a result of a terrible decision on the president's part about the trade and the tariff war with China.  The issues that farmers are having, they can't find labor, really concerned me.  And so I think I've learned and listened."

Schultz points to the conversations he's had with Kansans on this tour as examples of how carefully laid out his positions are, despite accusations his campaign is policy-light.

"I've talked more specifically about more substance than I think anybody who's considering running for president," Schultz told Pedraza.  "But yet I'm held to a higher standard because I'm trying to do something that has not been done before.  I understand that.  I welcome the questions and I welcome the opportunity to make my case to the American people."

From Kansas, Schultz is headed to St. Louis, then Arizona and Utah.  He says he expects to make a decision on if he'll run sometime late spring or early summer.

"I think I have a lot of things to think about tonight," Amaro said after listening to Schultz in Wichita.

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