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Dr. Ben Carson addresses Washington Policy Center fundraiser dinner guests in Spokane

UPDATED: Fri., Oct. 15, 2021

Former White House official and presidential candidate Dr. Ben Carson addresses a crowd at the Washington Policy Center fundraiser dinner in Spokane on Friday, Oct. 15, 2021.   (Kip Hill)
Former White House official and presidential candidate Dr. Ben Carson addresses a crowd at the Washington Policy Center fundraiser dinner in Spokane on Friday, Oct. 15, 2021.  (Kip Hill)

Former White House official and presidential candidate Dr. Ben Carson lamented what he saw as challenges to America’s youth during the pandemic in a speech Friday night in Spokane.

Carson cited wearing masks at school, mandates imposed by the government and curricula addressing America’s racial past as issues that dwarfed his own growing up in poverty in metropolitan Detroit.

“I think about some of the kids today, and what they have to go through. Can you imagine what it must be like to be a kid today?” Carson said, as part of a 30-minute speech largely lauded by a crowd of more than 1,100 attendees of the Washington Policy Center’s annual dinner at the Davenport Grand.

The overflow crowd included several elected officials, including U.S. Reps. Cathy McMorris Rodgers and Dan Newhouse, as well as Spokane Mayor Nadine Woodward.

Those supporting the free market think tank applauded and cheered Carson’s views about mandatory vaccinations, saying he believed that “natural immunity” for those who have contracted COVID-19 should be considered instead of vaccinations. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention encourages vaccination for everyone, including those who have had COVID-19, due to likelihood of reinfection.

“I was on the (White House coronavirus) task force, and it was interesting to see some of the discussions that were going on,” said Carson, who himself contracted COVID-19 and previously said it left him “desperately ill.”

“Led by various people, the names of which I will not mention,” he continued, “just denigrated all the therapeutics.”

Carson began his remarks with a disclaimer, similar to the message he gave when speaking to an anti-abortion group in 2014 at the First Interstate Center for the Arts.

“My disclaimer is: I am not politically correct,” he said.

Since leaving the White House, Carson has founded the American Cornerstone Institute, a conservative think tank based in Washington, D.C. The organization recently published an online curriculum for children intended as an answer to critical race theory, an academic concept that is most often introduced in a college or university setting that looks at American institutions, and history and how they interact with minority groups.

Carson said he had just finished a manuscript with his wife as a “logical answer” to critical race theory, which he called “silly.”

“It wants our young people to believe that the most important determinant that happens in your life is the color of your skin,” Carson said of the theory, which has been targeted by school board candidates in Spokane and beyond, even though local districts say they’re not teaching the theory .

Carson served as President Donald Trump’s secretary of housing and urban development for the entirety of Trump’s term, visiting Spokane in August 2019 to tour the city’s EnVision Center. The initiative, criticized without and within the federal government for a lack of leadership and direction, was intended as a one-stop shop for social services to low-income clients.

Last month, a majority of the Spokane City Council elected not to renew the lease on the downtown building where the center opened in 2019.

Carson lauded the work of the department under his direction, acknowledging local officials by name for their assistance.

“We had some of the very best people in government. We were able to turn that agency completely around,” Carson said.

Carson has also joined the firm Galectin Therapeutics, a Georgia company pursuing treatments for a type of the liver disease cirrhosis that is not caused by excessive amounts of alcohol. Carson has served as a consultant with Galectin since April.

Before Carson’s speech, the Washington Policy Center bestowed their Celebrating Freedom Award to former U.S. Rep. George Nethercutt. Nethercutt, who has been diagnosed with progressive supranuclear palsey that affects his balance and speech, appeared via video to accept the award.

Nethercutt, who defeated House Speaker Tom Foley for the Eastern Washington seat in Congress, was introduced by former colleague Rep. Doc Hastings. Both were elected to office in 1994.

“Your legacy continues on and on and on,” Hastings told Nethercutt.

Friday’s fundraiser was part of a series of dinners that have typically been successful for the Washington Policy Center, a think tank pushing free market ideas and opposing public sector unions, among other efforts. The organization received $1.7 million in donations during their dinners in 2019, according to their most recent tax filings with the IRS.

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