You represent a majority-minority district in Congress. These districts tend to place a large number of minorities (who usually vote Democrat) within a single district - creating a handful of very safe Democratic seats and leaving many more conservative white districts for the Republicans. Doesn't that make it very difficult to win and hold a House majority? Do you support any changes to the Voting Rights Act that would limit the proliferation of majority-minority districts?
The VRA has been an important protection for all voters, not just minority voters. Ensuring that everyone has the right to vote and that that vote be counted is important -- we can never forget that. I represent a district in which a person of color has a reasonable opportunity to be elected. That's all that the VRA protects. It is not a guarantee of who gets elected. The question is access, not outcome. It's the Republicans who push packing of minority districts in order to maximize their ability to win districts everywhere else. I believe that adhering to the VRA and having competitive districts are not mutually exclusive.
After Rep. Giffords shooting, you attacked the harsh political discourse and associated disunity in the country. In light of those statements, do you condemn the statements of Rep. Andre Carson (re tea party members wanting to lynch people) and Teamster President Hoffa ( "let's take out those SOBs")? If not, aren't you just being a hypocrite?
Civility loses in the heat of battle. I believe both individuals, if given the opportunity today, would restate what they said. I have tried -- and it is difficult -- to maintain a depersonalized approach to my comments, political and otherwise. Having said that, it's hard to ignore what is said with regards to the president and the lack of common courtesy and civility on issues as critical as jobs and the economy.
What would you recommend be in a job package?
A robust federal job creation initiative that immediately puts people to work. This isn't just hype -- it's possible to put it into action now. Repairing schools alone could employ about 2 million people nationwide. We should be fixing our national parks and upgrading our transportation infrastrucuture. We should also be rehiring police officers, firefighters, teachers and other public employees leaving their jobs because they feel under assault from their state and local anti-worker lawmakers. An infrastructure bank would help secure the advancements we make in the short term. We should demand widespread mortgage refinancing to reduce mortgage payments and keep people in their homes. The economy is interconnected and we have to look at every aspect.
With corporations now considered legal "persons" with all the rights of human beings, democracy is being undermined. How can we preserve our government of the people, for the people, and by the people when we cannot compete with wealthy corporations able to buy votes, control our access to information, and influence our elections?
The Supreme Court decision in Citizens United is the biggest threat to our democracy that we have ever faced, with the possible exception of historical events like World War II. As we have done on other issues, Congress needs to pass legislation that corrects this terrible decisions. We need to require full disclosure and lead to public financing of federal elections. The money is too out of control. We can't tinker around the edges, just like the jobs crisis.
In the New York Times recently, Cornel West beautifully wrote a call for a revolution from the left. My question is: how can progressives organize to do this, to counter - and then some - the Tea Party influence?
Progressives at this time are the only real policy and political alternative to the Tea Party. If major media outlets would give progressive ideas and initiatives -- which are overwhelmingly popular in public opinion polls -- the same treatment as Tea Party outbursts and theatrics, you would see resounding support for the common-sense policy positions we hold. We should be about building our base, electing leadership at the local level, and continuing to bring progressive leadership to Washington. In 2012, progressives will represent the clear, logical and common-sense alternative to the Tea Party. We will do well. We have to keep that momentum going over the long run.
Given the big fires and the border crime problems, are you planning on any more wilderness legislation?
The designation of wilderness areas and the catastrophic fires and border violence we've seen recently are not linked, except in peoples' minds. There is no wilderness legislation that prevents in any way fire suppression and Border Patrol pursuit in wilderness areas. Some would like you to believe that a wilderness designation contributes to crime and fires. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Do illegal alieans take jobs from the American public?
I would say that the myth that our unemployment and economic crisis is due to unathorized workers is far too simplistic and, quite frankly, obviously incorrect. The root cause of our unemployment is much more complex. Tax cuts for the very rich have put economic incentives out of whack. Big subsidies for Big Oil and Big Gas have cost us too much. The United Farm Workers offered to place any U.S. citizen in a job harvesting fruits and vegetables. This was a national appeal that they were able to follow through on. Less than 100 people applied. Of that number, none are presently working. The point is that there are jobs out there that nobody wants. Those are the jobs in which you find the vast majority of undocumented workers.
Why don't we hear about the Democrat's ideas for job creation? Even when they were in the minority, Republicans seemed to have had a bigger megaphone. If Dems are proposing ideas, why don't we hear about them?
I see three reasons. 1: Democrats aren't always very good at explaining themselves clearly. 2: The media loves Beltway thinking, to be honest, and it's easy to write "Republicans are on the march" instead of "Democrats have a multi-faceted plan to . . ." 3: We're sometimes too protective of the presidency, and we don't always confront a lack of good messaging head on. This isn't something that will change overnight -- the best thing to do is recognize and be honest about the situation, and work to make yourself better. Control what you can control and try to raise awareness in others. It's not easy, but it's part of governing.
Can you tell us about your People's Budget? I hear it gets us to a budget surplus in ten years. And why isn't President Obama supporting it or parts of it?
No one has to take our word for it. You can go to http://www.thepeoplesbudget.org to read all about how it works, who's endorsed it, what it does (and it does indeed produce a surplus in 10 years) and how it makes our economy work again. We end tax giveaways to corporations and the very wealthy. We put millions of people back to work by investing intelligently in the foundations of our economy. We fully fund programs like the federal Medicaid matching rate, which the Economic Policy Institute has said is one of the best ways to help the economy and create jobs. The bottom line is that we need consumers with money in their pockets, not people struggling to make ends meet. The People's Budget puts on back on the right track, and I encourage everyone to take a close look.
Both sides like to talk in terms of improving our "competitiveness" -- the right would do so by eliminating regulations and cutting corporate taxes and the left would do so by investing in education and infrastructure. Leaving aside that debate for a moment, could you please explain how competitiveness is even relevant in addressing a global economic slump? If the pie is shrinking, shouldn't we try to get it growing again instead of worrying how big our piece is? If every country in the world focuses on perceived self interest, everyone will be worse off (especially because everyone's perceptions seem to be somewhat faulty these days).
You're absolutely right that if crumbs are all that's left, nobody's realling coming our ahead. But being "competitive" is more than a buzzword. It means continuing to educate and train Americans for relevant, twenty-first century professions and trades. There will always be more and less competitive countries, just as there are more and less competitive companies within each economic sector. You don't want to be a less competitive company, no matter how big or small your industry is. We don't want to be less educated, less prepared and less attractive to educated workers than other countries, because brain drain has historically been a symptom of serious trouble no matter where it happens.
If illegal immigrants are simply taking jobs Americans "don't want," then wouldn't it make more sense to turn them into jobs that Americans would want by increasing pay, benefits and working conditions, instead of exploiting poor people from other countries? In 1860, slaves did jobs nobody wanted, too.
I don't disagree with you. I consistently vote to increase the minimum wage -- Republicans vote against it and flat out don't agree. Republicans talk about job creation, but vote against the ways we make that happen. AgJOBS legislation has support from the Chamber of Commerce to the unions -- it would make these jobs stable and attractive to all. The more exploitation we remove from those jobs, the more attractive they become to workers who expect and demand high American standards of worker treatment. I don't support exploitative labor practices at all, and we have to make the decisions that will really end them. Building walls is a fantasy solution, and everyone needs to decide whether they want serious solutions that will work economically or easy answers that make them feel good in the short term.