As featured on p. 218 of "Bloggers on the Bus," under the name "a MyDD blogger."

Friday, July 17, 2009

CA-10: An Interview With Adriel Hampton

We have less than 50 days until the special election in the 10th Congressional District to replace Ellen Tauscher, who resigned to take a job at the State Department. The candidates include local members of the legislature, the state's Lieutenant Governor, and several candidates with interesting resumes. There's even word that New Age guru and Oprah pal Marianne Williamson may get into the race, although she doesn't have much time to make her decision. The 2nd quarter fundraising totals revealed some interesting outcomes, and the campaign staffs have debated who has the most local support and the most endorsements. There's even a burgeoning controversy about Ellen Tauscher's presence on Sen. Mark DeSaulnier's mailers, which may violate the Hatch Act now that she works in the State Department.

We've heard a lot about strategies, funding and endorsements, but a little less so about where the candidates stand on the issues. So I'm making an effort to interview all the Democratic candidates in the race, to discuss their views on the type of vexing problems that the country faces which they would be expected to deal with in Congress. The first candidate to respond was Adriel Hampton, the former Political Editor at the San Francisco Examiner and an investigator in the SF City Attorney's Office. What follows is a paraphrased transcript of the interview I conducted last week.

DD: Thanks for taking some time to talk with me.

Adriel Hampton: Thank you for contacting me, this is great.

DD: How are things going with the campaign?

AH: Things are good. I kind of feel on the razor's edge here, where I could either do really well or crash out. Obviously, (Anthony) Woods and I are the underdogs, while the elected officials are duking it out. Woods focused on fundraising and did a pretty good job, while I focused on building a volunteer organization. I'm working on voter ID in a distributed way using volunteers, and I've dropped 8,000 pieces of literature, half of it myself. I have two little kids, and I've been canvassing basically every night after they go to sleep since April. I got a designer in Los Angeles to deliver sharper literature, with a better printer, and I'm starting some targeted PAC fundraising among peace groups and progressive organizations. I think Anthony and I are running a bit to the left of the field. And then you have the possibility of Marianne Williamson getting in, and she has a major public profile as well as having worked with Kucinich in the past. I think she takes votes from everybody a bit, but certainly (Assemblywoman Joan) Buchanan.

I've just been trying to build a consistent presence on the ground, through appearances and volunteer events. The other campaigns have big staffs, especially (Lt. Gov. John) Garamendi. (Sen. Mark) DeSaulnier has the Democratic club circuit down, and Garamendi is kind of running an air war. But the poll he put out showed an 80% name ID and only 24% of the vote. I've been campaigning everywhere, all over the district, and we'll see how it goes.

DD: Let's get into the issues. I've been looking at your 12 ideas to change the nation, and right at the top is economic reform. Could you talk about that a bit?

AH: Absolutely. I got into this race to discuss economic issues and taking on Wall Street. In fact, I was strongly considering running a primary against Ellen Tauscher, I have been critical of her since her vote to authorize the Iraq war. Then I learned about how she was one of Wall Street's biggest friends. I'm running as an economic progressive. A big problem with the Democratic Party is that they consistently fail everyday citizens on economic issues. In many ways, they're just as corporate as the other party. I was active in the grassroots against the Bush bailout. Obama brought in some of the same people responsible for taking us down that road with Wall Street. I supported the stimulus, and the opportunity for New Deal-type spending, but I think we need to go further and break up the political power of Wall Street.

DD: You mention supporting credit unions. How exactly would Congress be able to do that?

AH: I think we can favor them with an FDIC guarantee, promoting them as an alternative to the global banks. During the financial crisis, the banks outside the big national firms tended to do better. And so I think we should encourage that more local approach.

DD: There's been a lot of talk recently about bankslaughter, this idea that we could add a new crime to hold bank managers personally responsible for behaving recklessly or in a negligent way. Do you support bankslaughter?

AH: I would tone down the name to enact popular support! But you know, when you see someone like Angelo Mozilo, he certainly engaged in what I would call a dereliction of duty. I don't have a problem with holding bankers personally responsible for failing to hold to certain consumer protections. What I've seen is that the grassroots folks who are not necessarily active in politics are very receptive to this. They want to see some accountability. And I don't want to harp on Obama entirely about these issues, he needs a progressive Congress as well to push this through, it's not all on him.

DD: OK. Another one of your 12 issues I read kind of surprised me, it was about conscience clauses. As it turns out, there was a federal ruling recently saying that pharmacies must dispense the Plan B pill and cannot use their religious beliefs to deny women legal medical aid that they seek. How you do respond to that?

AH: I am not for restricting access to the morning after pill or abortion information. All I'm saying is that there has been a robust system of jurisprudence around reasonable exemptions. You cannot fire disabled people because they cannot perform one task in a job, you have to make an exemption. If a pharmacist doesn't want to provide those pills, some other pharmacist can in their place.

DD: But some people live in rural areas where they have no other choice but one pharmacist for possibly hundreds of miles. If that person doesn't want to provide legal services, shouldn't he find another job?

AH: Well, I'm for reasonable accommodation, not blocking access to health care. I believe in allowing people to exercise their individual liberties as long as they don't infringe on others. I'm willing to talk about the nuance of issues like this, to see if we can come to an understanding.

DD: The biggest issue in Congress right now is health care. Where do you stand?

AH: Well, I'm for single payer. Pete Stark, up here in the Bay Area, decided to vote against that cap and trade bill because it was too weak, and conservatives now love him for it. But I don't think that should come into account, and I don't think the grassroots should give up. Some of my opponents say we should get what we can get, but we might lose the momentum for reform if we do that. But I understand that we have to treat those millions of people who are suffering right now without health insurance.

DD: Let me ask you this, would you agree to refuse to sign any bill without a robust public option that is available immediately and can use Medicare bargaining rates to drive down costs?

AH: You know what, I would. I would not vote for anything that didn't severely change the insurance system. I'm not a violent person, but the system is so violent right now that I feel the need to do violence to it. And the same with war funding efforts without drawdowns and timelines, I couldn't vote for that. I know that the ads would kill me, defying the President. But I think it's important to talk about the issues, meeting as many people as I can, going right to them and explaining myself. There have to be lines in the sand. We have a radical right-wing party in this country that is almost insane. And the Democrats are playing down the center. We need some organizing from the left. Just imagine someone like me, a regular guy, expressing the beliefs of Lynn Woolsey and Barbara Lee. I'm not afraid of the word socialist in certain respects. I think there's a role for government in equalization, to provide an economic bulwark against death, disease, and poverty. And I get that regular people in the insurance industry may suffer, but are they worth the struggle of 47 million uninsured? At least we can start these debates on the left, I think it would result in a better outcome.

DD: Obviously at Calitics we're focused on the budget issues. What help do you think the federal government could provide to help get some systemic reform here?

AH: Well, I voted all No on May 19, because I didn't see any serious reform efforts in there. One benefit of the problems now in California, which are tragic, is that I hope people are waking up. There's such a right-wing influence in the media and the popular consciousness. As it turns out, California's taxes are not progressive. I just think there's a rage on the populist level that can be tapped by progressives. Everyone in this race is a strong liberal, but I think I'm the only progressive, fighting for progressive taxation and labor rights.

DD: So what reforms can we get out of Congress? Some want the Feds to provide loan guarantees to the states, or they can condition a second stimulus to real budget reform, or even take Medicaid out of a state/federal partnership and into the realm of a purely federal program to smooth out outcomes throughout the country. Where do you fall?

AH: Probably along the lines of more extreme reforms. I appreciate Calitics' reporting on this. The loan guarantees sound like a good idea. I could live with centralized funding of Medicaid with local administration. And I'm for carrots and sticks in any stimulus funding, the idea that if you bail out a state, they have to have additional guarantees. Overall, I'm for structural reform. One of my opponents, Sen. DeSaulnier, is pushing a Constitutional convention. But we all need to stay on top of that.

DD: One final question, with respect to Iran. You wrote in your 12 points to change the nation that "I will oppose, by any means necessary, Iran’s acquisition of a nuclear weapon." Obviously, a lot has happened since you wrote that. Are you revisiting this, and how can we engage with Iran now given the scenes of repression?

AH: Iran is one of the most difficult issues we have right now. We shouldn't forget the amazing turnout in their election, almost 85%. What did we have for the special election, 25%? We shouldn't really be in the position of telling Iran what to do. And you cannot give a state democracy, the people have to want it for themselves, things have to happen. Military intervention in Iran right now would be terrible. And we have to be careful, because the students over there are already being scapegoated as US puppets. It's also an open question whether Mousavi has clean hands, or if he's just an outlet valve for the current system. But I still believe we have to have negotiations. I think Woods and I are the only two who said that at our last forum. Garamendi was talking about banning the import of refined oil. That would only hurt everyday people in Iran. So I think we need diplomatic relations and a strategic dialogue. I'm not happy about dealing with Ahmadienjad, but you have to play the hand you're dealt.

DD: OK, thanks-

AH: Can I add one final issue? I am the only candidate in the race who supports the full legalization of marijuana, I think Woods supports decriminalization. We're seeing a modern prohibition movement, and that leads to inefficient and dangerous outcomes. We have a highly regulated alcohol industry, and I think we could do the same thing with marijuana. I don't smoke, but people like me, squares, need to say, "what is the policy benefit of continuing the drug war?"

DD: All right. Thanks for your time.

AH: Great, thanks.

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