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

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

CA-10: An Interview With Anthony Woods

The race in CA-10 for the seat vacated by Ellen Tauscher features three lawmakers with long resumes at the state level. And then there's Anthony Woods, a young man with no prior history in elected office, but festooned with what Benjy Sarlin of The Daily Beast called the best political resume ever. Woods is an African-American product of a single mother who found his way to West Point and Harvard's Kennedy School of Government. He is a two-time Iraq war platoon leader who returned all of his men home safely and received the Bronze Star. He is someone who, after returning home, was dismissed from the Army for challenging its Don't Ask Don't Tell policy. But politicians don't vote with their resumes. They must have the conviction to vote with their principles. I actually conducted the first interview with Woods back in April, and since then others have taken notice. So I thought I'd return to Woods and ask him about some of the key issues facing the Congress in the coming months. A paraphrased transcript of the conversation, executed last Wednesday, is below.

DD: Thanks for talking to me today.

Anthony Woods: No problem, thank you.

DD: So how's it going on the campaign trail?

AW: You know, it's really exciting. We're reaching that point where we're really building some critical mass. As you know, I did pretty well in the last fundraising quarter, we're going to have enough money to compete with some experienced lawmakers. The Human Rights Campaign and the LGBT Victory Fund just endorsed me, which is very exciting and shows their commitment to this campaign. We just had a great grand opening of our office with 50 volunteers from across the area. I'm holding a town hall meeting in Fairfield (this already happened -ed.) coming up and we're really starting to see a path for this to happen. It's great.

DD: OK, well let's start with the biggest issue on everyone's minds right now and that's health care. The way it's looking, if you're elected you might get a vote on this. What are your principles for this debate, and how would you like it to go.

AW: Well, I've been getting more concerned every day. At first, I was thinking that Congress gets it. They're going to do something to deal with the health care crisis in this country that I see talking to folks every day. But as we get into it, they're moving further and further away. First of all, they should have started the conversation at single payer so that if they had to move to the center they would have been coming from a better place. What we have are two issues: access and cost. Clearly the system right now is broken on both fronts. 50 million people go without health insurance and the costs are skyrocketing. And the Congressional effort looks to be falling short. I'm very concerned that there may be no public option.

DD: OK, so will you take a stand right now and say that if the bill before you has no public option that's available the day it's introduced, you won't vote for it?

AW: I don't know if I'd exactly go that far, but here's what I would say. I think there has to be a public option that's efficient and effective. And if the Democrats have some bold leadership, they can do it and do it right. What we need is some competition in the individual marketplace. If people have to buy insurance, we have to give them a choice that's affordable. So that's my first priority. And if the bill before me doesn't have that, yeah, I'd have trouble voting for it.

DD: You say it's about bold leadership, OK. Right now, about 90% of all private insurers offer abortion coverage as part of their health care plans. If a public option is supposed to compete with the private insurance market, doesn't it have to offer the same kind of baseline coverage that private insurers offer, especially if they are legal medical services?

AW: I think so. I am pro-choice, and I don't believe in limiting the right to choose. And if you're giving someone health insurance who has had trouble affording it, if they have to make the difficult choice to get an abortion, they need the same kind of resources that you could get on the private market. So I would agree with that.

DD: OK. I want to talk about the F-22. As you know, the Senate just voted down funding for additional funding for F-22 fighters that were designed for the Cold War and have never been used in Iraq or Afghanistan and are apparently vulnerable to rain. What's your reaction to that, and then I want to get into the military budget more generally.

AW: I support stripping the funding. My view is that if the Secretary of Defense and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the President all say we don't need them, we probably don't. And regardless of the impact on jobs, we should listen to that. I think we need in procurement a short-term view and a long-term view. We should obviously be prepared to defend the country, but we should be prudent with those funds, because it is real money.

DD: The F-22 funding and some other funding may stop, but the military budget will increase this year. And we still spend more on military activities than any other country on Earth combined. How can we continue to do that, isn't it unsustainable?

AW: My deployments in Iraq taught me that the military cannot be the solution to all of our problems overseas. Because we have this mindset currently, we've created a situation where the military is providing resources that other agencies could provide. We shouldn't have the Defense Department doing the work of the State Department or NGOs or US AID. I think if we shift some of that burden, it will actually make the troops safer, because we can focus resources on protecting them and providing them the equipment they need, instead of making the military the sole solution to every problem overseas.

DD: I want to tell you about a story I saw in the Wall Street Journal. It showed that the top 1% of wage earners in this country, the executives, the wealthy, are now earning 35% of all compensation. How do you react to that?

AW: Wow. That says a lot. You know, these are tough times, and when you see a tiny fraction like that benefiting from the resources of this county, I think it says that they need to sacrifice. We're in a situation where we implemented tax cuts in the middle of a war. We're trying to figure out how to pay for health care. And the top 1%, they're doing pretty well. I think we need some shared sacrifice.

DD: Why do you think it's so difficult for Democrats to simply say what you just said in that way? Even the surtax they've come up with in the House to pay for health care is getting dismissed. Why can't we just make the case that America is worth paying for, especially for those who use the public commons so much?

AW: I really think it starts with people who are willing to say that. And it's why I want to be there representing this community in Washington. My opponents are mostly the same politicians who we keep sending to Washington again and again, and I think we need someone who isn't afraid to say that, you know, the country has provided a lot to a small group of people, and they should give a little bit back.

DD: OK, let's move on. The foreclosure crisis is still hitting California hard, and so far the solutions that have come from Congress hasn't worked. What are some of your ideas to keep people in their homes?

AW: This is something I hear about from people every day when I'm campaigning. In California, we had a moratorium on foreclosures for a while, and I think that's part of the equation, but if you don't provide loan modifications for people, eventually that's not going to be enough. The immediate crisis we have is that people are losing their homes, so we need to make the necessary adjustments to allow people to refinance. After that immediate crisis, I think we have to clean up the regulatory environment, both in the mortgage market and also in banking.

DD: I've heard an interesting proposal called "right-to-rent," where people facing foreclosure can pay rent on the home for a number of years, they get to stay where they are, the banks have a revenue stream and don't have to deal with a blighted property, and the community gains from not having foreclosed properties on their block. What do you think of that?

AW: Sounds good. A lot of people are suffering right now. And it's traumatic to uproot yourself and have to leave your community, to have your kids leave schools. So anything that keeps folks in homes and communities sounds like a smart idea to me. It's certainly better than what we're doing.

DD: But how do we institute something like that when the banks, in the words of Dick Durbin, "own the place"?

AW: That's a tough problem. You know, the healthiest banks right now are the ones who separated investment and lending. And I think that most people I meet are frustrated to see the banks get us to this point. They want common-sense regulatory solutions to change that environment. I think the banks will have a real problem on their hands if they keep pushing and pushing, and people don't see a change in their daily lives while the banks rake in tons of money.

DD: OK, but what's the theory of change? How do we get all this done? When you have a situation where special interests rule and campaign contribution money means more than constituents, how can we fight for progressive outcomes in a Congress that appears to care more about the next election?

AW: Well, I think we have to elect people who are accountable to the ones who sent them. For me, I will give as much access to everyday people as possible, and let them shape my agenda rather than special interests and lobbyists. And I think we need to elect more people who have this philosophy. We're going to have to do it one representative at a time. And I think that's one of the reasons why my campaign is taking off. We cannot expect different results with the same politicians dealing with the same problems year after year. So I don't know if we can deal with everything at once, but we'll have to do it one representative at a time.

DD: OK, last question. Obviously, here in California, we're looking at a terrible budget and lots of structural problems. What can be done at the federal level to perhaps help the state out of this mess?

AW: Well, just looking at the state budget deal, it's basically more of the same. There's a crisis of leadership in Sacramento, and it produced a budget full of accounting tricks that just kick the can down the road. It's clear that the system is broken, and that's why I'd prefer a Constitutional convention and at the least getting rid of the 2/3 rule for budgets. California is such an important economy, it's a big chunk of the country, and when we aren't doing well, the country suffers. At the federal level, I think we need smart investment. The state is a donor state, it doesn't get back in funds what it pays in taxes. So I'd like to help reduce that. And also, we can take advantage of the resources and opportunities in California. This state has the chance to be a new energy leader, through wind and solar. And so I'd like to see those kinds of smart investments in California.

DD: Do you support a second stimulus, focused on state fiscal stabilization funds to save those jobs that rely on state spending?

AW: I think we're having a hard time distributing the funds from the first stimulus. So I think we have to give it some time to work. But we are definitely at a crisis point in this state, I see it every day, so I think we need to monitor the situation. And we have to make sure there's a safety net in place for the people of California.

DD: OK, great, thanks for taking the time to talk to me.

AW: Thank you.

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