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Rep. Mike Levin On His First Days In Congress

January 8, 2019 1:38 p.m.

GUEST: Rep. Mike Levin, D-Oceanside

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Transcript:

This is a rush transcript created by a contractor for KPBS to improve accessibility for the deaf and hard-of-hearing. Please refer to the media file as the formal record of this interview. Opinions expressed by guests during interviews reflect the guest’s individual views and do not necessarily represent those of KPBS staff, members or its sponsors.

. The biggest splash created by the Blue Wave that surged through San Diego County in November was when Democrat Mike Levin won the congressional seat held for the last couple of decades by Republican Darrell Issa. Levin was sworn into Congress in Washington D.C. this week to represent residents of southern Orange County and San Diego's coastal North County. From Delmon up to Oceanside Congressman Levin joins us now via Skype from Washington D.C.. Thanks so much for joining us.

Alisyn it's great to speak with you. Happy New Year.

Happy New Year to you. And of course first of all congratulations. Thank you so much. So none of them flipped the forty ninth rallies outside Darro ICE's office in Vista. You know that's where it all started. And now you're in the halls of Congress. This is actually the first time you've ever held elected office. What is your initial impression of how our government is working.

Well it's not working right now unfortunately. And you know what we have done as the Democratic Party is reintroduce a lot of the same pieces of legislation to fund our government that were voted on just last month by Senate Republicans who approved of these bills to continue funding various pieces of the government. We are going to be doing that today and throughout the week to make sure that the IRS is open to provide tax returns for people and are refunds for people and to fund things like the fish and wildlife service. I was just on the phone this morning with a local employee of the Fish and Wildlife Service in North County and they have an office locally that's been impacted by this.

We're 50 or so folks have been furloughed and can't do their work. We've got about 10000 500 federal employees in the 49 districts. A good chunk of them are out because of the shutdown. And we've also got about 11000 households that are recipients of SNAP and the uncertainty around food stamps is going to hit you know in our district throughout the country. The impact of obviously people not being able to get their tax refunds. Despite what the president may or may not be saying about that in you know this really impacts us all.

You know to some members of the public it may look as if the Democrats are responsible for the shutdown that even landed in the middle of because they're not moving towards this five billion dollars for Sobota well. So what do you say to the people who aren't getting a paycheck this Friday.

Well we are voting have voted will continue to vote to get the government open and working again. And you know the the two bills that we voted on last week one of them had seven Republicans joining us and the other had five Republicans. There is bipartisan support for reopening the government. My guess is you're going to see more of that this week you're going to see Republicans who realize that we need to get the government up and running again. And just to be clear we're supporting all of those areas where there's bipartisan consensus that we need to reopen and we're leaving border security for further debate until February 8th.

Do you agree with the president that there's a crisis on the southern border.

I do not. I think that that's largely a political tactic perhaps a distraction distraction from many of the issues that are more important. And you know really the the issue is what type of technology we need to deal with border security. I'm a strong proponent of modern technology that is more effective when I think about a wall I think it's a fifth century in answer to a 21st century challenge. I think it's very wasteful and you know we have passed legislation for smarter more effective border security to keep our nation safe.

And let's not forget that it was a campaign tactic that the president used while as a candidate when he consistently said you know on the trail that Mexico was going to pay. And clearly that's not the case.

Now you are an environmental attorney by profession. So what steps are you taking to have a voice in any kind of legislation affecting climate change. What do you think is the most urgent priorities in the coming year.

Well a couple of things. One is just today we're announcing that I'm joining the Sustainable Energy and Environmental caucus of the house. That's a group that is growing very quickly. I've recently joined those supporting a Green New Deal. I think it's imperative that we reduce and ultimately eliminate our dependence on fossil fuels and accelerate the transition to a sustainable economy. That's what I've tried to do in my professional career it's what I'll try to fight for Washington. And I haven't yet received my committees that ultimately all be assigned to.

I have expressed interest in a variety of those committees both the standing committees as well as well as the new select committee and I look forward to working with leadership and working with my colleagues to to try to lead again. You know we have gone from a leader the world over to a laughingstock.

With regard to our carbon emissions now I understand that one of the other issues that you plan to fight for in Washington D.C. Is gun regulation. Is this something that your constituents in the 49 districts want addressed.

Well certainly you know we have a couple of bills that I'm cosponsoring today is the eighth anniversary of the tragic shooting of former Congressman Gabby Giffords. The bill H.R. eight to signify that eighth anniversary is something that I'm a cosponsor on being introduced today would provide for a federal universal background check system. This is something that is deeply personal to me. The other big piece of legislation that I'm cosponsoring is H.R. 1 which is called the for the people act. And that was introduced last week. And it's really transformative to clean up corruption and try to return integrity to Washington so we can just restore the basic faith that people have in government.

Former Congressman Darrell Issa got a bit of a reputation for not being available to all his constituents in his final term. How do you plan to stay in touch with people that you represent in the 49ers.

Well I said all throughout the campaign you know we had 197 House Parties in the two years that we were running. I said that I would do a town hall meeting a month public for all to attend and the first one will be on January 26 in Oceanside and I hope people listening will come and it really is an opportunity for me to listen. I want to you know ultimately thank all of those who worked so incredibly hard. You started by talking about those rallies in front of Congressman Brice's ICE's office. They were led by Ellen Monsignore and Ellen.

Now is our director of special projects actually going to be the one organizing those town hall meetings. So I think that's apropos and I'm hopeful that we'll have the opportunity to serve with an open mind and an open door.

So it's come full circle. It really has. Oh well thank you very much. Thank you Alison always good to speak with you. Happy to do it any time.

That's Congressman Mike Levin who has just been sworn in to the 40 ninth district in north San Diego County. And for a longer version of this interview go to Cape Datto backsplash midday.

Nathan Fletcher is now the lone Democrat sitting in the San Diego County Board of Supervisors. He represents District 4 which includes most of the central city of San Diego from La Jolla to downtown from Ocean Beach to Encanto. I spoke with supervisor Fletcher after his inauguration on Monday. Here's an interview. Nathan Fletcher thanks so much for joining us. Thank you for having me. Now you know one of your first acts as supervisor will be to vote on ways that county can assist asylum seekers. Why do you think the county should weigh in on this.

Well the reality is I believe humane treatment of individuals knows no border. I believe that regardless of your country of birth of your ethnicity that we share a common destiny we're all God's children. And I think that we should treat these folks with the dignity and respect they deserve. I also think it's important to note that all of these individuals we're talking about have followed federal immigration law exactly as prescribed. They have a legal status to be here and they have families that are willing to shelter in house and feed them as they go through the immigration process.

And so what we're talking about is having the county step up in partnership with the city and the state and to a lesser extent the federal government to make sure we're protecting public health to make sure these individuals are being screened and vaccinated and make sure they have good health but also helping facilitate their travel to their family. Because we run a risk if we don't do this that these individuals could become stranded in San Diego and could wander into our already overcrowded homeless shelters. And so for humanitarian reasons but also for local concerns as it relates to addressing the homeless issue I think it's important the county step up and play a leadership role with these other government entities and making sure we address this issue can we afford to do it.

Well I don't think we can afford not to. And that really is the issue and challenge in front of us. You know we just saw where we had a devastating public health crisis with hepatitis A and that should have taken us all to the reality that public health has a cost. You know there's a moral cost of not doing it but there's an economic cost and not doing it. And so what we're really talking about here is just ways the county can partner with the city with the state with the federal government to make sure we're all shouldering our share of the load to avoid a crisis situation.

Now you collaborated with supervisor Cox on the migrant shelter issue. What other issues could you see yourself working on with your Republican colleagues.

Well I've seen a lot of areas of agreement I've had great conversations with supervisor Dianne Jacob. She's really been a leader on fire prevention and planning and proper planning. She's done some remarkable works when it comes to Alzheimer's. I've talked to supervisor Jaspar about things we might do in criminal justice reform areas. Obviously supervisor Cox and I have adjacent districts and have a lot of shared interest and supervisor Desmond and I have also talked about a lot of things we can do to tackle the homeless issue and crisis before us. And you know we'll have different ideologies and different philosophies and different perspectives but we all have an obligation to sit down and listen to one another to try and make principled compromise to address the issues before us.

And when that just isn't possible when there is just a principled dissent or disagreement then that's OK. You know a healthy democracies can have robust discussion and debate but I never lose sight of the fact that our focus is is getting the job done moving the policy improving lives now as a state assembly member you were a registered Republican.

Do you think having been on the other side of the political spectrum will help you gain support from the other supervisors.

Well you know that remains to be seen. I think I think in this environment when you talk about what the county does you're talking about things where we should all have a shared interest and we should have shared agendas and my starting point has always been how can we be collaborative how can we work together. You know obviously in the campaign I was very critical of the way that the counties operated over the preceding decades and certainly my election represents change. You know the first Democrat elected. There is some generational change but I believe new perspectives and new ideas.

It may stretch a governing entity but it also strengthens it. And so I think that there will be areas will where we will be able to find collaboration and work together. And those are the things we're going to focus on out of the gate.

You know the county's ability to approve new housing in rural areas is currently on hold because the courts ruled against its climate action plan. What will you push the county to do in terms of its climate action plan.

Well as a new supervisor there's pending litigation and so we will have some briefings in that county and close session we'll decide a course of action. And based on the information presented to me there I'll make a decision based on that. I can say broadly and generally speaking I have a real concern about climate change. I think it is a pressing issue of our day and I think it is incumbent upon every jurisdiction whether you are a city a county a state or the federal government that we all come together and take bold and decisive action to lower our greenhouse gas emissions and to align our transportation and our housing plants to make sure that we're having a real commitment to shoulder in our share of the load in trying to make a dent in these global issues that we face.

You know and you said you you're going to push for more housing to be built in the county specifically infill and transit oriented development. What specifically do you plan to do to make that happen.

Well we've laid out a number of ideas in the campaign. There are some really bold creative ideas out there. We modeled on other jurisdictions in other states where they took available land where they provided time certain permitting where they provided proper incentives. I think that there's a lot we can do as as a new member of empty as the Metropolitan Transit System I believe there's a lot we can do through them to yes by increasing transit opportunities and then taking land that may be owned by a city a county or empty space adjacent to those and really providing some flexibility and some expedited permitting and the design and building construction to really increase that supply of housing because housing is not just an issue affecting the homeless population.

Housing is an issue that impacts everyone in San Diego.

And you've advocated for the county's spending more of its reserves. Where will you advocate that that money is to be spent.

Well I think there's a number of priorities that we have across the board for me. I've consistently said when I get asked what's the most important issue you will face and there's a lot of important issues but what is the most important issue for me that's mental health. You know I got very involved in mental health issues as a combat veteran of the Marine Corps. I've watched my friends really struggle when they come back but the issues of mental health affect all of society. And so having the county make a real commitment to increasing the number of inpatient psychiatric beds or the recuperative care stepdown facilities and then even thinking from a prevention standpoint about how we inject mental health and every conversation we know with juveniles and children that are removed from their families by the county that's a traumatic experience and event and if we'll invest in early childhood mental health folks that come into the corrections system are often dealing with unresolved issues of trauma and if we can address those issues these are things that are not only morally right for those who are in need of help but they also bear tremendous cost savings because these issues and these challenges don't go away.

And the failure to address them early merely compounds the significance of dealing with them later. It also compounds the cost.

And you know as you mentioned there are a lot of issues from mental health to homelessness and housing even bike paths you know there are very different ideas on how to approach and solve all of these issues. So different that that they often persist. The issues persist. So you know you're sure to face a lot of pushback from the rest of the board. How will you ensure your remaining effective.

Well that's that's always the balance in politics that's that's always the challenge. And you know I think when there when there's reasonable principled compromises that I believe move us in a more progressive direction and are addressing the issues in front of us then those are the types of things that I'm willing to work on. If there's just obstinance to say we're just not going to do it that way. And those are issues where we're going to make the argument we're going to have a vote and we're going to continue to build support.

But coming into this I'm encouraged by the attitude of the other supervisors who I'll be serving with I'm encouraged by the leadership of the county. You know there's a lot of really dedicated public servants who work at the county. They come to work because they want to help children in need. They come to work because they care about the future of San Diego. And so I think that there's a lot of areas where by injecting evidence based measurable ideas by making a fact based passionate case for why it makes sense that there are opportunities that we can we can move forward.

All right I've been speaking with Nathan Fletcher newly sworn in a supervisor for District 4. NATHAN Thank you.

Thank you for having me.