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Guest Commentary

Straight Talk: Congressman Alan Lowenthal

From Issue: Volume XXI - Number 7

Art Levine’s guest is newly-elected Congressman Alan Lowenthal in his first extended TV interview since taking office.

Art: Good evening, and welcome to Straight Talk. We’re delighted you’re joining us. Tonight we are honored to have as our guest for the entire show the newly-elected congressman from the 47th Congressional District, the Honorable Alan Lowenthal. Alan, welcome back to Straight Talk.
Alan: It’s great to be back, Art.
Art: When you were on our show in the debate with your opponent, running for Congress, we referenced a bumper sticker from a group known as No Labels. And the bumper sticker said “Stop fighting, start fixing.” And you talked about your experience of reaching across the aisle.
Alan: Right.
Art: Now, we’re watching in Washington as the sequesters are about to take place. $85 billion of automatic cuts, half to defense, half to nondefense; and a lot of the country is saying what is going on.
Alan: And so am I. I’m a new member. I joined the No Labels group. In Washington we call the offshoot of No Labels, The Problem Solvers. There are 18 republicans and 20 democrats, many of us new members, who have joined the group to try to work together. But the sequester is a very difficult thing. I would have liked to have seen a more balanced approach of how you do cuts and additional revenues; but it wasn’t meant to be. Now we have to come together to see how we can make sure that the cuts that have been implemented are done in the fairest way and that there’s more flexibility in doing those.
Art: You would agree that this is no way to run a railroad.
Alan: It’s a horrible way to run a railroad.
Art: To just do straight percentages of everything, except Medicare, Medicaid, and social security.
Alan: Right.
Art: It’s a meat cleaver approach. It’s like we can’t trust ourselves.
Alan: That’s right. There are forces within both parties that did not want to see this change for different reasons. There were forces within the Republican Party that said if the President wants to have additional revenues, at least this has no additional revenues, so we will support this. There were forces within the Democratic Party, some folks who said that this is a way to get large cuts in defense that we couldn’t get in any other way.
Art: The political consideration.
Alan: Mostly on the extremes. The larger groups in the middle kind of got caught up in a ship that had left the port a long time ago. It’s very difficult to reverse its course. I think that people and the new members know that it’s going to take a lot of pulling together to begin to change this course.
Art: It’s things like this that give politics a bad name. Many view the system in Washington and Sacramento as dysfunctional.
Alan: It is dysfunctional.
Art: People are struggling with their own problems, jobs and economy. The groups can’t get together, wreaking all kinds of destruction and dislocation on the economy. Why can’t they get their act together?
Alan: It’s very difficult when people come from purely ideological points of view and think that they have the truth on their side. There’s much of that in Washington and some basic differences. One group wants all cuts, and one is mostly concerned about the fact that there’s a spending issue problem. The other wants to have a balanced approach. Sometimes they’re in conflict and you have to accept that.
Art: When you’re at the local or county level, you can’t afford to be an ideologue. You have real problems and real solutions to face right away. There’s this luxury of being an ideologue because you’re not faced immediately with the consequences of your actions. We’d like to see less ideologues and more problem solvers.
Alan: Many of the new members on both parties heard that loud and clear when they went to Washington. We’ve formed this problem solving group and would like to be able to influence the process. We’re going to continue to try to influence the process by sitting down and resolving these conflicts.
Art: Putting the country through something like this and the more recent fiscal cliff hanger is a luxury which the average man and woman can’t afford. The ideologues go through their stalemates in government.
Alan: I have the same sense of frustration; and it’s not why I was elected. I have joined group to try to bring us together. You do what you can. And some of it is based upon ideology. People have clear differences and some are hard to reconcile without passing blame on either side.
Art: Okay. I know you were appointed to the House Foreign Relations Committee. Let’s talk about foreign policy, a very important area. We avoid it at our peril because if we forget about what’s happening in the rest of the world, it will come back and bite us. What’s your take on the situation in the Middle East, in the world today?
Alan: My first hearing that I had in the committee was shortly after I was sworn in. We’ve held hearings on other issues that are going on in the Middle East. We’ve had hearings on Central Asia, Afghanistan, Mali and Africa. There are threats to our security and to the world’s stability everywhere. We have a responsibility to make sure that our citizens are safe and that we have a responsibility to try to bring and promote stability and democracy throughout the world.
Art: Are you convinced that the administration is not going to permit Iran to get a nuclear weapon?
Alan: Absolutely. I think the functionality in government between republicans and democrats are united. It is not to keep Iran under control in the sense of if they get it. It is that Iran shall not develop a nuclear weapon.
Art: The country seems ready for an immigration bill. We really have to address this problem.
Alan: Absolutely. You will see the most comprehensive immigration reform we’ve had since President Reagan’s immigration reform in the 1980’s.
Art: You support it?
Alan: Absolutely. That will lead to a path towards citizenship and stabilizing our border security, which will have bipartisan support.
Art: Would that also involve not jumping the line for those who were here, that they would have to stand in line?
Alan: They will have to stand in line and have to go through a number of steps and years to demonstrate their integrity and ability to pay taxes.
Art: That’s coupled with securing the borders?
Alan: Right. It will also be looking at issues of immigration reform and immigration policies. We know that family reunification is very difficult and many students who come from throughout the world want to stay here.
Art: We have them right here on campus and educate them well.
Alan: That’s exactly why they want to stay.
Art: There are jobs that are unfilled and have to go back. It makes no sense.
Alan: It’s time to look at our immigration policies.
Art: Gun control has brought this to the forefront. The country has clearly shifted. A ban on large magazines would be one area of agreement.
Alan: Absolutely. I think that the areas of agreement will be banning on large magazines, universal background checks and increased funding for mental health services.
Art: What about a ban on assault weapons?
Alan: I’m very supportive of a ban on assault weapons.
Art: That’s a tough road to climb.
Alan: It’s a much more difficult road to climb. When identifying weapons, the manufacturers and others can create others that are just slightly different.
Art: Every gun has unique rifling. If you found a body somewhere with a slug in it and we had this registry, you could identify what gun that slug came from. If there was registration of the gun in that state, we could find who the owner was. Even the NRA supports the noncriminal use of guns. If you can match a slug in a dead body to a gun, you are advancing the investigation possibility.
Alan: Right. Two gun safety laws in California are quite advanced in terms of the rest of the nation. I’m very glad that we’re going to be at least dealing with the high-powered magazines that have more than ten. A universal background check is critically important. Let’s get that done first.
Art: What’s it like being in Washington, compared to Sacramento and Long Beach City Council?
Alan: In Long Beach, you go home every night, have friendships and relationships. I was a faculty member at Cal State Long Beach. You feel cut off when you go from Washington to your home. While I really am very excited about being in Washington, I’ve been so busy that the part of Washington I see is between the Capitol and the Canon office building, which I’m in. We had large numbers of new members in California. And of the 70 new, we had a lottery. We’re the bottom 70. The other 360 or so had already chosen their offices, and so we’re the last 70. We had a lottery and everybody was excited. I picked 57, which is not a great number.
Art: 70 new members must be one of the largest entering classes in history.
Alan: In a number of years. We’re trying to get to know each other. I have great relationships with Republicans who come from California, especially, David Valadao.
Art: Yes. These are people you knew in California. California’s the largest congressional delegation?
Alan: Almost 11 percent of the Congress is from California. 53 members of the 435.
Art: As California goes, so goes the nation.
Alan: Hopefully we can bring a spirit of cooperation.
Art: When you are a junior member of Congress, you have a lower profile. You defer to senior members that have more clout.
Alan: You have work with the new members. Begin to put forth your agenda. It takes time. You have to build relationships. That’s critically important to bring about change in Congress, is the ability to build relationships across the aisle.
Art: There were two other psychologists in Congress.
Alan: Right. There are three psychologists.
Art: Bringing people together is most important.
Alan: Absolutely. I think in establishing relationships and listening, there’s a lot of talking and not a lot of listening.
Art: We have two ears but only one mouth. We should listen more.
Alan: It’s important to understand what the issues are for members of the other side. What do they care about? Why are they elected? Why are members of my party elected? There are going to be differences, but how can we bridge those gaps? There will be conflict and difficulties. No one can say that functionality means an absence of conflict. We have to find better ways of solving these problems.
Art: Amen to that.
Alan: It really means a lot when people from the district can show them how their government works or doesn’t work.
Art: And it is ultimately our government.
Alan: It is the people’s government. I’m the person representing and I am truly honored. I feel honored and blessed to have this opportunity to represent the people of the 47th Congressional District. I will do my best to listen to the needs of my district and do things that both benefit Long Beach, Western Orange County, the State of California, and the nation as a whole.
Art: I teach law, ethics and leadership. This concept of servant leadership is so important that you’re there really working on behalf of the people you serve.
Alan: That’s right. It’s an honor to serve the people of the district and be there.
Art: Thank you.