This comes rather late, but on Tuesday, June 26, I attended the first post-primary town hall forum of Jack Uppal, Democratic candidate for the red 4th Congressional District of California. At roughly R+10, this district is out of reach for Democrats aside from a perfect storm. Only Charlie Brown (that's his real name, no joke) could make it competitive and he almost won it in 2008 against the carpetbagger Tom McClintock and may have won it if he hadn't attended an anti-war protest that featured an effigy burning (he did not know it would be there, but the GOP trackers quickly lambasted him with it anyway).
This year, we have a retired contract administrator from Intel running against McClintock. Although I don't live in California, I am spending much of the summer in Roseville, CA to visit family. I was curious when I read a flier at the Democratic Party booth at the Placer County Fair that the Dem candidate here was going to hold a town hall in the lodge of a Roseville retirement community. I decided to attend. I thought he wouldn't be very politically astute, but I was wrong. He was surprisingly knowledgeable and well-spoken on a wide range of issues. Although he staked out a moderate position on some issues (regulation and whatnot), he took a lot of strong opinions in favor of things like marriage equality and healthcare reform. I decided to write down notes on the town hall and then write a diary on it.
More below the fold.
Here's a map of the Congressional district Uppal's running in against Rep. McClintock:
As you can see, it's pretty solidly Republican. In the 2010 statewide races, Controller John Chiang was the only Democrat to win here, and it was only by a narrow plurality.
First of all, let me say that the room he presented in was full of elderly residents of the community. I was the only one under 40 present, I think. They also had pieces of paper at each row to write down questions which I used to take notes.
I came in 15 minutes late after introductions and while Jack Uppal was discussing the importance of campaign finance reform. He then went on to discuss the importance of government grants and loans in scientific and economic development. He drew a distinction in favor of public-private partnerships (he used NASA as an example) over simple investment in the private sector (he used Solyndra of an example of where that fails). He also touched upon the importance in building up our aged infrastructure, including why we should invest in making high-speed internet universally accessible. This subject was concluded with criticism of McClintock for opposing public works projects in his district.
On the issues of environment, he staked out some moderate positions. He brought up the regional Water Board's decision to maintain river flow at 75% to increase salmon migration. He said the issue with this is that it uses outdated assumptions about water flow. There used to be a voluminous inland lake that most water in the area flowed in to, but due to irrigation systems and piping, most water now flows into the bay. He said that although 75% is good for salmon habitats, it will cause the water level at Folsom Lake to continue lowering and make less and less water available for agriculture. Here, he criticized McClintock for supporting an effort to federalize water regulation. He also said that although the EPA performs an essential function, it needs to change the way it issues and enforces regulations. He said that the EPA's way of issuing regulations piecemeal and not giving much time to allow affected jurisdictions to prepare should change. Instead, in his view, regulations should be issued in a bundle with enough of a window to allow affected jurisdictions to make necessary changes and minimize the costs of implementation.
Moving on to the issue of medicare and social security, he dismissed concerns that the funding problems are as dire as some people think. As to social security, he ardently opposed any form of privatization and instead talked up the idea of raising or eliminating the FICA cap. On medicare, he conceded that it was more complicated, but added that the Affordable Care Act has added many years to medicare's life expectancy by cutting waste and abuse and fixing up Part D. He took this opportunity to criticize the Ryan Budget and McClintock's support of it, going into how it essentially provides the retired with vouchers which limits how much healthcare they can afford.
This brought the conversation to the Affordable Care Act. Please note that this was two days before the Supreme Court ruled on it so its fate was unknown. He said that he was in favor of it because it brought much-needed regulation to limit the abuses of the healthcare and insurance industry. He also said that the mandate was essential as it brought more healthy people into the pool to help bring down costs. He said that he hopes the SCOTUS upholds it, but said that if they strike down the mandate, states will have to pick up the slack to prevent costs from spiraling out of control, whether it be with a mandate or with single-payer.
On social issues, he expressed support for marriage equality, calling it a civil rights issue . To this, I was pleased to hear him receive a round of applause from the audience. On the issue of abortion, he tried very hard to string his words together just right so he could say that abortion was an extremely difficult personal choice that should not be denied by the government.
He said that Congress should act fast to prevent student loan interest rates from doubling (fortunately, they did manage to act), but said that there needs to be reform to better fix the problem. He recommended that they make it so the government directly provides federal student loans to get interest rates even lower (like they were in my parent's day).
On foreign policy and the military, he stated that he opposes military intervention in Syria and military adventurism in general. He also said that opposes unnecessary, costly weapons systems, but favors better small armaments for soldiers.
On the controversial bullet train, he offered only tepid support. He said that it will be very useful to Californians and provide jobs, but that the much of the jobs provided will be temporary. He said that he has a preference for investments in developing cleaner vehicles.
On international trade, he also offered a moderate position. He said that he supports taxing repatriated assets from companies that have no stake in the United States apart from consumption, but opposes taxing repatriated assets from companies that actually employ people in the United States.
Finishing up with campaign stuff, he stated that he will sign no interest group pledge and will not use fear or hysteria to drum up support. He also called on McClintock to debate him twice (once in the foothills and once in the Roseville-Rocklin-Lincoln area). After a round of applause, the people who wanted to ask more questions of him could do so while the others either left or sign up on he mailing list and pick up some campaign paraphernalia.
Overall, it was an illuminating experience. Despite the fact that he is new to politics, Jack Uppal spoke very well and with excellent know-how. I was pleasantly surprised and I hope he does the best he can do here. I don't expect him to have anything more than a negligible chance at victory this fall due to the district's lean, but I am happy that he takes it very seriously and is showing that he has heart.