San Clemente Times
On Tuesday, Aug. 22, the editorial staff of the Picket Fence Media interviewed Congressional candidate Darrell Issa, the republican candidate for U.S. Congress District 49. He faces the democratic candidate Doug Applegate in this year’s election.
Picket Fence Media: There aren’t like a bunch of reports, and this may not factor into south Orange County, but (they state) that Orange County is turning blue. Is that something you guys track at all, and along those lines are you guys concerned about what the impact of (Donald) Trump is and more of a teenage generation coming out and voting democratic?
Darrell Issa: A good way to look at it is Mitt Romney did every bit of outreach, had every bit of support from the (Republican) Party, and four years ago he broke even in this district. I got 59 percent. So I think you always have your own race. You’re really running based on what do you do for the people, how do you conduct your job and I think people choose very differently how they’re looking at a presidential race or even a statewide race and how they make a decision on a congressman, especially an incumbent.
I’m running my own game and it’s mostly—I didn’t plan on being here 16 years, but 9/11 happened and something else happened. And instead of going back to my business career, I’ve stayed with doing what I’m doing. Now I’m very involved in some things that I want to get done, and I’m asking the district to consider are they better off with somebody with my experience and the things that I plan to accomplish, and I’m hoping they say yes.
PFM: What do you know about Doug Applegate?
DI: Not much. I literally only met him at the Fourth of July parade once.
What do you know about him?
PFM: We’re meeting him on Friday (Aug. 26) for the first time, so we don’t know much. But it seems like he’s got a pretty organized and mobilized campaign. Does it, and I know it’s still early, seem different to you than previous races in this district.
DI: You know, I think, you asked about the Trump effect…the fact that is likely that Trump’s makeup will be different, Mitt Romney essentially lives in the district in northern La Jolla, there’s actually a lot of factors that could be different, but I’ll actually give you the one I think makes the most difference. We in Southern California are looking at (U.S. Senate Candidate) Loretta Sanchez…she’s going to be here in a few day, but we’re looking at a Southern California candidate and a Northern California candidate, but they’re both Democrats. And so for all practical purposes 100 percent of the people will vote for one of those two Senate candidates, and then 51 percent or more have to vote for me, if I’m going to be the next Congressman from this district.
I think that’s probably more of the difference than anything else. I’ve held both Democratic and Republican administrations accountable, called things wrong in the Bush Administration, voted differently than my party, TARP being a good example where I went up against the president as hard as I could and almost stopped what turned out to be very bad law. A lot of money was abused and misused. So I think people aren’t going to judge me based on what they choose there, but if they’re likely to vote for Loretta Sanchez they may be more likely to vote for me. And there are factors there.
PFM: Given that you’ve been serving this community for a while now, how do you bring new ideas to the people you serve? How do you compromise with your constituents when maybe you have something they’re not expecting from you?
DI: That’s an interesting one because with the constituency it’s always the same question: are you serving wants and needs of a majority or a minority of your constituency? And I think you’re all pretty experienced at knowing that politicians always find a constituency they say they’re supporting. It’s usually a constituency that agrees with you. So it is unusual to see someone who sees a constituency in their own district that is adamantly the opposite of what they believe and yet they’re championing them. But, you know, there are two jobs that I have: one is a federal officer with very specific Constitutional responsibilities, absolutely nothing to do with the district or the state, only with the nation. When you look at national defense you’ve got to be bling to what your home needs are. When you look at patent law or the Supreme Court or what gets used on foreign aid, and then you have the ones that have a nexus to your constituency. The existence of San Onofre (Nuclear Generating Station) clearly causes me to work an issue where, if I didn’t have a shuttered nuclear power plant, I’d vote on something that came up, but there’d be no logical reason to champion a solution.
When you look at sober homes and the problems we’re having in Orange County and the fact it has a federal nexus that we have to allow, in my opinion, our cities to have some ability to rein in those who are abusing the system without going too far and finding, and I have found, both democrats and republicans that are like-minded.
You also have the in between like supporting high tech or, broadly, the National Science Foundation and so on, where you know it helps your district. Orange and San Diego Counties have huge bio and pharma and other high tech. So patent activity and issues like that both have a nexus of importance to your district, but they’re also federal issues.
And so, without getting into every single one in each of those areas, I’ve got more things to do in many ways than I had 16 years ago; 16 years ago all I had to do was sharpen up my voting card and show up. Today, I’m in a position to get patent reform, to get immigration reform, I’m in the right committees and senior enough. All of the chairmen practically are chairman I served with and helped when we were both chairs. I’ll be another chairman in two years in all likelihood. I’m in a position where there’s a lot more that I can do, and that means there’s a lot more that you’re going to get into and make sure you try to accomplish. Some of that comes with time, but some of it also comes with…I still have things like immigration reform; I went to Congress thinking with President Bush, who wanted to do comprehensive immigration reform, and it didn’t get done.
So now, 16 years later, there’s every bit as much a pent-up demand to get things done because we’ve done very little about a very big problem for now a very long time.
PFM: What do we do about sober living homes?
DI: Well I think what we do is we maintain you can’t discriminate based on somebody being handicapped, including being a recovering alcoholic or recovering drug abuser, but we recognize that cities should have the ability to take care of health and sanitation. These are commercial enterprises; these are not group homes where we all share the rent. These are places where somebody is charging money or billing the county or the federal government, and they’re making a profit on it, in most cases. Some are nonprofit, but many are profit-oriented. And if they’re running a business, they should be reasonably managed as a business, not prohibit their clientele because they have these disabilities but regulate them as to a lot of important things. I’d like to see the law allow the state to evaluate the basic question of if you want to operate in the state of California a group home that is exempt from some things for the reason that these are disabled people, then you should have to demonstrate what accommodations you are making for them such as the rehabilitation centers, the counselors—not just someone living in there. We’ve structured a fix that we think is going to give that balance to returning to the cities in the sense that we’re returning to the states and we hope that the states will not limit, because we can’t give San Clemente or San Juan Capistrano or Dana Point, we can’t give them something that the state chooses to give away. But we can change the federal burden away from it and recognize that there are enough republicans and democratic leaders that should want the state to be equally interested in taking care of people with real needs but now allowing them to simply invade communities and set up what sometimes boil down to be flop houses and real bad places including drug sales going on there.
PFM: We’ve heard from some sober living home advocates and operators that in theory it’s sober people living at a home. There’s nothing there to regulate, so isn’t it a slippery slope if you start making them require to categorize or catalog certain things that they’re doing when it’s really just a sober living facility for them?
DI: Well, if it’s a multitenant rental, then the state has every right to regulate and the city has every right to regulate how many people can live there. This state has been fairly reticent to regulate nonrelated people. They tend to take a more liberal view of family and affiliations, and that’s fine, but to the extent that the state is not saying that 15 people can live in a three-bedroom/two-bathroom house, the federal government should not be saying it. If these are simply people that are choosing to live together and their disability has absolutely nothing to do with their residence, then if you’re a business renting to them, you should be regulated as a business, not more because it’s a sober living home and not less. What any fix that we would do is fairly narrow, which is simply (to) take away any unreasonable restriction from the ordinary regulations that would exist there, but for the claim of disability, while at the same time protecting against any action related to the disability.
So you allow 15 people to live in the state of California, you’re gonna allow 15 people that are allowed in a sober living home. If you want to run an AirBnB, there’s a whole list of licenses. Right now there are people who are genuinely profit and nonprofit, trying to help get people off the street, get them clean and sober. We, the cities and the state and the federal government, should not be standing in their way. But there certainly is plenty of abuse and plenty of examples, and I think, you know, my job is to visit some of these cites, I’ve done that. And some of them from the outside you can see pretty clearly are inappropriate to the neighborhood in what they’re doing and how they’re doing it, and I think that’s an important one to look at it.
By the way, there are some other abuses that go on around the county that we’ve become aware of because we’ve been working on this. There are people in Connecticut and people in California that are wooing people into paying a lot of money to send their kid to get dry (sober) out here, and then they get out here and they’re just taking the money. There’s very little care. Now, the need for regulation is not a federal regulation, but there certainly is a need for California and Connecticut to take a look at…are these unfair trade practices? Is this fraud? And so on. That’s far outside what we’re going to work on. We’re going to work on allowing the reasonable similar regulations because we don’t think a federal law should get in the way of what you’re trying to do.
Just because someone is barely off the bottle doesn’t mean they can waive a business license because he’s done that. You’re still a business. And I think that’s the essence of some of these claims.
We don’t think we’re going to run this through without real hearings in Congress and so on, but because we have people in Florida who are seeing the same problem…we think it’s something we can get done in an 18-month period. Just like anything else, you have to educate yourself and then you have to educate Congress and then trying to educate the Senate, and it takes time. As you know, people who run businesses often lobby more effectively than people who are being injured by a business next to them. We don’t expect this to happen without people coming in saying “You’re going to stop us.” If they’re trying to do the job right and it is fair to regulate, then we want to regulate. If they’re trying to do the job right and it’s not fair, we want to try to protect them.
PFM: We think this will pivot into a broader discussion, but how do we ensure that the resources will be available to people who need sober living homes, given that there still will be a large population of people who need it. The homeless population—
DI: Ah, ah, you just crossed the line in your question. Let me just take you to task because it’ll be easier than if you endlessly ask the question. I’ve done this once before. You just mixed homeless with sober living. Let’s be clear, not everyone who is homeless is in fact disabled under the Americans with Disabilities Act. The claim and the activity that’s going on is a very specific activity. We are only dealing with people who are standing behind certain federal laws. Nothing that I’ve been asked to do so far deals broadly with any of these. This is about when people are, normally, taking a single-family homes designed to fit four to six people and putting six to 15 unrelated parties in it.
If you want to have a home for homeless people, there are a number of things that matter. And I’ve spent years working with the local charities on this. One, it has to be as close to where they already are and it has to be close to where they want to be. If you’re looking at day activity of any sort, it has to be close to that. It has to offer sufficient facilities of the types they need. For example, and two-bedroom/two-bathroom house for 15 people is exactly the opposite of what you need.
A gymnasium and large shower facilities with attendants that are there to make sure everyone is safe might be the very best way to take care of people to keep them from freezing at night, bringing them when in fact they don’t want to be there more than 24/7. If on the other hand you’re bringing people in who are trying to get dry (sober) and these are people you want not to leave, to be supervised, then you’re looking for sufficient room for counseling, sufficient room to live and be comfortable, not overly cramped.
In both cases, the broad question of homeless…larger group facilities located closer to the homeless centers are much more appropriate than a suburban area not on the bus route. When you look at therapy facilities, they normally don’t look like your neighbor’s two-story/three-bedroom house.
So that’s why I cut you off, maybe unfairly, but when you look at the actual problems of homelessness, homelessness is not going to be solved by ravaging an inappropriate building. When you look at all the charities that are working on this and these for profit groups, you see a different pattern. These charity groups are not inept; they’re actually doing a pretty good job. These other ones do seem to be, in some cases, opportunistic for their own ability to basically be able to fund the buying of the house with somebody else’s money.
We’re not trying to change the world, but we don’t believe for a minute that if we do this right that we’re going to adversely affect either people with drug addiction and alcohol problems or the homeless generally. Both deserve that we find ways to accommodate them.
PFM: We agree with much of what you said. Our question concerns NIMBY-ism (Not in My Back Yard). In these three communities (SC, DP, SJC) specifically, there’s no major homeless shelter. Every sober living home we’ve come across we’ve had complaints about. We’re concerned there’s no local facility for people who need help. So in those senses we do think there is some kind of overlap.
DI: Just saying “no” for a whole city won’t be acceptable under the bill, that they cannot use their regulation and exemption to exclude an entire city. Now, the people of Beverly Hills might have separate questions, but for most communities they can find (shelter). Now zoning, for example, it cannot be designed to simply exclude. So I do think we can get there. You’re right that some cities are harder than others, but South Orange County is not without six-pack apartments. And when you look at the NIMBYs who say “I don’t want it anywhere,” to get a business license that is not unreasonably withheld and to run a sober living home and to meet basic sanity and safety requirements probably is easier in a six-unit/12-bedroom apartment than a single-family home. If you add to that as we’ve seen, many of these sober living homes you end up with half a dozen cars there. And, again, the CCRs that were designed by homeowners not thinking about malice toward anyone but saying you’ve gotta have your two cars in your two-car garage and you can’t park on the street, they can’t be ignored simply because these people have disabilities.
There’s a middle ground. I agree with you. We do not want to do legislation that empowers cities to exclude people with disabilities. Republicans won’t do it, democrats won’t do it. That’s not an issue where you see some piece of law that hasn’t considered the balance.
Just because I have sympathy for my city managers and mayors doesn’t mean I’m going to give them the power to exclude. I have a federal responsibility, and we’ll only change the Americans with Disabilities Act enough to allow them—without seeking to eliminate—reasonable regulations on facilities that more often than not seem to be operating as businesses.
PFM: (Matt Cortina asks) I want to talk about the environment. It’s one of my passions. You’ve said that you don’t believe there’s science of a consensus—
DI: Not my quote … (Discussed later)
PFM: In San Juan, after sober living, another heated topic is traffic congestion and gridlock and things like that. Widening Ortega Highway is a current topic City Council has been discussing, but what do you see for South Orange County as your goals to alleviate traffic?
DI: We were promised a toll road in an agreement that goes back to the 1970s, last codified in 1987 that allows part of the alignment to be on Camp Pendleton. The more of that we get from the inner area directly on to I-5 as far south as possible, the better. That’s a big eliminator, and it has a good access to federal nexus because it is part of what’s clogging up the 5. You don’t want to have people get on the 5 to go to one exit. Interstates were not designed, were not funded by the federal government to move people where a city street should move them. They were designed to move people for long distances. So the toll road has been a priority for a long time. It’s been blocked by a number of people, most of whom say they have wonderful environmental reasons, like “the beauty of Trestles will be ruined if you put this in” or “those poor campers at San Onofre,” remembering that they’re camping on Camp Pendleton federal land. So you have a lot of that kind of NIMBY-ism that’s going on. We need to get that done. Obviously, I was just at a beautiful landfill watching the opening (of La Pata). But widening the thoroughfares like Ortega and so on, those are local responsibilities and they’ve got to step up to it. You’ve gotta make your in and around cities work well. The other thing is the 20-plus cities of Orange County have a dilemma, which is unlike a big city that thinks big, you’ve gotta coordinate everybody else’s. And that’s always a problem because everyone wants it to flow free around them, but not in their city. I think that’s where your county alliance really does matter, but remember, I’m your federal officer, so I have to know my limitations. I can help with Camp Pendleton and other federal funding when appropriate.
DI: You got that quote?
MC: I do.
DI: Where’s it from?
MC: There are several sources. ThinkProgress, (Center for) American Progress.
DI: I’ve never done interviews with either of those. Quote their source. They can say anything they want. Quote a source. AP? A speech on the floor?
MC: You know the quote I’m referring to then?
DI: No. I can do the web and see this crap all the time.
MC: Well, let me read it and see if you agree with it.
MC: (Quoting the alleged source) “On the difficulties in examining the issue of climate change and greenhouse gases, there is a wide range of scientific opinion on this issue, and the science community does not agree to the extent of this problem with a critical threshold, one that is truly catastrophic.”
DI: That has never been said orally by me.
*Editorial note (Sept. 1): The quote was later found in a cached version from 2008 of Issa’s official government website. You can read the full statement here. Congressman Issa did not return an attempt to clarify the quote after being presented with the link.
**Editorial note (Sept. 2): Congressman Issa confirmed the quote with SC Times.
MC: So you deny that quote?
DI: I do. Now, here’s what the honest-to-goodness quote is. We are getting warmer. The northern ice cap has effectively melted. People are taking ship trips over that. Although the Antarctic is growing, a little anomaly, we are certainly coming off of a mini ice age, and we are in many areas generally warming. Carbon dioxide levels are up, some of it mankind produced. We have to have a plan of sustainability. Sustainability includes not burning carbon. We have to essentially get off burning carbon faster than it’s produced. So the entire sustainability question of ecology is in fact the same question as the global warming crowd has. I’m not going to be an alarmist and every time it’s a little warmer or cooler say “My goodness. Climate change” and the floods here are there are automatically caused because I don’t think they are. What I do know is there’s 7 billion people in the world and we are not in a sustainable mode.
We are growing to 14 billion over our lifetime, and we are consuming more fish, more everything, than we grow. So finding ways to spend intelligently our research dollars leveraging carbon but also recognizing that some emissions do more harm than others that causes me to look at ethanol and scoff at it. It consumes as much energy as it produces from corn. It has a separate side-effect, and yet people will do it because it makes them feel good. We don’t subsidize enough insulation while we think everything you can see on the roof is wonderful. Do I support more research? Yes. Do I support intelligent ways to reduce our carbon footprint? Yes. Do I support nuclear energy because it has zero emissions and it can be an interim path? Yes. And the anti-nuclear people are anti-nuclear for some self-internalized reason that makes no real sense. Is it perfectly safe? No. Is it as dangerous as mining coal and burning coal, especially considering acid rain and everything else? No. So, am I going to immediately going to sign on to all these draconian restrictions on carbon including some of the fake ones like no-till and low-till farming where they actually on a net basis and long run don’t do it? No, I’m not going to.
Do we try to have an intelligent pathway, regardless of what the timelines is and there is disagreement on the timeline within the science community, do we kind of find a way to get as quick as possible to sustainable ecology including weening our self off burning things that come from ground? Absolutely. My position hasn’t changed on that. On the other hand, I was in Hanoi (Japan) a few years ago. Those lying S.O.B.s over there signed on to Kyoto and they’ll sign on to anything, and they burn raw coal and the black on top of leafs makes it impossible to know if they’re leafs and you can hardly breathe, or you go to India where they’re burning cow dung, or you look at the acid rain that falls on us from China. You look and say “I don’t want to be a part of the hypocrisy of global agreements that are cheated on. I’m not going to trade carbon credits with foreign countries that will lie about the carbon credits.”
On the other hand, do I support getting our (carbon) footprint down? Yes.
Does that answer your question?
MC: Not really. I mean there was nothing concrete in what you said.
DI: There’s nothing concrete in environmental scientists who have missed their timelines for things they said were going to happen. You can believe all you want that if you don’t walk home tonight that the emissions from your car, directly or indirectly because if using an electric car you’re burning carbon indirectly, if you believe that’s going to end the world, OK, fine. That’s not supported by specific-timeline science. What is supported is we are burning the world’s resources faster than we should. We can do tremendous things to change the world and not all of it is done in the U.S. The U.S. is already more efficient in our carbon than other places in the world.
And by the way, just saying mandating solar means that somebody will produce steel in another state, they just won’t produce it here because you can’t cost-effectively do it. So I reject anyone wanting to say I’m not an environmentalist. I reject those kinds of made-up quotes that go on. If that ever came out in something it was a prepared speech by somebody. I don’t even talk that way.
MC: You had a 0 percent rating from the League of Conservation Voters. You routinely vote against major environmental issues.
DI: Get over it. Next question. If that’s your issue, then we’ve had our discussion. The fact is I fund annual research out of my foundation. I fund sustainable ecology lectures at two universities, and I believe in the direction that we’re supposed to go. If you look at zeroes, you look at zeroes by people who start off figuring out what they’re going to score and they score it. You know, I’m sorry but sometimes we just disagree. If you look at thigs like ThinkProgress, you’re not looking at a news source, and this is a news source. So, please, I’m happy to sit before an editorial board and answer all your questions, but, and the big but is, don’t quote a non-news source to me and then ask me. If at least go to Wikipedia, they at least, usually, quote publications, although occasionally they’ll quote a non-news source.
MC: Well, this was one of several publications the quote was in, and I think it’s totally normal standard operating procedure for a journalist to ask for somebody to confirm a quote.
DI: Alleged quote.
MC: And you’ve denied it and we’ve moved on.
DI: OK, next question.
PFM: Let’s talk about the ballot propositions in California.
DI: Not interested in talking about them. They’re state issues. I’m here to talk about my work in Congress.
PFM: Let’s talk about the federal wage increase. That’s something that’s near and dear to my heart. Are you getting a lot of bounce back from business owners in California?
DI: You’re talking about the state increase?
PFM: The federal mandated wage increase.
DI: The fact is that as a small businessman over the years I’ve supported for a long time that if you’re going to have a minimum wage, which is probably silly, it A should have a tip credit, B should have a youth credit and C should be indexed for inflation, because once you agree to it you should agree to it in constant dollars, and quit having a game of one side wanting to take it to $15, whether or not that’s a net increase over historic amounts, and the other side saying “We’re not going to increase it endlessly because somehow it’s going to cripple our businesses. Every year, the real value of the dollar changes. Of all the things that I’ve supported and said to my colleagues endlessly, we should index for inflation, which hasn’t been done. It’s one of the reasons that every increase looks terrible, but the fact is we as business people, not the state of California because we’ve separately increased ours. But if you’re looking at a city in Mississippi, where the federal minimum and the state minimum wages are the same, they’ve actually had a reduction in the buying power of the minimum wage. So it’s been an issue that’s been there forever. It was there before I got there. California doesn’t allow tip credits. We let the youth credit expire years ago before I got there, if I remember right, and we’ve never indexed. The fixes are we should really consider bringing back the youth credit because part of youth high unemployment is because the fact that if I’ve got to pay the same to a 19-year-old as to a 15- 16-year-old, I’m just going to hire the 19-year-old.
That does work to the detriment to the first wrung on the work capability. I strongly believe someone making $40 an hour shouldn’t be covered by the minimum wage and that’s what the tip credit intends to do. Every state does it differently, the ones that do it. The federal government allows for it, and people will say “Well, my goodness, they’re only making $1.75 an hour.” No, they’re always making more than the minimum wage or they wouldn’t be allowed to apply the tip credit because credit has to be documented. Those are some of the issues that I’ve seen. At the end of the day we know we’re going to raise the minimum wage based on history. So we should be talking about reforms to do it right and have it happen under republicans rather than endlessly say “It’s never going to happen” until it does.
PFM: It’s going to affect us with a full-time, not hourly wage employee, who has to be paid at the minimum wage at the median income.
DI: The reality is paying a lot of people by the hour in lot of jobs makes very little sense. You shouldn’t be able to escape minimum wage, so to speak, but having someone be exempt as long as they’re paid at least the minimum wage plus time and a half to say somebody who makes 50 or 60 or 70 hours, they should always be able to calculate back what they would have made including time and a half, and they darn well should have made more than that. If we were to take it beyond that to a $10 an hour, 2,000 hours a year would be full-time, you’ve got $20,000. If you work double time, so to speak, you’ve got another $30,000, which would give you time and a half. This is 80 hours a week, which gives you $50,000. So the arithmetic in his program doesn’t really play out. Having said that, the abuse by the executive branch, abuse of discretion, is not a partisan item. All presidents try to assert authority. I never saw a president who said “I’m going to go to Congress and get you money Mississippi because of your flood.” They all go there and hand out money. Did you ever notice that? The president doesn’t appropriate money. And yet they never go there and say “I’m going to go to Congress and get your money.” They go there and tell them what they’re going to do and they may not even have the money yet. But they never go there and say “With the help of Congress we’re going to get your relief.” I get used to it. George Bush didn’t do it.
PFM: Louisiana was experiencing that this week.
DI: Louisiana is a sad situation of a little bit like Puerto Rico. Every time they start to get out of trouble, the predictable weather will come through and put them back into a problem. Obviously (Hurricane) Katrina was different, the breaking of the dikes, the flooding. But these other things will continue to happen. I sold small business people for years, and there are the typical stereotypes of operating a gas station in a flood plane…and every time you go through these times, you try to work with these customers to help them get back on their feet, and some wouldn’t.
PFM: If California approves marijuana legalization, I know a lot of people are concerned about that here, would you encourage the federal government to change it?
DI: The DEA just made a decision that it’s still a very harmful drug. That’s not a political decision, that’s a settled scientific decision. And you support settled science, don’t you?
PFM: I do. You’re assuming I have an opinion on this.
DI: No, I’m just saying that competent authorities have not found that marijuana is anything but a dangerous drug. It may be as only as dangerous as alcohol, but we’ve spent the first 20 minutes talking about the problems and dangers of alcohol (???). There’s a lot of experimenting going on and the federal government is turning a blind eye to it in many cases, ultimately turning a blind eye to the profiteering by people growing and transporting it. And by the way, there’s huge tax evasion going on in the marijuana business, and I certainly would hope that our law enforcement would bust them on both counts if they catch them basically trafficking around taxes. Get them for the taxes. Get them for the drugs. I don’t have a lot of expertise in drugs. I was an Army guy. Staying off them was pretty important. But I only know what I read, and I do read that there’s doubt to medical marijuana’s benefits, and yet there’s plenty of anecdotal evidence of (providing) anti-nausea and other abilities. There was one inconsistency. Every time someone suggests synthetic equivalents or equivalence with THC taken out of it, even if it’s therapeutically good, it’s rejected by the people who want it. So I do see an advocacy for the drug effect and not necessarily an advocacy for the therapeutic effect. That’s unfortunate because if there some therapeutic effect, we should make sure it’s available. But you know, every drug has a side-effect, and I don’t think marijuana is any different. It’s going to have side-effects from all the drugs in there. We can’t virtually ban tobacco and then assume marijuana is this miracle thing that’s never going to hurt you.
PFM: We had a question about tax evasion in the medical marijuana industry. One of the things in Colorado is a lot of these industries, especially the dispensaries, can’t put their money in banks right now. Don’t you think if there was some kind of federal alleviation, some kind of bill that would allow for dispensaries to put their money in banks, that could cut down on tax evasion?
DI: If this administration hadn’t operated with Operation Choke Point and determined and published risky businesses, then more of those entities would be able to. There’s no logical reason that a brothel, if it’s legal under state law, or a marijuana dispensary shouldn’t be able to operate. This administration, I don’t think they’re unfriendly to pot, but this administration operated Operation Choke Point. If you grab the computer and Google it, they picked winners and losers and they cut off the banking relationships with all kinds of businesses, and marijuana got caught up in it, so did gun dealers and so on.
There’s absolutely no reason that the banks should…should a bank loan to somebody for their inventory of pot? No. But should they accept their cash deposits and administer transactions on a no credit basis? Sure. I’m a federal officer. So as long as the federal, if you will, authorities think it’s dangerous and make it illegal, I’m not in a position to change my position. However, the idea that as long as it’s legal under state law that they shouldn’t be able to operate and not be able to have banking relationships, I would agree that banks should not worry about somebody’s business as long as they have a state or city business license. I investigated that particular program, and we fought for people who have been screwed by it because there’s been a lot of it. It sort of came out of TARP. With TARP, the federal government decided they were going to take over banks and they continue to beat up banks. And I have no love for banks, or bankers, but they are necessary. And the way we’ve been treating banks has caused banks to do exactly what you’re seeing, which is force people into cash. It still doesn’t mean you don’t pay your taxes. I don’t care if you’re Al Capone, you pay your taxes even on illegal activities, or you go to jail. It’s that simple. If you’re going to do something illegal, at least pay your taxes because otherwise you’ve got a separate illegal activity.
PFM: We’re in the planning stages of the desalination plant at Doheny—
DI: I know. You’re going to try to one-up Poseidon with another facility, and I was meeting with those folks because they would like to get it to the 500,000 level, whereas Poseidon is at the 400,000 going to 440,000. As long as we come up with how we’re going to get that energy, because if you try to run a facility that big on solar you can’t afford the water. The reality is that when we shut down SONGS we lost the least expensive electricity we could have, the least expensive other than the sort of residual hydroelectric, but we’re not doing those anymore.
As a result, unless you’re gas-fired, you’re not going to be able to afford that. That’s one of the challenges at 38 or 40 cents a kilowatt hour or higher, you start having a real problem. Poseidon in Carlsbad…uses 30 megawatts of constant power. This unit that they’re looking at will be 38 or something like that. That’s a lot of power, and that’s one of the challenges. I support the basic concept of desalination. One of the basic challenges is we’ve got to find a way to get that electricity. It’s the same as electric cars. Electric cars are great, as long as you have a zero-emissions source of electricity. If you don’t, then you’re just transferring (energy) with some inefficiency. Again, you and I are clearly not going to agree on some things, but sustainable ecology requires that we find a way to live within our planet’s means. This is a great source of water, but it does have the other side-effect. Most of the other environmental issues, the residuals that are being pulled out, the chemical balances, even what to do with spent filters and so on, all of that is pretty well taken care of and we can hit it environmentally. We run into the one snag of essentially the energy. Now, one of our challenges is we’re not close to the Colorado River. There’s a proposal that makes, not instead of this makes more sense, which is you can use water from the Colorado River, but each time you use it, it comes back saltier and more polluted. Desalination works on water that is not fresh enough but is fresher than salt water, and there’s a proposal to go into Imperial County and take one more pass at water there. Using desalination would be so much clearer to start with and less to remove, it’s less expensive. That project is less expensive, but it has benefits of better returns per electric dollar.
PFM: We’re just curious, do you have a role in working with other states? There’s so much diversion—the damming of the Colorado River—and (California) has first rights to it, even though it’s last geographic.
DI: We have our share based on the compact, and everyone wants their share. And that’s one of our challenges. It doesn’t matter if Arizona throws it into sod farms, water rights are water rights. Californians have tried to work with other states on that portion of it. One of the other sources is we wouldn’t have to send any to Mexico if we had just bought a little more from the Gadsen Purchase, just a little more. But that’s one of the other sources, to negotiate with Mexico. If you take the water additional time and clean it up, you actually do better in being able to use it. That’s one of the challenges is what you send downstream. Here in Orange County, we do, essentially, toilet to tap, and we need to do more of that because most water isn’t lost, it just has to be cleaned up and you can clean it up for a fraction of the cost of taking it out of the ocean.
PFM: Along those lines, in working with other states, what role do you have in getting the spent nuclear fuel out of SONGS and finding a partner to take it?
DI: We have a big role, because it’s the federal government who is letting you down. We made a commitment with these private entities at the time the facilities were licensed federally that for a fee that they have been paying into we would provide that federal facility. When we allowed a group, and I’ll use Senator (Harry) Reid as the chief among them, we allowed them to kill Yucca (Mountain) based on absolute lying science. Yucca is not dangerous; it is still, as far as we know, the safest place on land that we can put it. It’d be much safer to bury it at sea, but that’s a whole separate debate. Ever since those three-eyed monsters of the 1950s movies, people have had this false understanding that there are places in the ocean where you put a cask down and it will continuously be buried for tens or hundreds of thousands of years predictably, very predictably, which means far beyond their half-life, but that’s not going to happen any time soon, so Texas right now is the most promising. It’s an interim storage site, and I’ve been writing letters and working with other Congressmen, and we will provide legislation, if we have to, but we want the cycle and the administration of others. They have a vested interest in finding an alternative to Yucca, and these utilities are going to end up suing the federal government for the cost of storing in bad places. SONGS, once it’s fully closed down, all that cost of guarding will be completely an unnecessary cost that is only the result of not being able to move that spent fuel.
That really does make a difference, and of course it’s a military reservation, so they can’t get it back for 30, 40, 50 or 1,000 years, depending on how long it takes to get it out. So right now we’re putting most of our energy not toward re-litigating Yucca but toward the interim facility that’s been offered in Texas. Unlike Nevada, we have a willing buyer and a state to support it, so the feasibility of that will probably be in the next couple years.
PFM: What’s the timeline, for skittish locals, who are very concerned about getting that out?
DI: Well, you’ve got about a half-dozen years to get these things dismantled to where you’d be prepared to remove them anyway. You don’t move spent rods until they’ve cooled to a certain extent. That process is going on and there are spent rods that could be moved today if we had a facility. But in a sense, the first to move and the last to be able to move might as well move together, so it’s not until we’re prepared the last of them that we’re beginning to pay for the sins of the past. And I’ve been told that’s in the neighborhood of six years. I’m skittish too, but I’m skittish for a different reason. We stopped getting all the benefits of these rods that are sitting there cooling, and they’re rods that should have been used, and for a number of different reasons it didn’t happen. Some of it’s still being investigated at the state level, and I really hope the ratepayers are made whole for what I think was wrongdoing. I don’t know by who, so I don’t want to point fingers, but clearly we’ve got to raw deal on their not keeping a commitment and they want us to pay for it.
Separate from that, the ratepayers are going to pay year after year for, I don’t know, a couple million dollars’ worth of guards to be there guarding things that are decaying every year at one ten-thousandth. That’s a long time worth of guarding. Diablo Canyon is the same way. It’s a little behind us, but you’re going to have about the same situation. We’re going to have to answer to that when it’s fully decommissioned.
PFM: A little bit on immigration, you’ve been a bit more lenient on getting people through the immigration channels (to citizenship) than your cohorts—
DI: Well, I think I’m in the continuum. (Senator) Jeff Flake might be a little bit more moderate than I am. There are people on the committee I serve on, the Judiciary, who are a little more strident on some issues. A lot of people get into this touchback being such a big thing, rather than taking people from jobs that they shouldn’t have because they’re not entitled to them under our current law and finding people who could be entitled to them that could be guest workers.
PFM: You’re referring to a piece of legislation, the H-1B program?
DI: No, that’s a non-immigrant visa. (Former U.S. Rep.) Howard Burman and I did the ag-jobs, before the mandate, when the Democrats took control, and it became all or nothing. Once they said “comprehensive or nothing,” it changed the dynamic. For a long time we worked with the Western Growers, the Farm Bureau…to try to do what was usually called ag-jobs, H-2A. That’s where you get into the flower industry, the slaughter industry, even dairy, all the people who pick apples and, of course, our tomato and strawberry folks, all of those farm industries are virtually 100 percent undocumented workers. For all practical purposes, it’s an accident when someone is not an illegal. It can go between 75 and 100 percent. When you get to the inner valley where almonds are produced, it’s equal or higher. So you have a recognition that you’re not using legal, American workers. Now the H-2A program exists and it doesn’t work well. It’s part of the legacy of, if you will, the success of Cesar Chavez. He managed to support the idea of making temporary guest work programs so burdensome that nobody ever used them or very few used them. You had these procedures where you’d have to advertise and then even for the last 10 seasons in a row you haven’t been able to get enough people, you need to make an application but you won’t necessarily get the people you need when you ask for them. If you’ve got crops in the field or are going to put them in the field, those timelines are pretty exact, so you must have the labor at the point you need it. Any visitation program or guest work program doesn’t work unless you can get the labor when you need it. If you look at the other H-2 program, which Donald Trump uses, which is the resort industry, those tend to be instead of Guatemalan or Mexican, they tend to be Ukrainian and Polish and Russian who come in for the resort seasons during certain parts of the year. They’re in the same situation. Call it Memorial Day and you have and end day, then you have the labor there. So guest worker programs have to provide the labor predictably well enough in advance with an arrival date. Anything else makes no sense. Currently they don’t, or they do a poor job of it. That’s one of the areas we want to go. Most of these are non-immigrant visa programs, but if you’re here on most legal guest worker programs, including the H-1B, as soon as you’re on those programs and you’re here, you’re entitled to apply for an immigrant visa, so you can be here as an immigrant for a long period of time. From a standpoint of common sense, and thank you for saying I’m a little more moderate, and as a business person, the best worker and the best person to potentially become an immigrant permanently in the United States is somebody who speaks the language, is employable and we already have a track record on. To be honest, we’ve vetted them. If somebody is here for five or six years as a guest worker or three or four and they don’t have a series of DWIs or hasn’t committed any other crimes and they’ve been able to stay in employed, you have all the best reasons for this limited—we only allow 1.2 million people to come here, and when I say only that’s more than the rest of the world combined. We’re the most generous by far, and yet out of 7 billion people in the world, 6 billion-plus live outside the U.S. and 5 billion would like to come here, and we only have 1.2 million slots, and that’s more generous than the rest of the world. So I’m a big believer that you have non-immigrant visas, which are worker visas and tourist visas, and then immigrant visas we have an unlimited amount of. Doesn’t matter if it’s half a million or 10 million, it’s not enough to meet the demand. We should have a system that’s good for America. That’s what I’ve been working on. I came to the committee as a freshman. We thought we were going to get it done quickly, and for a number of reasons it hasn’t happened.
Now the H-1B you had a note on, that is currently a small reform, but it’s part of a larger reform. We just cut it down because we think we can get it passed this year, and we know the president will sign it if we get it to his desk.
It tries to reform the high-skilled immigrant visa program, because in that program we have 85,000 slots. These are non-immigrant visas, but virtually out of those 85,000 visas 55,000 apply for immigrant visas and a great many of them get them. These are the guys with the masters and the Ph.Ds and they’ve got the STEM degrees. They’re for critical shortages and you advertise to get them.
However, you all remember Southern California Edison where the technicians were training their replacements and then were laid off? That was H-1B, and it was clearly circumventing the intent. In that case, SCE put out to bid at a consultant group that was almost exclusively Indian workers who filled those slots, and those workers basically made $60,000, $30,000-$50,000 less than the people who were getting laid off. So underbidding what it was costing to do it in-house was possible, but it wasn’t possible with the like-workers and obviously there wasn’t a shortage because if there was a shortage you wouldn’t have the workers you had.
So they circumvented the intent to fill shortages. The consulting firm used a loophole that as long as they in the first year offered $60,000, and that could be virtually no benefits, they waived that proof of shortage. About half of all H-1Bs go to these consulting firms. Well, the Google and Facebooks and the other will typically bid for those workers but with what their prevailing wage for that skill level is. Theirs tends to be $85,000 to $100,000.
We have a good mix, if you will, of people on the left and the right. My co-sponsor is (Rep.) Scott Peters. All we’re doing with that, and I’d like to do more with it…is to take away the advantage like SCE, Disney and Abbott (Laboratories)…they were all legal, but wrong. And I deal with that a lot. Sober living, currently legal but in some cases doing wrong. And you don’t want to make something illegal necessarily but you want to stop the wrongdoing. In this case we’ve come to a pretty bipartisan feel that the small (changes) could happen. We have expectations either before the election or after that we can actually clear on our consent calendar. And then the Senate would take it up during the lame-duck session.