As part of continuing election coverage, Calaveras Enterprise reporter Davis Harper contacted both candidates for California’s Congressional District 4. Tom McClintock, the incumbent, and Jessica Morse responded to questions posed to them.
The candidates responded to questions on wildfire spending and prevention, healthcare and marijuana legalization, among others. Here are their responses.
What is your stance on wildfire spending? How will you bring Calaveras County residents assurance during fire season?
McClintock: I co-sponsored and helped draft the Resilient Federal Forests Acts of 2015 and 2017, which placed wildfire spending on the same basis as other natural disasters. But this misses the point. Until we restore active scientific management to our forests and reduce the morbid overcrowding that is killing them, they will continue to burn. Forest management used to MAKE us money when we auctioned off excess timber – 25 percent of the proceeds went to our local governments and the other 75 percent paid for the Forest Service and then some. Environmental laws like NEPA and ESA have added so much cost and delay to forest management it ends up costing money and doesn’t get done. My legislation contained in the 2016 WIIN Act has made a dramatic difference in cutting the environmental review on forest thinning projects in the Tahoe Basin from more than 800 pages to less than 40 and breaking the gridlock these laws have created. My next goal is to extend these provisions to cover all our forests.
Morse: Wildfire has become a constant and tragic danger across our district. But wildfire is not just a natural disaster, it’s also a political disaster fueled by underinvestment in proven proactive approaches to prevention and forest management. Fire is one more area where Congressman McClintock doesn’t vote for the needs of the people in this district. He refused to sign onto a bipartisan bill, the Wildfire Disaster Funding Act, that ended the disastrous practice of “fire borrowing.” For years we’ve been paying to fight each new fire by robbing from the budget for fire prevention, so that each fire that happens makes the next one more likely. Then when the fire fix was included in the recent Omnibus budget bill signed into law by President Trump, Congressman McClintock voted against it.
Congressman McClintock says it’s environmental standards that killed forest management in the Sierra. But in reality it’s a lack of adequate funding and staffing that has exacerbated wildfires. The Rim Fire burned out of control through the under-funded and under-managed Forest Service land, but once it hit Yosemite National Park, where the forest had been consistently managed, it was quickly brought under control. Both forests were under the same environmental standards, but the forest with adequate resources proved resilient to the fire.
We know why these fires rage: clear cutting at the turn of the century and decades of misguided fire suppression policy have led to overly dense forests, which are now under stress from regular droughts and a warming climate. We can lower our risks by wisely thinning our forests, finding uses for forest waste, and developing thoughtful plans for grazing and controlled burns. These solutions would not only keep our community safe, they would create local jobs that cannot be outsourced. You might think that our Representative in Congress would support locally-developed solutions that create jobs and reduce serious threats. Instead, Congressman McClintock ignores advocates for a bill that is nothing but a taxpayer-funded giveaway to the largest timber companies. The so-called “Resilient Federal Forests Act” that Congressman McClintock supports ignores the science on selective thinning, and instead opens the door for clear cuts in the Sierra – often without review to the impact on our watersheds. It would actually increase fire danger, because clear cuts often ignore brush and are usually replaced by uniform tree plantations that provide an ideal fuel source. Underfunding fire prevention is shortsighted, which is why I will fight for responsible solutions that will keep our forest healthy and our community safe.
How would you fix health care?
McClintock: Obamacare was enacted with the promise it would lower premiums, increase patient choices and improve care. It has done exactly the opposite. Except for those who get government subsidies, the premium increases are eating families alive. Instead of the one-size-fits-all mandate of Obamacare, I have co-sponsored reforms that replace it with a competitive, patient-centered system, where families will have the widest range of choices and the freedom to choose the plan that best meets their own needs – along with a supportive tax system to assure that access to healthcare is within the financial reach of every American.
Morse: Ensuring access to quality and affordable healthcare should be something we can all agree on, regardless of party. Instead, this Congress has created instability and threatened to take coverage away from millions of Americans with its attempt to repeal the Affordable Care Act (ACA). I will work to bring down healthcare costs for everyone, so that medical expenses are less of burden on families and taxpayers. First we must stabilize the ACA exchanges, by restoring funding for enrollment and mandating that the administration make continued cost-sharing payments. Second is to get spiraling healthcare costs under control, beginning with price transparency legislation that would require insurers and providers to disclose the true costs to deliver care. Finally, we should ensure real competition and give people better coverage options by allowing all Americans to buy into Medicare. While Congressman McClintock has taken tens of thousands of dollars from big drug and insurance companies, I have taken a pledge not to accept a dime of corporate PAC money because the health of our families should always come first. As your Representative, I would work with legislators in both parties to make quality healthcare more accessible and affordable for all.
What skill-sets would you bring to office given your experience?
McClintock: Inside Government rated me as the fifth most effective member of the House in the last session of Congress, while taxpayer, anti-waste and small business groups have consistently given me among the highest ratings in Congress. I currently chair the Federal Lands Sub-committee of the House, which is producing landmark legislation to restore forest management. I hold senior positions on both the Natural Resources and Budget committees, and as budget task force chairman of the largest caucus in the House, have produced blueprints to streamline government programs, restore Medicare and Social Security to solvency and return the federal budget to balance.
Morse: I believe we need more public servants in elected office. I served as a civilian in Baghdad, working side-by-side with our troops trying to undermine the insurgency. I saw firsthand how short-sighted political decisions made by elected officials with focus on getting re-elected often had disastrous effects on our troops and long-term national security. Instead of career politicians who push partisan agendas, we need public servants who understand the real life consequences on-the-ground and are not beholden to special interests.
I believe we need to be wise stewards of our tax dollars and work to dramatically reduce our national debt. I helped manage billions of dollars in the global foreign aid budget at the State Department and later USAID. I have battled with the Congressional appropriations committees to cut wasteful spending and improve effectiveness of our tax dollars. Congressman McClintock, on the other hand, voted for a tax bill that raised our federal deficit by close to $2 trillion, with no plan to pay it off. That’s why I am the true fiscal conservative in this race and will always make sure our hard earned tax dollars are brought back to our community.
District 4 encompasses a broad cultural spectrum. How are you connecting with constituents to best represent them across the board?
McClintock: I return to the district every week to meet with constituents, and have held more than 150 town hall meetings and district conference calls to communicate with voters across the political spectrum.
Morse: I was raised in a Republican family and grew up hunting and fishing throughout this district, and know the values of our community don’t belong to a political party, but are shared by our community. I began this campaign last year by conducting a listening tour across all 10 counties, speaking with teachers, firefighters, elected officials and farmers about the issues they are facing in our community. I heard a common refrain from so many people, democrats and republicans alike – that Washington isn’t working, and we need people willing to look past partisan labels to work together and find solutions. I believe a good idea is a good idea no matter if it comes from a democrat or a republican, because the challenges we face – from wildfire prevention to healthcare coverage to improving our local economy – aren’t partisan issues. They affect us all equally. I have pledged not to accept any corporate PAC money so the people of our district will know that I am running for Congress to be an advocate for every corner of this community, from the suburbs to the Sierra to the Mother Lode, and will not be beholden to any special interest or partisan agenda.
Should cannabis be legalized at the federal level? How would you approach it as an industry in your district? Environmental regulations, registration fees, taxation, etc.?
McClintock: I think marijuana use should be discouraged through an on-going public education campaign, but our laws have utterly failed to keep it out of the hands of young people and have created a violent underground economy. By legalizing it as we do alcohol, sellers would have powerful incentives to obey the law and deny sales to minors while removing the criminal element from its commerce. I think the best approach is to discourage it as we do tobacco and regulate it as we do alcohol.
Morse: I believe in states’ rights and that the voters in each state should decide about marijuana legalization. For the states that have passed this legislation, like California, the federal government should shift laws so cannabis is regulated like other crops. I support decriminalization at the federal level so cannabis growers can apply for water rights, use pesticide standards, and put their money in banks and then pay taxes. Marijuana should be creating tax revenue for better schools, cleaner environments, and safer roads, not filling our prisons at an enormous cost to the public. Yet even as California and other legalized states work to bring the cannabis trade into the economy, federal prohibition makes it difficult to properly regulate issues from environmental impacts to product safety. It also creates public safety risks, as entrepreneurs are forced to operate in a cash economy because of restrictions on banking. It is in California’s interest to carefully manage the growth of this industry, something that’s not fully possible as long as we operate with uncertain threat of federal prosecution.
How would you fix our immigration laws?
McClintock: Illegal immigration makes a mockery of the millions of legal immigrants who have obeyed our laws to be here. Without the steady and uniform enforcement of our immigration laws, our borders mean nothing, and history warns us that a nation that doesn’t secure its borders doesn’t last very long. Sanctuary laws like California’s are a direct threat to public safety, releasing dangerous criminal illegal aliens back into our communities, rather than turning them over to ICE for deportation as federal law requires. A necessary and effective measure to secure our borders is completion of the border wall that Congress authorized in 1996. Once our borders are secure and our immigration laws are being uniformly enforced, we can consider other reforms such as a new and enforceable seasonal guest-worker program and permanent residency for those brought here as children and who have otherwise obeyed our laws.
Morse: A strong country has strong borders. That’s why I am a strong advocate for fixing our broken immigration system. We must also reject politically-motivated attempts to divide our nation by race or background and instead pursue wise policy solutions. When our current Congress fails to pass immigration reform or a DREAM Act, they create uncertainty for the economy and millions of people. Congressman McClintock has voted again and again in opposition to bipartisan, comprehensive immigration reform in favor of divisive tactics. I will work in Congress to pass immigration reform that balances our security needs with our economic realities to build a consensus that can get support from both parties. Such reform must establish an efficient and regulated way for people to come into our country and contribute to our economy. It must also address a pathway to citizenship for those who came to this country as children and have known no other home for most of their lives. We should not play political games with people’s lives or our country’s security.
Are you in favor of repealing SB1? Why or why not?
McClintock: I strongly support repealing SB1, which in combination with other taxes will take gas taxes in California to $2 per gallon. California consistently bears one of the highest taxes per gallon of gasoline in the country and yet ranks at the bottom in per-capita spending for roads, because our current gas taxes are taken for purposes unrelated to our roads. Californians are already paying for a first-class highway system – but we’re not getting it, and piling even more taxes on top of our current burden isn’t going to change a deliberate agenda in Sacramento to discourage people from driving their cars. We need to insist that our already sky-high gas taxes be spent for our roads and nothing else.
Morse: This debate is really a symptom of Congressman McClintock’s and Congress’ failure to pass an infrastructure bill. If the people of District 4 had a Representative who fought to address the needs of this community – like alleviating traffic at the (Interstate) 80-65 interchange, and fixing our failing infrastructure to prevent catastrophes like the Highway 50 collapse – there would be no increase to the gas tax. Congressman McClintock failed to do his job and bring our federal tax dollars back to our community, so the state tried to find a way to fix the roads. I’m running for Congress because California’s families work hard and should not shoulder a heavier tax burden. We should ensure the federal taxes we already pay are invested at home in the infrastructure we depend upon every day.
What would you like voters to know about you as they make their decision?
McClintock: The people of this district know me and know where I stand. I believe that the uniquely American principles of individual liberty, constitutionally limited government and personal responsibility are what made the American people the happiest, most prosperous and most respected civilization in the history of the world, and I have spent my entire adult life seeking to restore them as the cornerstone of our public policy. The regulatory and tax relief we have won are producing one of the most stunning economic expansions in our lifetimes. Freedom works, and we are putting it back to work. Let us finish the job.
Morse: I am a fifth-generation Northern Californian who grew up hiking, fishing and hunting across this district. After a decade as a public servant in both republican and democratic administrations, I’m running because I’m tired of career politicians like Congressman McClintock ignoring the concerns of hardworking families here. I listen to our community and am ready to roll up my sleeves and tackle the issues that matter – like lowering healthcare costs, creating more vocational training opportunities, lowering our taxes and supporting local small businesses. I will be a partner and advocate for this community who will always put people first.