The Enterprise recently contacted California District 4 congressional candidate Robert Lawton, a new face in the race based in Madera County. Lawton, who is running as an Independent, responded to a series of questions posed to him related to wildfire spending and prevention, health care and legalization of marijuana, among others. Here are his responses. Answers have been edited for space.
Where are you from, and how long have you lived in District 4?
I’m from New York, and I’ve lived here for about eight years, and as you likely know, Tom McClintock who represents us in Congress has never lived here, despite cashing our paychecks for the last 10 years. It’s also worth noting that Democrat Brynne Kennedy has never lived in this district before flying in from Massachusetts, strictly to run for office. I chose to live here eight years ago because I fell in love with the area and wanted to make it my home. When I’m elected, I’ll sponsor a bill mandating that no sitting congressperson may represent a district where they do not currently reside, and no one may seek to represent a district where they have not been a legal resident for at least one year prior to running. It’s time to get these carpetbaggers and “parachute candidates” out of politics.
What sets you apart from the other candidates in the race?
Quite a bit. With all due respect to Mrs. Benzel who, as I understand it, was running for president before deciding to run for Congress, I’m going to confine my answer to my opponents Tom McClintock and Brynne Kennedy, and the differences between us are stark. Tom’s essentially a Trump lackey who’s voted with him 96% of the time. In fact, I can’t envision anything Trump could do, or has done, from shaking hands with Kim Jong Un, to inviting the Taliban to Camp David, to abandoning our allies in Syria, that McClintock could ever find fault with. However, it bears mentioning that if Obama had done any of these things, McClintock would have excoriated him. I get the distinct impression that Tom is angling for a job in the administration, rather than purely casting votes based on any sort of guiding principles.
As for Brynne Kennedy? As far as I can tell, she appears to have held no political views whatsoever other than being vocally anti-union, prior to March of this year when she perhaps got together with some establishment democratic power brokers back east, put a pin in a map, and decided that this district was fertile ground for her to fly in and run for office.
As far as her policy positions go? She’s against Medicare for All, I’m strongly in favor of it. She appears to be a believer in “bipartisanship,” and I think that’s delusional. She makes vague references to forgiving “a portion” of student loan debt, whereas I think it should be wiped out entirely, and so on. Basically, she seems to be a garden variety establishment centrist Democrat at best, and I believe there’s no middle ground on these issues.
What do you see as the most pressing issues to the district?
Health care and wildfires.
How would you fix health care?
Like most industrialized nations from Australia to the U.K., (as well as the majority of Americans), I believe universal health care is a basic human right which should be guaranteed to all citizens. Medicare for All will result in LOWER overall health care costs for every American except the wealthiest among us. How will we pay for it? It’s plainly explained in Sen. Sanders’ Medicare for All bill, which has been languishing on the Senate floor.
Also, Fox News has been very effective at demonizing the word socialism (which Medicare for All most certainly is), but, ask yourself this: If you think Socialism is a bad thing, you must also think Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, Medi-Cal, the VA, Yosemite and national parks, police and fire departments, public roads, public libraries, public schools, emergency services, etc. are bad, too, right? Because, these are ALL examples of the dreaded “socialism.” We pay the government for these benefits through our tax dollars.
How would you support communities in preparing for wildfires?
With millions of dead trees due to the bark beetle infestation, decades of fire suppression, rising temperatures and droughts which have resulted in “fire season” getting longer each year, we need to quickly focus on turning that biomass into biofuels, which will have the added benefit of providing clean energy jobs and much needed income to the region. Pacific Gas and Electric Co., which paid millions to executives and lobbyists (and donated to McClintock) while avoiding critical safety upgrades, needs to become a publicly owned utility.
On a federal level, the government spends about $700 billion a year on defense. Meanwhile, there are people in the United States, including many in this district, who don’t have clean drinking water, suffer from food insecurity, or are forced to choose between insulin or rent. I’d like my tax dollars to go toward supporting my community prepare for wildfires, increasing staff levels for fuel reduction, rather than toward buying another dozen fighter jets to defend Saudi Arabia, giving tax breaks to millionaires, or subsidizing oil companies. As a legislator, I’ll make sure our tax dollars are being better spent in the service of the communities which pay them.
One of my first orders of business when elected will be to make sure that no insurer which has been taking money from policyholders for years, while rarely, or never, paying out any claims to that policyholder, is able to abruptly discontinue coverage, citing increased wildfire risk. It’s wholly unacceptable, and I’ll use the full power of my office to make sure that this practice A) ends, and B) a failsafe mechanism is quickly implemented to assist those who’ve lost their coverage already. The industrial polluters, negligent utility companies like PG&E, and the same insurance companies which have been cashing our checks for years without paying out for claims will be paying for it, in the form of subsidy removals, fines and corporate taxes.
What skill sets would you bring to office given your experience?
First of all, I’m not a politician, and I believe that’s an asset rather than a liability. I’ve been everything from a bartender, author, writer/director to a vice president of a NYSE member firm, investment adviser and small business owner. I know what it’s like to succeed financially, and I also know what it’s like to be on food stamps, so I think I have a pretty broad spectrum of experience from which to draw on as a legislator. I proudly chose this district as my home, so I know what it’s like to be a local resident, and I’m here to stay.
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.?
Absolutely. I believe marijuana should be removed from the Schedule I classification of the Controlled Substances Act and federally decriminalized. That said, although I believe commercial marijuana cultivation should be prohibited in the 4th District, I strongly believe the cultivation and processing of industrial hemp should be fully legal throughout the district. CBD is expected to be a $20 billion industry by 2024, and our district is uniquely positioned to benefit from it. Furthermore, I see this as a land-use issue, and I have a real problem with a government official trying to tell me what I can or cannot grow on my own land, when it’s a federally legal crop, which the 2018 farm bill (that McClintock voted against), did for industrial hemp.
Where do you stand on immigration?
Unsurprisingly, Trump’s signature campaign promise: “I’m going to build a wall, and Mexico’s going to pay for it” was a lie. We’re a nation founded on immigration, so unless you have Native American ancestry, maybe sit this one out rather than bashing illegal immigrants. Not only is a wall unnecessary, we need to pass a clean DREAM ACT, pass DAPA, and abolish ICE. They’ve run afoul of their mandate, and have become a de facto paramilitary organization who’ve done enormous damage to our standing in the world and here at home. Children being separated from their parents who are fleeing their homeland for a better life is a disgraceful, indefensible stain on our nation’s legacy.
For more information about Lawton's campaign, visit lawton4congress.com.