Wednesday, November 14 , 2018, 8:51 pm | Fair 52º


24th Congressional District Candidate Q&A: Bill Ostrander

[Noozhawk’s note: We invited each of the nine candidates for the 24th District seat in Congress to answer a series of questions about issues of importance to local voters. The responses are being published, three candidates each day in alphabetical order, beginning Saturday. Click here for the complete series index.]

William “Bill” Ostrander Click to view larger
William “Bill” Ostrander

William “Bill” Ostrander, 56, a Democrat, is a farmer from San Luis Obispo who also heads a campaign finance-reform nonprofit organization, Citizens Congress.

Click here for more information about Bill Ostrander.

Noozhawk: If elected, what specific issue will be your number one priority in Congress?

Bill Ostrander: What must change immediately, and what few people truly understand, is that money is the single biggest determinate of our legislative outcomes in our governance. Studies show that majoritarian democracy (the people’s vote) — what we are taught in school, what America markets as its brand, what we try to franchise around the world — has little to no effect on legislative outcomes.

The single biggest determinate of our legislative outcomes is money. Whether it comes from corporations, unions, or special interests or just wealthy individuals, money’s influence, and those who control it,  shape our laws, rights and privileges.

So no matter what your issue — climate change, student debt, homelessness, military spending — the private money required by candidates to run for office takes precedence over the community interest in the majority of issues. We must reduce the corruptive influence of money in politics in order to move forward on any of the individual issues.

While money is necessary in politics to communicate with constituents, candidates forced to seek private funding for public office creates a clear conflict of interest. Ironically, our judiciary branch understands the ethical imperative of avoiding conflict of interest, or even the appearance thereof, yet lawmakers who write the laws judges must decide upon see themselves as immune to such conflict.

Among other activities, members of Congress spend 30 hours a week on the phone begging for money, which is more time than Congress spends in session.

A constitutional amendment is unlikely anytime soon. Therefore, I would work to dilute the influence of money through publicly funded elections, enact better disclosure laws, clarify IRS rules on 501(c)(4)s, require publicly traded companies to reveal campaign contributions, and require government contractors to reveal political contributions.

We will never eradicate money from politics, but these measures, which are all supported by the holdings of the U.S. Supreme Court, would reduce the outsize role money is playing in our choice of candidates and our legislative outcomes.

Q: Given the extreme division and polarization in Congress and the nation, what specifically will you do to help break the deadlock?

BO: Politicians talk about reaching across the aisle as if they will be the first nice person in Congress or possess a superior congeniality. That’s nonsense. Once again, money in politics plays a major role here.

Studies show that ideologically consistent voters are twice as likely to donate money and become engaged. This need to draw distinct divisions between us is one reason why 50 percent of all congressional legislation occurs in the 60 days before an election!

Political consultants, fundraisers and candidates themselves stoke the flames of our ideological differences in an effort to raise money and gain votes. By pressing for publicly funded elections and requiring greater disclosure, politicians and their fundraisers have less need to divide us and we have more dialogue about our common interests.

In the long run, we need to teach civics classes in school again and institute a national civil service program for 18-25 year olds. Greater investment and involvement in our communities helps all of us to develop compassion and a greater sense of community.

Ultimately, it comes down to us recognizing that we all want good jobs, a clean environment, security, education and a dignified life, and leave partisanship behind.

Q: How would you describe your political philosophy? Liberal, moderate, conservative, progressive, socialist, libertarian, other? Explain why.

BO: In most people’s minds, there is little difference in the common lexicon between progressives and liberals. Socialism is completely misunderstood by most people, even though our mixed economy and public infrastructure are socialistic.

I regard myself of a mix of all of those. Cognitive scientist George Lakoff describes the differences between conservatives and progressives thusly: Conservatives employ a “strict father morality” and progressives a “nurturing parents morality.”

Those definitions are quite helpful, for example, in understanding why a group so committed to independence feels that they have a right to tell women what they can do with their bodies. And why the other group feels the need to ensure safety nets in society for the less fortunate.

As a person who has worked with horses, I can tell you that you get a much better relationship with your horse if that animal trusts you. I find that trust is much more easily gained in a nurturing parent morality both in animals and humans where there is mutual respect.

Q: What personal and work experience prepared you for this job?  

BO: The House of Representatives has cycled in 12,177 representatives in its history. It is a short term of office — just two years — and is designed to rotate citizens into the process of our governance and to re-envision where the country is headed.

In my view, and as I have often stated, removing the corruptive influence of money in politics is essential to make our governance productive and responsive again. To that end, I have led the discussion on campaign finance reform in our district, and lobbied 65 offices of the House and Senate in Washington to pass reforms.

I have given a congressional briefing on the matter. I have a nonprofit called Citizens Congress that brought people together from all over the country to discuss our various options to overturn Citizens United. I have co-authored legislation for the City of San Luis Obispo and given talks to thousands of people on the subject.

I have the endorsements of the leaders of three of the leading reform groups in the country — and not the phony “End Citizens United” group, which is a deceptive fundraising group who actually gave money to one of my opponents.

Addressing climate change is also a national imperative and something I do every day as a regenerative farmer — someone who sequesters carbon in soils. It’s not the only option to mitigate climate change but it’s a strategically important one that few legislators are even aware of.

Just stopping the production of future carbon is not enough. We must scrub our environment of existing carbon as well. The soils are our only hope in this regard. The beauty of that, however, is that sequestering carbon in soils is practical, natural and low cost, and improves our food systems along the way.

While we’ve known about carbon’s role in soil fertility for some time, this is a relatively new approach to climate change, and we have a great need to implement these practices ASAP. As a farmer, I can bring a unique perspective to the policies that will encourage and opportune carbon sequestration in the soils.

I have worked most of my life in one type of community service or another. From being a Big Brother for 35 years to spending a year in Namibia, Africa, doing volunteer work, to speaking out about our food systems, I have given a great deal of time and thought to the community’s interest. I have worked on four continents and owned my own businesses — including a company that did in-fill city development with green building strategies and materials.

Representatives press for legislation they understand personally. I believe my experience on the two aforementioned issues are two of the most important issues the country faces.

Q: How well is the United States doing in the area of military preparedness? What, if anything, would you change?

BO: George McGovern was the last Democratic candidate to talk about spending less on the military. Since then, every Democratic candidate has been told to at least look sufficiently tough on national security because of a perception that Democrats were weak on the issue.

However, Bill Clinton was able to follow George H.W. Bush by beginning to reverse the buildup in military spending that goes back to the Reagan administration. The restraint on military spending that occurred was a significant factor in Clinton’s ability to reach balanced budgets in his last years.

Then, there was 9/11. We entered two wars paid for on a credit card, which led to more than $150 billion a year over and above the base military budget.

Under President George W. Bush, the base budget steadily rose from $287 billion in fiscal year 2001 to $513 billion in fiscal year 2009, and this increase continued in President Barack Obama’s first term, reaching $530 billion in fiscal year 2012. At the height of the “surge” in Afghanistan in fiscal years 2010 and 2011, yearly military spending totaled about $700 billion, far more than Medicare outlays, which totaled $452 billion in 2010 and $486 billion in 2011.

Because so much military spending stems from overreach and because we subsidize European and Asian allies by providing a defense so they don’t need to spend much of their own money, there has been increasing conservative support for reining in the military budget. In fact, we can reduce the base budget by approximately $1 trillion over a 10-year period, while maintaining more than enough military strength to fully protect our security and those of our allies.

This is not an argument against America continuing to be the strongest nation in the world. However, being the strongest nation in the world can be achieved much less expensively than at current levels.

Moreover, we should be doing more to “invest” in diplomacy — small programs like micro-loans to women and assisting with education, which help to reduce strife in war- torn and destabilized countries.

Q: California will have a $15 minimum wage in a few years. Do you support raising the federal minimum wage, and if so, to what rate? 

BO: Yes.  I think a staged raise to $15 is reasonable in most communities. Some smaller, poorer communities will have trouble absorbing the increase due to a smaller population to spread higher costs but most communities will do well. It will reduce poverty and reduce spending on safety-net programs, which is good for the economy and state and federal budgets. Worker productivity has gone up significantly while wages have not kept pace.

Q: Briefly outline your position on climate change. What, if anything, should we as a nation be doing about it?

BO: We are headed for catastrophe without swift and decisive action. Environmental disaster will lead to financial crisis and massive human migrations with the ensuing penchant for violence. As a farmer, I am experiencing climate change in my business.

COP21 was encouraging but far from what we need to do. We need a World War II-type of response to switch from fossil fuels to alternative energies.

The sun provides 22,000 times more energy every single day than all other forms of energy on earth combined. Understanding and replicating the process of photosynthesis for our power source — which could be individualized, ultimately, rather than being connected to a grid — combined with well-funded and orchestrated research on power storage is clearly the direction we need to be deeply invested in.

As I’ve mentioned earlier, placing carbon back in soils is something we need to monetize and implement though the farm bill and other land management agencies.

It’s always amazing to me that we never seem to recognize what Mother Nature has already figured out. We like to invent and then profit from that invention, but too often we don’t recognize the unintended consequences that occur when we employ tactics that circumvent natural processes.

Americans particularly, but the world as a whole, need to understand that our environment is a precarious balance, and mass consumption of whatever and whenever we want is unsustainable.

We need to reinvest in pasture-based agriculture rather than confined animal-feeding operations. Help fund municipal food waste-recycling programs to create compost to spread on farm fields and open lands that would increase carbon sequestration.

Invest in mass transportation systems. Reduce, reuse and recycle should be a mantra. Buy food from local farmers markets — especially organic. Buy a bike. Invest in solar panels. Make the priority of your next car high mileage, or even an electric vehicle. Compost your food and put it back in your own yard and garden. This list could go on and on.

Q: What changes, if any, would you like to see made in the federal tax code?

BO: The carrot and stick approach to our tax code has created a complicated process. Tax consistency would be helpful for businesses and individual financial planners alike.

Cutting tax preferences for high-income households, eliminating special tax breaks for oil and gas companies, closing the “carried interest” loophole for investment fund managers and eliminating benefits for those who buy corporate jets are easy.

In addition, we should eliminate inefficient tax breaks and instead finance the reduction of marginal rates. Furthermore, we should implement the Buffett Rule, which holds that no household making over $1 million annually should pay a smaller share of their income in taxes than middle-class families pay.

In addition, if you make under $250,000 a year, as do 98 percent of American families, your taxes shouldn’t go up.

I support Bernie Sanders’ tax proposal that would pay for Medicare-for-all, single-payer health care that would be paid for with a 6.2 percent income-based health-care premium paid by employers, which would raise $630 billion per year. Sanders’ proposal also called for a 2.2 percent income-based premium paid by households, which is expected to raise $210 billion a year.

The plan also would raise income tax rates on households making $250,000 and above.

Under Sanders’ plan, rates would rise to 37 percent on income between $250,000 and $500,000; 43 percent on income between $500,000 and $2 million; and 48 percent on income between $2 million and $10 million. The current highest income tax rate is 39.6 percent.

Sanders would also raise taxes on capital gains and dividends for households making over $250,000, which would raise $92 billion per year.

Limits on deductions for households making over $250,000 would raise $15 billion per year, and increases to the estate tax — focused specifically on people making more than $250,000 a year or inheriting estates larger than $3.5 million — would yield $21 billion a year.

Another $310 billion a year would be raised by eliminating tax breaks that subsidize health care, which would become obsolete and disappear under a single-payer health-care system.

Currently, health insurance benefits are exempt from both income and payroll taxes, and some economists believe that, eventually, employer spending on health would translate into higher wages and salaries. Sanders believes that there would be $310 billion a year in new income and payroll taxes, on average, over the next 10 years.

Q: Share your views on the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. What, if anything, would you change?

BO: We need universal health care. It’s the most economical and fair system that we could have, as every other developed nation has.

We should have an expansion of the Medicare program, which has a much lower overhead cost than for-profit companies. I believe that health care is a right, not a privilege, and it is in the best interest of the community, as are public schools, police and fire departments. Businesses would be relieved of the responsibility of carrying health insurance and would also have the benefit of a healthier work force through preventative care.

In the meantime, we need to build a better infrastructure of medical and dental providers
. In San Luis Obispo County, there is only one dentist who accepts ACA insurance, for example.

Improve delivery-system reforms and assure that states are afforded flexibility in the law, adding a new tax credit to help with excessive out-of-pocket medical costs, capping monthly prescription-drug costs, and allowing three to five free sick visits per year. Reduce the cost of pharmaceuticals.

Q: What changes in abortion law, if any, would you support as a member of Congress?

BO: I support a woman’s right to choose.

Q: The debate over immigration and guest-worker programs hits close to home for this district, with ICE raids on Santa Maria-area farm businesses and an alleged arson at a Nipomo farmworker housing complex. What changes, if any, would like to see made in immigration law and enforcement?

BO: I would support the DREAM Act. I would lessen the paperwork and transportation challenges for H-2A visa program for farm workers — which has less competition from work challenges of American citizens.

I would re-examine the H-1B visa program for 85,000 special-knowledge foreign workers, which are hired annually for head of household jobs, which I believe is being exploited by large companies and institutions, and brings down wages and opportunities to American workers.

These two visa programs clearly illustrate the American paradox in our immigration policy. That is, we don’t like that low-skilled laborers are hurt when wages tend not to keep pace with inflation because immigrant workers are willing to work for less. But we are happy that that a low labor wage holds down our costs of food, construction and hospitality services.

Generally speaking, the average American gains a very slight economic benefit from immigration, both legal and illegal.

It is essential that along with our immigration policies, that we reinvest significantly more resources into our post-secondary-education system and vocational training to help people advance to higher paying jobs, while creating base level pay to allow American workers to perform essential jobs while maintaining a basic quality of life enshrined in our Constitution.

Q: What changes, if any, should be made in federally funded college loan programs?

BO: It makes no sense to place economic barriers to higher education, whether it’s professional or vocational. 88 percent of increased worker productivity in the last century came from technological advances, which are discovered directly and indirectly through investments in education.

A study conducted by the Weldon Cooper Center for Public Service found that for every $1 the State of Virginia invests in higher education, $13 is generated in economic output. That’s a 1,200 percent return on investment.

I believe that helping students access higher education by taking down financial barriers is a prudent investment in our own future. However, I believe that young adults should have some “skin in the game.” To meet both of those needs, I propose a coordinated national civil-service program.

Presently, there exist a number of national service programs to assist young men and women with access to higher education as reward for their commitments. Many are federal programs like AmeriCorps, Peace Corps, National Health Service Corps, and, of course, the military.

This list could easily be expanded to encompass existing qualifying nonprofits that range from mentoring programs, environmental cleanup and rescue, social services (from helping the homeless or caring for the elderly, tutoring and assisting in medical treatment centers) and other fields.

Volunteer programs should be an integral part of our citizenship. It fosters the understanding of individual responsibility to our communal well-being.

Service work is performed primarily by young adults between the ages of 18 and 24. Serving our communities and our country is a profound time for young adults, which will serve as a “threshold experience” that helps in the transition from youth to contributing member of our society, while exposing them to experiences they might not have found on their own.

Twenty-six million young Americans working for a minimum period of 500 hours would be an enormous boost toward improving the quality of life across our country, while developing compassion for the least fortunate among us.

Estimates cited that “making college free” would cost $70 billion.We have the money. It’s a question of priorities. Consolidating federal, state and local programs that already have significant budgets would be a start. A small .02-percent tax on stock, bond and derivative transactions could raise as much as $100 billion a year.

While some investors may complain, there would most certainly be a good return on investment from a more-educated workforce and greater general affluence as America rebuilds its middle class and achieves further innovation across the business and manufacturing sectors.

Let’s reinvest in our human resources by investing in higher education. Then, we can create a new national service program so young people will have the opportunity to serve their country or community, while earning money to offset the cost of college when he or she has completed their program.

Q: The Refugio oil spill put a spotlight on federal pipeline safety regulations. What can regulators do to prevent future spills?

BO: There are 70 oil spills a day across the United States, according to the EPA, so the best answer is to wean ourselves off of fossil fuels.

In the meantime, creating a risk-assessment map would help to mitigate disasters by identifying pipeline areas of high environmental risk and implementing greater safety measures, like more frequent monitoring and shortening the spans of pipe that are equipped with automatic cut-off valves.

Increasing civil liabilities on repeat offenders and using fines to supplement measures that promote alternative energy use would also be helpful.

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