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24th Congressional District Candidate Q&A: Steve Isakson

[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.]

Steve Isakson
Steve Isakson

Steve Isakson, 64, an electrical engineer and businessman in Atascadero, is registered with no party preference.

Click here for more information about Steve Isakson.

Noozhawk: If elected, what specific issue will be your No. 1 priority in Congress?

Steve Isakson: The budget/budget deficit/debt/interest on the debt. These four items are really one issue.

How the budget is constructed leads, progressively, to the rest. But it is the last item, the interest on the debt, that will cause major economic problems in just a few years.

As the debt continues to grow, in about six years the debt will reach $25 trillion. At the same time interest rates will rise as well.

The combined effect will cause the interest payments on the debt to grow to over $620 billion (from the current $240 billion). That is equal to over half the discretionary budget and is larger than the military budget.

The deficit has been reduced for decades by spending the surplus money in the trust funds (most notably the Social Security Trust Fund) by substituting government bonds. Those trust funds no longer have surpluses. The yearly deficit will rise higher if something is not done.

There are no actions being taken by Congress, and no platform positions from any of the presidential candidates to suggest a realistic method to prevent the escalating debt and interest charges from occurring or continuing to even greater harm in the future.

The economy will not be able to sustain the situation for long. This must be the No. 1 priority for all members of Congress.

For a discussion of the situation and suggested actions, please see my website www.SteveIsaksonForCongress.com.

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

SI: There is extreme division and polarization in Congress. But it resides largely in the leadership of the parties to placate large donors and special interests. But it also resides in individual members who go along with the party leadership and find it easier (less work) to accept the donations and simply do as instructed.

However, there are some members of Congress who run a tighter campaign to avoid the influence of large-money donors and they genuinely want to try to help the people of their districts and the nation.

Working together with those members to find common-sense answers to the nation's problems is the answer. These people will vote against their party if the solution is for the betterment of the country.

Additionally, working to get special-interest money out of politics (or at least minimize it) will encourage more congressmen to work for your votes. Overturning Citizens United would be a good step in that direction.

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

SI: I do not feel I fit any of those commonly used labels. I tend to have my own opinions and these often fall in different camps.

I believe in a balanced budget — so most would think of me as a fiscal conservative.

I am pro-choice — many would think I am liberal.

While I believe in the Second Amendment as interpreted by the Supreme Court, I also think there are limits to gun ownership and legal responsibilities that come with it.

I do believe in background checks. I do not believe in large ammo clips. On this I think I am with a lot of the American public (at least locally) and probably both the liberals and conservatives would reject me.

I am my own man, and I want to let the voting public see who that is.

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

SI: My education (which includes a Ph.D. in electrical engineering) trained me as a scientist and engineer. It made me a problem solver because of my ability to see the roots of a problem and a workable solution — necessary traits if you are going to solve the problems that we face.

I have learned to approach a job with hard work to resolve the issue and not just leave a problem for others to solve.

I have learned to work and give back to a community so all may benefit.

I have learned to work with and mentor others as a leader in my current position.

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

SI: The United States has the strongest military in the world, and nothing should allow that to change. However, that does not mean we can fight everywhere simultaneously. We need to work more closely with our allies to suppress hot spots throughout the world. Working with allies can make us all stronger.

But I also like the initiatives that the different branches of the military have taken to advance their technical abilities by reaching out to industry and the public for new concepts that are only paid for with success.

DARPA has run a series of Grand Challenges on various subjects that will make the military stronger.

The Air Force currently is running the “Air Force Prize” with similar goals in mind.

The website www.Challenge.gov promotes this across all government agencies. I believe this sort of innovation should continue and be further promoted to allow the public to contribute toward keeping our military on top of the world.

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?

SI: In 1997, the federal minimum wage was increased to $5.15 an hour. Since that time, the Consumer Price Index (CPI) has risen 68 percent. That alone justifies an increase in the minimum wage to $8.65 an hour.

But the CPI has been redefined many times, and I believe that it probably understates the real cost of living changes. While it might need some further research, I believe on a national level an increase to about $10 an hour can be justified.

However, the federal minimum wage is only a baseline wage. Many states have higher minimum wages (as we do in California) because the cost of living is higher in those states. I encourage these and other states to ensure their people can make an honest living based on their local CPI.

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

SI: Climate change is real and human activity has greatly accelerated that change. This is abundantly clear from the scientific research that has been directed at this problem.

As responsible caretakers of this world for future generations, we need to work at slowing (or reversing) the changes that are occurring. This involves reducing the release of greenhouse gases (notably CO2) by moving toward a green energy solution.

Locally we have some of the nation’s best, most abundant solar resource in the eastern part of the district. But Congress needs to fund research into energy storage if it is to become a replacement for baseline power.

Carbon sequestration (agriculture) is another area Congress needs to fund further research if we are to reverse some of the effects of our activities.

But, unfortunately, anything we do will be just a drop in the bucket if we cannot convince the rest of the world, particularly the developing countries, that it is in their best interests to do the same. That is where we need to develop enforceable treaties with this global problem in mind.

One further thing is needed. It is unlikely that we can completely halt the changes that we have seen and reverse them in the immediate future.

Therefore, we must learn to adapt to the changes. Again, that is where the research arms of the government need to be directed (and funded by) the administration and Congress. We need to determine if the climate change is starting another 250-year drought in the Southwest — I do not know (nor does anyone else), but we need to understand what the changes are.

Would it mean we need to move agriculture further north where the rains will continue to fall? With a broader understanding, we can make long-term plans to adapt. That is what government research can help with.

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

SI: Many people would like us to move to a flat tax. It has an appeal base on its simplicity, lack of loopholes and its apparent fairness.

But I have yet to see one that works to raise the revenue needed, does not have loopholes, and does not turn out to be unfair. It is a good concept, but not one that will make many people happy.

Without a good alternative, I would stay with the current progressive tax system, but would attack the many loopholes that have been deliberately written into it to please special-interests groups that get their legislation by campaign contributions.

Why can Apple (and others) park $180 billion overseas to avoid taxes. Why can companies set up headquarters in Bermuda to avoid taxes? In my opinion, that makes them foreign corporations and they should be treated as such.

Everyone says they are going to take care of loopholes, but this must be a priority. There are hundreds of billions of dollars not being collected from these tax shelter loopholes every year.

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

SI: The Affordable Care Act has brought many benefits to the nation. Many people who could not get insurance previously are now insured. Pre-existing conditions no longer apply. As the act is fully implemented, almost everyone will be covered.

But it has one major problem — for many people it is not affordable.

Good health, and health care, should be a right for every American. To put it out of reach for many because of its high cost is just wrong.

Solutions might include a single-payer system, the ability to purchase insurance across state lines, the ability to negotiate to lower pharmaceutical costs. Many people try to go to Canada to get lower costs. Or emphasizing preventative care to lower medical costs has been found to work in some cases.

All avenues need to be explored to keep quality health care available to everyone as a right, but also within reach concerning costs.

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

SI: I am generally pro-choice and believe the woman has the choice to decide what is best for herself and the pregnancy. I do believe in counseling for the young (in particular) to prevent a hasty decision that she would later regret. But the final decision must be hers.

I know this is a complicated issue, but this is my basic position.

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?

SI: The vast majority of the 11 million illegal workers have been here for a long time and have integrated themselves into the communities they live in and are good neighbors. They live with their families, which are often here legally.

There is no reason for these people to continue to live in the shadows. They need to be given legal status so that they will not have to live in fear of deportation and will be treated with the respect they desire.

As to the recent events in the district — those need to be examined closely for wrongdoing. If the businesses were complicit in the illegals being there, as evidenced by underpaying or not withholding and paying taxes, then the business should be prosecuted.

If there is no evidence of wrongdoing, then perhaps the business did not know the workers were illegal and no further action is required.

The arson, if that is what it was, is clearly illegal and dangerous. I understand the neighborhood’s concern about how crowded the houses might become, and I could see the community wanting to have the plans changed. But arson was not the solution.

I do want to give the farm managers credit. They were proceeding legally under the H-2A program to hire and provide for workers (I believe the program is underutilized as only a small percentage of the farm workers come under the program). As a consequence, the farm managers were providing housing for the workers as required. Perhaps they could have discussed their plans with the community earlier to prevent the outrage, but I believe they have made other arrangements now that the two sides have talked.

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

SI: The federal loan program is designed to allow people with little money and poor credit to be able to attend college. It would be nice to reduce the cost of college so that everyone can easily attend.

Some want to make it free. And I think it would be great. But running public colleges is not free, and states seem unwilling or unable to fund the universities to the same degree as when I got my undergraduate degree.

So while lowering the cost is desirable, I have not seen any plan that will lower the costs enough. So these student loans are going to remain a necessity for some time in order to make college accessible.

But there are ideas that could make these loans more tolerable. Some fields (such as medicine and teaching) have work programs that benefit the nation (such as working in more rural areas) that allow the loan to be forgiven. This could be expanded to other fields as well.

The military has benefits for paying for college after the tour of service. That could be expanded into the AmeriCorps program to a greater degree for service before or after attending college.

Other methods of loan forgiveness could be found as well.

And I see no reason that student loans should not be able to be refinanced just as virtually all other loans can be.

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

SI: The spill appears to be principally caused by deferred maintenance. The pipe was old and testing was not performed to ensure the pipeline was still fit for service.

Part of the cost of being allowed to run a business is to ensure all activities are safe. That requires periodic testing to ensure systems are not failing.

One only needs to remember 2010, when a gas line exploded near San Francisco, killing eight people. Now gas lines throughout the state are being inspected for fitness.

But the reality is the deferred maintenance should never have occurred in the first place.

But that is just one aspect of the deferred maintenance that has occurred on our entire infrastructure throughout the nation. We cannot afford to continue our neglect.

In direct answer to the question, the regulators must require maintenance inspecting/testing to occur on all pipelines throughout the country. The oil industry is not likely to suffer significantly after you compare the up-front cost versus the cost of fixing it later after damage has occurred.

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