By Christian L. Guzman, Community Reporter
The 2018 elections won’t just be remembered as a high stakes battle for Democratic or Republican control of Congress. It will be remembered for candidates running for office on platforms opposing corporate control of the electoral process. On Jan. 19, dozens of candidates for elected office in the state legislature and U.S. Congress who have pledged to not take donations from corporations discussed national, state and local issues at the Torrance Civic Center.
The forum was organized by the South Bay People’s Alliance.
Brian Hitchcock, an alliance member and the forum’s moderator, described his group and the candidates as “people trying to change the balance of power, to put people, planet and peace over profit.”
With that goal, the alliance brought together candidates running in the 2018 primary election to discuss education, election reform, the environment, immigration and justice. People running for a range of offices participated including U.S. Senate (Tim Gildersleeve, Pat Harris and David Hildebrand, the House of Representatives (Miguel Zuniga), the California Assembly (Caney Arnold, Rachel Bruhnke and Maria Estrada), governor (Michael Bracamontes and Doug Jones), lieutenant governor (Gayle McLaughlin), and secretary of state (Michael Feinstein and Ruben Major).
Each candidate spoke for two minutes on each subject. There was much agreement between the candidates. But some set themselves apart with specific or unique policy ideas.
Harris said that the United States should cut defense spending and use it for education.
“The U.S. spends $600 billion dollars per year on defense and $120 billion of that are just on administration costs,” Harris said.
Hildebrand said he wanted to see a fractional tax on Wall Street to fund education.
“America has an employment gap regarding trades,” he said. “But you can’t ship your house to China for construction … we’ll use what I call the ‘Patriot Tax’ to … expand education.”
Bruhnke, a local educator, acknowledged that successfully educating students isn’t just about funding, methodology or charter versus public schools.
“I worked in Cuba and that country greatly increased its literacy rate because while the people were educating kids on a Monday, they were uplifting other standards of living on that same Monday,” Bruhnke said. “We need to do the same.”
Arnold also encouraged citizens to take a more active role in shaping government policy. During the election reform discussion he encouraged the masses to start independent expenditure committees; such committees would allow progressive candidates to obtain funds without relying on the Democratic or Republican party machines.
Feinstein wants to shift the California legislature to proportional representation.
“If 20 percent of voters share common values then that should result in 20 percent of elected officials in the legislature sharing those values,” Feinstein said.
Estrada would improve the California electoral system by establishing holidays during election days and implementing uniform training for poll workers. She said she is also in favor of lowering the voting age to 16.
McLaughlin used the environmental portion of the forum to describe her home town’s triumphs. She was the mayor and a city councilwoman in Richmond, Calif.
“Chevron used to own the Richmond City Council,” McLaughlin said. “I led a movement to elect progressives in favor of more renewable energy.”
As lieutenant governor, she said she would oppose new oil drilling operations; she would support a tax on existing operations that would fund renewable energy technologies.
Bracamontes believes more people will want a sustainable civilization if government and society put urgency on improving public health and building the green economy rather than restoring the environment.
“The state [government] should divest from the fossil fuel industry, do away with cap and trade and promote community choice energy programs.”
Community choice energy programs are public agencies that aggregate individual household’s purchasing powers to secure customized and (usually) renewable sources of energy for electricity generation.
To increase justice in the United States, Zuniga supports a universal basic income. A universal basic income would give a certain amount of money to each American citizen per month regardless of whether they work or how much they earn. This kind of program would largely replace government assistance programs like the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.
All of the candidates rejected Donald Trump’s immigration policy. They were in favor of California being a sanctuary state and a pathway to citizenship for people brought here as minors from other countries. They also opposed Trump’s ban on travelers from majority Muslim countries.
The candidates at the forum have far more in common with the Bernie Sanders 2016 platform than its corporate competition. The incumbents in the assembly that Arnold, Bruhnke and Estrada are running against did not fight for Senate Bill 562 — a single payer health care bill — to make it to the floor for a vote. The non- corporate candidates would all vote for it.
California Secretary of State Alejandro Padilla endorsed Hillary Clinton to be the Democratic nominee for president in 2016; many at the forum thought that should be illegal since his position is responsible for ensuring a functional election system.
The non-corporate candidates will also face an uphill battle making it past California’s top two primary system, which takes the top two vote recipients from the primary and places them on the general election ballot, regardless of party. This has resulted in two Democrats being up for election, all but forcing non-Democrats to vote for one.
Candidates like McLaughlin have beaten the machine. McLaughlin and her progressive slate in Richmond won races despite Chevron putting millions of dollars into their opponents’ campaigns.
“Corporate money is nothing compared to the power of people,” she said, proudly.
Editor’s Note: Christian Guzman, a regular contributor to Random Lengths News, also is working with the campaign to elect Rachel Bruhnke to the state Assembly.