BEVERLY HILLS — Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Santa Monica) has represented the Westside in Congress since 1975.
In that time, he’s racked up influence points as ranking member and — in 2009 and 2010 — chairman of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce where he oversaw legislation relating to public health, telecommunications and interstate commerce, as well as the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform where he participated in investigations meant to root out waste and abuse in government contracting as well as corporate wrongdoing.
Despite his track record, Waxman is looking toward the November election with a bit of trepidation.
He’s running in the newly-redrawn 33rd Congressional District, which now includes territories like the South Bay and Palos Verdes Peninsula, two areas with voters that have never heard of him before.
His opponent, Bill Bloomfield, of Manhattan Beach, is a political neophyte, but is running as an Independent and is independently wealthy, making him able to pump money into his own campaign.
“I don’t think he can win, but I’m not going to take it for granted so that’s why I’m going to be doing as much of a campaign as I can afford,” Waxman said.
Waxman says he wants to stay in office because he still has things he hopes to accomplish. He wants to tackle legislation to fight climate change, reform the tax code and take on immigration reform, issues he feels have been stymied by Republican intransigence.
In a sit down conversation with the Daily Press, Waxman discussed his past, present and what he hopes will be his future representing Santa Monica and the Westside in the halls of Congress.
(The responses have been edited for length and clarity.)
Daily Press: What inspired you initially to go into politics?
Henry Waxman: I always thought I would be in politics. I was interested in the issues. The issues in those days were different than the ones now in some ways but they’re ongoing questions of fairness and justice.
I got into the State Assembly and then had a chance to run for Congress after redistricting. That was done by the courts. I have been in congress ever since. I was first elected in 1974, and took office in 1975. The thing that inspired me to get into politics and public office is that I think government has a very important role to play to help people, to let people succeed as far as their talents will take them, and I think government has to be there to provide a safety net for those who cannot succeed so we can respect their dignity. And there are very essential services of government such as education, roads, infrastructure and funding research.
DP: You’ve been in office for over three decades. Why run for re-election? What do you want to do?
HW: I’m proud of the accomplishments I’ve had over the years … But there are things I still want to do. I think it’s important that we develop an energy policy that lowers green house gas emissions and fights climate change. I want to work with President (Barack) Obama to get our economy moving again and to lower our deficit in a way that’s fair. I want to reform our tax system and work with the president in doing that, and I want to work with him on comprehensive immigration reform. So there are things that we need to do.
The energy issue of course is closest to my heart. I was chairman of the Energy and Commerce Committee and author of the bill that passed the house that was called the Waxman-Markey “cap and trade” bill. It would have directed us away from simply relying on coal and oil and other fossil fuels and moving in the direction of renewable fuels, alternative energy sources and a lot of efforts to use our energy resources more efficiently.
After we lost the Congress in 2010, what we found is that the Republicans deny the science of global warming. So when I asked them to work with us when I was chairman in 2009 and 2010, they said we don’t want to work on a problem we don’t think exists. They still deny the science up to this moment.
DP: Your opponent is in favor of the Keystone XL Oil Pipeline. You oppose it. Why?
HW: The thing that bothers me the most about the Keystone pipeline is that it will be encouraging Canada to take the dirtiest source of tar sands oil. They have to spend a lot of energy just to refine it so it can be sent in a pipeline. That adds to the greenhouse gas emissions. There also have been problems about pipeline safety which we hope we addressed in bipartisan legislation last year, but I think we need to look at the pipeline and where it’s going.
This is going to be oil that will be brought to the United States and could well be sent off to China once it gets to the refineries, even though it has been touted as oil for America. It will be added to the world’s oil supply. What we need is less adding to the world oil supply and more moving away from our dependence on oil. So I’ve opposed the pipeline.
DP: Switching to more Santa Monica-specific subjects, you’ve expressed support for keeping the historic post office on Fifth Street. What is the best course of action for the Postal Service on that issue?
HW: I don’t think they have to close a historical building like we have in Santa Monica. I’ve argued to the Postal Service that they shouldn’t close that particular post office.
I haven’t given up on this fight to save the post office in Santa Monica, and I’m still actively involved with people at the Postal Service to try to get them to change their minds. I’m hopeful.
DP: On the issue of the Santa Monica Airport, you’ve called for a “meaningful solution.” What would that look like?
HW: There are a number of concerns at the airport, and the first one has to be safety. … This is an airport located right in the middle of a residential area. I don’t think the runways offer enough safety protection. The (Federal Aviation Administration) was supposed to work on that issue and I don’t think their solution was adequate. I think there are problems with the fuel used in the airplanes, which still has a lot of lead in it. We banned leaded fuel for automobiles which caused a dramatic drop in some of the harm that’s done from lead exposure. Lead exposure to children is particularly harmful, but lead exposure to adults is not particularly conducive for good health, either. For kids, it’s so dangerous that exposure to lead can cause immediate harm in terms of mental retardation and learning disabilities.
DP: Some people are advocating for straight closure of the airport. What do you say to those folks?
HW: It’s possible after the (20-year) agreement expires. Well, in 2015 this issue will come to a head as to whether there’s going to be an airport or not. But in the meantime, we need greater protections in place for the safety and pollution problems.
(Waxman is referring to grant assurances that Santa Monica City Hall entered into with the FAA in return for money for airport improvements.)
DP: Housing for homeless veterans at the Veterans Affairs campus in West Los Angeles has been an ongoing issue. Why is this dragging on and on?
(City Councilmember Bobby Shriver is one of many working on a lawsuit by the American Civil Liberties Union against the Veterans Affairs Administration in order to force the VA to make improvements on buildings on the campus to open up permanent supportive housing for disabled veterans.)
HW: I’m very frustrated that there hasn’t been more movement on that. I met with General (Eric) Shinseki, the head of the VA. He agreed that we needed housing for the homeless, agreed he’d take a couple of the buildings that are there and do that so they can be a place for residential homeless vets. Yet they still haven’t figured out how to do that. Maybe we should have started from scratch and torn the buildings down and built something from the beginning, because now they’ve run into a lot of problems going to redo those buildings.
DP: What’s the latest on that?
HW: Cost over-runs, and they’re not moving as quickly as I would like.
DP: Is there ever a vote that you regretted?
HW: Yes. I regret voting for the power of George W. Bush to go to war in Iraq. I did that based on the lies we were told by the administration that Iraq had a nuclear weapon, and this of course is the most feared of the weapons of mass destruction. We had briefings from people on the intelligence that turned out to be wrong and I was so concerned about Iraq having a nuclear weapon I voted for a proposal that said if we couldn’t get the United Nations to act together and force Iraq to open up for inspections to stop any potential nuclear weapon the president had the authority to take military action unilaterally. I regret that vote, I think I was misled in to casting it. Most Democrats didn’t vote for it, and I’m sorry I did.
DP: So you say that you want to reform the tax code. What would you do?
HW: The tax code should be reformed. There are too many loopholes. I don’t think we should be creating more loopholes. I think that so many of the loopholes Mr. Romney has been able to use are unjustified. I don’t know the situation with Mr. Bloomfield (his opponent in the Nov. 6 election), but I think both are in the same situation.
They’re living on the return from their investments.
So he’s paying a far lower rate on his income tax, as is Gov. Romney, than a person who works very hard at a job that pays a full fare on income tax. I think we need to look at those distinctions. I think we need to end some of the loopholes. I think we have to make sure we don’t skew the tax system just to lower the taxes for those at the top, but to make sure that those who can pay more do pay more.
DP: You spent a lot of time looking into steroids in baseball. Why was that so important to you?
HW: The reason I thought it was important is that a lot of kids were starting to use steroids in high school for their athletic abilities, and they saw baseball players and other professional athletes using steroids and they thought, “Well, maybe that’s the thing to do.” Their heroes were using it, their role models were using it. They thought that message was that it was OK to use it, and it was OK to cheat. That it was OK to use it even though steroids can harm them physically. And so we were thinking of the kids.
I’m proud to say that as a result of our hearings on that issue, we didn’t pass any legislation, but as a result of our hearings the use of steroids by kids has dropped dramatically in this country, and professional sports have clamped down harder on their athletes for using performance-enhancing drugs. I think this was a good public health objective we were trying to achieve and we were successful in moving things in that direction.
Editor-in-chief Kevin Herrera contributed to this piece.