Carl DeMaio is Ready to Shake Up Congress

Carl DeMaio was born in 1974 in Orange County, California and educated at Georgetown University. After graduating from Georgetown, Mr. DeMaio founded the Performance Institute, a consulting company which helped government agencies cut costs and streamline their performance; he also founded the American Strategic Management Institute which performed similar consulting for private businesses.

Mr. DeMaio moved to San Diego in 2002 and began his involvement in local politics.  He led the “San Diego Citizens’ Budget Project” that helped frame common-sense solutions to the city’s financial problems. He authored ballot initiatives to reduce the influence of public unions and special interests on San Diego policy and reign in public spending and exorbitant public pension payouts, as well as initiatives to increase the transparency of the San Diego City Council. These efforts eventually won him a seat on San Diego’s City Council from 2008 to 2012, which gave him a platform to implement these reforms more directly.  His website indicates that he proposed many cost-saving ideas to fix San Diego’s financial problems, and succeeded in enacting reforms that saved taxpayers over $150 million during his term. Mr. DeMaio is now running for Congress in the 52nd Congressional Distrct, which includes La Jolla and San Diego city, against incumbent Scott Peters.

Carl DeMaio is a next-generation Republican, blending the best conservatives have to offer with respect to fiscal and economic policy, while asserting the limits to how involved the government should be in our social and private lives. This puts him at odds with both Democrats and Republicans alike; however, it puts him in the perfect position to institute reform in an increasingly ineffective and stalemated House of Representatives.

On Thursday, October 24th, Carl visited UC San Diego and talked with various student groups about his campaign for congress. The California Review had the pleasure of interviewing him on his political principles and policy positions.

Interviewers: Margaret McKinley and Joshua Marxen

California Review: What is your “Fix Congress First” plan?

Carl DeMaio: The Fix Congress First plan is really reflecting my frustration that Washington is broken, and that if you want to start tackling the problems facing our country — whether it’s revitalizing the economy, balancing the budget, fixing the broken programs — you’ve got to start by fixing Congress. Because Congress has shown that it incapable of working through these problems and being accountable to the American people. So it’s very simple: Fix Congress First says that any law passed by Congress shall apply to Congress; that’s a notion that’s now starting to get a lot more attention and I’m thrilled, because I think it’s just a commonsense reform. It also requires that if members of Congress don’t pass a budget on time, they get no pay. The politicians are saying “We’ve already done this,” – baloney, they have not. It’s a completely misleading statement to claim that they are not taking pay. They have been taking pay during the shutdown, they’ve been cashing full checks, and it’s wrong. If you don’t do your job somewhere else, you don’t get paid; you don’t do your job on behalf of the American people you shouldn’t get paid, and frankly I would argue you shouldn’t be reelected.

CR: Do you agree with the House strategy to fund the government only if Obamacare was defunded? Do you think that strategy backfired?

CD: No I don’t agree, because it did backfire. I said all along that in San Diego we were able to reform city finances and save the city from bankruptcy through commonsense reform, by laying out a case to San Diegans from every political party that the city was not sustainable, and that we needed to fundamentally transform how we operated. We made that case, we got the public support, and ultimately we were able to get votes, on a bipartisan basis in many cases, on the Council to implement my reform plan. In Washington, they haven’t made the case and they didn’t have a plan of action to actually solve the problem. This should’ve been a discussion about our national debt and how our national debt is basically robbing younger generations of their opportunities. And that is a real crisis I think every college student needs to be aware of. Right now the policies that are being implemented right now are robbing us of our long-term opportunities, and it’s creating this generational inequity that needs to be addressed and it needs to be called out for what it is: “You are saddling our generation with the problems created by current and past generations.”

CR: As a follow-up, what do you think about the structure of the budget; do you think there is room for reforming that? The counter idea would be to break the budget into small parts, have different bills instead of just one, so at least if there is a shutdown it doesn’t shut down the entire government?

CD: I do believe we need to look at the budget process tooth to tail, because it’s obviously not working for us. Right now what we have is the House and Senate each pass a budget resolution; one budget. But that is meaningless. Where the real action occurs is in the appropriation bills and there are 13 appropriation bills — so it is broken into chunks. The failure is we’re doing CR’s — Continuing Resolutions, which is one bill. A CR is not the budget. A CR is last year’s budget. In fact we haven’t really passed appropriation bills in years. So it is a failure of Congress to do their job. Your job is to pass a budget, and then use that budget to pass 13 appropriation bills to fund each program. They haven’t done that. I think these CRs are a copout – – you’re not doing your job. It’s autopilot. It’s government by autopilot and I don’t like where we’re flying right now.

CR: What should we do with Obamacare?

CD: Well we need to reform it. You can’t beat something with nothing. Right now the Republicans are saying “We don’t like Obamacare, get rid of it.” Okay, so how would you address skyrocketing costs in health care or lack of accessibility in healthcare? Because these are real concerns. They were real concerns before Obamacare was passed, and I believe Obama care is just going to make the situation worse. You have to lay out a positive solution to healthcare reform and the Republicans haven’t done that yet. I want to do that. And I want to be a voice to force that conversation. I believe that we need to address skyrocketing costs in health care, and you do that by empowering consumers, actual individuals with more choices; you give more competition – – you allow more competition in the healthcare system. You reform abuses such as these frivolous lawsuits; you reform a lot of the bureaucracies both in government and in the big businesses, the big insurance companies with their bureaucracies. You embrace technology — some of the best medical technologies are happening right here at UCSD, and they’re happening in San Diego, at some of our research labs. Let’s embrace wireless and telemedicine; let’s be looking for those new treatments and those new approaches. If you do this then you’re going to make healthcare more accessible and more affordable for all. And when you make something more affordable that solves the problem a lot quicker than taxing people and penalizing people for a certain way that you think they ought to operate, or think they ought to live their lives.

CR: The US currently maintains a sizable military presence all over the world. In addition, it is actively involved in many foreign conflicts. How does this compare with your own views on what America’s foreign policy should be? How should America define its goals abroad, and what is the best way to achieve these goals?

CD: Very clearly, our goals should always be: How do we secure the United States of America? What is a national security priority for the US? And if you can’t satisfy that as the goal, if a policy doesn’t measure up to that test, then we ought not to be involved. I don’t want the US to be the world’s policeman. That’s not our role; we don’t have the resources to do that, given all the challenges we have here at home. I am very focused in my definition of national security and I believe that our national security and defense program ought to be about securing the homeland; nothing more, nothing less.

CR: What is your opinion of how the US handled the chemical weapons incident in Syria?

CD: In Syria, there are two failings with what was proposed: number one it did not directly relate to our national security. So we did not have a reason to be involved. You are seeing a civil war conflict, and it’s not our business to fight civil wars in other countries. And number two: let’s say for a moment that there was a case that we had a national security concern or national security interest in the conflict. What was being proposed was a lose-lose-lose-lose strategy. There was no win-win for the US. So I always believe that you have two tests for military intervention. Number one: Is it in the national interest of the US to be involved in the situation? And number two: Is there a plan to win? And neither of those criteria were satisfied in Syria, in the proposed Syria action.

CR: What do you think about the revelation of the extent of “intelligence gathering” by the NSA: necessary evil or violation of civil rights?

CD: It’s a violation of civil rights. We have a right to privacy. The wonderful thing about our system of government is that when we created it, people said it would never work. When you look at the whole theory back in 1776 and 1789, the idea was that you had to have centralized control to keep people in their place to make decisions for them, or else society would fall apart: “You can’t possibly empower the individual, because you’ll have anarchy!” Well guess what? Our whole foundation of government is that we have limited the powers of government; we’ve reserved rights and we’ve reserved power to the people. Because we are a Republic, we’ve reserved powers and rights to the states. And we’ve worked out quite well with that system of government. I recognize that in any undertaking you’re always going to have bad apples. So if you empower people with freedom, if you say that we’re going to allow individuals to decide their own destiny, that we’re going to respect the fact that they have inherent rights, some people are going to abuse that. And as much as I hate that, as much as I am frustrated when people don’t act responsibly with the freedoms and rights they’ve been given, I will defend every single day their rights and their freedoms. And it’s done a lot better for America than other systems of government. I mean ask the Soviets how they like centralized control and the freedoms that they did not have for so many decades, and the pain and suffering that millions of people endured. Or on the other end of the extreme, Nazi Germany: the limitations on freedoms and rights. And so I think the American experiment has been vastly successful and when you do have the unfortunate individual abuse their freedoms, there are consequences. You cannot justify taking people’s right to privacy, intruding upon their freedoms, for any reason. Does that mean we may have a few risks as a result? Yes. But that’s the whole underpinning of this great experiment that we call America.

CR: Is Snowden a traitor or a hero?

CD: For revealing what he revealed, he’s a hero. He’s a patriot. For going to another country and offering to sell those secrets, he’s a traitor. You know – – doing the right thing sometimes comes at great sacrifice and consequence. It’s not easy doing the right thing. And so if he felt in his heart of hearts that what was being done was in violation of the Constitution, was an intrusion on the constitutional rights of individuals, then he should be applauded for stepping forward and saying: “This is what our government is doing.” He would’ve been arrested; he would’ve been put on trial. And you know what? That trial would have been an amazing conversation for our country. He would’ve been a hero. And I think that we would’ve had a great discussion on privacy and rights and limitations of government. The way he handled it however, demonstrated that perhaps his motivations were not as altruistic as he represented. Because from everything we’ve seen since he’s been in Russia, he’s offered to sell secrets in exchange for amnesty and safe harbor and that’s not right. Sometimes doing the right thing is difficult and that life.

CR: The EU is now adding the matter to their summit in Brussels on the heels of allegations that the US monitored German leader Angela Merkel’s cell phone; how does the US get out of what is proving to be a diplomatic nightmare?

CD: By not getting into it in the first place. Why is Merkel any different than any average American? It’s wrong. It’s wrong to do it to a foreign leader, it’s wrong to do it to an average citizen. So it’s part of this overall conversation we need to have about: we have inherent freedoms and rights – – the Constitution provides us that – – if they would like to amend the Constitution, there’s a process for doing that.

CR: Switching gears now: can you give us a rundown on your views on social issues, like marriage equality, abortion, legalizing marijuana and governments place in our lives on these issues?

CD: I think the Republican Party needs to get out of the social issues business. How many times do you need to put your hand in the blender and have a finger lopped off before you realize this is not a very productive strategy to win votes? It’s not the appropriate role for government, which is why you are losing votes: people don’t agree with you. They believe that the Constitution provides certain freedoms and certain ways of dealing with these issues. The Tenth Amendment, for example, reserves many of these issues to the states for them to decide and determine. I believe that social issues first should begin with an element of respect. I was raised Catholic, and I’m Catholic today; I was raised by the Jesuits. I respect people who have different views than I do on issues of abortion or on marriage equality; doesn’t mean I agree, but I can respect that they have personal views, religious views, that are different than mine. I believe that these issues ultimately should be decided by individuals in the context of their faith and their family. Obviously, as a gay man I support marriage equality. As a libertarian I believe in a pro-choice environment. I think Roe vs. Wade is settled law; it established law. On marijuana I supported the law of the state of California as voted on by the people — not politicians by the people — for medical marijuana, and I believe that the federal government should respect our state’s determination that individuals with severe pain or medical issues should have appropriate and limited access to medical marijuana.

CR: While you were running for San Diego Mayor you spoke quite a bit about government workers salaries and pensions. For our readers who may not be conversant with the debate, can you explain what government workers salaries and pensions have to do with the average citizen, and why reform is necessary?

CD: My philosophy is ingrained in my approach as a small businessman. I believe that people ought to be paid according to their value. And I value our employees. We should pay people based on the local labor market – – no better, no worse. So what does it take in salary and benefits to recruit and retain quality employees to provide great services for all of our taxpayers? That’s always been my guide. We’re not trying to punish employees — that makes no sense. You want to empower your employees, you want to motivate your employees, you want to reward your employees, but you also want to hold them accountable. If you set salaries and benefits that are more generous than the local labor market for the same job in a nonprofit or private sector company, you are wasting money. It’s a violation of fiduciary responsibility, because every dollar that you wasted in a six-figure pension for example, to allow someone to retire and get a pension such that the pensions are higher than the salary they actually earned doing work – – which we have a lot of that happening in the city of San Diego and the many levels of government – – you are wasting money. That’s a dollar less that you could put in hiring a librarian aide, or an after-school mentor/tutor for a kid having trouble in class. It’s a dollar less you have to spend on the park and rec employee, to sponsor a basketball team on Saturday to keep kids out of trouble. I mean let’s translate the wasted dollars, the wasted tax dollars, into lost services. If you want to be really limited in your view of government it is a dollar less that you have to spend in filling a pothole. I’ve always said that we have enough money in government to provide quality services, but the money is not properly managed; it’s not properly spent, it’s being wasted, and no matter whether you’re Democrat or Republican you ought to be outraged about that, and you ought to commit to fixing it. That’s been my approach, and in San Diego we were able to get substantial reform done which is unheard of in government, because you don’t usually get anything done in government; we were able to get substantial reform done on behalf of San Diegans.

CR: Do you feel it is the job of government to protect the environment?

CD: I think it is all of our jobs to protect the environment, and government obviously has a role. I consider myself an environmentalist. Frankly who doesn’t? But particularly here in San Diego, if you want a strong economy in San Diego you should be for clean beaches and bays, you should be for well-maintained and protected open space and canyons. Why? Because about a third of our economy rests on the natural beauty, the environment here. A lot of tourists coming in, a lot of visitors – that powers the tourism economy. A lot of people locate in San Diego because they love the environment. So if you trash the environment in San Diego, it’s less prosperity for all of us. Less jobs. And so it’s part of the way of life that we have here that you should be concerned about that. I just take a different view as to how we can get better environmental protection. I believe that by empowering individuals, by embracing technology, by harnessing the market, you can get better environmental protection than through command-and-control government mandates. Let’s not forget that government is one of the biggest polluters that we have in the environment. They don’t always do things right. Some examples along this front: people don’t know that – – many people don’t know that agriculture is the fifth largest economy in San Diego. It usually trades off with biotech and life sciences. That’s how big agriculture is. I was visiting with farmers, and I said: “Well, what are some of the things that we can do?” And they said: “Well we’d really like to be able to ship our produce through our local port here in San Diego.” I said well, it’s just down the freeway, why aren’t we doing that? “Well, we have produce that requires fumigation and aerosols.” In the 1970s, the environmentalists went to the port and said we don’t like fumigation and aerosols and we want to ban these, so they enacted some regulations that prohibit the use of fumigation and aerosols. That’s based on 1970s technology. Today, we have new technologies, new fumigation approaches to aerosols, that are environmentally clean. But that rule, that regulation, is still on the books. So I asked them: “If we change this rule you’re going to be able to ship through San Diego; where do you ship now?” They said: “Oh we go through San Pedro, which allows these technologies to be used.” So I said: “So you’re sitting there paying these trucks – – added expense – – and you have all that air quality impact from the trucks driving and sitting in traffic all the way up to San Pedro to ship your produce, because we have an old outdated rule from the 1970s?” How stupid is this concept? Another example of this is: I believe in energy conservation as a way of protecting the environment, reducing your carbon footprint if you will, but also solar renewable energy. One way to do that is to encourage people to retrofit their buildings, retrofit their homes. A lot of people have homes that have old windows, a lot of your environmental, renewable energy conservation will come just from looking around the house. So the bill I sponsored said let’s give people a market vehicle to do this themselves. So we set up something called a PACE program. The PACE program basically says that you can finance new windows, energy conservation, water conservation investments in your home, or you can put solar panels on your house, and finance it not on your own individual credit, but on your property tax, like an assessment – – like a Mella Roos assessment in communities for infrastructure. I said you know what? This is a great idea let’s do it. So we set it up. Along comes Freddie and Fannie saying no no no we don’t like this idea. For what reason … we don’t really know what the justification is, but the federal government said no. So we’ve got this great program that would empower residents to fix a flaw in the market, and yet the federal government is not allowing us to do it. So that is one of the things I want to address when I’m in Washington. My philosophy on environmental protection is different: it’s more performance-based, it’s outcome based. It says: “Let’s harness the great innovation, let’s harness the market forces, let’s empower the individual to do right by the environment.” It is, I’m sure, going to achieve better results than command-and-control government regulation.

CR: What is your opinion on the way public education is administered, as far as the ideas of school choice as a way to improve quality?

CD: I believe in school choice, I don’t think there is enough of it. There is not enough competition. But, an important ingredient to make a competitive education system is transparency. And so what I’m pushing for is transparency of teacher performance evaluations. Here in San Diego, the San Diego Unified School District, has a labor contract that limits evaluations of teachers to once every five years. Once every five years. And so in my office, we asked for a copy of the evaluations, and they said they could not find them, and asked what we were talking about. And we said well, your evaluations of teachers. And they said: “Oh well that’s done informally every five years.” I want to see a system where parents can go online and see the performance evaluations annually of every teacher in every school, so they can start having a conversation with their kids, they can have a conversation with the principal, they can have a conversation with teachers, they can select schools, and start selecting teachers in a more effective way. You might actually find teachers be more interested in getting better performance as a result. So I think competition and choice is huge, but part of making competition and choice work is providing the transparency of outcome, the transparency of performance that’s missing right now. The unions have created a system that’s closed: where the best performing teacher and the worst-performing teacher get the same salary increase. You get a salary increase based on time, not performance. That’s got to change. You get layoffs based upon time, not performance. So you can have a bad teacher protected and a good teacher laid off –that’s wrong. No other system functions that way. You have teachers bumped from the core subjects that they want to teach, that they’re passionate about teaching, because they don’t have as much seniority as another teacher who may be worse in that subject matter. So it’s a broken system, and I think transparency and accountability need to be interwoven and linked up with school choice, whether that’s vouchers or charter schools, that we can put into every school district.

CR: What is your idea/suggestion/bright idea for getting past the partisan bickering that we currently have in Washington?

CD: You have to be willing to take on the established interests in both parties. I was proud of the fact in San Diego I took on big labor but I also took on big business – – big business is as bad as big labor and they’re all as bad as big government. We need to be thinking about ways to take on the establishment, the power interests, in each party. Don’t let them sell you bullshit that: “Oh, one party is pure and the other is not.” No – – both parties have extremism, both parties have power barons who have disproportionate influence that you can’t double-cross, you can’t go against them, they have sacred cows. Ultimately you need to take on those interests in both parties and say: “What is right for the American people?” My view is: let’s take some reforms that 70% of the American people approve of, and let’s take those and let’s push for a House vote on the floor. That’s going to upset the apple cart, it’s going to shake the boat up a bit, but I believe that when you start taking the labels off of ideas, “Democrat” and “Republican”, and just look at good ideas and solutions, that you are going to start achieving a critical mass of problem-solving just like we did at the City Council. I could be completely wrong, I could go back there and completely fail, but I am at least going to try.

Interested readers can go to carldemaio.com for more details about Carl DeMaio’s plans and positions.

2 comments

  1. Katherine Lazzaro · ·

    What a powerful and thought-provoking article!

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