Representing the 29th Congressional District in the San Fernando and San Gabriel valleys, Congressman Adam Schiff has fought to bring federal funds to the region's infrastructure projects. Despite his willingness to reach across the aisle to lobby for funds for transportation, ports, and other crucial infrastructure investments, his efforts have often conflicted with those of members of his own delegation. Though transportation need not be a partisan-or even jurisdictional-issue, California's representatives in D.C. have often failed to unite for the good of the whole state. In this MIR interview Rep. Schiff explains the nature of this paradox and offers insight into how California can begin to seek its fare share of federal funds and break down partisan barriers.
Many commentators complain that California's congressional delegation-the largest in Congress- is too fragmented, and fails, therefore, to bring back to the state a fair share of federal dollars to fund investments in transportation, water, infrastructure, science and research. Is this a fair criticism?
Unfortunately, I think that critique is valid. We have an enormous delegation. In many respects California is the new South; the South used to dominate the chairmanships because the southern members stayed forever. But now California has the chairs of the Ways and Means Committee, Appropriations Committee, Rules Committee, Resources Committee, Arms Services Committee-and that is a tremendous amount of power influence. And then you take our raw numbers-53 House members-no other state comes close.
We ought to be the 900-pound gorilla in the House, but we're not. When it comes to transportation funding and infrastructure of all kinds, we don't bring the resources back to the Golden State in the way that other state delegations do. We're simply not cohesive enough, and that has to change.
Southern California has a tremendous engine of growth, but it is not reaching its potential because we don't have the roads, the infrastructure, or the port infrastructure that we need. We know growth is going to take place, and whether it contributes to or impairs our quality of life by congesting roads and aggravating air pollution will depends in part on whether our delegation can get its act together.
We have to recognize that our constituents demand this of us, and we have to renew our efforts to work across party lines; these are non-partisan issues. And we also have to be willing to turn the heat on when members aren't placing California and their constituents first.
Federal transportation funding historically has been viewed as nonpartisan in Washington, as you suggest. Is this still true; or is "Anywhere but California" the rule today? To what extent will the federal government contribute as California voters consider passing the package of infrastructure bonds in November?
Most of the heavy lifting-the appropriations process-remains to be done. The question is, will it benefit Southern California? Or will it be more of the status quo? These issues need to be resolved. It's a tough time to do it because we are heading into historic mid-term elections, the atmosphere is more bitterly partisan than ever, and it looks like we are headed for a lame duck session.
The expectation, I think, is that we may recess in October and come back after November to finish the big items and the appropriations may be all rolled into an omnibus bill, which is not the best policy because you lose things that should be in it and you include a lot of things in it that shouldn't be. But we still have an opportunity to make a major contribution to the infrastructure and quality of life in Southern California.
You have partnered with your Republican colleague David Drier (Glendora) to secure federal funding for the Gold Line, the Alameda Corridor East, and for research at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL). Is your bipartisan collaboration a model for what California needs more of in Washington?
I think David and I recognized from the get-go that we would disagree on a lot of policy issues but that when it came to infrastructure, jobs, and the well-being of our constituents we were in complete agreement on a whole range of issues. David and I worked hand-in-glove on the Alameda Corridor East, on the extension of the Gold Line light rail, on funding for JPL, and science funding generally. We are in constant consultation and our staffs are in consultation during the appropriations and the authorization processes. We work on joint op-eds together. I think we need to see our delegation partnering together in the same way.
While issues like the Alameda Corridor East are of great regional importance, other issues cut across every congressional district in Los Angeles; they are bigger than any two members and require the delegation to act as a cohesive whole. I'd be delighted if our model was followed. It's not the only model that would work, but these issues simply aren't partisan, and there is a great opportunity to get things done for the people that we represent.
The August MIR carries two interviews that deal with the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach, one with Senator Lowenthal and one with L.A. Harbor Director Geraldine Knatz. Both say that, increasingly, localities and the state are addressing the goods movement challenges of mobility, congestion, and air quality. The partner missing, however, is the federal government. Additionally they both comment on the threat of terrorism at our ports. What might the state's delegation do to help bring the federal government into a partnership with the ports?
Again, I think your critique is, unfortunately, valid. When you look at the level of state investment and municipal investment as a percentage of their capacity to invest, it is much more substantial than what the federal government is doing. The state and the localities are doing the heavy lifting, but there are some issues that they just can't wrestle with because they are international and federal in scope. The federal government has to play a role. One of those areas is in security.
We have technology, for example, that will detect radioactive matter in shipping containers. But the quality of that technology will determine both its accuracy and also the speed with which we can move them through the ports. We can get it down to 100 percent assurance that nothing is coming through that port that shouldn't be, but it is going to bring everything to grinding halt. Or, we can invest in those technologies that rapidly, effectively, and efficiently screen cargo for the most dangerous tools that terrorists want to get ahold of.
President Bush and Senator Kerry during their debate a few years ago identified nuclear terrorism as the number-one threat facing the country. It is still far too easy to ship a crate through the ports of Los Angeles. The federal government has to be a big part of that answer.
We can't leave it to the state and local governments to develop that technology. That is beyond the financial capacity of most states and localities. So, we have an obligation to step up to the plate on infrastructure, and also on those quintessentially federal issues like the development of new technologies to protect our people and our homeland.
Los Angeles has a lot in common with cities and ports on the Gulf Coast, the Great Lakes, and the East Coast, yet these regional engines of economic growth have yet to assemble a national coalition to advance a federal policy that complements local efforts to manage congestion, pollution and safety. Are there congressional colleagues in those jurisdictions who might collaborate with the California delegation and engage the federal government as true partner?
Absolutely. One of them is someone that I know both MIR and I respect and admire greatly-Earl Blumenauer. Earl was a Portland city planner before his stint in Congress. He is the chair of the Livable Cities Caucus that I am a member of, and he has been trying to do exactly what you suggest, which is to bring together representatives from around the country, bring those communities together to share best practices, and pool their energy and talent to jointly go to Congress to make the case for these kinds of infrastructure investments. Jim Oberstar (D-Minnesota) is another great leader in developing a national strategy to invest in our infrastructure.
Lastly, should there be a leadership change in Congress in November, what would be the Democrat's priorities on livability, infrastructure investment, and terrorism?
There are a great many issues we will address, but I'd like to highlight one in particular that I think cuts across a lot of the issues that we've been talking about, and that's energy. There is a real commitment in the Democratic Party to dramatically reduce our reliance on fossil fuels and to expand the use of renewable energy. This is an economic issue.
Other countries are far out-pacing us in the development of environmental technologies, and that is good for their economies. This is, obviously, an environmental issue; you just have to look out our windows at the mountains, which are hard to see on a smoggy day like this, to have that point brought home.
This is a national security issue. The day that we can tell the oil-producing nations of the Middle East that we don't need the oil is the day that we strengthen our own national security and independence. This is one of the seminal issues of the day, and it's one where you have the greatest disparity between the two parties. The current majority cannot and will not get the job done. Democrats will.