Based on the California Primary results in the 33rd District, it appears that Congressman Ted Lieu will soon be re-elected to represent the predominantly democratic constituency, after he collected 69 percent of the votes in June. But his opponent – Dr. Kenneth Wright – expected that from the start.
It is unlikely that Nov. 8’s results will be much different considering there have been no opportunities for voters to compare the two candidates directly – Lieu and Wright have never met and never debated the district’s issues.
Wright, an ophthalmologist who founded the Wright Center in L.A. to help reduce blindness and eye disorders in children, entered the race because he believes citizens should be more involved in government. When the electorate isn’t active or vigilant, it leaves the door open for representatives to act irresponsibly, he said.
Wright prepared to debate Lieu to challenge him on his voting record, but the opportunity never came. The incumbent said he never agreed to debate due to a busy schedule.
If Lieu had accepted Wright’s challenge, voters would have seen a blunt contrast. Wright defines himself as a progressive Republican, and he has never run for public office. Lieu, a Democrat, spent 2005-2014 in the State Legislature and also tried his chances in the race for California Attorney General before he succeeded former Congressman Henry Waxman.
Lieu said his first term, for which he was voted Democratic Freshman Class President by his colleagues, went by very fast. He served on the House Budget Committee and the House Oversight Committee, but he spent the bulk of his time working to advance legislation. Four of his bills were signed into law.
He focused mostly on his bill to authorize the Veterans Affairs Secretary to enter into lease agreements at the West Los Angeles VA. President Barack Obama signed it into law on Sept. 29. The bill also approves the construction of 1,200 units of supportive housing for homeless Veterans, Lieu said, and it includes services such as legal representation, spiritual enrichment, vocational training, addiction treatment and recreational opportunities.
“We cannot solve the issue of veterans homelessness in America without solving it in Los Angeles County,” Lieu said.
Mayor Eric Garcetti said the law will change the lives of veterans in Los Angeles.
Lieu said he also spent a lot of his first term working to defeat “bad” legislation. Lieu is the only Democrat in Congress who earned a computer science degree, and he said it can be frustrating to see proposed laws that he believes would weaken security and privacy, and have a negative effect on the tech industry.
Looking to a potential second term, Lieu said he will continue to advocate for cyber security. He said the country’s cyber defenses are “not what they should be” as the world engages more and more in a new domain of warfare.
“I’m trying to, at the federal level, invest in larger systems, but also to get individuals to be more aware of cyber security practices,” he said. “There are different things people can do at home, at work and on their mobile devices to protect themselves.”
Earlier this year, when law enforcement officials pressured Apple to unlock an iPhone that belonged to one of the shooters in the attacks in San Bernardino, Lieu was one of the leaders who opposed the FBI’s demands. He and Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) proposed legislation to keep the government from forcing technology companies to comply with digital surveillance tactics. In addition, Lieu has worked to roll back the NSA’s ability to seize personal phone records.
“The Fourth Amendment is pretty clear,” he said. “Unless [the government] has a warrant on you, they can’t seize those records.”
“Ted Lieu is an idiot” for advocating for privacy rights over the safety of the country, Wright said. “He’s a lawyer and he doesn’t know the Fourth Amendment. It protects from seizures unless it’s an emergency, wartime or if there’s probable cause. One could argue all three pertain. You could say we entered a war with Islam, but there is definitely probable cause.”
(Conditions in regards to an emergency or wartime exception actually do not appear in the Fourth Amendment text, according to the National Archives. Only ‘probable cause’ does.)
Lieu said his experiences with Republicans have not always been about working to defeat their bills. Before he took office, he said he thought everyone in Congress spent their time fighting one another.
“It is true; we fight a lot. But a lot of laws are being passed,” he said.
“You’re not going to read about a lot of them for the same reason you don’t read about planes that land.”
He said one of the first laws he worked on was a suicide prevention bill that had bipartisan support.
“Unless you watch C-SPAN 24 hours a day, you’re not going to know that happened,” he said. “There’s a skewed view that we’re always fighting. But there are steps that are being taken and laws that are being passed to help the American people.”
He added that he also worked across the aisle when Congress stopped NSA’s practice of collecting phone records, and that it was passed thanks to the leadership of “liberal Democrats and conservative Republicans that came together and passed the law.”
Lieu and Wright both recognize that homelessness will be a leading issue in their district for the foreseeable future – for which Wright proposes an alternative solution. He has been consulting with activist Ted Hayes who presented to Wright the idea of creating homeless “townships.” They would be located at places like vacant Air Force bases and provide services for mental health, drug abuse and victims of crimes. Wright said it can be an alternative to plans that call to fund supportive or affordable housing with taxpayer money – which Wright said will enable homelessness and make the problem worse.
“The real solution here is you get them off the street,” he said, explaining that he would advocate for the government to designate approximately 20 acres “with a fence around it” to give homeless people an option.
“The street is not an option. We can’t enforce vagrancy laws only because there’s not other options available. If they have an option, we can enforce those laws,” Wright said, adding that he believes part of the key is to provide more structure for homeless people.
Lieu’s and Wright’s differences extend to their views on the Executive Branch. Lieu jumped on Hillary Clinton’s wagon early in her campaign, and he spoke at her Democratic National Convention in July.
Lieu took the opportunity on the national stage to warn the country against the candidate that Wright said he will vote for – Donald Trump.
While Lieu has continued to criticize Trump in the time since the convention, Wright said he knows he is one of the few Republicans left in the state who will stand for Trump.
Lieu added that he believes the presidential election will directly affect Congress.
“The presidential election cycle has, in a way, made Congress seem sane and normal,” he said. “We will have a new Congress after the election. There will be more Democrats … It remains to be seen whether the House or Senate will change to give Democrats a majority. But there will be a different makeup in Congress.”
Lieu doesn’t expect to see Wright sitting in his seat when the 2017 session begins, and neither does Wright. But the challenger said his campaign has gone well.
“People have been so nice. It’s been great. I never knew running for office would be so much fun,” he said.
If elected, Wright would advocate for programs and measures that would significantly ramp up manufacturing on U.S. soil to help ignite the economy and secure jobs. Because of how much America depends on other countries to supply goods, he said he will work to reverse the trend.
“We’re buying everything from other countries – countries that use slave labor and pollute the Earth or don’t have any qualms about spewing chemicals into rivers. So how can you compete with China (or other countries with weaker regulations)?” he asked.
Wright ties trade closely with the country’s issues concerning its deficits and budget. Wright said not enough is being done to challenge representatives to act fiscally responsible.
“How can you spend more than you bring in and sustain an economy?” he asked. “We have to redo trade agreements. We need to do the one thing everyone is afraid to say that we need to do – set tariffs, and take that money and pay back the debt.”
Wright said he can offer something that Lieu can’t – the fact that he is not a “career politician.”
“[Big donors] do not give candidates money for nothing,” Wright said. “We need someone looking out for the safety of America, not special interests. We need to get citizens in there.”
Wright also runs a clinic for underprivileged children where patients pay minimum amounts to help fund the staff, or almost nothing if they don’t have insurance.
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