by Colleen Chalmers
New congressional district lines have been drawn in California, and that means changes for Humboldt County. The county is no longer District 1, and Rep. Mike Thompson moves to a new district.
On Nov. 6, Thompson won election to the newly drawn 5th District. Jared Huffman is Humboldt County’s new congressman in the newly drawn 2nd District. Changes will go into effect on presidential inauguration day on January 20.
Osprey spoke with Thompson on the telephone for a half hour on Oct. 23.
Osprey: California has the highest Native American population in the country, according to the 2010 census. Native Americans make up one percent of HSU’s student population. What can be done to ensure Native American students have support in their education, specifically for retention?
Thompson: There are some specific grant funds that are made available to different schools to benefit the Native American population. It’s very important that that’s maintained. We should continue to do that and I support that. Another thing is making sure all students have K-12 skills necessary to articulate educationally. We need to make sure that higher education is affordable. Also, there’s probably some programs that would benefit Native American students — I’m just not sure.
O: Earlier this year, it looked like student loan interest rates might double. What steps are you taking to ensure that everyone can afford a university education?
T: In our district, in the last two years, we’ve had over 90 million dollars available to all students. We need to make sure that student loans and pell grants are upheld and funded at a level that allows students to move on and get an education either at a four-year, two-year or vocational school. We were able to do some good work to keep interest rates on student loans at a lower level. Affordable education is hugely important. Part of that is to make sure that interest rates on student loans stay at an acceptable level. We were successful at doing that and making sure they stay at affordable levels. We will continue to provide access to student loans and support pell grants.
O: Sequestration is a solution that both Democrats and Republicans came up with for negotiating national debt and budget deals. This created a bipartisan “super committee” within Congress to solve the budget problem. Beforehand, a bill was passed that said if this committee failed, there would be cuts to everything, including social programs, defense, education and oil subsidies. Those cuts are known as sequestration. The committee failed. So now the budget must be figured out before the end of the year, or sequestration cuts go through. These cuts will be to federal programs and discretionary spending, which in turn would affect state programs. If the budget isn’t fixed by the end of this year, major cuts will take place. What will you do to avoid sequestration?
T: Well, I don’t think we’re gonna go into sequestration. I think the best way to deal with the overall problem is to have a balanced approach. The reductions in federal spending need to be done in a smart way. Everything needs to be on the table. Listen to some of the candidates running today that say that defense spending shouldn’t be touched, and that’s nonsense. Everything needs to be evaluated. If a program isn’t doing what it needs to do, do away with the program. Everyone needs to share in the responsibility to fund government. I don’t think it is unreasonable to ask the wealthiest Americans to pay a little more. That’s the way we should move forward with the whole issue.
O: What are you fears in regards to the moderate wings of both parties disappearing, and how may that affect you as a blue dog democrat?
T: I think we need to work together to solve the problems that face Americans. People on the extreme fringes of any party, bring little to the picnic. In order to solve the issues, I would like to see more people work together. You don’t check your values or priorities at the door. We don’t do that just to compromise. Everyone needs to defend their core principles and values. But there are a lot of areas where we can find common ground to benefit American people.
O: When do we officially call the Klamath Settlement Agreement dead in Congress? What is currently going on at the congressional level to support the Klamath River in your district? What are you doing right now to protect the salmon?
T: There is a pretty good difference between some folks in Congress as to what should be done in Humboldt County for the Klamath. There’s a pretty local group in majority party led by a California Congressman, Tom McClintock, who is a right-wing republican currently in Central Valley who doesn’t want to remove the dams and does not want to restore fisheries — and quite bluntly — doesn’t give a damn about people of Humboldt County and the fishing community. He is dead wrong, and I will continue to work to make sure we restore the fisheries. This has been something for 20 years that I’ve been invested in, with time and energy on fisheries and I won’t forget about that just because an arbitrary line moves me off of the North Coast. I look forward to working with Huffman and joining efforts and continuing to fight for fish and families on the coast. And I absolutely consider the Native American community a part of this. They would benefit greatly from the restoration of the fisheries.
O: What has the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, on which you serve, done to examine the current administration’s drone warfare policies?
T: Well, one thing about serving on the Intelligence Committee, is that much of the information that we deal with is classified information. There is very little that I can disclose on that committee. On a more general sense, what I can tell you is that if there are terrorists attempting to do harm to America or Americans, I think we should use the full force of our intelligence to ensure that they are not successful.
O: You introduced legislation to ban offshore drilling along the California Coast. What is the current status, and should Humboldt County fear potential offshore drilling in Northern California anytime soon?
T: The California waters off the coast of make up one of four major under dwellings in all of the world’s oceans. If there was an oil spill out there, that would be devastating. It is totally inappropriate to drill off our coast. We should always be diligent and we should always worry that someone is wanting to stick a drill in the ground. It doesn’t matter where lines are drawn; my heart will always be with the North Coast and making sure the oil drillers are off the north shore.