Featured Photo Credit: https://kiafororangecounty.com/about-kia/
Earlier this week, I had a rare opportunity to sit down with progressive Democrat, Kia Hamadanchy, who is running for the U.S. House of Representatives in California’s district 45 against Mimi Walters. This was the first time I’ve interviewed anyone for an article, and I’m so thankful that Kia took time out of his busy campaign schedule to humor me.
The Kia for Congress headquarters are humble and practical. Tucked away in an industrial area of Irvine, what we locals commonly call Sillicon Valley South, Kia and his team share office space with an existing business. Before flipping on my newly purchased digital recorder, we spent a few minutes getting acquainted, and I had an opportunity to share a little bit about our exciting progressive journalism platform, Undercovered Magazine.
But enough about me, you’re here to read about Kia Hamadanchy, who is running in a densely populated field of corporate candidates. He’s taking the high road, rejecting dark money, and operating on a clean campaign budget.
Being new to interviewing, and a being rather direct person in general, once I hit the Record button, I dove right in:
JB: Who are you, and why are you running?
KH: My name is Kia Hamadanchy I’m running for the 45th District in Orange County. I was born and raised right here in Irvine. I went to Northwood High School, I was in the first graduating class to actually go there.
Then I went to the University of Michigan for college and law school and then I spent six years working in the US Senate for both Tom Harkin and Sherrod Brown. And I actually quit my job to run because of the travel ban.
You know, I think, after Trump got elected, a lot of people had this idea that, “Okay, maybe he won’t be that bad. Maybe he’ll be a normal president.” And I think the travel ban that he put out his first week in office was a demonstration to everybody exactly what kind of president he was going to be. That was kind of the kick off for everyone – between that and the Women’s March – I think those two events were really when everyone decided, you know we have to stand up and do whatever we can about this guy. And for me that was running for Congress.
You know I thought he came after some communities that were very vulnerable but it was very clear those weren’t the only communities he was going to come after. We have a member of congress here who is terrible and who has backed him every step of the way, and I thought it was important to try to unseat her. So that’s why I ran in 2018.
But in terms of why I got into politics there are some very deeply rooted issues in our country which I see time and time again us being unable to solve. Whether it comes to healthcare, whether it comes to climate change, or whether it comes to income inequality.
JB: Would you co-sponsor HR 676, Medicare-for-All?
JB: Yes you would.
KH: Yes, I will.
JB: Tell me a little about your positions on single-payer and Medicare-for-All.
KH: I was the first candidate in the race to come out in favor of single-payer. I have said time and time again that I believe it’s the best and most efficient way to make sure everybody in this country has the healthcare they deserve and that no one goes bankrupt because they got sick.
I’ve also come out in support of the state bill SB562 in addition to single-payer. Not that I’d be able to vote on that but I think it’s important that people know I support that as well. Look, I think a lot of time people look at single-payer and think, “Oh it’s hard and we shouldn’t try because it’s too hard.” But I kind of look at it from the perspective of when you look at every other country in the world, the ones that have the best healthcare systems have single-payer healthcare systems. That should be our goal in terms of how where we’re going to go. We shouldn’t just say, “Oh that’s too hard”. We should say, “Okay, how do we provide the most healthcare to everyone at the lowest possible?” It’s clear that’s single-payer, and I’ve promised not just to co-sponsor that bill but to actually try to pass it into law.
JB: And what would you say to the critics who are afraid of how much it costs and whether it would stifle innovation in the healthcare industry?
KH: I think the current amount of money we pay for our healthcare system is something like $17 trillion. I believe the costs for single-payer are something like $12 trillion. I don’t remember the exact figures but what I can tell you is we are already spending quite a bit for healthcare, and that’s for a healthcare system that’s not serving everybody; where not enough people are getting the healthcare that they need; and we’re doing it for even more than it would cost for single-payer.
In terms of stifling innovation it was Bill Clinton who said we’ll have single-payer when businesses realize this is actually good for them. Because your typical small business or even your large corporation is spending so much of their money on healthcare. By having something like single-payer you allow them to take that off their books, it’s one less thing they have to worry about, and they can then focus more on whatever their core competency is – which is the business they are pursuing, not providing their employees with healthcare.
JB: Recently, Our Revolution Costa Mesa had a candidate debate for the 48th District, your sister district, and it was mentioned by one of the candidates running that the DCCC and the Democratic Party had advised him not to push Medicare-for-All and single-payer. Have you seen any sort of counseling coming out of the Party that is dissuading candidates from pushing that particular issue?
KH: Well I’ll be honest, I’ve heard that too. [Laughs] I guess I kind of ignore whatever the DCCC sends me. Look, at the end of the day people who work there, their job is to elect more Democrats. They’re not people who necessarily understand the in’s and out’s of policy. You know, for someone like myself who has worked in Congress for six years, who has worked on the committee of jurisdiction when it comes to healthcare, I feel like I have a pretty good sense of what our healthcare system needs to look like. But also having grown up here, being raised here, my family having been here for 40 years, I think I have a better sense than anyone in Washington, DC as to what flies in Orange County and what doesn’t.
JB: Would you co-sponsor the OFF Act, saying we should be 100% renewable by 2035?
KH: Yes, I would.
JB: Do you want to elaborate?
KH: Look, I mean, climate change is the biggest existential crisis of our time. If we don’t make immediate changes by 2020, we risk living in a world where our children and our grandchildren won’t be able to live here. The international community has set a goal of lowering carbon emissions so that the earth doesn’t experience more than a 2 degrees increase in temperature by 2050. The truth is that 2 degrees is still too high, we should actually be focusing on 1.5. You know, part of that is going 100% renewable as fast as humanly possible. I know there are some proposals saying we should do it by 2050 but I think that 2035 year is really critical because we need to – like right now – start drastically reducing the amount of emissions we’re putting out.
We also have to work toward zero-emissions, period. I don’t know where we are currently between us and China, but we are one of the largest emitters of carbon in the world. And, you know, we more than anyonebody else has a responsibility to clean up our act.
JB: On that same topic, what is your stance on fracking, pipelines, oil trains, LMG export terminals, and nuclear power?
KH: I oppose fracking for sure. As I said, we need to move to renewable power, and none of those things are taking us in that direction. We need to start looking at solar, we need to start looking at wind energy. We need to invest in green technology that’s actually going to give us the tools to actually get us to that 100% renewables goal. It’s going to require a massive government investment like we’ve never seen before. It’s always government investment that is really important when it comes to science and technology in terms of what we can do, and we need to do that again just like we used to do in the 60’s and the 70’s.
JB: So how do we transition to renewable energy knowing that there is going to be people who that ultimately lose their jobs in the oil industry and everything else. What does the transition look like where we take these workers and give them gainful employment somewhere else?
KH: Yeah, you know that’s a big problem when we talk about coal. Coal is one of the dirtiest fuels possible and a lot of the changes, for a lot of reasons not just regulatory, the coal industry is decreasing and we’re burning less coal. All of which are good things from the perspective of the planet, but there are a lot of people who lost their jobs because of it. When you lose your job you don’t care that the planet is better because it’s your job. And a lot of those were in areas in places like Ohio, West Virginia, Pennsylvania that have been historically super Democratic and have now shifted dramatically to the Republican side. Partly because these towns were built around these industries and when the industry moved on the towns didn’t survive. These are also some the areas with the highest levels of opioid addiction, which are all huge problems.
As a society one of the things we have really failed to do is when you have shifts like this, when it comes to globalization, when it comes to automation, we’ve failed to serve these workers who have lost their jobs. To give them the training they need to do something different, make sure they still retain that sense of self-worth that they had before. This is driving the drastic income inequality we have in this country. It’s not as simple as just giving people retraining. There needs to be a dramatic effort to go into these communities and make sure no one feels like they’re being left behind.
To me that involves massive government investment.
JB: So like a jobs plan?
KH: Yeah, a jobs plan. But not just a jobs plan. Investing in the schools, doing something about the opiate addictions that a lot of these communities are plagued by. A full-scale program that’s more than just the jobs piece. The jobs piece is important but it’s not the only thing that needs to be dealt with in these communities.
JB: Do you support tuition-free public colleges and universities?
KH: I do, and I was actually Senator Brown’s higher education staffer in the Senate. And after the 2016 primary, Hillary and Bernie came together and they created a vision for debt-free college. And there were a bunch of progressive staffers from progressive offices in a back room after that and we were actually writing a debt-free college plan. That was something that Hillary would release during her first 100 days in office. [Laughs] I can remember spending months and months on this, and right before the election I was thinking, “We’ll meet next week, we’ll finalize the plan, and we’ll be good to go.” And then Trump won.
I think Brian Schatz was the one who actually introduced the plan that I we had done, but I was involved in drafting the actual plan of what debt-free college would look like. And I really strongly believe that every person in this country should be able to go to college without accumulating debt that they’ll never be able to repay. As a society there’s one guaranteed way to advance yourself and that’s with a college education. As a society we owe everyone a college degree, to go get that credential without saddling them with debt. And then they can come out into the world where they can be innovators and take risks and take chances and really start to help build the kind of economy that works for everybody not just the 1%.
JB: So when you speak of “the degree” do you envision that everyone would be able to get a two-year degree or a four-year degree?
KH: You start with the two-year degree, but I think we want to move to the four-year.
JB: What do you think the minimum wage should be?
KH: $15 and hour.
JB: Nationally and—
JB: — and in California?
KH: I think we need to have a national minimum wage of $15 an hour and in California, I believe we’re already moving toward $15 an hour. And in fact I think that one thing that will make us more competitive as a state is to have it at $15. But we have to do it. I also think you need to index the minimum wage to inflation, so that as inflation goes up your wage rises.
JB: Currently in Orange County I believe that the poverty line is somewhere around $70,000. So in order to actually live as a single person you’d need something like $37 an hour.
KH: In Orange County $15 an hour will not get the job done. You know there’s not as state in the union right now where you can work 40 hours a week at the minimum wage and actually afford to make a living.
JB: Knowing that information, that even at $15, the minimum wage wouldn’t work in all markets, presumably we’d need to have accommodations available for people of all income brackets. So what is your position on rent control and other ways we can make that happen?
KH: One of the biggest issues we have in Orange County but also California is the cost of housing. So yes we need to raise the minimum age but we also need to address the fact that it’s so expensive to live here. And, one, we need to address these other costs. You know, education, healthcare, the costs keep going up while the wages are stagnating or going down. So we need debt-free college and single-payer and all those things, but there’s no more pressing issue facing Orange County or California than the cost of housing.
I think we really do need to look into what we can do into help getting that cost down, whether its rent control, whether it’s building housing and requiring it to be affordable – all I know is that we need to have those housing options available for everybody. This is a place that should be for everyone, not just the 1%. This is a very wealthy county, it has an economy larger than that of Greece or Portugal, but at the same time there is incredible income inequality in Orange County. There are some areas that are not as well off, and we need to make sure those people are given an opportunity – that there is a path to having the kind of lifestyle that every person in this country deserves.
JB: What is your position on a guaranteed national income?
KH: I’ve seen a lot of things about it, universal basic income. I like the idea and I support it. I really want to see a lot of state and local governments actually try it so we can take that and actually build a national model upon it. I think the mayor of Stockton is playing around with a UBI bill and I know that Hillary talked about it. I haven’t seen any movement in Congress yet that I can think about, but I support the concept and the idea. I haven’t seen any federal legislation on it that’s been put out. But I really do want to see state and local governments do it and I really believe in this notion of states being the laboratory of democracy, and once we try something at the state level then you can take it and scale it up on a national level. I want to be able to point to demonstrations of where it worked and say, “That’s why we need to do it.”
JB: What do you think should be the function of the military and foreign policy in this country?
KH: I think we should stop fighting dumb wars. You know, there’s –
JB: What would you define as a dumb war?
KH: The war in Iraq. [Laughs] That was a war that was a two trillion dollar mistake, where thousands of people died who didn’t need to die. And to this day we are still facing the consequences in the Middle East. We spend more on the military than any other country in the world by a huge amount, and it’s based on a military doctrine that we need to be able to fight two and half wars at any particular time. When really the threats that we face are not country-to-country, but insurgencies. Whether it’s an al-Qaeda or an ISIS or a different kind of military.
There are times when you have to go to war, you know, like World War II we had to stop the Holocaust. But far too often in this country we’ve made the wrong decision to go to war. Whether it’s the Second Iraq War or whether it was the war in Vietnam, we far too often use force when we shouldn’t. We don’t focus on soft power, we don’t focus on the diplomatic option, we don’t focus on the fact that war should be the last resort. It shouldn’t be our first resort.
JB: Piggybacking on that, what are your thoughts on our involvement in Yemen and Syria?
KH: I think what’s happening in Yemen is an absolute tragedy. The fact that we’ve let Saudi Arabia do what they’ve been doing in that country, the fact that we let Saudi Arabia do a lot of things that they do abroad… you know, we have basically let Saudi Arabia dictate all our policy in the Middle East. They go around saying, “I have Jared Kushner in my pocket.” And it’s really bad for regional stability and it’s not good for our security. This is how you end up with groups like al-Qaeda and ISIS.
But Syria is probably the biggest humanitarian crisis we’ve seen in I don’t know how many years. And that the president would say, “Nope. No refugees. Sorry.” The first thing we need to do is address the humanitarian crisis there. It’s no fault of the Syrian peoples, and the United States needs to do its part, just like many other countries including Germany have.
JB: Two years in a row now almost on the anniversary date, we have seen accusations of gas attacks. The mainstream media and the White House has been presenting it to as they know for certain that it’s been Assad, and then they’ve walked it back later both times. What would you do as a representative to slow this down and make sure we have the right intelligence before we attack another country?
KH: I was very against Trump’s recent attacks on Syria. The bombs that were dropped. John Bolton started on Monday and by Sunday he had bombed somebody. I think one of the things we need to look at in terms of foreign policy is the authorization of military force that we’re using. It’s still the one from 2001, which was written and designed to deal with al-Qaeda in the wake of 9/11. We’ve taken that authorization of military force and we’ve used it on all kinds of things that it wasn’t intended to be used on.
In Congress I would push to take back that authorization of military force, write a new one that is applicable to what we’re doing now and reassert Congressional oversight where Congress is clearly dictating the terms of when we are and when we should be engaging, but also putting a sunset on it. When conditions on the ground change, so should that authorization of military force. IT should be subject to regular Congressional oversight in terms of are we exercising our force appropriately in those regions.
JB: In regards to our relationship with Israel, how do we balance the need to keep them as an ally with our concerns of their human rights violations?
KH: I think unfortunately as long as Netenyahu is the Prime Minister of Israel not a lot is going to change. That is a man who will never, ever make peace with the Palestinians. What I can tell you is that the status quo is untenable. Israel is going to have to choose between being an apartheid state or no longer being a Jewish state. And if you actually cared about the Jewish character of the Israeli state, we need to be an evenhanded broken who is going to make sure we finally have a deal the parameters of which we all know.
We all know what the final deal is going to look like. Both parties know what a final deal would look like. But right now that’s happening in Israel is they keep taking pieces and pieces off a potential Palestinian state, trying to foreclose that from ever happening. We need to make sure they put a stop to the settlements, we need to put real pressure on them to do so. When they have human rights abuses we should call them out for it. The same way we should call out Saudi Arabia and others in the Middle East for their human rights abuses. I don’t want it to seem like we’re singling Israel out, because we should do it to everybody.
We shouldn’t turn a blind eye to it when anybody commits human rights abuses. Israel is a democracy, they are held to a higher standard. Just like the United States is a democracy, we’re held to a higher standard. They’re our closest ally in the Middle East. We should expect more from them and I think we need to do that.
JB: How do we protect our elections from enemies both foreign and domestic?
KH: First of all, nearly every election machine in the country is breaking down. They were last updated in the wake of the 2000 election and a lot of them are falling apart and Congress never wants to spend the money. The money all came after the 2000 election and Bush and Gore happened, but it hasn’t been updated and Congress hasn’t spent money since.
We need to do a better job of investing in cyber security in this country. Elections are run at the local level, at the county level or whichever. And most these people don’t have access to the kind of cyber security that they need to make sure elections are protected, to make sure that we can be confident in the idea that they are accurate, whether the Russians are trying to hack us or whether it’s somebody else. We need to make a really good investment into making sure every single local constituency has those resources.
JB: Yes, and currently there are no national standards in regard to elections and election security. And also within the primary, the 2016 primary, we saw some targeted voter disenfranchisement in specific areas. However we did not see any large complaints of that for the general election. So a lot of what was being reported seems to have more to do with the local organizing as the machine themselves are not connected to the internet. So the concern I think that, along with the fears of Russian hacking, are that the voter databases were accessed, however that wouldn’t have influenced anything. So realistically would we need to have Congress introduce any legislation to put a national standard in process?
KH: I think we need to have national standards not just for the security points you mentioned but also for the voter disenfranchisement. Make sure that we have early voting. You know, there are some places that do a really good job of making sure everybody can vote. There are some states, mostly Southern Republican states, that try to make it really, really hard for lots of people to vote. And we should make it as easy as possible to do it if you’re an American and you’re eligible. We should have same day registration, we should have early voting. There is no more right more fundamental than the right to vote, and unfortunately there is one party that keeps trying to claw that back because they know that when more people vote, they lose.
JB: What would you like to tell me about your position on local issues, whether its homelessness or anything else in the 45th?
KH: Homelessness is something we’ve taken a fairly aggressive stance on and we’re the only campaign that’s done so. I’ve said the homelessness problem is not just one we can pretend doesn’t exist, we can’t just stick everyone in a warehouse in the Inland Empire. We can’t just say, “This is just Santa Ana’s problem, deal with it.” Cities like Irvine and Laguna Nigel are all going to have to do our part. We’re very fortunate in Orange County. We’re one of the wealthiest counties in America, and we have the ability and the resources to make sure we’re actually addressing the underlying issue. I think that a lot of people just want to kick this can down the road and say, “Out of sight, out of mind.” That’s not going to solve anything.
There’s been a lot of research that proves the first thing you need to do for someone that’s homeless is to give them permanent housing. Most those people have mental health issues or addiction issues or they need job training. But until they have that permanence they’re not going to be able to deal with those other issues. It’s also been shown that they have that permeance the vast majority will try, if those wraparound services are available, to use them. Our goal is to move people to a path of self-sufficiency. Right now, our current policies are like a game of musical chairs: everyone is trying to be the last person to take in the homeless. We’re talking about what, 400 to 500 people? You’re telling me that in a county of 3 million we can’t figure out where to put these people in a way that actually helps them solve their issues and get them off the streets? I just think it’s important that people in Orange County be compassionate about these things.
JB: Any parting thoughts that you’d like to leave me with?
KH: I think that the leadership of the Democratic Party has been around for a long time and I’m not trying to begrudge anybody, but we need to change the face of Congress. We need to elect younger, diverse, more progressive people and show the world what America really looks like. If the students from Parkland showed us anything it’s why it’s so important to have younger people step up. They’re unencumbered by the battles of the past. They don’t care that the NRA can’t be taken on, they’re going to take them on anyway. We need more people like that in Congress. More people who don’t just throw up their hands and say, “It’s too hard.” Those people are so entrenched they don’t even try. We need people who will fight for progressive values and actually fight to improve people’s lives in this country.
Approximately 40 minutes into the interview, we needed to wrap up because Kia was scheduled to attend another event. However, I wasn’t able to get through my entire list of questions. The next day, I sent a list of additional questions and received some more answers to help keep all voters fully informed.
Here are the follow up questions:
JB: With the Janus decision about to be decided against unions, how do you think Congress can support organized labor through legislation?
KH: I support organized labor and I’m proud to have worked with 2 of the biggest champions for working men and women, Senators Tom Harkin and Sherrod Brown. In Congress, I will support collective bargaining and oppose so-called “right-to-work” laws.
JB: Do you support public and postal banking?
KH: Yes, this is a smart policy that helps both consumers and the U.S. Post Office.
JB: You mentioned working on the free education platform for the Clinton campaign. Please elaborate on your role and what you learned from the experience.
KH: Just to clarify, I did not work with or for the Clinton campaign. As someone who with extensive experience on the Education issue, I was invited post-primary to join progressive elected officials and groups to try and write an actual plan for debt-free college. I gained from this experience the knowledge of what the framework for debt-free college would actually look like.
JB: What are your thoughts on public surveillance, privacy, big data collection, and the Patriot Act?
KH: I oppose overly intrusive data gathering and surveillance in any form. While some surveillance may be necessary for public safety, it is vital to have transparency and accountability to prevent overreach like we saw in the illegal surveillance of Muslim students by the NYPD and unethical and unfounded infiltration of Mosques by the FBI right here in Orange County. These policies have not made our country safer and only work to alienate otherwise law-abiding citizens.
JB: Please confirm if you are running as a corporate-free candidate who pledges to run without Dark Money or large corporate donations?
KH: I will not accept corporate PAC money and in Congress I will fight for real campaign finance reform that shines a light on Dark Money.
JB: What are your thoughts on the political engagement of everyday citizens who have been inspired by Bernie Sanders, his candidacy for President, and his continued leadership as a progressive activist and politician?
KH: I’m committed to running a grassroots campaign in the vein of Senator Sanders’ campaign. His 2016 campaign changed the nature of campaigns and his message resonates today. I’m a proud progressive and I welcome his supporters who want to change the Democratic Party, and Congress.
Thank you so much to Kia, his campaign manager Luke, and to field director Britton, for taking time out of your busy schedules to facilitate this conversation. We at Undercovered Magazine wish you the best of luck with your campaign.
Call to Action
For the readers of this article, make sure you are registered to vote and that you bring 10 friends with you to the polls. To learn more about Kia Hamadancy and his campaign to flip the 45th, visit him online:
UPDATE: As a first time interviewer and very new journalist, I was very fortunate to have the guidance and counsel from the outstanding veteran Lauren Steiner of the Robust Opposition. Lauren is a pro interviewer and policy wonk who contributed nine questions for this interview and whose tutelage has been invaluable to me. I am blessed with opportunity to work with her and even more grateful to call her my friend. In addition to being an outstanding reporter who tackles undercovered issues, Lauren was readily available to help me prep for this interview. Be sure to follow her here, on Twitter, on YouTube, and on Facebook.
On a side note: Undercovered Magazine is a labor of love. All members have contributed their content without receiving any funding for the past six months. Kindly take a moment to help fund Jenna’s writing by donating to paypal.me/jennajbeck.