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Over the last few months, the media has been discussing the upcoming November election.. Republican candidate Duf Sundheim is currently running to take Barbara Boxer’s position as California senator. He visited the Sierra Nevada Research Institute and sat down with The Prodigy to discuss the state’s issues.
Prodigy: What motivated you to come to UC Merced and visit The Sierra Nevada Research Institute/The UC Water Initiative?
Sundheim: I think water is one of the most important issues of today and it’s going to be one of the most important challenges long term. People need two things to live: water and air. We are facing a serious water crisis in our state and in our country. The work that is being done here at UC Merced is some of the most important work in the world, so I want to be here to: A, understand what they’re doing, but B, how we can work together at this new exciting university.
Prodigy: As senator what steps will you take to help the water crisis? Do you have anything?
Sundheim: Well the overall theme is we need to do four things. One, need to increase capacity and that is above ground capacity and underground capacity. Second, we need to increase the amount of recycling that we do, and that takes many different forms. It not only takes recycling existing water, but use of drained water, water that has some excess salt, and then there’s the third element of desalinization. This can be used strategically small scale because people have taught off what they have studied. Technology is always changing so rapidly. The fourth is to develop a market for water. So right now you have a lot of areas of the state where, if you don’t use your water rights you lost your water rights, so they flood fields in wet years. So if, instead, you could sell that water downstream to other users or to a dam downriver, you would make much better use of that water, but you’d also be creating a dollar value for that water. I really believe in the creative imagination of the people to help us with these kinds of problems.
Prodigy: Another big issue that has also been very prominent in California, as well as the rest of the nation, would be violence such as shootings, bomb threats, and so forth, especially within the last few months or so in Central Valley schools. Recently, there was a gun threat in Fresno State and there was a very recent incident here at UC Merced. There was also another threat of violence at the local Merced high school the week after the incident here. Although San Bernardino isn’t in the Central Valley, a mass shooting occurred there around the same time. What are your views on the violence occurring in the state, and if elected, how would you help the state take action towards preventing violence in order to keep our citizens safe?
Sundheim: There’s good in the world, and there’s evil in the world. Public safety is a completely different issue to me and there we have three elements that sometimes overlap. There’s the true criminal element, and those are the type of people that need to be put away. They need to go to jail and our system needs to do a much better job of it in terms of providing alternatives. We need to make a jail system where we can give those people more options. I believe in redemption. Justice, not punishment. Justice has an element of punishment in it, but it also has an element of redemption in it. Second, is the mental issue, and it seems like [the UC Merced student] had mental issues, which kind of may have fallen into the criminal realm, but we are totally not putting nearly enough emphasis in mental illness and mental health and understanding how the brain works. We really need to have more sensitivity towards that issue. My brother that passed away had mental disabilities, so I’ve lived with someone that had limited mental capabilities, but he still lived a fulfilling life. The type of man that’s suffering before he makes that crime, I’m sure he knows that there are systems out there to help him. The third element is drug use, and there’s a lot of people that suffer from that, and I don’t believe drug use by itself is a crime, but there are a lot of people that can have that problem. We can have a society that can give them an avenue to try to get them out of it. I believe in a justice system.
Prodigy: I have also noticed the studies have shown that poverty is often times linked to violence, though it may not always be the case, since the people who partake in violent acts may have different motives that may be unrelated to financial status. However, considering the fact that the Central Valley is one of the most poverty stricken areas of the state, along with having the highest crime rates, can you please explain how you will plan on assisting underserved communities living in poverty, whether it be in the Central Valley or a state as a whole?
Sundheim: So, who I am as a person is my aspiration is to help other people achieve their aspirations. As United States senator, specifically with respect to the legislation that I would focus on and policies I would change, go right into the heart of the economic question. So we have seen in our country one of the greatest accumulations of wealth in the history of civilization. But we’ve suffered an economic earthquake, and on one side of that fault line is that greatest accumulation of wealth, and the other side of that fault line are the 8.9 million Californians that are living in poverty. There are more people living in poverty in California than there are people in 39 of the 50 states. I believe that it is government policies that is exacerbating that divide. What I want to do is focus on two elements. One, is the stagnant wages, or the dropping wages that some people believe is occurring but are clearly stagnant. The other is increased cost because it is the staggered wages and increasing costs that is squeezing the hard working women and men in this state. How do I/we increase the wages? There used to be three paths to the middle class: manufacture job, small business, and the trades. We have to dig down on one of those. Small business has been the backbone of our economy for so long, but that is drying up. One of the main reasons it’s drying up is because we no longer have access to capital. We need to have more community banks. We need to have a tax code that lowers the marginal tax rate. We need to have regulations that give people small businesses that have a clear and less complicated path to follow.
Prodigy: In terms of your competition, what separates you from Rocky Chavez and Tom Del Beccaro?
Sundheim: I’m just really letting people make their own distinctions, so I just talk about what I’ve done and let them draw their own conclusions. As I have always talked about, this is the land of opportunity. I’ve been focusing on the issues, making a key difference in people’s lives for many years, and constantly succeeded. Right now, we’ve been talking in Washington about how there’s gridlock. What we need is somebody that has the skills to go back to Washington and get things done. Come back with common sense solutions that are not part of the old conversation, but a new way of looking at things.
Prodigy: The state is currently heavily backing Kamala Harris to take Boxer’s seat. How do you plan on being the candidate that will be victorious come Nov. 2016?
Sundheim: Right now, there’s a perception that Kamala Harris is the candidate of the party, of the establishment. She used to work in Alameda County, and there’s this figure in San Francisco that said, “Hey, come to San Francisco,” that helped her become attorney of state. Now she was running for U.S. Senator. There’s a former mayor of Los Angeles that wanted her money for the position. You can look it up. So I’m running against “the machine.” She’s going to have a lot of money and a lot of endorsements. This state is a state that leans democratic, there’s no question about it. If we let the government leaders, the party leaders choose who our officials are going to be. And by putting in 4 million dollars and scaring everyone else off, that’s not democracy. There’s no difference between that and what Putin does in Russia. We should be making a decision on who is the right person for the job. Who best reflects my values and is going to go to Washington and vote for the things I stand for. So my goal is to get that message out. I believe that it’s wrong for somebody that has been deported five times and committed seven felonies to be allowed to stay in this country. He/she should either be in jail or should be deported. Kamala Harris disagrees. I believe that when there’s somebody that breaks into somebody’s house, they should go to jail. Kamala Harris believes that they should be given a ticket as long as the amount of money stolen is less than a certain amount. So you have property crimes going through the roof in our cities now because the police cannot put those people in jail. They just hand them a ticket when they arrest them, and then they release them.
Prodigy: What do you hope to achieve during the end of your term as senator?
Sundheim: I honestly believe that this can be the land of opportunity. You know, California can be the leader. Eventually, in 1980 I married my wife and raised my two kids here. Why did I move from the Midwest to California? Because it was the land of endless opportunity, right? So where are we now? 45th in education. Where are we in terms of starting businesses? 50th . Where are we in terms of water quality? They talk about the problem in Flint, Michigan. Our water quality is aversely affecting millions of Californians. I want to be a part of a process. I only need to be a part of it, and I don’t even need be leader of it. I just want to be part of the process that turns this, once again, into the land of opportunity for millions of people that I will never meet. For millions of people that won’t even know who I am, but I want to be part of that process because I believe that not only can we do better; I believe that our best days can be ahead of us.