What I Fight for

I support a robust public option for insurance (specifically, somewhat similar to what is described here: https://www.vox.com/2016/2/3/10899790/single-payer-americare). Borrowing from the article, let’s call it “Americare”. The plan might provide a basic level of insurance which individuals are born into or buy into (and at their option, opt out of voluntarily, to move to a superior employer plan), and employers could opt in or offer their own equivalent insurance, covering preventive, basic and emergency care, while encouraging more comprehensive employer-or-self-employment-sponsored plans to be available by offering participating companies tax deductions. In time, these plans would grow to resemble contemporary Medicare Supplement plans.

Moreover, a public option makes sense from a fiscally responsible standpoint: it promotes entrepreneurship by decoupling health from employment status. It reduces overhead for companies who buy in (because publicly-administered insurance plans would have nearly imperceptible overhead relative to private insurance companies) which makes them more competitive globally. Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, it bends the cost curve on overall healthcare costs borne nationwide, which frees money to be used in constructive, sustainable and pro-growth economic activity.

Major priorities:

  • At barest minimum, Congress should empower CMS to negotiate Medicare drug prices directly with manufacturers. This would save the taxpayers approximately $60 billion per year. Add teeth to those negotiations by allowing re-importation of drugs sold abroad and the savings grow exponentially greater. This savings could either be used to reduce the debt or expand coverage.
  • No money-saving generic equivalent of a drug can be produced until 20 years since its creation have passed (a number that is both routinely extended and frequently deftly avoided by reformulating existing drugs). Our current, long-term pharmaceutical patent system is deleterious to the nation’s health and fiscal well-being and needs dramatic reform. Existing law incentivizes the treatment of symptoms – we reverse that trend by closing reformulation loopholes and incentivizing pharmaceutical companies to research on more topics in order to remain profitable. In this way, we change the paradigm to incentivize researching cures.

Our public heath system must adapt to the needs of the 21st century – it must be at once dynamic and responsive, with policy informed by science and guided by data.

To bring this change about, Congress should fund a permanent, unencumbered public health emergency fund of no less than $5b (in addition to the ACA’s existing Public Health Prevention Fund) with parts of the funding being used to provide incentive-based interest-free or interest-privileged loans to well-vetted companies which exclusively develop public health innovations in areas including vaccine production and creation, improved vaccine protection and delivery mechanisms, research into neglected diseases, or researching rapid-testing solutions for emerging and existing diseases, in exchange for privileged discounting of price to public agencies. In an emergency or sudden outbreak, the remaining funding could be tapped at a moment’s notice in order to assist in the rapid and effective deployment of government resources. During the Zika virus outbreak, CDC faced legally-imposed hindrances to its disease response. For example, it had to borrow internally to fund the Emergency Operations effort while Congress bickered excessively over how much funding was appropriate for a response and how it would be paid for (thus driving up the overall costs of the incidence to the public). It could (along with several other things)  be paid for with a tax on legalized marijuana.

The policy that creates this environment is ostensibly goodwilled (seeking to keep a tight leash on Congress’ control of the power of the purse) though in practice it is misguided at best, complete as it is with recent shades of partisan sabotage among our public institutions.

Major priorities:

  • CDC gun safety research should continue, without preconceived notions for or against guns. Unbiased facts will serve the record well.
  • The enactment of a dedicated funding line for Learn the Signs. Act Early (IAO $4,000,000), a team whose efforts assist in the identification of childhood developmental delays. This early identification saves the taxpayer valuable time and societal/economic/healthcare costs imposed by late identification of autism and other developmental / learning disabilities.
  • CDC should be encouraged and funded to partner with NOAA, NIH and EPA to study the public health implications of climate change and proactively adapt society to them from a healthcare-centric perspective. Zika is an example of a tropical disease at risk of becoming endemic to the US due to a warming climate. Should it gain a foothold here, it will be the first of many to come.
  • We must act with renewed and strengthened focus on prevention of “never” events; for example, punish hospitals and doctors with cases of sepsis due to poor housekeeping and bad practices.
  • Malpractice caps should be abolished in cases where malpractice leads to death.

The government should strive to expand the Pell Grant program to completely cover undergraduate tuition at any public college in the country for students pursuing high-demand degree programs, such as those in science, technology, engineering and math. Further, the government should lower interest rates for those who choose to fund their educations using Federal student loans.

We should fund an educational investment program (EIP) for teachers, library specialists and support staff providing supplementary pay (on top of state-determined salary) for those who continue their education to Masters Degrees and ultimately PhDs, since this additional education often positively influences uptake of lessons among students or the quality of our public libraries.

I support investing at least a trillion dollars into infrastructure over the next 10 years – a “Manhattan Project” for infrastructure, if you will. Locally, proposed levels of Federal investment in infrastructure would mean:

  • Matching dollars for MARTA expansion
  • Improving broadband statewide, and expansion of broadband access into rural areas
  • Restoring roads, highways and bridges
  • Stabilizing the power grid through the implementation of industrial-scale battery storage
  • Hardening of the grid and broadband against terror and disaster events by burying cables underground

Children should be safe in schools, and the rights of law abiding citizens should be respected. These things are not at cross purposes. When evaluating policy on gun violence, I consider the following:

  1. Does it protect students from gun violence?
  2. Does it preserve due process and self-defense rights for law-abiding, mentally stable gun owners?
  3. Is the legislation targeted or collective in nature?
  4. Does it strike a balance between the due process of the accused and the danger they may present to children?

Considering these factors, there are three measures we should investigate implementing immediately in order to affect this change.

  1. We must close the private seller loophole and subject ammunition to the same NICS background checks that weapons receive.
  2. According to the Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, 80% of people considering suicide indicate their intentions and 54% of mass shooters displayed signs of dangerous mental health problems prior to the killings. Extreme Risk Protection Orders, or ERPOs, provide the tools needed to quickly remove weapons from a potentially dangerous individual while preserving the right to due process for the accused. More information and model legislation on this issue can be found here.
  3. Gun violence is a public health issue. I support and call for full funding of CDC gun violence research.

I know this issue is of considerable importance to the district, so please feel free to contact me with further questions or concerns.

Additionally, the NRA asked a series of questions on various issues related to gun rights and gun safety. I found their questions and answers to be leading so I answered in free form. Please see the attachment below.

NRA Candidate Questionnaire(1)

Equal pay for equal work should be one of those concepts so intrinsic and elemental to our American values that we shouldn’t need to repeat it – but here we are. There are simple steps we can take to eliminate sex, race and disability-based pay inequity. One such proposal of mine follows.

Wage transparency is the missing ingredient in creating conditions that result in pay equity. The US should establish a database called Equal Pay for Equal Work (EPEW). Glassdoor already does this in a sense, but imagine the concept applied on a nationwide scale. EPEW would collect information from individuals by default, but would offer an opportunity to opt out for those concerned with privacy. Employers would be required to provide the employee’s position title, educational level and number of years of related experience on three new fields on the W-4, and individuals who do not specifically opt out would answer 3 additional, simple questions on those W-4s regarding sex, race and disability status. This both protects individual privacy and requires nearly zero additional administrative burden.

EPEW would then harvest wage data derived from tax returns (for individuals who have not opted out) to determine salaries for comparison. Next, the collected data would de-personalized (removing name, social security number and such) while preserving responses to questions about employer, educational level, position title, years of related experience, sex, race and disability status – creating an “entry.”

Finally, all of the EPEW entries for a specific company would be matched together and uploaded to an online public database which would be searchable according to company, educational attainment, position title, years of experience, sex, race, disability status, or some combination of those items. This transparency would harness market forces to pressure companies into doing the right thing without bringing the hammer of government down on businesses by mandating specific wages for specific jobs.

Considering how centrally my work involved babies, it should come as no surprise that I’ve developed a sense of the delicacy of human life. I am also a cynic on the politics of this issue: in my experience, interest groups sometimes treat women’s bodies as political tools to political ends when it advantages them to do so. This suggests to me that we are not treating women with the respect they deserve, and we must change that. Women must have the choice of both bodily autonomy and bringing life into the world, and we should stand ready to support them either way. Accordingly, it is my personal belief that abortion should be safe, legal and rare, and more than that, wholly unnecessary.

I recognize this is a divisive issue with sincere beliefs and legitimate points being made by both sides. But in the crossfire, we tend to forget about babies and mothers the minute babies are born. It’s not enough to simply be pro-life or pro-choice. Let’s be honest: single mothers have the deck stacked against them in meaningful and enduring ways. We need to socially evolve on this issue and make it so women can choose to carry babies to term without upending their lives. A child should never be seen as a burden – either by their parents or society

In the same vein, every child should be a wanted child. Both women and men should have the option of paid parental leave (perhaps through early distribution of earned social security benefits) and access to reproductive healthcare, family planning and related services. Abortion should never need to be used as birth control, so we need to provide universal, comprehensive sex education and proactively distribute contraceptives. It may sound counterintuitive, but this is actually fiscally and socially responsible policy. Having babies is expensive, and babies whose parents are prepared or supported inevitably will have better family outcomes.

Approaching this topic pragmatically, I believe it’s possible to bring abortion down to levels approaching 0% in a way that doesn’t restrict women’s bodily autonomy: by strengthening our adoption, family and child care policies to better support mothers.

I support the revival of the Equal Rights Amendment, which enshrines equality under the law for women into the Constitution. First proposed in 1972, it has been ratified by 35 of the required 38 states. Although Congress established a deadline for ratification by 1982, there is nothing to suggest that it could not also unilaterally revive the amendment by setting a new deadline. I would introduce and fight for such a measure, and push for ratification in 3 new states to bring the amendment fully into force.

I’ll keep this short and sweet. As a gay man, it should come as little surprise that I support marriage equality, access to adoption for same sex couples, and an end to legal and social discrimination against LGBTQ individuals. LGBTQ individuals, like every American, deserve to be treated with dignity, compassion and humanity.

Immigration is one of the issues most ripe for bipartisan compromise. It’s a shame grandstanding and bickering in Washington has crippled our ability to meaningfully legislate on the matter. My proposal for comprehensive, bipartisan immigration reform follows.

Protecting the Border: I believe illegal immigration is, in fact, a significant problem, but not in the way the Administration suggests. For example, it’s a popular but incorrect misconception that the only people who come here illegally are crossing the vast land borders in the southwest. Quite often, people lawfully apply for and receive visas and then overstay them. They are already in the country when their visas expire. Accordingly, building a wall is destructive and ineffective policy, and therefore an abject waste of taxpayer money. We should instead provide technology, tools and manpower to the men and women tasked with protecting our borders.

DACA: Children should never be punished for the sins of their parents. Accordingly, passage of a bill to provide a path to citizenship for DACA enrollees is a moral imperative, provided that they are otherwise law-abiding. In almost every case, this is the only home they’ve ever known – they are as American as any one of us, and to send them back to their ostensible country of origin would be a great failing, and one that history would judge us harshly for.

Addressing Illegal Immigration: We must also accept the fact that illegal immigrants are here with us right now, and often, have become part of the fabric of the communities in which they live. In order to avoid establishing a precedent, we should offer a one-time amnesty to these individuals provided they are otherwise law-abiding and pay all back taxes and penalties, since it would be economically and socially disruptive to remove them. This is not fair to legal immigrants, who sometimes wait up to a decade to start their lives here, but it is sadly reality. An expedited path to citizenship should be offered to those willing to serve in the military, or serve their country in other ways, such as the Peace Corps.

Importantly, there is a moral argument here as well: illegal immigration creates conditions that allow employers to exploit both illegal immigrants and citizens/residents alike. Specifically:

  1. It depresses wages and facilitates tax evasion
  2. It allows unscrupulous employers to easily abuse labor laws, because illegal immigrants are rightly fearful to report poor working conditions to authorities

In order to curb these harmful outcomes, E-verify should be universally implemented among US employers.

Overall Summary: Our immigration policies should be rational and fair. Immigrants should follow the law, but perhaps it should also be easier and quicker to come here legally. America should continue to be a beacon of hope for the huddled, teeming masses yearning to breathe free – but equally, there is nothing wrong with prioritizing the best and the brightest, or striving to ensure that those we do allow to live here are open to our system of government and way of life. Wealth for its own sake, or lack thereof, should not be a factor, nor should any other personal characteristic besides ability or willingness to contribute to the greater American dream.

By way of background, H1B visas are special work visas issued to companies which are supposedly experiencing shortages of appropriately specialized or skilled American workers. They are most often utilized by tech and outsourcing companies, though even the Trump Organization has imported unskilled labor using a similar H2B system.

I do not believe there is a shortage of tech or related talent in the US. Moreover, I believe some companies are violating the spirit (if not the letter) of the law by exploiting the visa process to suppress American wages. And indeed, why would they pay an American tech worker $120,000 a year when they could get away with importing labor for $40,000? For that reason, I believe in drastically limiting or eliminating H1B visas. At minimum, employers using these work visas should be made to prove that there is genuinely a shortage of the labor they seek. If they cannot do that, they should not be able to use the program. If, in fact, there is in fact a shortage of specialized or appropriately educated workers, we need to address that via free public education, with the knowledge these higher wages will ultimately pay the costs society bears for their education.

My thoughts on this are very simple:

  1. For logistical simplicity, voter registration should be automatic on filing an income tax return
  2. Votes should be conducted via mail for two reasons:
    1. To minimize the ability of foreign governments to conduct cyber warfare against our electoral institutions
    2. To facilitate the participation of every American in their election process; it should be as simple as checking boxes and dropping an envelope into the mail, with no postage required
  3. Electronic voting machines should be completely eliminated due to the fact that their results are vulnerable to tampering and almost always unverifiable
  4. All Congressional districting should be done by independent commissions in a manner resembling the system Arizona has established (explained here)

I call for a decisive end to corporate personhood (the idea that corporations have constitutional rights equivalent to those of natural people) and the end of money’s disruptive role in our politics. To that end, I promise to fight for:

  • Publicly funded elections
  • Hard caps on contributions from individuals, groups and corporations alike, and hard caps on campaign expenditures
  • Curbing the reach and influence of super PACs

Further, I support an amendment to the Constitution which would embed these principles into the bedrock of our society. As proposed by Move to Amend, such a Constitutional amendment might read:

Section 1. [Artificial Entities Such as Corporations Do Not Have Constitutional Rights]
The rights protected by the Constitution of the United States are the rights of natural persons only. Artificial entities established by the laws of any State, the United States, or any foreign state shall have no rights under this Constitution and are subject to regulation by the People, through Federal, State, or local law. The privileges of artificial entities shall be determined by the People, through Federal, State, or local law, and shall not be construed to be inherent or inalienable.

Section 2. [Money is Not Free Speech]
Federal, State, and local government shall regulate, limit, or prohibit contributions and expenditures, including a candidate’s own contributions and expenditures, to ensure that all citizens, regardless of their economic status, have access to the political process, and that no person gains, as a result of their money, substantially more access or ability to influence in any way the election of any candidate for public office or any ballot measure.
Federal, State, and local government shall require that any permissible contributions and expenditures be publicly disclosed. The judiciary shall not construe the spending of money to influence elections to be speech under the First Amendment.

A trust fund should be created to provide supplementary pay to local police. These pay raises would allow local police precincts to be more competitive and selective in their hiring and help officers afford to live in the areas they patrol, improving the quality of the force as a whole and facilitating better interactions between law enforcement and the public. Since speeding tickets and fines for nuisance crimes were never intended to be a revenue mechanism for local government, the trust fund I propose might be created by taxing local governments to the extent that they profit from enforcing them.

The police should not have access to military equipment, and should not train as if the public would ever be the enemy. On-foot patrols should be encouraged and implemented to the greatest extent possible to build relationships and encourage community interaction.

Police should universally wear cameras to promote civility between all parties. As much as it protects innocent people, it protects good cops. Federal funding or assistance is called for here.

Racism in law enforcement is real, just as it exists elsewhere; where it exists, it should be critically examined and ended.

We have come to fear the drug pusher and the swathe he carves through our communities – but the crisis rages on, a conflagration coming to touch every delicate thread of American life. In 2014, West Virginia’s pauper burial fund was entirely depleted.  But we must face reality that the drug pusher is us – to the extent that we allow pharmaceutical companies to profit from addiction.

I contend that, aside from desperate chronic pain patients,  individuals in communities that have been deeply affected by the opioid crisis sometimes turned to drugs all-too-readily offered by pharmaceutical companies in response to an alienation from larger American society or to escape from poverty and feelings of despair and despondency. Regardless of cause, however, addiction, death and attendant illness bear major costs to the average citizen’s social/economic/security interests.  Until recently, the scope of those costs was hidden from public view – but it is now measured in human lives. I propose three interim responses.

  • Immediate/Local Response: Equip first-responders, teachers, medical professionals and the public with no-cost Narcan or naloxone provided that they complete a training in overdose identification and safe, proper administration of the drug.
  • Short term Response:  Focus on harm reduction and decreases in recidivism. Increase funding for pharmaceutically-assisted withdrawal treatment and addiction resource / training centers. Continue and expand existing harm reduction initiatives such as needle exchanges to prevent resurgence of transmittable diseases.
  • Long term Response: Get to the root of the problem using science, research and data, have lively public discussions, and then be willing to pass long-term policy changes that address these root causes. We should be willing to try and fail, and earnestly, honestly and enthusiastically confront our challenges, to try again and again until we get it right.
  • We can further disincentivize the reckless dealing of addictive drugs by legalizing non-addictive, non-harmful, proven-effective alternatives such as medical cannabis.

The legalization of medical cannabis is a moral imperative. It is inhumane and cruel to require people with diagnosed conditions responsive to cannabinoid treatment to suffer in the name of a misguided and ineffective war on drugs (such conditions including PTSD, HIV, epilepsy, glaucoma, and others). Medical cannabis also has real potential to help reduce persistent pain (as an alternative to opioids) and is proven to mitigate some of the worst side effects of chemotherapy.

Approaching this issue humanely will save millions (both in terms of people and dollars) and improve quality of life in measurable, meaningful ways.

As mentioned in another policy section, at bare minimum, our country needs to ease access to medical marijuana (including conditions such as PTSD, depression, glaucoma, chronic pain and others). Our secondary goal should be general legalization with a taxation scheme investing in education, healthcare and infrastructure. The ultimate goal is ending the War on Drugs and its replacement with a rational system of drug courts that treat addicts rather than imprisoning them.

This is also a social justice issue. Studies have repeatedly shown that law enforcement disproportionately enforces possession laws against low-income individuals and young men of color across all socioeconomic levels, despite statistics indicating use was nearly the same between Caucasians and others (link). By getting these men out of criminal court, their lifetime prospects are dramatically improved, supporting the ultimate goal of breaking the cycle of poverty in affected communities.

I support the scientific consensus: humans are the primary drivers of global warming. I believe it is both humanity’s duty and obligation to future generations to be good stewards of nature and ensure we do not destroy our one and only home.

Economic growth is not inherently incompatible with sustainability, so long as we act (locally, nationally and globally) to mitigate our impact immediately. The longer we wait, the more resources will need to be diverted from mitigation and prevention to disaster recovery, resource extraction and political/military stabilization, and the more that happens, the more unrealistic prospects for growth and stability become. Bluntly, a warmer world will feed global conflict and exacerbate the already troubling trend towards authoritarianism.

Though I have a lot of thoughts on this, and many are captured in other sections, Project Drawdown has some excellent ideas.

I believe that trophies look better on the animals themselves than on the wall – 100% of the time. I support the aggressive enforcement of anti-poaching laws, prohibition on elephant ivory imports, and the development of eco-tourism to channel money into conservation resources.

This policy position is more than just an environmental issue. We counted among the list of endangered species an extension of our cultural heritage – the bald eagle. Though it is only one animal among many, it symbolizes the plight of others.

National parks should be fully funded, preserved and expanded. Our majestic public lands remain the birthright of Americans present and yet to come.

Finally, where the government allows exploitation of natural resources of public lands, considerable royalties should be collected and reinvested into park maintenance, park expansions, environmental remediation and local needs / infrastructure (especially if the exploitation of natural resources causes environmental damage or traffic on or around local infrastructure).

We should seek friendly relations, commerce and engagement with all nations, entangling alliances and war with none.

Our active duty military personnel are not the world’s policemen. The best way to support the troops is to bring them home and provide them better pay, benefits and a functioning VA. This should be accomplished in a measured drawdown to allow for local forces to step in, and shutter overseas military bases that do not directly support the security of the American homeland. To those who disagree, a simple question: how would you feel about a Cuban military base in Miami? Or a Chinese military base in California?

To that end, America should gradually return to a non-interventionist foreign policy. This includes pulling out of the Middle East and Afghanistan as soon as reasonably possible, and putting an end to the $700B a year in war funding – we can reinvest those resources into our people, pay down the debt, or both. The reason is simple: we can better promote our national security by starving Middle Eastern oil cartels of cash by ending our reliance on imported oil and natural gas, which would choke off funding for government-funded, terror-friendly religious sects such as Wahhabis.

The Federal Reserve  is the central bank and driver of monetary policy in the United States. It is an aging, century-old institution that operates in obscurity and has grown out of touch and incongruent with the people it purports to serve. There are also credible (though not legally settled) arguments that Congress unconstitutionally delegated its authority over monetary policy to the Federal Reserve. That being said, it has legitimate potential to be a powerful lever in the nationwide push for responsible and shared prosperity. It should be given the primary mandate of manipulating monetary policy to drive sustainable, upward mobility. A reformed Fed should be protected from political manipulation as it performs this vital task, but it should always be transparent with the public about what it is doing and why it is doing it.

 

Major priorities:

  • The Federal Reserve should be a fully publicly-owned institution, and board members should be drawn from banking and investment sectors in equal measure with other stakeholders such as small businesses, consumer groups, scientists, experts and academics.
  • We should set term limits for Fed officials and increase transparency of the process through which we  appoint regional Fed Presidents.
  • The Federal Reserve should be subject to comprehensive and routine audits.
  • I support the passage of the Federal Reserve Transparency Act as described here.

(Point of order: in addition to being my own thoughts, some ideas borrowed from Popular Democracy)

Government should be limited though energetic when it intervenes. It should primarily intervene to enhance upward mobility, in addition to its other constitutional duties, which include protecting individual rights and property.

The free market has improved the lot of people globally more effectively than any other force, but in its purest and unmitigated form, it is imperfect – it incentivizes destructive, short-sighted and self-defeating behaviors. Think of the interaction between society (as expressed in government) and the economy as a wagon train – the economy is symbolized by the horses, and the wagon train is everyone and everything else. If either element gets unhinged from considering the other, the result is disastrous – either the horses run amok and destroy the cart, or the cart becomes too heavy and kills the horses.

The goal, then, is to carefully balance the interests of society and the economy. In certain cases, we may find that the free market really does make the best, most efficient decisions. When it doesn’t, sometimes balancing might be best achieved through regulation; other times, through incentives that promote beneficial behaviors or penalties that discourage unwise decisions, but still allow for individuals to make up their own minds. Even Adam Smith, perennially recognized as one of the most forceful advocate for free markets, recognized the benefits of government intervention in order to ensure the vast benefits of economic development were shared universally, rather than being concentrated into the pockets of the political or economic elites.

Promoting upward mobility ensures the American dream of family, stability and prosperity is open to everyone.

I think we’re all getting tired of bickering and dysfunction. Civility and compromise are necessary for a functioning republic- and I’d like Georgia’s 6th district to lead the charge in restoring our ability to govern ourselves. I’d like to sit down, as a group, with GOP, Democratic and Independent voters alike to hear their stories and concerns, and for them, in turn, to hear ours. And this is only the beginning. At worst, we’d get to know our neighbors a little better – at best, we’d come to better understand the challenges our neighbors face – and think of what we could do together from there! The general idea is that those in government speak less, while their voters speak more, and often, with each other – a glimpse of the future that’s possible when decency and humanity prevail.

The powers that be are lying when they say that your only choices in government are between establishment politicians and extremists. There are better alternatives, and I believe my approach is one of them.

I call for a centrist revival, and one that has deep roots in American history. It was responsible for some of the greatest national accomplishments to date, including the interstate highway system and putting an American on the moon. It is an expression of the degree to which we can change the world together when we demand our representatives interact with civility and a willingness to compromise when it benefits the country. And it is an acknowledgement we are at our best when we recognize that, even when we disagree, both our own voices and the perspectives of our neighbors count and should be part of our larger national conversation.

The problems with purely partisan laws are:

  • They are unfair, in that they do not recognize the existence of other perspectives
  • They are unstable in that they are very much susceptible to being overturned the minute the political winds change

Compromise and civility as the cornerstone of our political discourse ensures that the legislation we pass stands up to legal scrutiny and that the accomplishments we’ve made as a society are sustainable for more than an election or two.