This is the third and final part of an interview with Arlington’s Amit Singh, who is running for the GOP nomination in the 8th Congressional District race. He’ll be vying with Mark Ellmore for the votes of 8th district Republicans on June 10th. The winner of that race will face long time incumbent Rep. Jim Moran (D) this fall. Part I is available here, and Part II is here.
Federal Disaster Relief
On your site, you gave Katrina as an example of the failures of government. [From the website – “Amit believes that the American people know what is best for this nation and know how to care for their neighbors. As demonstrated by the response to Hurricane Katrina, the federal government does not always best care for those most in need and the greatest aid comes from one’s neighbors and fellow Americans.] Wasn’t Katrina a perfect example of where you do need government? It was clear that the people were helping each other as best they could in New Orleans, but it obviously wasn’t enough. What are you trying to say?
“There were a number of issues that went wrong prior to Katrina – the levees had been ignored for years. Why? Our attention was directed elsewhere. Instead of strengthening the levees and preventing the floods from happening in the first place, we let that deteriorate and cause the entire mess to begin with. So that’s the seed of it. Then, talking about the Federal response, many of [the local volunteers and National Guardsmen that would have helped] were not in the country at the time.
We’ve weaned people onto thinking that the Federal government – FEMA – should be protecting them. They do have a role in natural disasters, no doubt, because something of that magnitude can’t be handled by the American Red Cross. So there is a roll for government to play. [But the] Federal government has lost its focus, and our resources were not invested in the country, they were invested elsewhere. We have bridges falling down, levees breaking, while we’re building the same things abroad. So the Federal response there was negative, because it just lacked the resources. And in the face of that [lack of a Federal response], people were just helping each other. Churches were going down, Wal-Mart was handing out bottled water – people really came together. It was amazing.”
Government and Privacy
What do you think of the REAL ID Act?
“I’m against it. It’s a total attack on our civil liberties. And what people don’t understand is when you have a Federal database that’s working in real time with thousands of connections to all sorts of different sub-agencies, it’s very insecure. And we’ll be lulled into a false sense of security, but in fact, we’re even more at risk.
Just today, there was a breach again at some credit card company where thousands of names were released. This information is very sensitive – it’s personal – and in the wrong hands, it can do a lot of damage. Putting it all in one place, and saying “Hello everybody, come hack our database” is a recipe for disaster. I’m definitely against the REAL ID Act.
How are you going to enforce [these ID requirements]? Maybe you look at me – do I look like an illegal immigrant? Maybe, maybe not. Are you going to test everybody who is “non-American looking”? I mean, do you start racially profiling everybody to see who’s got an ID, and who doesn’t? It’s a terrible thing.”
So, how do you explain how terrible it is to a population that doesn’t really understand REAL ID? How do you explain this situation to someone who doesn’t think that it represents an actual threat to them?
“You’re right, it’s not on the forefront of people’s minds, and it’s not the big issue of the election. But when you ask them, how many people do you know that have been a victim of identity theft, I don’t think I know anyone who’s doesn’t know at least one person who’s been a victim of identity theft. I say imagine that, but with your personal information. Not just your financial information for one credit card – a subset of your life – but for your entire life. I think that’s a much scarier prospect. I mean, Los Alamos lost nuclear technology information on laptops. If we can’t protect nuclear technology, how do think they’re going to protect your social security information or medical records?”
Is your position on this representative of a larger skepticism about government surveillance? I saw that you had a little bit of experience with everybody’s favorite program, TIA [Singh’s resume indicates that he was involved for a short time with the Total Information Awareness project, a Federal government data mining program].
[laughs] Of course, I’m against surveillance on Americans without a warrant. That’s against the law. The government does have a responsibility in protecting us against foreign threats.
[Here, Mr. Singh explains that he is limited in what he can say about his work, but that it would be fair to extrapolate his position on this matter from his general view that the Federal government should have very limited powers.]
When people go to the polls this fall, I think they’re going to be voting for a stronger Congress – one that can put a check on the Executive Branch, be it Republican or Democrat. One of the points of having a stronger Congress is being able to trust that they’ll actually conduct oversight on the Executive, and in such a manner that it might once again be possible to believe the Executive. Particularly when it says that it’s dealing with sensitive intelligence matters in a way that is consistent with the Constitution. Frankly, no one believes the President right now about anything he says regarding intelligence gathering, and no one trusts Congress to ensure that the President is telling the truth. What could Congress do to restore that public trust?
“When you’re dealing with the intelligence community, there is a level of trust. We have to protect our means and methods, because if our adversaries know them, then they’ll know how to get around them. It’s very expensive to learn how to develop these tactics in the first place. It is important to not compromise that kind of information. And tell the American public this is exactly what we’re doing, basically telling the terrorists or whoever we’re trying to defeat all the clues that they need to get around it. So it’s a difficult question.
I can tell you from the people that I work with that there’s a lot of internal oversight. Everything we do is definitely monitored – checked to the nth degree. There are, you know, perhaps situations of abuse, but they don’t go for long. People do speak up, because the people who work in these places, they are very patriotic Americans that do believe in freedom, and it just takes on person to stand up and say this is wrong, and then people are embarrassed into [doing] the right thing. I can’t talk about how we would do this publicly, but there are ways we can put internal restrictions – I can tell you that there are a lot of restrictions we can deal with.”
But does that involve actual oversight of Executive Branch by someone outside of it? I understand the internal checks, but [what you’re talking about] is still entirely within an agency, or within a project. Take the current FISA argument, for example. This Administration doesn’t even want a Federal judge – who is presumably amongst the most trustworthy of persons involved in the Federal government – involved. Which really makes you wonder how you can trust the Executive. So what about actual systemic checks?
“I would not be opposed to [securing warrants] before getting involved. Some of the reasons why people were trying to circumvent the system [is that] there’s a lot of bureaucracy involved. You know, when you’re in the hunt, you get so caught up in the hunt that you don’t want to deal with the paperwork, [and you] don’t want to deal with the things they feel are a distraction. There are smarter ways to do the same job. There can be an internal compromise that makes the hunt more efficient. Again, I can’t go into details here, but I’m a big believer that we can make this work. They will make this work. There are people I can understand, rightfully so, that they really want to protect the country, and in the hunt they feel like the paperwork gets in their way, and they know what they’re doing – they’re really trying to save our country, and it’s a distraction. But I think we can make it more efficient.”
Turning to another favorite GOP issue – immigration. You’ve stated that you want to “implement [a] native country-based guest worker program”. What does that mean?
“The basic premise there is that you can’t stay in the country and become legal. [MB: under this proposal, any current undocumented immigrants will need to return back to their native country before applying for a guest worker visa to come back to the United States]. My parents were immigrants – they followed the rules, they followed the law, they did everything the correct way. And there are people even today who continue to do that. Granted, I don’t think illegal immigrants or migrant works are evil people who are here to “take our jobs”. But, in the interests of fairness, you can’t just grant them amnesty. But we do need them – there are realistic economic needs for surges in employment, and seasonal [shifts].”
Singh goes on to characterize the guest worker program as “a complex compromise.” He focuses on the problems caused – for everyone involved – by multiple illegal border crossings. He posits that a guest-worker program will eliminate such crossings, and that the freer movement of guest workers will result in fewer casualties along the border, less burden on US support systems (because families will not be accompanying the workers), and more flexibility for US employment needs. He continues:
“Companies have to make sure that they are offering fair wage and fair working conditions. A lot of people say that these immigrants are taking jobs that Americans won’t do, which is a farce. They’re taking the jobs that Americans won’t do for less than minimum wage and in sweatshop conditions. Look, I don’t want America to become a country of indentured servants. We have standards. We have a quality of life here.”
Isn’t a guest worker program risk creating a permanent second class?
“No. It’s the opposite. Say you’re out of work in Mexico. You need to find work to feed your family. You take great risk in crossing the board to come into the US. You come here, find a job, and send it back to your family. You miss your family. So you then have a choice between risking multiple border crossings to see them, or bringing them over. And when you bring them over, the US then bears the costs of that immigration [schooling, emergency room visits, etc.] If you have a guest worker program, now the whole border situation becomes safe. You can move back and forth without risk to see your family. It’s the best of all worlds. I disagree that a smart guest worker program would create an indentured class in America.”
Don’t you end up with a lot of people living and working here who have no real buy-in to America?
“Well, that’s exactly why with a guest worker program, they don’t have to stay here. They’re free in the winter months to go back to Mexico or wherever they come from. With a guest worker program, you don’t have to agree with American values, you don’t have to watch American Idol, or whatever you don’t want to watch. You have that freedom to go back and forth in a much easier fashion, and that will help both sides.”
Closer to Home
The representatives in the DC area have sort of taken on a secondary responsibility of giving voice to the concerns of DC residents – who don’t have their own voice in Congress. Do you have any particular thoughts on Congress’ responsibility towards DC?
“I think they should have voting rights. We would not let our US military who lives abroad not have representation – why should we let people who live in our nation’s capital go without representation? Or give them an exemption from the Federal income tax. Do one of the two, but don’t continue this taxation without representation. That’s the most un-American thing I can think of. That’s why we’re a country today.”
Facing Rep. Jim Moran
If you secure the nomination, you’ll be in the position of having to win over a sizable portion of reliably Democratic voters here in the 8th District. How do you expect to convince them to trade Jim Moran – a congressman with 17 years of seniority – for a freshman representative in the minority party?
“Well, this area is very Democratic, true. It’s also very affluent. And while a lot of the constituency doesn’t mind paying taxes for programs they believe in, they understand financials and hate waste. Again, fiscal responsibility appeals to everyone. With the current economic situation, it’s becoming more important. And the current incumbent has demonstrated, over and over, that he has no regard for a growing budget.
The economy has become the main focus of the election, and fiscal responsibility is very important. I think when they look at Moran’s record, they’ll see one of the worst abusers of power in Congress, and hopefully they’ll see an alternative in me.
This is my first foray into politics, but it doesn’t mean I don’t have the required experience. I’ve been running my company for the last 8 years, so I understand what a lot of entrepreneurs have to go through, with over-taxation and over-regulation. Really, for me, the economy is the major issue. We talk about people not having jobs, and when you think about it, the only true sustainable source for American jobs is American business. The government’s not going to create them, foreign countries aren’t going to create them. We have to foster a good economy – where everyone is employed and doing well – and then we can start taking care of each other in so many ways – through charity and other means.”
I think it’s presumptuous to come in and say that I know the answers to everything. I’m somebody that both sides – Democrats and Republicans – can work with easily. But while doing that, you can be sure I’ll stick to my guiding principles.
This concludes my interview with Amit Singh, candidate for the Republican nomination in the 8th Congressional District race in Virginia. Afterwards, his campaign manager Steve Bierfeldt gave me a run down on Singh’s fundraising, emphasizing that the ticker amount shown on the campaign website represented money in the bank, in contrast to the numbers announced by his competitor, Mark Ellmore, which includes $30k in “pledges.” Bierfeldt stated with confidence that the campaign would beat its goal of $25k in the first quarter. That was on March 18th. As of April 1st, it appears that the Singh campaign has secured about $34k in donations.
Shortly after the interview, Singh also became one of the first candidates to sign on with Larry Lessig’s Change Congress pledge. More about that, and my thoughts on the race, in an upcoming post.