Q&A; from the DNC: Rep. Adam Schiff

At last week’s Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, North Carolina, delegates and office holders confronted a wide range of national and local concerns. Sitting in the hall every night was Rep. Adam Schiff, whose 29th Congressional District includes Burbank, Glendale and Pasadena, and who said he found both clarity and inspiration in the major speeches he heard all week.

In a post-convention interview, the congressman dissected the central messages that came out of Charlotte and contrasted them with the previous week’s Republican gathering in Tampa, Florida. He also noted the role of California and laid out his hopes for NASA in the wake of historic success with last month’s landing of the probe Curiosity on the surface of Mars, commanded from JPL in La Canada-Flintridge.

How did the Democratic Convention week go?

The president did a marvelous job. President Clinton really gave the closing argument, rebutting a lot of the GOP case made at the prior convention [in Tampa], and I think President Obama set out the vision going forward and made the case about how deep the hole was when he took office and how he’s laid the foundation not only for a return to the prosperity of the Clinton years but, equally significant, a restoration of the American dream.

People not only want a return to the Clinton prosperity for themselves, but they want to make sure the economy is built in such a way that their kids in the next generation will have an opportunity for an even better life. People feel that’s very much at risk right now.

What issues at the convention are of special concern to our district?

The primary concern in our district, like so much of the country, is the economy.  Even though we haven’t been hit quite as hard as in other parts of California and other parts of the country, it’s still the top concern. People are struggling to pay their bills; their businesses are not doing as well as they once did. So what they’re looking for at both conventions of what the candidates will do in next four years, what their visions are for bringing back a period of prosperity.

The president made a case that all we’ve heard form the other side is lowering taxes on the wealthy families and rolling back Wall Street regulations. And he questioned how that would help bring manufacturing back, how that will help people stay in the homes or help small businesses hire.  There is a real disconnect between the GOP convention message that we should get back to the economic policies of the last administration that unfortunately led us into this economic quagmire.

Did you spend a lot of time with the California delegation?

I went each night. One speech that stood out for me was Michelle Obama. Of all the speeches, the most interesting parts were when the speakers told about their own story, whether it was the mayor of San Antonio [Julian Castro] or [Massachusetts U.S. Senate candidate] Elizabeth Warren or Joe Biden talking about what he had done when he lost his first wife and child. It’s very telling to know where people came from to get a sense of where they’re going.

The California delegation was well represented there -- with Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa in an official role, and both our U.S. senators appearing onstage. What is California’s place in the national picture?

California is very influential and has a lot of pivotal players. Our presence at the convention wasn’t a reflection of California being any kind of swing state. They were there in their own right as leaders of the party. It says a lot about the caliber of political leadership coming out of our state. We have two powerhouse senators, we have the former speaker of the house, who is eager to put more Democrats in the House; Attorney General Kamala Harris spoke very prominently. It was very exciting.

California used to be a swing state in national elections, and often went Republican. It isn’t that way anymore.

There is a certain ebb and flow of things. But right now the GOP caucus of the legislature -- and that’s where the bench comes from for state office -- is hardcore ideological. It’s unappealing to the broad electorate in California. So I think California is a cautionary tale for the national GOP. If they can’t moderate their stridency and ideology, they are going to be in the minority for a long time.

GOP members of the legislature weren’t even cooperating with their own governor not very long ago.

And I agreed with Schwarzenegger on that point. The party will have to get a bigger tent or there will be fewer people in it. One of my colleagues showed me an excerpt of a speech that Ronald Reagan gave when he spoke to the Californian Republicans in the Assembly when he was raising taxes in California. Some Republicans objected, and he basically told them -- as much as Schwarzenegger tried to -- that if they clung to some theoretical party orthodoxy, they’d find themselves very pure but very small and wouldn’t have a chance to govern.

It’s true that GOP registration in California is falling and “decline to state” registration is growing very rapidly, but that’s a cautionary tale for both parties. “Decline to state” is the fastest growing party overall, and while the GOP has a much bigger problem, it ought to send a signal to both parties that they need to find a way to work together to get the business of the state done and the needs of the country done. People have become disaffected from both parties.

In Charlotte, I know you attended the Space Jam party for space exploration. And in our neighborhood, JPL has had a huge success this past month with the Mars landing. Are you satisfied with the amount of budgetary support for the space program?

Yes and no. I’m pleased that in the difficult budgetary environment that the NASA budget has remained essentially flat. That’s good news when everything around it is being cut. But I’m very dissatisfied with the allocation of resources within NASA. It gives planetary science the short end of the stick. What we’re focused on now is trying to reallocate resources within NASA so we can maintain a more balanced space portfolio.

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