Ep. 53 Gil Cisneros, CA-39

NICIE PANETTA: Thank you so much for making time to speak with The MidPod today, we really do appreciate it. And maybe you would want to start by just introducing yourself for for our listeners?

GIL CISNEROS: Yeah I'm Gil Cisneros I'm a candidate for Congress I'm running in the 39th congressional district which is here. It encompasses northern Orange County, Eastern L.A. County, and we have a little bit of San Bernardino here in California.

NICIE: Great. Want to talk a little bit more about the district in a bit but maybe first you could just spend a few minutes sharing with us your own life's journey. Where you grew up and what your childhood was like and the path you took.

CISNEROS: Well I you know I I grew up here in Southern California and you know whenever I kind of tell my story I always start it with my family and and my life has really been about one of service. And it's really starting with my family my my grandfathers were World War II veterans, my dad was a Vietnam veteran. I had uncles that were also Vietnam veterans. And, you know I joined the Navy right out of high school because not only to follow in their footsteps but, you know I also kind of saw it as my best path forward, the best way to improve my life. But I was very fortunate that I met a chief petty officer who saw something in me that I didn't really see in myself yet. And he recommended that I apply for this program which happened to be the Navy's affirmative action program. They were trying to get more people of color into the officer ranks.

CISNEROS: So I did what this chief petty officer said, I applied for the program, and I got accepted! And five days after graduating high school, I went to boot camp and then right after boot camp I basically just went right back to school except this time it was in the Navy, and that program really changed my life. It gave me opportunity through education that I never really knew existed before. It it prepared me for college, it made me a better student. And having spent my whole life here in Southern California, I decided to get out of my comfort zone and I went to school back east to the George Washington University on a Navy ROTC scholarship. Majored in political science and then right after graduating I got my commission and went right back into the Navy to to do my obligated service. But I actually ended up spending ten years in the Navy. It was an incredible experience, I learned a lot about leadership, I made friends that are still really good friends of mine today and I will change everything.

NICIE: Tell us how long have you lived in the district and what led to your decision to run for Congress.

CISNEROS: Well you know we've had a history in the district for a long time you know my wife grew up here in this district she went to Esperanza High School in in Yorba Linda where we live now. We own a small business in the in the in the district, when we have something that we did right as we were getting married, we purchased a curb franchise that we owned and operated for for about I'd say about five years. And, you know it's it's been really a good time you know this is where we spent a lot of our times on our first dates were up there on Birch Street, and, and Bray going to movies because that was really all we could afford at the time, when we first started dating when we first got married. But it's it's a great community. Love living here. It's close to our family. And you know I have four year-old twins. And it takes a village I will tell you to to raise twins and it's good to to be close to family so they can pitch in and help us out when we need it.

NICIE: So here's a question for you. And Gina Ortiz Jones and I discussed this at length as well when I was in Texas. You both have a passion for education. In our country, education is mostly financed and administered at the state and local level. What do you think could be a role for Congress in ensuring greater educational opportunity and success for our young kids?

CISNEROS: I say it all the time. I I think the federal government needs to get more involved in education. There's a lot of things that we can do. I mean when you talk about the cost of colleges, you know we need to bring Pell grants into line with the actual cost of tuition. What it is today. We need to fix the student loan...program, it, it's in favor of the banks, we need to put it in favor of the students. For every dollar we invest in higher education we get a four dollar and 50 cent return. So why would we not want to invest in our students in our our college students and help them get their degrees? But also you know, at the lower end, I mean we all know anybody will tell you who is involved in education...that working with kids at at in the early stages of their development is so important and crucial. That we need to to find federal dollars that can support these type of programs.

CISNEROS: We need to find federal dollars that can support programs that are going to work against summer learning loss, support after school programs, college access programs. These are all things that we need, all are going to help the development of students but...the important thing that we need to understand is that when we invest in students we're investing in people which is we're investing in our country. And we need to start thinking about that that way that it's not how much is education going to cost, but how much are we willing to invest? I mean that's that's all I'm trying to change the....format of the discussion that way that to really talk about like you know really what we need to invest in education and how important it is and I'm going to continue to do that when I'm in Congress. You know I want to be an advocate for education. We really need to to start investing more in education in our country.

NICIE: And maybe you could highlight is there another key issue that you think your constituents or your potential constituents would really benefit from from your work on in Congress? What do you see as the key issues for that?

CISNEROS: You know there there's a lot of key issues. You know one of the ones that comes up more times than anything else is health care. Con constituents are really worried about their health care being taken away by this well this presidential administration and the Republicans in Congress. They've been trying to do that for for years now and they chipped away they're chipping away at it now they got rid of the individual mandate. They want to get rid of preexisting conditions. But we need to make sure that we don't let that happen. They're worried about their social security. They're worried about their Medicare. You know that this horrible tax bill that the Republicans passed and they created this 1.5 trillion dollar deficit and they made no...they're not even trying to hide the fact that they're going to go after Social Security and Medicare to make up that deficit. We need to protect that and we need to I'm letting all my constituents know that I'm going to fight for them, I'm going to work for them to make sure that we protect Medicare, that we protect Social Security. That we're not going to let the Republicans take it away. That this is an earned benefit that they've all paid into and they deserve to have this. It's I always say it's an agreement that we made with our senior citizens with with everybody who's paid into the system, that they would have this benefit for them in their golden years when they retire and we need to keep that promise.

NICIE: Young Kim is going to be your opponent in November. The district is very much a swing district right? It's been historically Republican, went for Hillary Clinton by high single-digit margins so...

CISNEROS: Nine and a half points.

NICIE: Really interesting really extra interesting purple district that you're running in. How do you see the campaign shaping up? What do you what do you see from your opponent so far and and where is she for example on the on the taxing which I know has had a negative impact on on many residents of California because of the tax cuts.

CISNEROS: She supported the the the the tax bill which doesn't help Californians at all. You know she's an immigrant who is anti-immigration. She's a woman that doesn't support the Equality Act, doesn't support women's health care, doesn't support a woman's right to choose. She's just on the wrong side of history. You know this district has changed dramatically over the last 10 years. Which is why Ed Royce I believe Ed Royce has decided to retire. It's it's just as much Democratic as it is Republican right now. It's a minority-majority district with the large Latino population, the large Asian population. And he saw the writing on the wall that he just doesn't represent the values of this district anymore. And people in this district are ready for change and they know Young Kim is just going to be more of the same she's going to be nothing more than Ed Royce 2.0. That's why in a recent poll, we were up by 11 points.

NICIE: Now the primary process was quite competitive for you on the Democratic side. I know that we were at the state party convention back in February and you know, as with all the candidates they're jockeying for the state party endorsement all that stuff it can it it it could definitely be pretty contentious, what would you say you learned from the competitive contentious aspect of the primary process that you're applying to your race in the general?

CISNEROS: You know it's important to get out and talk to the voters. We put a lot of emphasis on our field operation a lot of emphasis in volunteers and getting them out to knock on doors, talking to voters. You know and we expanded our universe and we thought that was it was crucial in order for us to be successful in the primary. We know it's going to be crucial for us in in the general election as well.

NICIE: We've been reading about it in the national media and I think you're seeing it which is that the apparently key GOP strategy for defending their position in the House is negative advertising, attacking opponents, attacking Democratic candidates. You are I guess already on the receiving end of that, and you've been faced with some nasty accusations in these attack ads. What's your reaction and and how are you, how are you dealing with it?

CISNEROS: You know it's this is nothing more of those attack ads are nothing more than a ploy from Paul Ryan's super PAC to distract the voters away from the core issues that they want to talk about which is health care and immigration reform, commonsense gun legislation, education.

NICIE: Do you feel like you're going to have to respond directly to, I think there's something about the...you had stocks in companies doing business with Iran and some kind of #MeToo situation?

CISNEROS: You know this is how kind of a ridiculous that situation is right? It's you know we're talking about these companies in Iran that's Boeing General Electric. You know these are U.S. corporations that were were allowed to do business you know, in a lot of foreign countries, they're doing business all around the world. And I think it's crazy that they're attacking me, you know on that issue. And regarding the other issue, you know it's just 100 percent false. Everybody who's kind of looked into that story saw it's come to that same conclusion. You know we had a an Emmy Award-winning television journalist who I was with who I was with that time and and her timeline just doesn't doesn't add up.

NICIE: So I just got back from Iowa and I went to a very well-established political event in Iowa called the Wing Ding Dinner and it's in a small town in northern Iowa and they hold it every year for the Democratic to benefit the Democratic Party. And there were several speakers different candidates for office and at the very end they had invited and Michael Avenatti spoke and he gave a speech about basically the need to for politicians, Democrats in particular to step forward and fight President Trump more aggressively. And you know we just had a 30-minute conversation, it really hasn't come up, and that's you're, you know that's the tact that a lot of your fellow Democratic candidates have been taking on the trail. When you look at President Trump's conduct, do you think you all should be doing more to speak out against him during this election season?

CISNEROS: You know it hasn't really gotten and maybe you're right it hasn't come up in this conversation but you know we are speaking out against him but again, I think what the voters want to hear they want to hear about the issues that they're concerned about and which is like for us it it's healthcare, common sense gun education, immigration reform. That's what we're talking about, protecting their Social Security and Medicare. And when we talk about that protecting those issues you know we always talk on the other hand too, you know, what the Republicans, what's the Trump administration doing, how are they attacking these these programs how are they trying to take them away. So we bring that up but but...I don't think the voters just want to hear about like oh you know, Trump is a bad guy, Trump is a bad guy. They want to know what you're going to do when you go to Washington.

NICIE: I know. And I'm just sharing with you based on being in that room which had a thousand people in it now, granted dyed in the wool Democrats, there was a thunderous response to this gentleman standing up and basically...calling out the el elephant in the room so to speak so it's just interesting because the president's conduct you know and we started this project with the same spirit like look it, there's nothing we can really do about the president right now. This is all about Congress and you know strengthening the institution of Congress, getting people more connected to it. But as the weeks go by, it just it just becomes more and more alarming and hard hard to stay focused on the other stuff when you really feel like the Constitution is so at stake.

CISNEROS: Right. And there's you know it does come up I mean we had...a meet and greet that individual hosted to us, a Republican. He hosted this meet and greet for us.


CISNEROS: And he I mean this thing was we need to elect a Democratic Congress because we need to hold the president in check. Right now that's not happening and this is why this election is so important. So, I mean there isn't–– he's not very popular in this district at all. He's only polling around 40 percent. And so...you know we do go after him when we have the opportunity. But again I think it's you know the voters..it's not just about like OK you're attacking Trump but...

NICIE: What does Young Kim what she's in a difficult spot, what does she say about the president?

CISNEROS: You know she she tries to avoid him. She knows he's he's not polling well, you know after his horrible Helsinki performance where he basically sided with, you know with Vladimir Putin, she didn't even call him out by name. She just put out a statement saying, "I support our our intelligence agencies." You know at a fundraiser, you know, she talked about the great things that he'd done at a fundraiser, and and so, you know...when she's when she's at these fundraisers she's trying to cater to his base because you know they're very supportive of him. But, you know when she's out there in the open talking to many people she always she's trying to soften her message and we're going to call her out on it.

NICIE: I forgot one more thing. You've been pretty vocal saying you would not support Nancy Pelosi for Speaker of the House if the Democrats retake. How's that going for you? I know a lot of women voters who feel really strongly that she's getting unfair treatment because she's a woman and then I know other people who feel differently. So do you want to just walk us through that how you are thinking about it?

CISNEROS: You know I I think she's she's done a wonderful job, you know both as a leader and previously as a Speaker and we wouldn't have the Affordable Care Act if it wasn't for her. But...you know I think every so often it's just you need new voices, you need new leadership, you need new blood. That was one of the reasons why I decided to run it it was for that reason because we do need new people in there. We need new blood, new voices, that are going to speak out and kind of really mix things up. I think that needs to be done. And I think it's just time for new people to step up. And and really...you know go and and get a new voice out there, somebody else to lead us you know. I I don't think it has anything to do with her being a woman you know, I've I've been a very big supporter of Linda Sanchez. You know during this during while I've been running for Congress and and even before when I was running for Congress, and I'm going to continue to be a supporter of hers and I hope she kind of moves up through leadership and maybe one day she can be whatever, you know, our future Speaker. I would love to see that.

Eunice Panetta