Ep. 71 Harley Rouda, CA 48

NICIE PANETTA: Greetings and welcome to another edition of The MidPod: The Midterms Podcast. I'm Nicie Panetta with Heather Atwood. We are in the ninth inning of this 2018 midterm election season and this baseball reference allows me to insert a completely gratuitous "Go Red Sox." Before we get to our interview with guest Harley Rouda, we also want you to know about another wonderful new podcast from Wonder Media. It's called "Women belong in the House." Former Bloomberg reporter Jenny Kaplan is the host and she and her mom are part of our "drop everything club." Her mom Kathy Manning has dropped everything to run for Congress in North Carolina 19. That's a district with a six-point Republican lean. It stretches from Greensboro and High Point in the Northeast to Mooresville in the Southwest. Her opponent Ted Budd is a conservative Republican member of the Freedom Caucus. He's a gun store owner who voted to repeal the Affordable Care Act. According to recent polling from the New York Times, Kathy is within striking distance in this race. You can learn more about her in Episode 1 of Jenny's podcast. But for now we just want to say Go Kathy. And here's Jenny who dropped everything to launch her podcast.

JENNY KAPLAN: Hi. I'm Jenny Kaplan and I'm the host of Wonder Media Network's podcast women belong in the House. It's been a dark few years but more people than ever are stepping up and taking action. A record number of women are running for office this year. We're telling their stories. I'm asking who are these people and why in the world did they decide to run? Why are there so few women in office to begin with? And what would be different if that changed? Check out Women belong in the House wherever you get your podcasts. We'll bring you a weekly dose of hope and optimism.

NICIE: OK so onto today's candidate Friday interview. We were really glad to connect recently with Harley Rouda. He's running for Congress in California 48 against a 30-year incumbent, the Putin friendly Dana Rohrabacher. You can listen to our district profile in Episode 30 of The MidPod which we produced during the primary season. As you'll hear this is one of the most hard fought most expensive battleground races in the entire country and Rouda has stayed strong in the fight.

NICIE: How would you describe the state of play right now?

HARLEY ROUDA: It's a tight race. Polling is either tied to or me up slightly depending on which poll you look at. So extremely tight but we are confident we will prevail on November 6th.

NICIE: Now you have a varied and interesting professional background but I understand you are an attorney is that right?

ROUDA: I jokingly say recovering.

NICIE: Yeah right. Well we have to ask. I'm sure you watched and read about the Supreme Court hearings in the last couple of weeks and we're just really curious for your take on on on what we saw play out in the national stage with Judge Kavanaugh.

ROUDA: Well we saw a lot of things play out. We as far as his actual confirmation there should have been more time given to a proper investigation one, two regardless of where that investigation would go, he clearly showed that he does not have the temperament for a person to serve on the Supreme Court. And I also believe that he perjured himself when he testified under oath. And again making him unfit to serve on the Supreme Court. And then you add in that the conduct of our President mocking Dr. Ford and others who supported that nomination in the endorsement process. That certainly shows that we have a long way to go in our country.

NICIE: I have to ask you are a first-time candidate like many of the candidates that we've interviewed for The MidPod–– does what we saw play out last week dampen at all your enthusiasm for public life and a career in public service?

ROUDA: No I'd say just the opposite. I I think what we saw happen the last two weeks shows more than ever that we need to get individuals into office at local state and federal levels that truly represent the majority of Americans. And what transpired with the Kavanaugh hearings is as a minority once again pushing their agenda ahead of the majority of Americans.

NICIE: And the other thing I had to ask you about that's been in the national news is knowing that you had a career in the real estate industry what your reaction was to reading the New York Times coverage of their investigation into Donald Trump's financial dealings with his real estate empire.

ROUDA: I haven't read the article yet but I am familiar enough that there's been an ongoing concern regarding his lack of financial disclosure. Certainly we haven't seen his tax returns yet. That would I think explain a lot. And maybe once Mueller's investigation is completed and given to the public and members of Congress and the Senate I think we'll have a better understanding of where Trump's financial ties lie and what the meaning behind them are.

NICIE: Great. So let's turn to the district into the race. And I know Heather wanted to ask you I guess this is the season where really all the political advertising heats up. I know Heather had a question she wanted to ask about some of the ads that have gone up recently.

ROUDA: Sure.

HEATHER ATWOOD: Yeah. Hi Harley, and I'm sure you understand the ad I'm talking about Dana Rohrabacher his claim that he is going to solve the preexisting conditions issue in our health care system. Do you want to comment on that?

ROUDA: It's laughable. I think he has voted 17 times to remove the preexisting condition under insurance under the national healthcare insurance opportunities under the ACA. And what's even more frightening is that even Forbes pointed this out they're calling Rohrabacher out for basically lying they said they're running ads saying he supports legislation to meet preexisting conditions when in fact he has voted 17 times to eliminate it. So he's showing he's unfit for office he's showing that he can bold faced lie and it is it is pathetic the way he's doing it.

NICIE: Do you feel like you have the resources and the ability even with resources to combat that? Can you can you pierce the veil of deception?

ROUDA: I I believe we can and we that is part of our challenge is to make sure that we raised enough money to educate voters as to who the true Dana Rohrabacher is and Congressman Rohrabacher has spent 30 years doing virtually nothing for his constituents here. And we want to certainly expose that fact and to put it in perspective, in 30 years he has authored three pieces of legislation most recently 14 years ago. And if you look at the legislation he submitted over that 30-year career almost half of it, he is the only sponsor of the legislation. He couldn't even find one other Republican to add their name to these bills that he has submitted. So it just shows how ineffective he has been. And our job is to make sure that voters understand the true congressman Rohrabacher and see how unfit he is for office.

NICIE: Will you have the opportunity to debate him?

ROUDA: You know we are working on it. We have asked him to debate us for over a year now and we are getting closer to potentially having one. But every time we agree he keeps adding additional changes additional demands and demands like literally be my way or the highway. And so you know we've we've challenged him to debate us I'll meet him anywhere anytime and hopefully he'll quit making changes to what he's already agreed upon and do just that.

NICIE: Can I just ask what those demands are?

ROUDA: I can I can share with you that for example one that we're working on now. He does not want us sitting next to each other. He doesn't. You'd have to ask him why he doesn't want to sit next to me. But apparently that's an important issue for him. And he's got time requirements that we can't go past a certain amount of time and then another one that he's done he's trying to have it at his own private club. The debate at his club.

NICIE: A club? A debate?


NICIE: OK. Huh. That says a lot.

ROUDA: But no public debate. Yeah he...

HEATHER: Oh so there wouldn't be members of the public there?

ROUDA: Not unless they paid tickets, thirty five dollars or fifty dollars a ticket to come to his private club to see the debate between he and I with the moderator that he has to agree on. So there's no public debate. No no audience that can come and ask their representative questions. No constituents guaranteed to be there it's you know whoever he wants to fill the room with.

NICIE: Now we want to refer our listeners to our race profile on California 48 which we produced before the primary. If you look at the primary results you got through a very competitive primary contest and the Democrats didn't quite get to 50 percent of the vote share so you in the general have some work to do to win over additional voters to your side. And it's a somewhat conservative district historically definitely a Republican district historically. How's that going for you? Where are you finding that the the voters who are amenable to your message?

ROUDA: So when you look at the primary what's interesting in the primary I think the numbers were about 51 percent 49 percent overall Republican vote versus Democratic vote. But you also need to keep in mind that Dana Rohrabacher received 30 percent of the vote in that primary. So in other words 70 percent of the people who voted wanted somebody besides representative Rohrabacher as their member of Congress. And as we move to the general you know we obviously have the support of Democrats. We have tremendous support from the no party preference independents. And we also have growing support among moderate Republicans. In fact we have a more and more signs are appearing in the district that say Republicans for Harley and it just goes to show that the people here the voters here are well-educated and engaged in the political process and they are making the correct decision that it shouldn't be about whether there's a D or an R in front of your name. It should be about your character and your values. And when we match my characters and my values against Representative Rohrabacher we see that we're we're on the verge of winning this race on November 6.

NICIE: He took a hard right turn during the primaries particularly on immigration where he's been very vocal in his support for the Trump administration's harsh new policies. And I'm wondering whether you think that is helping him to shore up the base and get conservative voters to the polls or whether you think it's a point of vulnerability for him.

ROUDA: Well I think it's both. It certainly is shoring up his base but it is causing rational logical people to question his judgment. And you know he has gone as far as to say in addition to supporting the separation of families at the border he is on record saying that he would like to see all 11 million undocumented immigrants in the U.S. to be deported period no questions asked even DREAMers who served in our military it doesn't matter. Everyone deported. He's also stated that he would like to charge immigrants a million dollars each to come into the United States as citizens to use that money to pay for the wall. These are outlandish ideas and do not represent the ideals of our democracy.

NICIE: Another issue we heard a lot about when we were in the district was housing affordability and the homeless crisis. Now of course you're running for Congress and I think I read somewhere you're not not a fan of rent control. Tell me where you're out on that issue it's important to a lot of Californians.

ROUDA: Yeah I'm not in and the reason is because I think there are so many other tools in the tool box that do a much better job of of bringing rent prices down. You know this is pretty simply a supply and demand issue. The demand is much greater than the supply and the best way to address the supply is make sure that you are providing incentives for builders to build affordable housing and that gets back to making sure HUD programs are fully funded and intact to be able to address that issue. And then also working with state and local municipalities to make sure that the laws and regulations in place are consistent with the needs of the population. And so I think there's a lot of opportunities to address the issue effectively that would be better than rent control which often can have the opposite of the desired effect. It actually slows down additional housing being built.

NICIE: Now you are running in the L.A. area media market and it's got to be super expensive race being fought. Do you have an estimate for how much money is going to be spent by both sides on your on your race?

ROUDA: I don't have an estimate but what I can share with you is what Bloomberg News reported just last week. They said this is the number one race in the country for outside money. And at the time of that article being reported there's already 7 million dollars of outside money that's come into the race. So I'm sure there'll be more coming in quite a bit more. So you take that the money being spent by the two respective campaigns. It clearly will end up...

NICIE: Getting up towards 20 million bucks probably.

ROUDA: Yeah it could be exactly. So it will definitely be one of the most expensive congressional races in the country.

NICIE: You talked about starting a homeless shelter. I mean how does that make you feel have all that money spent on this race?

ROUDA: Oh gosh the money we need campaign finance reform. There's no doubt about it.

NICIE: Can you imagine how many homeless shelters you could fund with twenty million dollars?

ROUDA: Yeah I just multiply that across 435 seats across the country and 100 Senate seats are one third of them being up for election and then the presidential campaign. And yeah you're right the amount of resources that go into campaigns again shows over and over why we need campaign finance reform.

NICIE: Yeah and just at a practical level I have to ask in our travels we have uncovered a pretty significant difference of opinion amongst election experts. Some feel strongly that TV is absolutely critical and the best investment you can make. And others think that is really kind of a they're the people that make that argument have it have a lot to gain from making that argument because they're in this cottage industry of TV advertising but that you know lasting preferences are formed by fieldwork and direct interaction with voters. You're putting your own money I'm sure some of it into this campaign. How do you think about allocating those dollars and where the real return is?

ROUDA: I think you have to look at a district by district and the demographics and in the proper mix of voter contact whether it's knocking on doors or advertising is going to be driven by geographic and demographic factors. And you know for us this district is you know we're spread out. We've got roughly a million people. We have a huge volunteer base that is helping knock on doors and make phone calls. But we also know it's important to do advertising and that advertising whether it is through broadcast, cable, digital, or direct mail or otherwise all of them play the important part in the overall goal.

NICIE: And kind of a related question I was wondering about as a first-time candidate with a long and successful business career you must on the one hand have to defer and rely on an experienced staff. But then the other hand you're coming into office you're you're coming to this campaign as a first timer with you know your own sense of where you want American politics to go. Give us an example of where you've kind of had to make a tough decision and what that's been like.

ROUDA: The thing I share with people that there are actually a lot of commonalities between running for office and running a business. And it's the analogy I used that shows similarity regardless of if you're running a business or starting a business or or a campaign. You've got to have three things. You got to have a good product or service or in this case you know a candidate. Second you've got to have a strong infrastructure behind you. And third you better be properly capitalized. In the business world if you do those three things you can be the third best law firm in a in a in a small market and make money. Unlike a campaign, you're playing for a singular event and if you win that senior event you're going to have another singular event approximately five or six months later from the primary to the general. The other interesting thing is unique about the campaign process. You look at this and this one specifically. We knew we won the second seed in the jungle primary in late June. So in a matter of just over four months we knew we had to raise millions and millions of dollars, hire new staff members, hire additional outside consultants, coordinate 3,000 plus volunteers, and spend every penny we raise by November 6. So it's a fascinating startup analogy. One that is on steroids and you really can't equate anything quite like it in the business world because of the pace and the immediate growth. But you're trying to put yourself out of business so to speak by November 6th by by winning the election. And from that standpoint it's been absolutely fascinating.

NICIE: And there's something special about you which is you know you've been very out front about the fact that you you know used to be a Republican and I'm curious what message you would share both with Democrats who might be you know very progressive and very blue and maybe more dug in ideologically and what message you would share with people who are Republicans and what's caused you to shift.

ROUDA: Yes. On the on the Democratic side I actually use the one on some of the progressive issues actually I think where I am good is that I can actually show the economic rationale as to why these ideas make sense and show that it's actually cheaper for our country to embrace these ideas rather than focus on on the cost because the savings part of the equation shows that they're they're good ideas. And I also tell the the old analogy if you don't have a seat at the table you're on the menu. So let's make sure we get Democrats elected and not have single issue litmus test for any Democrat across the country. And I tell Republicans that two things. One, you know when I was a Republican 20 years ago Republicans back then believed in environmental issues in fact the EPA was brought into existence under Richard Nixon. There were Republicans who believed in a woman's choice. You know the Republicans that were moderates and certainly that has shifted from Newt Gingrich to where we are now with Donald Trump. And by my request of everyone regardless if they are Democrats or Republicans or in between. Forget whether there's an R or a D next to the individual's name, evaluate their character and their values and vote for the person who best represents your values.

NICIE: What else Harley? What's on your mind or what would you want to share with folks?

ROUDA: Our country I got into this race initially because I was frustrated with both parties. I was frustrated with partisan politics, party first country second mentality, and I've said all along that I'll bring common sense for common ground to the office and I'm committed to doing that. I believe everybody should fight for what you believe in but ultimately you need to reach across the aisle and and where there is agreement find that agreement on behalf of your country and your community. That's what our founders wanted. And I really thought that the partisan politics couldn't get much worse. But over the last two weeks we've seen they can get worse and I'm hopeful and optimistic that we are at a turning point in this period of our country's history that people want to get folks in office again at the local state and federal level that are willing to put community and country first. And I'm certainly committed to doing that as well.

HEATHER: I have one more question for you Harley. This is a world question. We just had we've had a lot of bad news recently. If you are someone who's speaking out for cares about human rights and women's rights but then this this report was just released by the United Nations about climate change and basically saying that it seems as if in 10 years we could have some really serious consequences. How much of a talking point is this for you in the campaign and how are you expressing that?

ROUDA: It's a huge talking point. I repeat over and over that this is the number one issue facing humankind. And I talk about the fact that where we've built our homes and our cities and our farms are all based on predictable weather patterns over the last 1000 years. And if you change those predictable weather patterns by heating up the the Earth's atmosphere and creating greater storms bigger storms and changing weather patterns literally where we've built our homes and our cities and our farms can become obsolete. That's why this is the number one threat identified by the U.S. military. And there are estimates right now that suggests there will be 200 million climate change refugees by 2050. That's the greatest migration of refugees since World War II. And I think we can all see that the repercussions of that kind of movement is going to cause famine, wars, and other atrocities that few of us can fully comprehend right now. So it's an issue that absolutely demands our attention. It's also an opportunity to create clean tech clean energy industries of tomorrow.

ROUDA: And I'm committed to doing that in this district. But the the report that you're talking about the I think one of the things that we we don't even fully comprehend is that even if we addressed the rising temperatures today, fully addressed them, the damage is still going to come because it's going to take a while but it's like trying to stop a freight train that's going 100 miles per hour. You can't change it that speed stop it with a snap of your fingers. It's going to take time to slow down the heating of the atmosphere. So we are going to have significant issues from climate change regardless of how successful we are in the short term. But what we do know is that if we don't address it in the short term the long-term implications will be even worse.

NICIE: OK. Let's try to close on a positive note, is there a story or a person on the trail that sticks with you and helps you recharge after some of these long days you're putting in?

ROUDA: The thing that keeps me recharged is really our volunteer base. We have an absolutely amazing volunteer base and we have since day one and it's and it's driven by women who are hell bent moving our country back in the direction they so firmly believe. And it's a joy to have their support. My wife teases me that I'm the perfect candidate except for the fact I'm not a woman. And you know we've seen this engagement and seen how important these issues are to so many people. It does weigh heavily. It keeps me very humble as to what's in front of me and what I need to do and with their support we'll win this on November 6th.

NICIE: Where should our listeners go if they want to learn more about your campaign?

ROUDA: Thank you for asking. HarleyforCongress.com and I joke that I must be the first Harley to ever run for Congress to be able to get that domain name. So go to Harley for Congress they can give their time their talent and their treasures by going to the website. We'd love to have their support.

NICIE: That's Harley Rouda running in California 48. Before we sign off, just a couple of updates. Tune in next week for two great listens: an interview with Glenn Nye. He's a former member of Congress who now runs the Center for the Study of the Presidency and Congress in Washington. He calls himself a recovering politician and he has a thoughtful perspective on our partisan divides and advice for the many first-time candidates who will soon be freshmen members of Congress. Next Friday we'll bring you to North Dakota for our final race profile of The MidPod. It's about the North Dakota Senate race featuring Senator Heidi Heitkamp, her race against Kevin Cramer, and her connection to the Native American communities in the state. They are contending with many challenges including a burdensome new voter ID law but also an epidemic of violence against Native women. We were especially grateful for our time with Ruth Buffalo. Ruth is running for the state Senate in North Dakota. Check her out on Twitter @Buffalo4ND and support her race if you can. While you're at it, read through the hashtags #nativetruth and #wearestillhere. We can do better. We can all be better allies to our Native American friends and neighbors. That's it for this edition of The MidPod. Thanks for listening. And thanks for being active citizens.

Eunice Panetta