League of Women Voters of California Candidate Guide and Questionnaire

My Response to LWVC’s Five Questions for California Congressional Candidates

The League of Women Voters of California Education Fund in partnership with MapLight have produced Voter’s Edge California. It’s a comprehensive, nonpartisan online guide to elections covering federal, state, and local races in the state of California. Here’s my profile there.

For Congressional races they have five questions they ask candidates to answer. They were well chosen for relevance to California and the federal government. They are:

  1. What financing method(s) would you support to repair or improve roads, rails, ports, airports, the electrical grid and other infrastructure in the U.S.?
  2. What programs or legislation, if any, would you support to help Americans of all ages secure affordable health care?
  3. Describe an immigration policy that you would support if presented to the House.
  4. What programs or legislation would you support to meet the water needs of Californians and the federal water project infrastructure in California?
  5. According to a “Civility In America” survey, 75% of Americans believe that the U.S. has a major civility problem. If you are elected what will do to address this?

I enjoyed answering these questions. I hope you take are minute to read my responses below:


1) What financing method(s) would you support to repair or improve roads, rails, ports, airports, the electrical grid and other infrastructure in the U.S.?

At the federal level, there are already grant making programs for surface transportation (roads & rails) paid for by the federal gas tax. The federal gas tax is not indexed to inflation and has been gradually going down each year for more than 20 years. It’s time to increase it. Increasing the gas tax is widely supported, even by the conservative US Chamber of Commerce.

Also, we should expand the federal government’s loan program for surface transportation — RIFF (Railroad Rehabilitation & Improvement Financing) and TIFIA loans (Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act) — and look for more opportunities for deeper P3’s (public-private partnerships) while still providing robust public financing.

The same goes for other infrastructure generally. Look towards enhancing public revenue sources and matching those to innovative P3 finance and procurement arrangements.


2) What programs or legislation, if any, would you support to help Americans of all ages secure affordable health care?

We should have Universal Healthcare that leaves no American uninsured or worried about going into debt and poverty when deciding to get medical treatment.

In a complex federal country of 325 million people there’s more than one way to get to Universal Healthcare. Most of the developed world has single-payer healthcare like the United Kingdom and Canada. Germany mostly has the government pay but also has some private health insurance.

The government already pays for large sectors of the healthcare market: government workers, military retirees, Medicare for the elderly, Medicaid for the poor. Those programs could be expanded.

How about Medicare for All? It would expand an already proven program.

Insuring every American would be good for the economy. It would improve health outcomes and put more people into jobs and into the market.

Moreover, it’s just the right thing to do.


3) Describe an immigration policy that you would support if presented to the House.

First off, we should enshrine DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) into law. President Trump, GOP Senate leader McConnel, and Speaker Ryan repeatedly promised a fix for this but never could deliver. It’s simply the right thing to do to regularize the immigration status of those brought to this country as children through no fault of their own.

Our immigration policy is among the most successful in the world. We integrate about a million immigrants a year in a country of 325 million people. No other major country does that — not China, France, the United Kingdom, or Japan, for instance. It is our strength as a country and allows us to stay competitive as an economy while other countries face stagnation and population loss. Immigration, immigrants, and Native Americans are at the center of America’s heritage — our DNA.

My mother immigrated to the US in the early 70’s from the Philippines. My father’s ancestors came to Maryland and New York more than 300 years ago from England and Holland. We all have stories like this. They are immigrant stories. The are all American’s stories.

I’ll always support robust immigration.

We also have a special obligation to support refugees from war torn areas. The U.S. has not been taking in it’s fare share of refugees from places like Syria. That got worse after Trump’s horrific and discriminatory Muslim Ban. It’s been a shame on our country and its legacy.

A nation of laws also gets to have borders and control immigration to be sure. And to keep out potentially dangerous individuals. Apprehensions at the US border with Mexico are the lowest it’s ever been. Our border — by land, sea, and air — is secure. You can thank the Coast Guard and other federal agencies for that. Can we always look to do better? To make a border control more fair, humane, and effective? Of course. But is there some great border security crisis? No.

Trump’s “Border Wall” has nothing to do with good public policy and is about driving a wedge between different Americans. Americans largely have not been fooled by this fear mongering and division. We will get through this and embrace each other and our diversity as Americans. We’ll keep moving forward as the most dynamic and diverse country on Earth.


4) What programs or legislation would you support to meet the water needs of Californians and the federal water project infrastructure in California?

California’s experience with water management over the 20th century has been and exemplar of American ingenuity. Large water projects have brought water from the mountains and Colorado River to population centers throughout the state. The federal government’s role in this is largely to support the policy decisions made by the state legislature and the people when put to the voters.

Generally, I believe our water policy should:

Help the environment — Sometimes the large water projects have wreaked environmental havoc. Mono Lake in eastern California is a prime example. Its water receded after the Los Angeles water project. However, it’s also an example of environmental renewal when efforts to save it in recent decades have largely been successful. We don’t have to make a choice between he environment, water, and economic development. Our American ingenuity demands more of us.

Support our growing population and conserve — California is America’s dynamic engine of innovation. People want to be here. We need to accommodate their water needs and continue conservation efforts.

Support our important agricultural industry — California is America and the world’s breadbasket. If you eat an almond somewhere in this country or around the world, for instance, it was probably grown in the Central Valley. Our farmers need water in this climate. But we also need to protect the environment, sustain our precious supply of water, and provide for a growing population. Naysayers present this as some zero-sum game, a battle between rural and urban, San Francisco and Bakersfield. I don’t believe that. We can craft a policy that works for all.


5) According to a “Civility In America” survey, 75% of Americans believe that the U.S. has a major civility problem. If you are elected what will do to address this?

One concrete, executable thing we can do to improve civility in our political life is to implement Ranked Choice Voting (RCV).

We mostly elect representatives from single member districts with a simple plurality. You don’t even have to get a majority of the vote to win.

A single-member form of RCV is currently used in several Bay Area cities. Voters rank candidates in preference order. If no one gets a majority on the first round then the candidate with the lowest vote total has their votes transferred to each voters’ second choice. This is done in as many rounds as necessary to ensure the winner gets a majority. People can feel free to vote for a minor or 3rd party candidate know their vote won’t be wasted on the looser. Or worse “spoiled” and help to elect the person they want the least. The 2000 Presidential election debacle in Florida and the election of Paul LePage as governor of Maine twice despite most voters rejecting him are but the most prominent examples.

But I think we should go further. HR 3057, the Fair Representation Act, was introduced by Rep Don Beyer (D-VA) last July. The House is currently exclusively elected from single-member districts. The proposal would replace this with multi-member districts elected via RCV.

The system is called Proportional Representation (PR). It’s the system most democracies use. The FairRep Act proposes a form of PR called Multi-Member Ranked Choice Voting (MM-RCV). Voters would rank order their choices for Congress. In a five-person seat, a candidate who gets 16.67% of the vote would be elected. Votes they receive over this amount are proportionately redistributed to other candidates. Here’s a handy YouTube video.

With the “wasted vote” and “spoiler vote” problem largely eliminated, the vast majority of voters would be able to point to one or more of their district’s Congress members and know that they helped elect them. Multi-member districts would be a spectrum of their community’s politics. Because candidates don’t want to alienate voters who may put them as their second or higher choice they’ll tend not to go negative. PR is a better way to deal with diverse, pluralist societies.

Single-member district elections “manufacture” majorities that voters don’t give them. Some of this is due to Gerrymandering no doubt. (The FairRep Act also mandates non-partisan redistricting). But mostly it’s due to the very nature of the single-member district electoral system — literally the math of it.

Third parties would become likely. Green Party, Libertarian Republicans, and breakaway Bernie-crats immediately come to mind as groups that would get representation so long as they don’t alienate voters’ subsequent ballot preferences. Republicans would be elected from urban districts. Democrats from rural conservative areas. Nearly all congressional Districts would now have farms, cities and suburbs. Red District, Blue District distinctions would fade.

A Proportional Representation Congress would have to find consensus. This kind of coalition building is seen all the time in democracies around the world.


Dennis Lytton is a Democrat challenging Congressmember DeSaulnier in the June Open Primary for California’s 11th Congressional District. He a Supervisor of Operations at the Bay Area Rapid Transit District (BART), a recognized expert on transportation policy, and an AFSCME member. The father of two young boys is married to Amelia and they live in Pleasant Hill in central Contra Costa County.