On the Record: Congressional candidate Sam Liccardo

San José Spotlight asked readers what they want to know about the candidates running for Silicon Valley’s competitive Congressional District 16 race. We received more than 100 questions from readers for the candidates and narrowed it down to eight questions that capture a range of critical national issues — from immigration to foreign policy and partisan gridlock in Washington.

Read all the candidates’ answers.

Here are Sam Liccardo’s full, unedited answers:

How will you work “across the aisle” and overcome the challenges facing our political discourse?

We have a deeply divided Congress and those divisions will persist, yet we cannot simply throw up our hands.  The current session of Congress has been the least productive session in half a century, according to Axios. Americans frustrated with congressional inaction on a host of issues — and particularly on the lack of federal action on homelessness, crime and the high cost of living–deserve better.

In my years of leadership, I learned long ago that we don’t need to forge agreement on every issue in order to make progress where we do agree.  For example, I came into office after years of battles over pension reform and budgets that drove more than 500 police officers and many more city employees out of City Hall, and we negotiated for a year with 11 unions to forge an agreement that we could take to the voters. We all agreed on the imperative to restore services to residents, and we agreed on the size of the debt. That enabled a much broader agreement that is saving taxpayers $3 billion today.

I would approach Congress the same way – looking for common ground on an issue-by-issue basis until we can build coalitions.  In my first week in office, I intend to join the bipartisan Problem Solvers Caucus to help find willing partners on issues important to the 16th District – and as the rules require, I would find a Republican House member willing to join with me.

I’m not naive about the challenges here. I’m not going to “hug it out” with Matt Goetz and Marjorie Taylor Green, or others who have no interest in working across the aisle.  But I know — from dozens of hours of my own conversations with Republican and Democratic members on issues ranging from immigration to the digital divide — that we still have enough people who are willing to roll up their sleeves to get something done.  Let’s get something done.

What will you do if Trump is re-elected fairly and then he violates the constitution again through his decisions and actions?

Just as I publicly urged prosecuting Trump for his role in the January 6th insurrection, I would uphold my constitutional duty to hold Trump accountable for any illegality. This requires persistent, robust oversight, and the implementation of sanctions with teeth.

As a former federal prosecutor, I know something about investigation, cross-examination, and presenting evidence in a manner compelling to a diverse audience.  I also know from my own time working on Capitol Hill in the Legislative Affairs Office of the late Attorney General Janet Reno about how the use of the Congressional subpoena power can surface information about crimes and civil violations in public hearings.  Making that information public can enable others–criminal prosecutors, or sophisticated civil litigants at organizations like MALDEF or the ACLU — to take action through our judicial process.  I will uphold and defend the Constitution, and do everything in my power to ensure the President does the same.

Do you believe in, and will you publicly support, a two nation resolution to Israel and Palestine?

Yes, the best pathway to lasting peace is a two-state solution.

What will you do to reduce the federal deficit?

Every election season, politicians in both parties happily parade proposals for government programs that sound great but lack any clear means to pay for them. The result: our current $1.7 trillion deficit. In addition to burdening future generations with more than $34 trillion in debt, deficit spending crowds out private borrowing, resulting in higher interest costs for everyone.

Mayors, in contrast, have to balance budgets. If we have a new, brilliant idea, we have to find a way to pay for it — including cutting somebody else’s good idea. In my final year in office as Mayor of San Jose, in 2022, I worked with our city team to leave my successor with a $30 million surplus, while San Jose reduced street homelessness by 11% last year, and San Jose recorded the lowest homicide rate of any major U.S. city. That’s what people expect from mayors. We should expect the same from Congress.

For that reason, in presenting specific ideas on tackling problems like homelessness, crime, and the high cost of living in my book (which can be found at samliccardo.com/plan), I have focused overwhelmingly on ideas that either (a) provide savings to the federal government, such as cutting agricultural subsidies for and reducing Medicare costs for pharmaceuticals through better management and negotiation, or (b) pay for themselves, such as reinstituting federal parole for non-violent offenders coupled with very frequent drug testing and addiction treatment.

There are plenty of areas to cut in this budget.  I’d start with the roughly $96 billion in direct and indirect subsidies enjoyed by large multinational corporations for fossil fuel production, primarily through breaks in the tax code known as “tax expenditures.”

How do you plan to help our region, state, and country to kick the reliance on fossil fuels as we make our way to a carbon-free energy future?

I am passionate about the need to accelerate our transition from fossil fuels to renewables to confront climate change. During my tenure as mayor, San Jose demonstrated the most ambitious greenhouse gas (GHG) emission reduction efforts in the nation. We made San Jose the largest city in the nation to launch a community choice energy program; today, San Jose Clean Energy provides 95% GHG-free energy to 1 million residents, resulting in the reduction ocommunity-wide GHG  emissions by 36% between 2009 and 2021.  We made San Jose the largest city at the time to require gas-free new residential and commercial construction.  And I worked with several environmental partners to lead three separate ballot measures to protect critical open space and hillsides, including Coyote Valley and the Evergreen foothills.

I’ve set my Climate plan out on my website, samliccardo.com/plan, but the basic elements include:

  • Accelerate the transition from fossil fuels, with a carbon dividend + fee border adjustment, a halt on fracking and offshore drilling, and an elimination of subsidies for oil and gas production
  • Empower homeowners and apartment owners to finance investments in local energy storage (garage batteries) and generation (rooftop solar) through a federally-backed program that could offer lower interest rates than many states’ PACE programs today.
  • Protect and preserve coastline and open spaces, by implementing the 30X30 campaign, and championing federal investment for wetlands restoration, coastal protection, and natural adaptation to sea-level rise, such as in the Shoreline Plan.
  • Streamlining permitting to expand grid capacity, reliability, and resilience, such as with the “Big Wires Act”, to enable more and cheaper interstate transmission of electricity, to accelerate our transition to an electric future.
  • Fund the American Climate Corps, which resembles a program that we launched three years ago in San Jose (the “Resilience Corps”), to leveraged the energy, ideas, and idealism of our young adults to engage in specific projects that improve resilience and mitigate climate impacts. We provided paid jobs and career pathways to hundreds of young adults living in struggling neighborhoods, and we saw several get on career pathways that included long-term employment with the city of San Jose.  We can do far more with a national program, and echo an earlier generation’s call to service to our planet in a moment of urgent need.

What would you do to remedy the root causes of homelessness, such as providing better mental health and addiction services?

As mayor, I spent dozens of hours walking the halls of Congress to  ask for changes in federal laws–such as lifting rent caps on VASH vouchers– to better partner with San Jose and other cities to reduce homelessness, only to hear these are “local” issues about which the federal government can do little. But when 44 cities across the nation have at least 1,000 residents living on their streets, it’s clear we need federal action.

I’m proud of the work San Jose did to rapidly increase interim housing, including through motel conversions and “quick build communities” (prefabricated, modular construction that could be quickly created at a lower price). At the same time, we also pushed for major investments in affordable housing, which is critical since loss of housing is a leading cause of homelessness.

But we could do so much more with robust federal help. I’ve proposed several steps Congress could take to both move unhoused residents out of homelessness and address root causes. First, we can do more to create interim housing if eligible residents are allowed to use current federal housing vouchers in quick build, or similar, communities. Right now, the supply of these vouchers far outsrips demand – by allowing more flexible use, we can support local efforts to create and expand transitional housing right now.

Second, we can streamline the Low Income Housing Tax Credit program to allow easier financing for affordable housing creation. The more affordable housing we have online, the fewer families will fall into homelessness.

Finally, we need to rethink how the federal government supports mental health and addiction treatment. To give just one example, right now, federal law prohibits the use of Medicaid funding for mental health facilities with more than 16 beds.  This makes inpatient treatment for addiction or mental illness — where it is clearly needed in severe cases of illness — inaccessible.

Will you support fully funding BART to San Jose and the High Speed Rail projects?

I have been a strong proponent of expanding BART to Silicon Valley, and I’m proud of my role in co-leading several campaigns that have enabled us to get BART open at San Jose’s Berryessa Station under budget in 2020.  I have publicly expressed concerns about the severe budget overruns of the Phase II of the project, however, and have advocated phasing the project again (as we did a decade ago) to enable us to get the connection to Diridon Station built first — and finally achieve the long-sought “ring of rail” around the Bay, and along with it, the connectivity of BART, Caltrain, ACE, Capitol Corridor, light rail, and several other systems for all of our transit riders at Diridon Station.  If that means we “phase” construction to Santa Clara or of specific stations in the future, then we should do so to enable us to get something built within our budget, and within our lifetimes.

So, too, with High Speed Rail. I support additional federal funding for high speed rail conditioned on re-scoping the project, to focus all of the dollars on a Central Valley to Silicon Valley connection.  By simply getting High Speed Rail to Diridon Station, it will connect with Caltrain, BART, ACE, Capitol Corridor, and many other systems — we shouldn’t be engaged in a lot of spending elsewhere until we get a Valley-to-Valley connection built.  That feat alone will connect tens of thousands of jobs in Silicon Valley to tens of thousands of affordable homes in Central Valley – a great win-win for our state

What are your solutions to the border crisis and do you believe we should have an open border for any and all to be allowed into the country?

We have a humanitarian crisis at our border, and I support additional resources and measures to improve border security.  Based on my experience as a federal prosecutor of criminal organizations engaged in human trafficking and drug trafficking, I know that open borders are not an option – we need to know who is coming into our nation and for what purpose, particularly at this time as our communities are being flooded with fentanyl and methamphetamine.  Additional resources include technology, Border Patrol, intelligence (for arrest and prosecution of criminal gangs), and expanded processing capacity (including courts).  It has nothing to do with building walls or putting children in cages.  We can have a safe, secure border and uphold our values and our Constitution.

The ultimate solution to our border crisis must include comprehensive immigration reform, which includes robust border security, a path to citizenship for the 12 million people who have spent decades here building their lives, their families, and our communities.  Like my own ancestors who immigrated from Mexico decades and centuries ago to our Valley–the Aceves, Ortega, Flores, and Castro families –we must continue to enable the U.S. to be a place where ambitious, industrious people from around the world can help us make America better every day. Our DACA “Dreamers” serve as the finest example of that– we must have a nation that continues to inspire and enable their noble dreams.

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