Brad Westmoreland is an attorney from Elk Grove who has decided to enter the race for the Seventh Congressional District seat, currently held by Dr. Ami Bera. Westmoreland visited the American River Democrats at their November meeting, and laid out his ideals and reasons for challenging the incumbent Democrat.
Ami Bera won the 7th District seat in 2012, defeating Republican Dan Lundgren after losing in his first bid in 2010. Representing a narrowly divided district, Bera pledged to work across the aisle to get important things done, and represent his conservative constituents as well as the liberals, progressives, and moderates. (Something Lundgren was famous for not doing.) And while Democrats have been grateful to have Bera in this seat after years of Republicans, he has cast some votes that raised concerns, and even lost endorsements from some groups. He has voted to scale back some of the new banking regulations, restrict refugee resettlement, and most famously, supported the Trans Pacific Partnership trade deal, which drew the ire of labor and environmental groups. (In that vote, he was supporting President Obama, but now that President Trump has bailed on it, and the other countries moved forward without the U.S., it has begun to look a bit better now, though it still likely needed “fixing.”)
And so Westmoreland has entered the race from the progressive side, aligning with those supporting Bernie Sanders. He introduced himself at the meeting as someone who grew up in a very conservative family—he remains the only Democrat, and has experienced the conversations many of us dread at some family gatherings, like Thanksgiving! But he says he always stays positive and listens to all points of view. He and his wife Crystal, who is a mental health professional, live in Elk Grove and are expecting their first child.
Why did he enter the race? Westmoreland say he believes we can do better than winning by razor-thin margins. He wants to reach out to the uninvolved people—the 12,000 fewer Democratic voters in 2014 compared to 2012—getting them interested by speaking to issues that matter to them, such as health care and “Medicare for all,” and education innovation to make it free and responsive to the changing economy. He wants to demonstrate our values to people who feel they are without a voice; to let them know that we are your party.
He spoke of the issue of gun violence, pointing out that the NRA is just a lobbying organization for gun manufacturers, who are maintaining an industry that kills people. He pointed out that gun incidents are actually good news for gun makers and sellers; that mass shootings become a win/win situation, as people buy more guns for protection, and in fear of more gun laws coming. Gun sales always spike after such tragedies. No one needs an assault weapon, he said; we need to ban them and get them off the streets. The question of it being a mental health issue is just a smoke screen; he said his wife has pointed out that mental illness does not mean violence, and it is a dangerous stigma to put on people who are suffering. What we need to do is close the loopholes; online sales, gun shows, private sales; to improve background checks. What often gets lost in the discussion, he said, is that women are often the victims of gun violence, through domestic abuse. In Canada, a man needs permission to buy a gun from his wife and/or ex-wife.
The next issue Westmoreland spoke about was related to his time in college when he began working for a man who had, at age 16, been paralyzed after an accident that broke his neck. The man was in need of 24-hour care, and Brad was an in-home caregiver. This experience changed his perspective, and after completing law school he went to work fighting for disability rights. That is one of the reasons he is now opposing H.R. 620, a U.S. House resolution to amend the Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA). He says that the changes will weaken the ADA and disability rights across the nation, absolving businesses of the responsibility to make their premises accessible to all—rights that were hard-fought-for and have worked well for 27 years. (Congressman Bera, a co-sponsor of the bill, has stated that it is an effort to avoid un-needed lawsuits against small businesses, allowing them reasonable time to make repairs without paying large settlements, but that he fully supports the ADA.)
Westmoreland next spoke about public education, which he said should be free to all. One of the barriers to a strong middle class is student loan debt. It impedes the ability to own a home and start a family for many who work hard to get an education. Free public education is an important mechanism to give everyone a shot at achieving the middle class life. He also spoke about immigration and the myths that prevent immigration reform, like that they don’t pay taxes. Immigrants—documented or undocumented—actually pay a higher tax rate than corporations. He said the statute of limitations should apply to the undocumented immigrants, and they should have a path to citizenship.
Westmoreland also took questions from the club members. He said he stood for campaign finance reform, because lobbyists are crowding out the people from speaking their voice and getting to their representatives. The constitution guarantees the right to petition your representatives, which is impeded by the big influence the moneyed interests have above the ordinary citizen. He also supports net neutrality, an issue the Trump administration is attacking today. Mental illness should be given a priority to help those suffering from depression, anxiety, and PTSD, rather than stigmatizing them as potentially violent, dangerous people. He agreed with the importance of not only passing background check laws for guns, but for building the infrastructure to monitor and enforce to rules, especially in states that may not be eager themselves.
But one of the biggest questions he took was why he is running against Ami Bera. He pointed out the big differences in their positions—he supports Medicare for all (single-payer health care), free public education, an assault weapons ban, a ban on fracking, and strengthening unions. He said we need to expand the electorate, and that we are in a “blue” district that voted “purple”—we need to take the issues to the people who never vote, both here and across the country, to build a majority. The results in the recent Virginia elections have got more people interested and excited, and that needs to be built on.
He said that our district has many Republicans who may not fully understand GOP policies. As a congressman he would represent them, but vote his conscious about what is best for everyone. But it is still important to listen to them, especially those, like his own family, who spend a lot of time watching Fox News, but who will respond to a conversation about the direction our country is moving in.
There are currently five candidates for the 7th District Congressional seat. Besides Ami Bera and Brad Westmoreland, there are three Republicans—Andrew Grant, Yona Barash, and Omba Kipuke. The primary election in June will narrow the final ballot to any two of those candidates.
For more information about Brad Westmoreland and his positions on issues, or how to support his campaign, visit www.bradwestmoreland.org.