A Conversation with Fighting Dem Jeff Latas (AZ-08), Part One

Jeff Latas Interview, Part One
Conducted March 8, 2006 at Bentley's House of Coffee, Tucson, AZ by William Harryman (Raven's View).

[Jeff Latas, for those of you who don't know, is running for Congress in AZ's 8th District. He is one of the "fighting Dems," having served a career in the US Air Force (including missions in Desert Storm). Jeff was gracious in spending an hour answering questions and sharing his views on a variety of subjects. This is the first installment of that interview. We cover his environmental stance, oil, and immigration.]

Jeff (taking about his campaign): Obviously we have a challenge. We are a true grassroots campaign. We have a lot of outstanding people working for us right now, some of the best in the state when it comes to grassroots. I'm humbled, to be quite honest, that these people want to come help us out.

RV: You've stated very strongly that you favor an environmentally sound energy policy, as well as restoring protections for the environment that Bush has removed. Yet Gabby Giffords seems to have attracted strong support from environmentalists in the district. How do you plan to win them over to your side?

Jeff: You got me on that one, because I haven't been able to actually get a look at her voting record. I'm not necessarily sure that she is a staunch environmentalist. But there again, I can't really comment why they are supporting her. I haven't really seen that, yet.

There are some interviews that are going to happen in the future with the Sierra Club, Defenders of Wildlife. They might be talking about Gabby, but no one has come out and endorsed her yet. Hopefully, they'll give a fair shot to the rest of us and let us voice how we plan on accomplishing things.

I don't knock down environmentalist organizations' doors and say, "Look at me, look at me." I figure if they want to see what I'm about they can do it just like you did. So I'm not necessarily reaching out and doing the canvassing of the environmental organizations. Yeah, maybe we should. I'm not going to attempt to bribe any organization to support me. We're a legit, high-integrity campaign, and if [Giffords] ends up getting endorsements that may seem unfair because they didn't interview everybody, that's their prerogative. They don't have to interview, unless it's in their bylaws. I hope that they give us all a chance.

Our approach to the environment is a very practical approach that's not built on a voting record or anything like that. It's built on our base knowledge, on how we're going to fix the problem.

RV: As part of your environment platform, you've mentioned reducing our reliance on petroleum fuel over the next 50 years. How do you plan on accomplishing that?

Jeff: Well, there ought to be incentives, first of all, to help people actually get off of oil itself -- oil and fossil fuels altogether. I'd like to see us in 50 years completely off of fossil fuels. To get there, we might have to have a higher reliance on other sources, other types of fossil fuels, like coal. I've been doing some research on newer coal technology, so before I say all fossil fuels, we might have to rely on one or another because I see that first we need to get off the oil. In particular, Middle Eastern oil, if there's some way to say we don't want any more Middle Eastern oil, which is hard to do in this market.

If you own a refinery for instance, you go to a market to buy oil (I think Iran is opening one, which is scary because we invaded Iraq when they opened one.) So London, New York, maybe Iran, you go to buy oil and you have no idea where it's coming from. Maybe Iraq, or Venezuela, so it's a hard thing to say we are going to get off of Middle Eastern oil. But what we can do is say we are going to get off of foreign oil. And that can affect the Middle Eastern supply as well.

RV: Today, Governor Napolitano signed an executive order that will send more Arizona National Guard troops to defend the border. You've stated your opposition to militarizing the border. Do you agree with the Governor's decision?

Jeff: Well, obviously I don't agree with it. I think that people who have actually been down to the border realize that what you see down there. There are a lot of border patrol down there already. I'm not too sure how many troops she's actually going to put on the border, either. I heard it's only just a handful. So it might just be a political statement to just say hey, I'm going to beat the drum. And it might just be to get federal recognition of the problem that we currently have along the border, which is really what I think it's about. I don't talk to the Governor, so I don't know.

What people don't understand is that putting the military on the border, the cost is pretty high. I dare say it's higher than actually training more border patrol agents. The military is not the best option. They're not trained for that kind of work. So it bothers me a little bit. Not being well-trained for something like that, you're asking for problems later on. Whether they grab the wrong person, or they shoot somebody they're not supposed to. I mean, there's so many things that can go wrong when you have untrained people doing a job that ought to be done by trained professionals. They do get some kind of training, I'm sure.

But then there's a whole other problem. How do you plan on having a strong military if you are constantly sending our Guard troops overseas? We need to bring them back. Then we say you're going to go live down at the border for a month or two -- the motivation is going to go down. I don't know how they're putting these troops up at the border, but it doesn't seem like it makes a whole lot of sense to me when the real root cause of a lot of these problems, obviously, are the economies of many of these countries to the south of us. We ought to be thinking of how we can support economic development in Mexico and Guatemala and El Salvador and try to help them make a living wage down there so that they won't need to come up here and leave their families behind, risk their lives.

I saw something the other day, I think it was on CNN, this reporter who actually went from El Salvador north. The people that she talked to had actually tried to come from El Salvador 28 times -- one of them tried 28 times to get up here and, you know, they don't have anywhere else to go so they'll do it until they die, or they actually make it up here. That's the real root cause.

Then you need to look at going after the illegal immigrants' employers. That's really the biggest way we can impact this, by enforcing the laws on the books right now, making the employers actually think twice instead of trying to make a bigger profit margin. I think you would see if you came down hard on the employers, the illegal employers, I think you might see some legitimate change in immigration law. At that point, you have less people crossing the border illegally -- you'd have a more legitimate flow.

Now, I will caveat the whole military thing a little bit. The Mexican military is taking part now in drug smuggling and that's a little bit of a concern. But I don't have a whole lot of data on that except for what I've seen on a couple of news stations.

RV: That's happening more in Texas.

Jeff: That is happening more in Texas. I plan on talking to one of my counterparts [Silvestre Reyes] who's running for Congress in the El Paso district, maybe get a little more feedback from him. He just won his primary yesterday in Texas. I'd like to talk to him about how he feels about the Mexican military supporting the coyotes, and drug smugglers in particular. Our border security agents, how well-equipped are they to deal with something like this, if it's really happening?

RV: How do you feel about Guest Worker programs for immigrants, and for those illegals already in the U.S.?

Jeff: I think that the McCain-Kennedy legislation is probably the right direction to be headed. Obviously, it's going to create a lot of hard feelings for a lot of people. You've got millions of illegal immigrants here and people are going to say that you're giving them a free pass. I think it's probably the most practical solution that we have at this point, that will actually solve some of our problems. It's probably not the most fair thing to do.

I will say, though, that I think we ought to come down and say, "Who are your employers?" and investigate them. I'm not for lining the employers up against the wall and shooting them, and they do have a certain play in the economy, but I think the pressure ought to be put on them. If the work visa were granted then it's, okay now, who's employing you? And then you go after that company and say, "You're facing a fine, so this is what you need to do now." Maybe not throw the book at them, but you can put the pressure on them at that point. If they still want cheap labor, there'll be a price.

I do say if you're going to do a Guest Worker Visa, the workers have to get U.S. standards for labor rights. If they get laid off from that job they shouldn't be sent back. They should have a right to examine other options.

[This is the end of part one. There will be more of my interview with Jeff in the coming days.]

Tags: Arizona, AZ-08, Congress, Democrats, Fighting Dem, immigration, Latas, Oil, progressive (all tags)

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