By Nadin Abbott
“Vote your passion, not your fears.” -- John L. Brooks motto
May 14, 2012 (San Diego)—Updated May 17, 2012 --John Brooks has set his sights on the 51st Congressional seat held by Bob Filner. He is running against Denise Moreno Ducheny and Juan Vargas on the Democratic side. Why is he running? He was inspired by the Occupy Wall Street movement, and knew that the next step was to step to the plate and run for office.
Occupy Wall Street wants changes in our political system that benefit the “99 percent.” Now that Filner is retiring to run for Mayor, Brooks saw this as not just an opportunity, but a calling. Brooks is a 30 year veteran of the U.S. Department of Fish and Wildlife, where he served over the last 14 years in the Imperial\ San Diego region. He has lived a life of public service and believes in it.
A retired member of law enforcement, he marched with Occupy San Diego in the early days. He believes the Occupy movement has “served its purpose and raised consciousness.” He added that the Tea Party needs to get some credit too, since it also pointed up the popular anger. He also knew that he “wanted to be the change you want to be,” paraphrasing Mahatma Gandhi.
He is also different from his opponents, since he is not a career politician playing the game of musical chairs that he says can sometimes lead to losing touch with the base.
When asked about compromise, Brooks explained that he was for the old-style of compromise, where both sides crossed party lines to pass bills that will benefit the community. He denounced the current partisan gridlock.
Brooks said that there are also common sense points of agreement as humans. “Among them clean air, clean water and good education.” This is the kind of compromise that needs to be worked on. He also emphasized that he did not mind where good ideas come from. “If a good idea is a good idea, it should be used to get things moving” in a positive direction.
Economy and Education
According to Brooks, improving the U.S. economy will require a two prong approach.
Brooks wants to bring “people back to work.” The district encompasses Imperial County as well as the southern portion of San Diego County, which has one of the highest unemployment rates in the nation. He told me that there are things that puzzle him as to how to bring back employment, and good jobs. “During the housing boom housing tracts went up, but none had solar panels on the roof. The rebates were in place, but the government did not require it.”
There is a lot of sun in the eastern part of San Diego, as well as Imperial County. Getting solar panels on roofs will help create jobs all the way from the common laborers to Engineers. Moreover these are good paying jobs, Brooks observes.
Another example would be the Lithium deposits in Imperial County. He is for the mining of these resources so we can produce batteries for the new breed of electric cars. Speaking of which, he drives a CODA, which is a fully electric car, from a company based in Los Angeles.
According to Brooks, creating these jobs and more will have a multiplier effect and create jobs across the economy. What is more, incentives that right now are given to large corporations should be shifted to small businesses, which “are overtaxed and over regulated.”
In conversations with small business owners in his district, it is not that they are against regulations, but they are affected by surprise inspections and taxes that they cannot understand, he said. Small businesses need a break. At the same time, “they need incentives to keep them moving.” It is also from small businesses that “new ideas spring up.”
“You need companies like CODA to do new things. We need to help them to stay in business,” he observed. Brooks also said that we should encourage small companies to help convert cars from gasoline engines to gas, which we have a glut off. These cars would not have any range limits, as electric vehicles currently have.
Brooks also gave me an example of a gentleman who developed a compressed air engine, but without support it will go nowhere. We “need to find new ways of doing things, or we will never grow again.”
The second prong to getting the economy moving is education.
Brooks emphasized that education starts early. Also that he is aware that Imperial County has one of the highest achievement gaps in the nation, meaning very low rates of minorities attending college compared to non-minorities. To correct some of this we need to start education early, and we need effective pre-school programs, he believes.
Brooks grew up in Oakland, where he had something of a back yard and that “was an adventure.” He learned to enjoy nature early on, and that is why he developed an interest in biology, which took him on a path to study biology. But due to his early education he was skipped from kindergarten to first grade.
We need schools to “be funded equally and it [teaching]should be one of the highest paid professions,” Brooks states. He also said that in the first Jerry Brown governor era, he remembered school size growing and people knowing it was not healthy for our children. We are still doing the same thing, and complaining that it will not do our children any good.
“Why throw money into the prison system instead of education?” he asked. “We have our priorities screwed up. We need to invest in the future.”
As far as the industrial wind farms in the back country, Brooks is against them. This is not because he is against green energy. No, not at all. There are two reasons. First, his experience in Fish and Wild Life taught him that these wind farms do kill a lot of migratory birds. Second, putting solar collectors in the middle of nowhere, or industrial solar farms, does not benefit the public. In his view a better way would be a distributive energy network, where solar panels are on every roof, with something of a centralized distribution system as a backup. It would help to lower all our rates if we helped produce some of that energy.
In his view we must move away from a centralized system. We have the technology where this is possible and we must think outside the box. We can also learn from other countries that have implemented distributive networks, meeting some of their energy needs this way.
Immigration and border issues
Brooks worked extensively with mid level managers in the Mexican Government while in the federal service. He knows that people have always migrated. People move across borders looking for a better life. The Mexican government itself needs to look at itself and take some responsibility for migration. That said, most migrants want a better life. We must be willing to recognize this, he believes. That said, reforms that Mexico needs must happen, and can only be worked on at the level of the Federal Government. As a federal Congressman he would be in a place where he can work on these reforms.
At a local level though, Brooks is aware that Mexican migrant workers do come and do work in jobs that Americans do not. He would favor a progressive stance on immigrant workers, allowing temporary workers to come across the border as needed. This would give these workers protection and would reduce the abuses that are happening right now.
Brooks is aware of the problems with the original Bracero program of the 1950s, including the paying of Federal Social Security Taxes which they were never paid back to those workers, who did move back to Mexico.
He is positive both governments can work new agreements that will protect the workers and ensure their safe stay in the country as guest workers, with full rights and pay.
Those who want to stay, for whatever reason, should be given a path to citizenship. Brooks is also positive that once cheap labor practices end, a lot of that illegal immigration will stop.
The war on drugs is a serious issue. Hence it is important to keep the border checkpoints. From a law enforcement perspective he understands that not much can be done to reduce wait times at these border crossing points. He agrees that perhaps we need to increase the Sentry Pass lanes. which require a background check. These lanes allow for a faster crossing to frequent border crossers, most of whom are on shopping or business trips on both sides of the border. This would naturally decrease the regular lanes. This has to be done to reduce the pollution created by idling vehicles. This pollution “increases health care costs” for all those who spend time at the border.
Trade agreements and jobs
As far as NAFTA and later free trade agreements, he believes that these are no longer working. The free trade concept either needs to be re-negotiated or scrapped.
“The U.S. has given away so much,” he observed. We have concentrated on high level jobs, such as creating iPads, but we need to bring back manufacturing to the United States. According to Brooks “we need to get rid of incentives for companies to move jobs away and encourage them to [bring jobs] back.” We also need to start building in America and give people around the world a reason to buy American once again, he believes.
“We’re thinkers; we have a big melting pot.” He added, “We have the open space, which allows us to invent and create new things.” And when push comes to shove we do. Brooks gave the example of rubber during World War II, we had no access to natural rubber, so we invented synthetic. Americans have that can-do spirit.
While talking about pollution, Brooks went into the need to expand our public transportation system. He is “one hundred percent for expanding our light rail system (Trolley) and connect both San Diego and Imperial County.”
We should be able to ride to work and school as needed using public transportation, he believes. This is also a jobs initiative for at least fifteen years, creating good solid jobs, from day laborers to engineers. We need to look at the future and develop projects for the future. This will also allow people to depend less on their personal vehicles. This would go a long way in solving our regional gridlock problems.
There have been problems with banks. There was a subset of people who were given wrong information on their loans “and the banks end up taking their homes.”
A lot of the issues are greed based. Nor have they been fixed, he said. “This issue needs to be addressed. They want their elected officials to look into it. And people want justice.”
“Healthcare is tied to education and the environment,” Brooks observed. He believes we need to look at preventive health measures. But we also need to look at the environment." He asks people often why are they buying bottled water?
“Why are they not using the water that comes out of their municipal system?” If water needs to be cleaned, we need to do that. If we need to clean the air, let’s clean the air, he said.
Education is also important since all this is not just about cheap oil, or cheap food, or exercise. It is about the quality of that food, and the air, and that energy. It is about keeping the body healthy.
Brooks is also in favor of “universal health care.” Those who fight against universal health care, do so for monetary reasons, he believes. “Why can I buy medicine in Mexico for $10 that costs $100 in the United States?”
People do commit crimes in the United States when they bring medicines from Mexico for friends, or even for themselves. This is wrong. In many ways our system is broken and needs to be fixed.
“Women should...not be dictated by others,” Brooks stated. “Women are being preyed upon, and that needs to stop.” he said, referring to a spate of recent bills attacking women's rights from healthcare access to freedom of choice.
Women are equal to men and “are entitled to live healthy prosperous lives. If a woman wants to be mother or a doctor, it is her right.” Women should have all their reproductive and medical needs covered, and this persecution needs to stop, he said.
He added that radio talk show host Rush Limbaugh's ridicule of Sarah Fluke, a student who favored contraception access, “was completely inappropriate.” (Limbaught referred to Fluke as a "slut.")
After the President stated that he was in favor of marriage for the LGBT community I asked if Brooks supports the President’s statement.
Brooks supports same-sex marriage. "Everybody should have the rights everybody else has,” he stated. He also said that “There are other cultures out there. One religion does not have a right to dictate to other cultures.”