Cenk Uygur Interview: California Congressional Bid Driven by Desire to Remove Money from Politics
Image attributed to Cenk Uygur
Cenk Uygur (Democratic Party) is running for election to the US House to represent California’s 25thCongressional District. He is a candidate in two 2020 races for the seat: the regular election and the special election. The primaries for both elections will take place on March 3, 2020.
Uygur founded or co-founded several political organizations including The Young Turks, Wolf-PAC and Justice Democrats. Before joining the political scene, he worked as an attorney, a television producer and a talk radio host. He received a bachelor’s degree from the University of Pennsylvania and a law degree from Columbia University.
"That’s why you need people like me who don’t take any corporate PAC money, lobbyist money or special interest money, to come in there and start the national conversation and call it what it is. It’s corruption, and when you take that money, there’s a word for it. It’s called a bribe."
Smashing Interviews Magazine: Cenk, what would be your number one priority as the representative for the 25th Congressional District?
Cenk Uygur: To get money out of politics. The reason that’s the number one priority is because it affects everything else. We can’t get universal health care because our politicians take money from insurance companies and drug companies. We can’t fix the climate crisis because our politicians take money from oil and gas companies. We can’t fix the school shootings because our politicians take money from the NRA. We can’t fix homelessness because our politicians take money from real estate interests. So if you take the money out, and we have clean politicians, then we’ll be back in a democracy that can actually serve the voters.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: How exactly will you end the corruption?
Cenk Uygur: Yeah. Great question. There are three tasks. One is to fight for the ultimate goal, which is to end private financing of elections, and the only way to do that is through a constitutional amendment vote. We’ve got to get started. In fact, I started Wolf-PAC, a Super PAC to defeat all other Super PACs, nine years ago to get that amendment, and they’re doing great work on it.
Secondly, you have to push for public financing of elections. H.R.1 is an okay start, but I would be far more aggressive. I think that we should give every American the ability to contribute at least $500 to different communities, so that they can match the Koch brother money, the Exxon Mobil money. That’s an excellent transition to ending all private financing of elections.
Thirdly, public pressure. If you start a national conversation on this issue, we will definitely win. 93% of Americans believe that politicians serve their donors and not their voters. So the only reason why we aren’t winning on the issue so far is because neither the Democratic Party nor the Republican Party are pushing it because they both take giant campaign contributions and an enormous amount of money from lobbyists, so they have an incentive to not talk about it. That’s why you need people like me who don’t take any corporate PAC money, lobbyist money or special interest money, to come in there and start the national conversation and call it what it is. It’s corruption, and when you take that money, there’s a word for it. It’s called a bribe.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: Will you be able to reach across the aisle on this issue?
Cenk Uygur: No. I don’t think so. First of all, Wolf-PAC does it at the state level. They’re not partisan. Even some of the most conservative state legislators agree on this issue. The more populous a representative is, the more likely they are to agree. The more establishment they are in the Democratic and Republican Party, the less likely they are to agree because they’re systematically taking part in the corruption.
A lot of conservative Democrats like Joe Biden, like my opponent Christy Smith, say that they’re going to reach across the aisle and work with Republicans. I always ask them, “On what?” (laughs) For example, my opponent ran an ad saying she was going to work with Republicans on health care. What? On health care? They proposed over 70 bills to kill Obamacare. Are you going to work with them on that? Are you going to help them on that? They’ve never offered to increase access to health care, so what on God’s green earth would you be working with them on? That’s nonsense, and I’m not going to go towards the Republicans and give them what they want – tax less on the rich, more wars, more climate disruption, less access to health care. On the other hand, if Republican legislators come towards us and say, “Yes. We agree. We should end the corruption,” I will take “Yes” for an answer.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: You’re the only Democratic candidate in favor of Medicare for All?
Cenk Uygur: Yep. Well, the only major Democratic candidate in favor of Medicare for All. My Democratic opponent says she wants access to health care. Congratulations! We already have that. We also have access to Ferraris. It doesn’t mean that we actually have them. These are nonsensical platitudes meant to deceive people. There’s only one thing that gives you universal health care, and that’s Medicare for All. Otherwise, you’re still paying co-pays, premiums, deductibles, and your health care costs still rise every single year. Other than universal health care under Medicare for All, all the other proposals don’t fix a damn thing.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: You’ve participated in a recent debate?
Cenk Uygur: We did do a debate. My main Democratic opponent didn’t show up. There were three other wonderful Democrats there that did show up, and we had a great debate. I did another forum with several other Democrats and Republicans, and again, the establishment Democrat didn’t show up. She’s avoiding all debates, all forums and all media because she says she was hand picked by the Democratic leadership, so I guess she thinks she doesn’t have to campaign, and she doesn’t have to talk to the voters. She’s just entitled to the seat. And I’m pretty sure that’s not how elections work. The Founding Fathers set up this system where a certain group hand picks the representatives. That group is called the voters, and that system is called democracy. So it might be inconvenient to Democratic leadership in California, but we still live in a democracy.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: Why did the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee decide to back your opponent Christy Smith?
Cenk Uygur: First of all, that’s a great question, and you should ask them (laughs). My guess is that they will not give you an honest answer. Theoretically, this is red to blue program. It’s literally called that except this district isn’t red. It’s blue. So, strike one. Theoretically, they support incumbent Democrats, except she’s not an incumbent. Strike two (laughs). And they say that they don’t pick sides in the party except every single person they’ve ever backed is the more conservative Democrat against a more progressive Democrat. Strike three. If you keep saying things that aren’t true, I believe there is a word for that as well.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: Speaking of untruths, just recently, the total false statements from Donald Trump was up to around an estimated 16,200. Has he made lying the “norm” so that people are beginning to lose trust even more in politicians?
Cenk Uygur: Let’s be fair. Politicians lied before Donald Trump (laughs). And other politicians lie now. Actually, Trump’s biggest issue is not so much that he’s the first politician to lie. Of course not, right? It’s that he’s unsophisticated in his lies. The other politicians do a better job of masking their lies.
Democrats will say things like, “Access to health care,” knowing it doesn’t mean a damn thing. What they’re actually going to do is maintain a system of private insurance that prevents people from having insurance. In fact, the Democrats said they were going to fight higher drug prices, then they introduced a Trojan horse bill that would only negotiate drug prices for 25 drugs out of the thousands that are available and maintain it for 10 years. So what that would actually do is maintain higher drug prices for 10 years while pretending to fix the problem. Now that’s a much more devious lie. It’s a much more sophisticated lie, and so that’s what the Democratic leadership does all the time.
Now when you get to the Republican leadership, they’re way worse! (laughs). I mean, the number one lie is that, “Hey, when I take millions of dollars in corporate contributions, it doesn’t affect my votes.” Come on! That’s the most outrageous, ridiculous lie, and almost every politician says it. Well, Trump does lie more. Let’s be honest (laughs). He’s pathological. He has an actual psychological problem. He can’t help himself. He’s a pathological liar. But on top of that, he gets himself in trouble, not necessarily for the quantity of the lies but for the quality of the lies. He’s just so stupid that he can’t come up with a sophisticated lie like the rest of the politicians.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: What are you hearing about Bernie Sanders’ chances of winning the Democratic nomination for president?
Cenk Uygur: I’m hearing, and I’m saying that he’s going to be the next president of the United States. Look, I’m trying not to get too excited. But he’s leading in Iowa, He’s leading in New Hampshire. He’s leading in California, and a recent poll says he’s almost caught Biden in Texas. Oh, boy. If he wins those four states, goodnight Irene, and Bernie Sanders is the next president of the United States.
The establishment made a huge mistake in their infinite arrogance. They thought, “Since no one inside our club likes Bernie Sanders, I’m sure he has no chance of winning.” So they ignored him rather than smearing him 24/7 like they normally do. Now they’ve turned back on the smear machine, but it might be too late. A lot of their smears are backfiring. So, oops (laughs). These are super exciting times, and I’ve got to tell you, we’ll probably know within five weeks. We’re that close. And within five weeks, it might be over before they know what hit ‘em. Then there’s nothing they can do about it.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: Cenk, if elected, what would your role be on The Young Turks?
Cenk Uygur: Right now, I still have a day job. I still run the company, and I appear on air. I just don’t appear as frequently as I used to, of course. But I’m on all the caucus nights, primary nights, and if I win, obviously, I’ll have a job. It’ll be US Representative. So I won’t be able to work at The Young Turks anymore. But I can go on air as a guest or guest host as many times as I want. After AOC won, she came on and guest hosted on The Young Turks. We’ve had a great number of candidates and congressmen guest host on The Young Turks, so they won’t be able to get rid of me (laughs).
Smashing Interviews Magazine: Have you guys, as independent media, felt any blowback from Donald Trump’s attacks on journalists?
Cenk Uygur: Honestly, independent media gets attacked by mainstream media more than we get attacked by Trump. Mainstream media is constantly deriding independent media and trying to find ways to undercut us both ideologically and financially. So there will be a lot of articles written by the mainstream media outlets like, “Oh, watch out about advertising online because there’s bad videos online (out of the billions of videos that exist), so make sure you advertise with us because we’re safe.”
They get the reporters to write those types of pieces pretending to be neutral meanwhile trying to drive advertisers to their side. So it’s pretty nefarious. Then the knuckleheads find out that it also affected their advertising online. Then they try to backpedal. This whole game is being played, but nobody’s paying any attention to why because the press is doing it, so the press isn’t going to write about their own dirty tricks that they’re in the middle of doing, so the mainstream media attacks independent media voraciously and consistently. What Trump is doing to us is not much by comparison.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: How do your wife and kids feel about the possibility of having a congressman in the family?
Cenk Uygur: (laughs) My wife is so wonderful and so understanding. Man, she’s had to put up with a lot. I turned down a lot of money several times at MSNBC and other cable news offers to do what I hoped was the right thing by doing independent media online, and she backed me 100% every time. If I win this seat, we’re going to have to move not only from where we live and away from family and friends but also from her office, and she’s still supportive.
The other day, folks broke into our cars maybe to try to unsettle us, and they started taking pictures of me and my staff, and my wife’s still unshaken. So bless her heart. She’s the best. She’s taking it all in stride. What’s great about kids is they’re so innocent, and they don’t care about any of the things that are artificial that adults care about. They’re seven and nine years old, so their dad’s a congressman. So what? (laughs).
Smashing Interviews Magazine: So what? When’s Christmas, right?
Cenk Uygur: Right (laughs). That might impress people in the adult world, but they don’t care about it at all, and they’re right. You should only be impressed by people’s actions, not titles or anything else artificial like that.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: Exactly. Cenk, is there anything else you’d like to say to the citizens in your district?
Cenk Uygur: This is a people power campaign, and right now, there is every evidence in the world that we are leading. Come out and help us because this is the people’s seat. Our advantage is that we have thousands of volunteers, and we’re going to win this seat together, and we’re going to run it together. So come join us. We have a great time campaigning across the district. We’ve developed great bonds, and we’ve become a family together. So come join us. Help win the seat, and then the people will finally be representing California District 25.
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