Democrat Lynn Rivers, on Ann Arbor resident, is seeking her second term in the U.S. House of Representatives as representative from the 13th District. Rivers had previously served a two-year term as a Michigan state representative, and before that served nine years on the Board ofEducation (three terms as President). Rivers is opposed by Republican Joe Fitzsimmons, a retired former Chairman of UMI, Inc. AGENDA: How close does the race look for you? RIVERS : Well it depends on how much of his own money Fitzsimmons puts into it. If he throws in a couple hundred-thousand, it could be very tight. One of the things a lot of people are not aware of is that Ann Arbor is only 25 % of this district. Fifty-seven percent of the district is actually in Wayne County. AGENDA: At this point in the race, are your own polls showing you running stronger in Washtenaw than Wayne County? RIVERS: Wayne County doesn't know me very well. I didn't represent them until I was elected to Congress in 1994. I've served in office here for 12 years. People in Ann Arbor know me very well. My name recognition is muchhigherhere than in Wayne County which is why negative campaigning, which my opponent is engaging in, can be effective. It's not very effective in areas where people know me and know my record. AGENDA : Where are your pockets of support in Wayne County? RIVERS: Western Wayne County. I won the older cities such as Romulus, Westland, and Garden City last time. I lost Wayne County but I won Washtenaw County by enough margin to offset the loss. It is a very tough district. A lot of times people will look at my voting record and assume that because of the way I vote that I have a safe district and that I am free to do exactly what I think is right in every given circumstance. There are certain times when I have to think about the district and look at the political balance and the Welfare Bill was one of those. There was a great demand for change in Wayne County. AGENDA: Did your vote on the Welfare Bill help your standing? RIVERS: I think it did. Polls across the country showed that about 70% of Americans supported it because the Democrats did not do a good job of getting the information out and framing the issue. We missed our chance. And it is a shame that happened The decisión was to deal with health care before welfare. Public support for these programs has been eroding for a very long time which is another reason the programs have to be reformed in a way that makes sense not just for the people on the programs but the people who are being asked to support them. One of my concerns was that I had gone on the record repeatedly saying that it's time to change that system; its time to make it work for people. We have got to come up with something new. No matter what I did I was going to make someone very, very angry. I was either going to have a fall-off from my base because people were angry or I would have to have a fall-off from moderates and votes I needed in Wayne County. It was designed so that people would have to lose votes. That's why it was written the way it was written, that is why it was voted on when it was voted on. AGENDA : There' s a third group of people too? RIVERS: My vote wouldn't change the impact on the people you are talking about once the president said he was going to sign it. The Republicans had the votes on their own without one Democratie vote. Had the President threatened to veto, I would have voted no. Had my vote been able to stop it, I would have voted no. AGENDA: What is wrong with welfare as we know it? RIVERS: One of the things that is wrong with this particular bilí and oftentimes with people' s approach to welfare is the expectation of selfsufficiency without any understanding of what it takes to become self-sufficient. Welfare moms need the same things I need in order to get up and go to work in the moming. I need to be trained for whatever position is out there. I have to have someone to care for my children. If I have small children, I will be terrified to leave the health care coverage of Medicaid. F ve got to have transportation and if I live in a big city there has to be public transportation. I had aTown Hall meeting on welfare at the Wayne County Community College in Belleville. A lot of people showed up and a lot of welfare mothers carne. Their complaint was that they wanted to work but they couldn' t find a way to do it. If they tried to go to school, their monies would becut or they couldn' t find child care. While we were considering fairly compelling changes in welfare, we were cutting other programs that beneficiaries have to reply upon to move out of the welfare system. Their were initially huge cuts in education, transportation, housing subsidies, and the eamed income tax credit. When you move people into work, they are probably going to get low-income jobs at least to start. So there are things the government needs to do to stretch that income as far as possible. One is the eamed income tax credit which helps a lot of working poor families get some money back. Section 8 vouchers for housing helps stretch that income a little further. The people who were most knowledgeable about welfare recognized that we would probably have to spend a little more to begin with in order to save a lot more in the long-run by giving people some tools so that they could actually return to the work force. Even though people would like to view policy in its purest form, the politics are important. In this country policy gets set in the context of politics. Only the people who are elected, only the people who take control get to set policy . In Congress, the rules are written by the majority. Power in Congress is absolute power; you control everything. I want to be a part of fixing it. I don't know if I would vote the same way a second time. At the time I looked at the long-range implications. AGENDA: So you feit that your re-election rested on this vote? RTVERS: I think that's part of it. I am not going to defend this bilí. The bilí has problems and it needs to be fixed. I am not even going to try and defend me. I' ve never done the political calculus before but because this bill was written to impact people, I responded. It is a very difficult district that I have . There' s a tendency to say - well you should take your lumps, and if people lose their seats then they lose their seats. But I don't really think that it is productive to have my opponentmake the 2,000 other votes I cast in this Congress. AGENDA: In recent years, the Federal Reserve has been keeping money tight, inflation low, generating a large pool of unemployed and under employed workers. How do you expect someone to make a successful transition from welfare to a job? RIVERS: In some cases their will be a requirement to maintain a caseload for a continuing exemption. At the end of a five-year period, 20% of the people who were on the caseload from the beginning would be eligible for exemption at the end. That may be too high in some áreas and too low others. If we are going to have a requirement that people have jobs a couple of things are going to have to happen. Number one we will have to extend the period of time that people are allowed to draw benefits. Or we have to have some soit of system for creating jobs. I don't have a problem with the govemment becoming an employer of last resort. In some cases I think people could do a day s work and make an impact on their community or contribute in some way. AGENDA: That sounds like a fairly radical idea. Is there political will in Congress to do that? RIVERS: Itdepends. Some states are starting to do that. When you look across the country at how states are handling this issue, they are creating jobs within state govemmentor within the public sector to put people to work. AGENDA: The term "states' rights" has historically been a code phrase for racism. has the country changed so much that we no longer need a federal government to ensure that certain standards are met across the spectrum? RIVERS : I don' t think the country has changed at all. I think that people do want standardization across the country . They wan t to know that whether your in Michigan or Arizona, that you will be protected in both places. The probïem is that the political rhetoric has changed to antibig government. This particular majority is very strong on the issue of states' rights in some areas but they want federalization in other areas. They want a federal law on marriage even though in this country the tradition is very clear that the states make determinations about their marriage laws. The constitution has a provisión that oblígales states to recognize marriages from other states. AGENDA: In May, the House voted to erase 60 years of federal public housing law and replace it with a block grant program to the states. Critics of the bill have said that it will likely diminish the amount of money spent on the poor and diminish federal control which is needed to make sure basic management standards are met. Why did you vote for this bill? RIVERS: First, Cisneros was pushing for others changes in the bill that would allow him to créate a stronger HUD system. This bill has federal standards and fairly clear goals they are trying to achieve. It gave a tremendous amount of power back to the local housing authorities to allow them to determine how to run their programs to give residents greater powers. In almost all cases, these big restructuring bilis are a mixture of good and bad things. I spoke to all the housing directors in the district and they were strongly in favor of the bill. They thought they could provide better services. They found HUD in general to be not just meddling but ineffective in getting them the things that they need. AGENDA: States are currently competing to provide the lowest kind of benefits so as to not attract people from other states who want to take advantage of their tax-funded entitlements. How do you see this playing itself out? RIVERS: It has always bothered me that we aeate a situation here where we encourage municipalities and states to give up their tax revenues and environmental regulations that are supposed to be there to enhance the quality of life or the general safety and health of the population in order to bring prosperity in. A MIT researcher did a study looking at the relation between environmental protection and economie prosperity. He believed when he started that he would find that states that are highly supportive of environmental regulations would have slower economie growth. In fact, the opposite occurred. The strongest economies on a state by state basis were the states that were the most protective of their environments. There is certainly empírica! information to suggest that States should not and need not back away from their willingness to protect the environment in an effort to get more business there. It's very frightening to watch municipalities give up tax revenues to bring businesses in that only stay for a short period of time, essentíally until they get a better offer somewhere else and they move on to the next town. AGENDA: When a plañe was shot down earlier this year by the Cubans, the U.S. government responded with the Helms-Burton amendment to further tighten trade restrictions with Cuba. Why did you vote for this? RIVERS: The first time out I voted against it because I think the way we should deal with Cuba is to open relations with them and flood theplace with Americans and American money . (continued on next page) RIVERS INTERVIEW (from previous page) I don't see a need to starve this poor little island out of existence. The second time it carne up, after the plane was shot down, I feit like this would be something people would react very negatively to if I didn't make a statement about the loss of life and the inappropriateness of this. I went back and forth and probably voted for it outofinexperience. AGENDA : Are you say ing that if you could vote on it again you would vote against it? RIVERS: Probably. The continued sanctions and these lawsuits are not the way to make progress with Cuba or for Cuba. The lawsuits are the big issue. My understanding is that they put a delay on the lawsuit aspect of the bill until after the election. Which is a code-word for - it's never going to happen. AGENDA: If re-elected, what would be your highest priority in your second term? RIVERS: Tve got a huge list. Education is number one. Education is the basis for all the other things we want to do. We want to see our economy grow and increase productivity, and the way to increase productivity is by educating your people. Health care is also a huge issue. We have almost 40 m i Ilion people who are not insured and millions who are underinsured. Research and Development is a big concern to me, especially in this district where we have a lot of high-tech entrepreneurs and a lot of jobs created by that. I want to get re-elected. Then I would like us to take back the House. Then I would like to see some progressive legislature going. AGENDA: Is there an issue that you feel so strongly about that you would never vote for a bad bilí if it carne up on that issue, regardless of the race? RIVERS: Constitutional issues, Civil rights issues. Human rights issues. AGENDA: Would the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) be a civil rights issue? RIVERS: Yes. I voted against DOMA. AGENDA: Can you give another example of a Constitutional issue? RIVERS: My opponent would characterize me as soft on crime because I voted against a series of amendments to decrease 4th Amendment protections such as electronic eavesdropping, and search & seizure laws relative to good faith acceptance for pólice. I voted against the AntiTerrorism Bill because there were provisions in there for govemment eavesdropping that I find intolerant in a free country. They were unconstitutional. AGENDA: Where do you stand on the death penalty? RIVERS: I don't support the death penalty. There are clearly studies that show it is no more of a deterrence than any other sort of punishment. And there is a chance that an innocent person can be put to death, which actually nappened in Michigan, and that is why we have no death penalty here. AGENDA: Would you support legislation that would prohibit the displacement of striking employees with permanent replacement workers? RTVERS: Yes. My husband is an auto worker. I understand what families who are associated with the auto industry go through when there is a strike. I think we have created a situation where the basic balance that was supposed to be created when we provided for collective bargaining has tilted. Now when workers go on strike, the owners can simply replace them all and continue doing business. There is no incentive to bargain. AGENDA: Would you support legislation that would make it illegal for profitable corporations to close faetones and abandon communities in search of the cheapest labor and the highest profit elsewhere? RIVERS: I don't think I would make it illegal because I don't know if that would be constitutional. But I would certainly love to see some kind of massive tax penalty for it. Right now we have a tax incentive to move jobs overseas and I think the tax code has to be changed so that as businesses start to cast an appreciati ve eye across the globe, they have to stop short and think wait a minute, we are going to lose a lot here if we move. AGENDA: Are there any plans or ideáis you would like to see pass. RIVERS: If we solve healthcare, we take so many issues off the public's plate. For the most part, dealing with healthcare answers a lot of our concerns about welfare. Because a lot of people stay on welfare who have little kids because they are terrified to leave the health care system if they leave welfare. The fight around tort reform and eliminating people' s ability to get redress in court becomes much less important if you have guaranteed health care coverage. At some point we are going to have to look at how we are going to equalize educational opportunity in this country. We are going to have to make a commitment that every child gets a fair chance to succeed based on the fact that they are American not based on the community that they live in. A lot of times proposals to equalize funding for districts says we'Ü take from some to share with others. Instead, I think we should invest in all districts and bring them all up to a high level. I don't think there is anything we can do that will have as many good effects for us as a nation as education. The Govemor of Michigan was campaigning against me recently in western Wayne County and one of the things that he quoted as being one of my flaws was that I voted against Proposal A. Damn right I did! And look at what it's doing to the schools. There are school districts all over the states that are in dire straights. It did not help us, it hurt us. AGENDA: What's are you most proud of from your first term? RIVERS : There were three awards that I got that I am proud of. The Committee for Educational Funding, whichisanorganizationof educational groups from all over the country from Head S tart all the way up to the university level, chose me as the best newcomer to Congress based on my willingness to advocate for education and protect funding for education. Public Citizen published a list of the best members in Congress based on their voting records on consumer issues, protection of individuals, ethics, and reform issues. There were only two freshman on the list and I was one of them. I was very pleased with that. Also, the National Taxpayer's Union picked me as one of the ten most frugal members of Congress because I saved about 30% of my operating expenditures. Finally, the things I' ve said I was going to do when I was a candidate, Tve done. I've cosponsored reform bilis with three Republicans that would eliminate most of the remaining perks and privileges that members enjoy - the huge pensions, the automatic pay increases, the mass mailings which are essentially campaigning on the public' s dollar, and handing out PAC checks on the floor.
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