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Sacramento Bee: On the issues: Doris Matsui and Jimmy Fremgen, candidates for CA-07 House seat

The following interview was conducted by members of The Sacramento Bee Editorial Board and the two leading candidates for California’s District 7 House of Representatives seat, current Rep. Doris Matsui and Sacramento area teacher Jimmy Fremgen. It has been edited for length and clarity.

The Sacramento Bee: Please introduce yourself and tell us why you are running.

Matsui: Since being elected, I’ve been able to improve the economy. I’ve been able to bring tech, clean tech and healthcare jobs to our region. And that’s really because of the policies that we’ve put together in Congress. I fought federal investment to support public investment in infrastructure, but I know we have to do more to improve housing affordability, safe streets and transition our unhoused neighbors to stable housing. I’ve worked hard to improve public transportation, and expand transit. I’ve stood up to attacks on our democratic institutions and fought to protect women’s rights, access to health care and protections for the environment. I firmly believe we need leadership that brings people together to get things done, improve our community. I’m committed to continuing to provide this kind of leadership on your behalf. I’m a mother and, more importantly now, a grandmother. I look to my grandchildren as touchstones to the future. I love the Sacramento region. I want to continue to represent Sacramento’s values in Congress.

Fremgen: I grew up in the newsroom of the Santa Rosa Press Democrat, so having an opportunity to participate in this process is a special treat for me. My dad is probably more excited than I am. I’m a teacher here in Sacramento who works a second job as a bartender in Midtown. I formerly worked for Congressman Elijah Cummings, I was an investigator for the House Government Reform Committee and the Oversight Reform Committee with Mr. Cummings. I worked on gun violence prevention, foreign affairs and transportation and infrastructure issues. In 2016, when I returned from D.C. to California, I went and worked in the state legislature and was one of the staffers in charge of regulating the cannabis system. I’m really involved in my community. I’m the chair of the board of United CORE Alliance, which is a social justice oriented nonprofit oriented around supporting victims of the war on drugs, specifically individuals of color breaking into the cannabis industry and those that have low-level cannabis crimes from that war on drugs. I have been active with YXPlosion, Youth Explosion, and handing out goods and services, medication, basic food, clothing, things like that. During the pandemic, I helped to create a pipeline for people experiencing homelessness or transitioning out of homelessness into full-time career jobs in the hospitality industry using connections from the bar side of my world. I’m running because I believe our time is limited. We saw that during the pandemic; we all had to face this very abrupt existential crisis. We saw homelessness increase and its severity. We’re seeing climate change accelerate. Having grown up in Santa Rosa, I’ve seen the town that I grew up in struck by wildfires more than three times. The neighborhood that I grew up in is gone now. Climate change is accelerating, and it’s time to take new and aggressive action to deal with it. I want to make the most of my time. I grew up with a very serious heart condition. I’m on my fourth pacemaker defibrillator. I lost my mom when I was 19. She was 45. And that was something that connected me with the congresswoman when I interned on her staff. I know that one of the things that motivates her is to honor the legacy of her husband. That was something I was really touched by and something that I talked to her about. And that’s something that motivates me, with my mother, wanting to live up to the legacy of someone that really inspires you. When I went to D.C. I had the opportunity to leave my classroom and have that brief internship with the congresswoman and then go and work for Mr. Cummings. He provided access to his community and also in his moral clarity and he really honed in on what he wanted to do.

The Sacramento Bee: I want to ask you both about the recent mass shooting in Sacramento and some of the other violent crimes we’ve had recently as well as the general uptick in violent crimes across the board. California has done a lot on gun violence. The Biden administration nominated a new Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives director and proposed regulations on ghost guns. But there are things like background checks that are overwhelmingly popular and haven’t gone anywhere in Congress. What do each of you think Congress can do to make Sacramento and the rest of the country safer from this kind of violence?

Fremgen: I think there are a tremendous amount of things Congress can do. When I worked on committee staff, I saw the investigatory power that committees have to actually launch specific investigations into linchpin issues that could unlock larger change. That’s one of the things I have experience doing on Capitol Hill. When I worked for Mr. Cummings, I oversaw the recruitment for the first bipartisan anti-gun trafficking bill after the Newtown tragedy. And that bill was bipartisan because there is a coalition around the idea that there’s things that we can get done if we push past what the NRA has said we can’t do with guns. We have no federal gun trafficking policy. We have no federal law that prevents people from buying a gun in Nevada and bringing it to California to commit a crime. We have no major policy that prevents somebody from knowingly purchasing a firearm for somebody that is going to commit a crime with that firearm, handing it to them and then just sitting back and letting nothing happen when they commit that crime. If they get caught — and they rarely do — the only penalty for that is lying on a federal form that almost never gets prosecuted. So there are things we can all agree need to be stepped up in terms of enforcement. Congress can continue doing that; those are things we should be doing legislatively. But without the benefit of legislation, Congress should be actively pursuing investigations, should be actively holding manufacturers to account, distributors to account, should be closing the boyfriend loophole which allows people that are unmarried but in domestic violence environments to get a hold of a firearm and use them against their loved ones. This year, at the school that I teach at, which is Leroy Greene Academy in Natomas, one of our students was the victim of domestic violence. She was one of the young women that was murdered by her father in the church shooting. Her father was able to get a firearm despite the fact that we have these gun laws. And he was able to get it because of a lot of the inadequacies we have in federal firearms policies. I want to go and bring attention to these things — I want to talk about my personal experience dealing with gun violence and provide a path toward getting to those things, whether it’s legislative investigations or otherwise.

Matsui: I agree with Jimmy on these issues. It’s been very frustrating, as you know. I remember 2012 when we had those poor kindergarteners killed. And Elijah Cummings was always my hero; he always took the right action, he investigated. He was oversight at that time. We have been passing things in Congress and in the House — bipartisan bills, maybe 10 on the other side, but we’ve been passing them. Now, President Biden was once again going to introduce another gun bill, which we will look at, and I believe it’s the same thing that we’ve done with the bipartisan background checks. We’re going to try to put something about ghost guns on there. And an added aspect of this is to have something in there about community interventions. I think that’s really clearly something we have to have in there about what we can do as far as helping the police. That’s a bigger package in the sense that it’s trying to be very inclusive. And I feel very frustrated because I met with some domestic abuse organizations and the fact that domestic violence and guns are so closely related is just unbelievable. My colleagues in the House understand it’s not just mass shootings, it’s the shootings that go on every day in almost every neighborhood. My colleague in Chicago who has really tough gun laws, like we do, says that they don’t pay attention to the shootings that occur in the neighborhoods. That’s wrong. I really believe that within Sacramento itself, we need to be very intentional about some of the problems regarding guns and the fact that there are young people who pick up a gun. We already know there are some real concerns about gang activity. That hasn’t gone away. More than ever, it has come back. So I really feel that the community itself has to figure out how we get together here in a very intentional way. It’s guns, and guns provide the means. But it’s also the fact that young people don’t have a place to go, they feel hopeless. And I really feel we need to get at the very grassroots level and try to really understand why this is happening. The COVID problem obviously exacerbated this, as did everything else — homelessness, gun violence. I do not really believe that we can solve it in a day or a week or a year, but we’re still working on it. And I really feel that it would take people to stand up, particularly the community that are the sportsmen. They understand gun safety. And I’d like them to stand up with us. Some of them have, but a lot of people are giving them a bad reputation. It’s time for all of us to work together. The

Sacramento Bee: You’ve both mentioned more interventions for young people. What could either one of you do from Congress to make that more of a reality in Sacramento?

Matsui: I really believe that some of this actually belongs in the Department of Justice. And some of it also is the fact that, locally, we have varying degrees of gun laws. Purposeful interventions, so to speak. What we can do at the federal level is work with law enforcement, work with the community groups and try to engage them in a way where we get a particular kind of funding that they will need. They are the experts. They’ve been there before. What do we need? Not just throwing money at this, but what do we need? Everybody wants, for instance, to be safe. So law enforcement is really very important. Law enforcement, though, has a concern because of mental health issues, and they’re not equipped to handle that at all. A lot of the time, it’s how you approach people. That’s really critical. I just really feel that what we need to do at the very top, those of us in Congress, is to really say this is not right at all. We have to intervene in some way to help the children. We have to be intentional about how we actually direct our funding and really put some guardrails on it and make sure that the funding is attached to some sort of opportunity for people to work together because, as you know, if you work in silos nothing ever gets done. You work together. Then we listen to each other, and we hear each other’s viewpoints. It may not be perfect, but honestly, we make some progress in that way.

Fremgen: Earlier this year, I overheard a conversation between two of my students. They were discussing the difference between what it feels like to get shot versus what it feels like to get stabbed. And they were comparing notes from people in their personal families. Last month, when we had the shooting, I came into school. I almost took the day off because I had spent the day down with some of the families on the scene, but I decided to come to school because I wanted to talk to my students and I wanted to tell them that I love them and they mattered. So I went in and I gave them the speech and initially they all rolled their eyes but by the end one of the kids came up to me and said, ‘Mr. Fremgen, you’re the first adult man that’s ever told me that he loves me.’ Another girl said, ‘That was my uncle.’ So we talk about sweeping policies. We talk about how we can’t get anything done because of the NRA. But I know kids that are being affected by our inability to get things done. I teach them and I work with them everyday. Those kids need help. You can get in front of it. And I agree with the congresswoman to some degree in terms of addressing it with mentoring and other pathways. At our school last week, we hosted a career and cultural seminar where we brought in dozens of mentors from the career world to help our kids learn that school matters — that they should be engaged, and there’s a path for them after high school. Coming back on Monday was a big deal for us because these kids were so excited to come back to school. I had to refer someone to the school psychologist because she lost her friend and her grades have taken a dive because she thinks about her friend. One of the first things I decided to do when I decided to run was I sat down with one of the gentlemen that runs an organization in Sacramento that focuses on people who want to change their community. And what they’re saying is they can’t stop the first bullet, but they can stop the second. There shouldn’t be retribution, we shouldn’t have change in pouring federal money into programs that are not going to just direct people into the criminal justice system, but are going to direct people into support services where they can get psychological help, where they can get career help, where they can focus on things that will actually help their personal outcomes be better. Because, otherwise, it’s really easy to go down that path other people have tried before. It’s easy to go down that path you’ve heard before in lyrics or from friends or relatives. You have to recognize not everybody is surrounded by good influences, but we put more of those good influences around those kids. They want that firsthand, but we just have to be a part of extending it to them firsthand.

The Sacramento Bee: President Biden recently announced that the U.S. would stop using the pretext of COVID to bar asylum seekers from the country under Title 42, which was a policy started by Donald Trump. That has caused some blowback through Congress, including an impasse on supplemental COVID funding. Did Biden make the right call?

Fremgen: We have access to the finest medicine on the planet. If people are concerned that they are not receiving care and that they are not going to be able to provide for their families because of the existence and persistence of COVID and are drawn to the United States, we should find a way to help those families. This country was created as a place to provide safe harbor for people that were facing prosecution and persecution in their own countries, from. dangerous environments at home from the dangerous environments that we know exist in Central America and South America. People that are purely seeking a better life for themselves. Those people should not be penalized for political reasons. Members of Congress — I believe the congresswoman was one of them — went to the border and saw the result of our failed immigration policies. Families that come to the United States have heard the promise that we deliver in our classrooms, saying that we can be this place of prosperity and that we can be this opportunity. They hear that message and they come here and then they get to our border and they hear, ‘No just kidding.’

Matsui: I certainly called for the end of Title 42 expulsions. I think it’s inhumane. It doesn’t go along with who we are as a country. At the border, I saw the inhumane conditions when we were in Texas during the Trump administration. We have to make sure that we are much more humane about how we bring in people. That means on the conditions, the healthcare part of it, to make sure they’re in good health, have places to go. We should not continue with Title 42 expulsions and I agree we had to end it.

The Sacramento Bee: How would you break through the legacy of inaction when it comes to climate change policy and overcome opposition throughout Capitol Hill to give voters some hope that we can make the necessary changes before it’s too late?

Matsui: I am really a climate warrior. I really feel that this is, as everybody says, the existential threat to this world and to our children. I think it’s up to every single one of us to fight as much as we can. I’ve taken on every single thing when we can possibly do it. Whether it was the Trump administration trying to raise gas emissions, whether it was trying to get the waiver waved off, but we fought that on regulations. And now we’re looking at this realizing that we have to do absolutely everything — whether it’s technology, whether it’s the utilities, whether it’s natural solutions. Because everything is involved in this — food insecurity is involved in this, so that means national security as far as the rest of the world. To me, we’re doing every single thing. I am co-chair of something called the Sustainable Energy Environment Caucus. We are very authentic and intentional about some of the legislation that we move forward. And, obviously, we can’t get a big bill, but we can get smaller types of bills as we move forward. And I think that’s really very important. We’re beginning to find out now is because of climate disasters — the storms that have been happening particularly in the Midwest, the wildfires in California and extreme weather events — I think a lot of people are thinking that maybe something is happening. They want to wait, maybe, to move forward. But we cannot wait. We know we cannot wait. As much as possible, we are forcing them to look at this, which I think is very important. And it’s interesting, most of their kids are on the same page. I will use everything I possibly can, because it impacts everything that we do. I look at the fact that when we had the wildfires, we had horrible, horrible air. We want to make sure that the children in the schools have cleaner air and a better energy environment. We’re trying to do these things in a way that that really does move the needle. Electrification, I think that is something that is really moving forward. Even the auto industries in this country understand that the competition is going to come from China and Germany. They understand that we have to have more electric vehicles, more charging stations. Also, tax credits for those people, those companies that really move ahead. What’s going on now, too, is that business is beginning to realize that they see the future and they know that they have to start taking steps — and they have — in order to plan for their future, too. We can’t give up. We absolutely can’t give up. And I don’t intend to, and my colleagues don’t intend to either. As we move along, I think we’re going to eventually have more and more support that will move us forward because we have to. We have to.

Fremgen: The clear culprit of the impasse in Congress is the persistence of the filibuster. If we did not have the filibuster, we would not have the senator from West Virginia holding up climate change strictly because he wants to see more coal included. We need more forceful advocacy to end the filibuster, but that’s a Senate issue, that’s not a House issue. I teach government, so I won’t drill into that too much. But it’s something that is fundamental to the way that our Congress is structured and it needs to be removed. In terms of moving the needle on climate change, I think one of the first things that we need to do is remove the overwhelming influence that companies that contribute to climate change have in our federal decision-making process. I’ve made a pledge to not take any money from companies that contribute to climate change, that includes PG&E, that includes Edison, that includes companies across the country. I would invite the congresswoman to join me in that pledge. Especially as someone who sits on Energy and Commerce, when you are charged with regulating the same companies that contribute drastically to our climate change crisis, you can send a really strong message to them. Saying, ‘Your money’s not good here. We are not interested in your influence in our elections, because we want to make policy for people that are being affected by climate change, and we want to do it without your money in our pockets.’ As somebody who grew up in Santa Rosa in a neighborhood that got burned down, as somebody who lives in Sacramento in a city that has some of the worst air quality in the country as a result of climate change, as a result of wildfires that are driven by forests that are too dry, as a result of PG&E’s negligence leading to wildfires that sweep through forests that are too dry, as a result of the lack of corporate oversight and the lack of intention looking over those companies to make sure that they are in fact living up to their promises or that we are holding their feet to the fire, we are ending up with a worse picture for climate change. We have a very small window. We’re lucky in this country to have exceptional scientists. We’re lucky on this planet to have exceptional scientists that tell us that we need to decrease warming on this planet by more than two degrees centigrade by 2030. That’s eight years. That’s not a lot of time, and we know how we can do it, but we need to start by making sure that those companies are being held accountable, that we’re not allowing them to continue to pump their money into our elections to send people to Congress, to send people like Joe Manchin to the floor of the House to stand in the way of preventing existential crisis. Without fundamentally changing the way that we do politics and the way that we do climate policy, we are not going to have an opportunity to continue to have the same kind of living experience that we have. People say, ‘What are your three main issues?’ I give them homelessness, health care and banning corporate contributions to politicians. All of that is fundamentally sitting on a bedrock of climate change, because without addressing climate change — without framing all of those decisions in the lens of, ‘What are we going to do about climate change?’ — none of that is going to matter. I’m from a generation of people who are wondering if they should have children because we don’t know if climate change is going to prevent them from having a full and healthy life. That’s not a choice that my parents had to make. That’s not a choice that my grandparents had to make, but that’s a choice that every Millennial and every Gen Z person I know is considering when they’re thinking about bringing a child into this world. I don’t think that that’s okay. Congress can and should do more to prevent it. And the congresswoman’s colleagues on Energy and Commerce should be leading the way.

The Sacramento Bee: Congresswoman, I want to give you the opportunity to respond. Have you taken money from PG&E or any of the oil and gas companies?

Matsui: Well, I can’t say that. I probably have taken from some utilities, but not oil and gas. You have to understand that I don’t pay attention to this at all. that. What I do on Energy and Commerce is for the people, and I think that my record says it all. I believe that our municipal utility that we have in Sacramento is doing all the right things, and I make sure that that utility goes before Congress. We talk about what they’re doing which is great. Honestly, we could just judge people on the fundraising, but that to me is not the criteria at all. I don’t go out there and raise millions and millions of dollars. I’m not that way at all. I look at the policy, I see how it impacts Sacramento in a positive manner. My three issues are really healthcare, climate and technology. If you look forward, as I do, health care impacts economy, and climate impacts not only economy but health care and public health. It also impacts everything we do as far as transportation, it impacts the air that we breathe. There is a holistic solution to this. Ultimately, the utilities have to be a part of this, and they have to be understanding that they have goals too. When the Sacramento Municipal Utility District says 2030 carbon free, that’s fabulous. They’re really pushing everybody else to do this. That’s what I’m doing: Pushing everybody else to reach these goals so we can move ahead. I’m passionate about this. I know how important it is to really impact all the utilities and impact the fossil fuel industry itself. I’m not sure where they’re going to be going. When I see an advertisement on TV I wonder because I’m not sure they can change right away. I’m sure they can’t. We’ll see what happens there. But as far as Senator Manchin, I would love to do something about the filibuster, but I’m not a senator and I can’t do that. I’m hoping that we can at least talk with him to move him to a place where we get a piece of what we want to move climate forward. We’ve done an awful lot with electrification. We’ve done an awful lot trying to get tax credits. But we can do more. I’m willing to work with him to do more. After all, the problem we have is that we don’t elect him. The people in West Virginia elect them. Most of us talk with him, but he’s not going to change his mind necessarily unless he feels it’s going to advantage his constituents.

Fremgen: While the congresswoman was talking, I actually did pull up her fundraising numbers for this quarter. And I know that she says she doesn’t pay attention to it, and I do understand. The congresswoman took $5,000 from PG&E into her leadership PAC in the last cycle. This is from, which is collated from the Federal Elections Commission numbers. Nineteen thousand dollars from electrical utilities in the cycle alone. The reason I point that out is not to rap the congresswoman’s knuckles, it’s that I’m running with no money from corporations at all. The Bee, when they wrote the profile on this race, highlighted that I had no chance because I didn’t have the ability to raise money from big corporations. If I could take $19,000 today, it could fundamentally change this race. But I’ve made a choice not to do that because I want to do this the right way. The congresswoman has the opportunity to say that she won’t accept money from certain industries. She has the money in her race already. She has the money on hand right now. I don’t think she needs the $2 million dollars that she has in her bank account to beat me when she’s outraising me more than 20 to 1. I would invite her to give that money back or to donate it to our community or to some sort of green living opportunities or sustainability opportunities in our community. I don’t think she’s going to need it to run a campaign against me. But that money does exist and it is in her campaign account.

Matsui: This is very much a politically motivated conversation right now. And I have to tell you, I had no idea what was in my account. To have Mr. Fremgen go into my accounts and figure that out, good for him, but I’m not going to do that with him. I would say, also, that he may go in and look at certain givers, but I have a lot of small givers and people in Sacramento who really believe that I have done a great job in Sacramento. Money has never been something that I felt was so important to my election and what I do in Congress.

The Sacramento Bee: You are a very accomplished person. Why did you decide to run for Congress as opposed to city council or something here closer to home?

Fremgen: That’s actually the question my brother asked me when I told him I was going to run and the answer is that I feel that this is the job that I feel I can do the most good in right away. This is the job I feel I’ve received the most training for. I have never worked for a city council member, I have never worked for a school board member. Do I believe that I could learn how to do those jobs? Absolutely. And I think there are people in this community that are working really hard to do a good job in those positions. I have worked for Congresswoman Matsui. I’ve worked for Senator Tom Harkin. I’ve worked for Congressman Elijah Cummings. I’ve worked for some of the best minds and around the best minds in Congress. I have seen people that have invested in their community, who have demonstrated what community-focused representation looks like. And I have worked for people that are more focused on Washington than they are on their districts at home. The reason that I’m running for Congress is because when I lost my business and my job in the same week during the pandemic, I went looking for the same kinds of support that we provided when I worked for Congressman Cumming’s office during the recession. I went looking for small business owners, people like myself, because I decided I was done with politics. I was over it, I was burned out. I was tired of the churn, I was tired of the fundraising. I was tired of people telling me that they were going to do one thing and then doing something else when it came time to do it. So I said, ‘I’m going to open a small business.’ And I went and I did that and I got crushed by the pandemic. I was working at a bar as my second job so I could get by and pay my rent while I was pursuing that dream, and I lost my job. And I looked around at all the other people I knew in the service industry who suddenly had no idea how they were going to pay their rent. Had no idea how they were going to get their health care and had no idea how they were going to make it by. Didn’t have savings to pull from. I went looking for resources to help those people and I didn’t see them. If I had been in office during the pandemic — I have laid this out and I actually put this up on my website today — I would have provided direct workshops over Zoom to provide resources to small businesses, if you needed help with a PPP loan, we would have had somebody from my staff directly addressing those concerns and walking you through the process of how to do it. Because that’s what casework is. If you were having a hard time staying in your home, I would have been able to direct you to resources. Maybe not at the federal level, but at the state level. We would have had town halls and workshops all throughout the pandemic to directly provide resources to people that were struggling, and we didn’t.

Matsui: I want to say that you don’t know what we’ve done. My staff and I were very much involved. We talked with everybody. The pandemic inundated everybody. To say that my staff or I didn’t do the work is unbelievable. We had a pandemic. A pandemic. People were dying. We were trying to save people as well as save their businesses, keep them in their homes. It was like drinking out of a firehose and we did it. We did it. We didn’t do everybody, we couldn’t because we ran out of money in some cases. But we tried to do everything we possibly can and for you to say that you couldn’t get the help, honestly it’s unbelievable because we were there 24/7.

Fremgen: Respectfully. Congresswoman, I know congressional staff works really hard. I know that. Staff live and die and bleed for their district. What I’m saying is that I was one of those people in this district that needed help, and when I called and when I went to the website and when I left a message with your office, I didn’t get a call back.

The Sacramento Bee: Congresswoman, do you want to respond?

Matsui: I can’t respond to that. I don’t know. That’s not what everybody else says. And I’ll tell you that right now. I think we have been very, very responsive.

Fremgen: And I want to be clear, this isn’t a personal attack on the congresswoman. This is a different perspective on how you can structure an office. I have — and I put it out today, and I will drop it into the chat here for you — an accessibility and outreach plan that’s modeled on the work that I did with Mr. Cummings, that I’ve seen other offices do. You can see the direct outreach that I would do. If the best thing that comes out of this run, in the time that I’ve spent doing this, is that some of these things get incorporated into outreach in our community, that will be a victory. Because it’s not about slamming or embarrassing the congresswoman at all. It’s about making better outcomes in our community. The congresswoman and I agree on the vast majority of things. I am not naive to that. But on several key points, I have a different vision for how I would do this job. I have a different plan for how I would do this job, and I’m making it available so that people can make that decision for themselves.

The Sacramento Bee: Congresswoman, you’ve had a very decorated career, you’ve been in Washington for a very long time. What motivates you to run again and continue doing the work when your legacy is secure now and people know what you stand for — why do it again?

Matsui: I’m not doing this for legacy, I’m doing this because I love Sacramento. I feel like there is much more to do yet. What I’ve done with the bigger issues of flood protection and healthcare and transit and transportation and bringing communities together — those are big issues that reach down into the communities. Now, Mr. Fremgen, I believe, is a community organizer in the sense that he tries to put things together. And I compliment you for doing that. We need that at the local level. When I get together with the mayor or the board of supervisors, they are doing that — and they’re doing a job that needs to get done. The thing about being a member of Congress is you represent the people in your district, but you also make policy for the whole country. And so what I’m trying to do — and other members are trying to do, also — is look at not only that big picture, but the little picture, too and how it impacts our neighbors. In order to be a good member of Congress, you have to do that. And I know how to do that. I had to learn how to do that. My late husband did it for a long time. You bring up Elijah an awful lot, Elijah was my hero. Elijah was from Baltimore, he had a huge impact there. I worked with him very well because he was somebody who listened really well too. Elijah was not there during the pandemic, I think if he would have been it would’ve been better but he wasn’t. Every member of Congress — and I’m not being defensive about this — threw themselves into this to really save and help their constituents. Despite many times when we had differences of opinion, we still did it. Not perfectly. But we tried very, very hard. We’ve gotten through this, we learned an awful lot. We are prepared now, so that we won’t hopefully have this happen again. We want to make sure that we pass another COVID bill so we can make sure we produce a vaccine and make sure we’re prepared with PPEs and make sure we understand how to help businesses. This was an incredible time. But we got through this. And we’re probably stronger than ever. But we never want to repeat this again. And I’m hoping that we can come together and realize we’re much better working together than trying to figure out what we didn’t do. We’re trying to remedy that. What we’re trying to do now is to ensure that we can move forward in a way where we can create new types of jobs for the region, and for the country. We are in a new place now, with climate and clean energy. We’re all in this together. So whether it’s for the school children, whether it’s for business, whether it’s for the utilities, whether it’s for the healthcare, everybody has to take a piece of this and know that they’re going to have to change the way they do their business. This is what the pandemic has done for all of us.

The Sacramento Bee: Jimmy is representative of a younger wave of would-be lawmakers and you yourself are approaching 80--

Matsui: I’m not 80 yet, you know.

The Sacramento Bee: No, not yet. But you’ve been in this position since 2005. Is there a point at which you would consider stepping aside for a younger generation of lawmakers or do you feel that time is not right yet?

Matsui: I’m running, so I’m not ready to step aside right now. And I feel there will be someone coming along who is going to be qualified to take the reins. I just really feel that I have the energy and enthusiasm and the knowledge and the expertise and the passion to keep doing this. Just because you hit a certain age doesn’t mean that you have to leave the scene. I think that is something that is unfortunate if people believe that’s important. If you have the passion, the energy to do great things, you should stay in the game.

Fremgen: I think the congresswoman is best positioned to talk about her legacy and the things that she has accomplished and would like to accomplish. She said that I talk about Elijah Cummings a lot, and that’s true. Other than my father, he’s probably the most influential man I’ve ever had in my life. And I talk about my dad a lot, too. I don’t think that talking about somebody that influenced your life and who you are is a problem. I’m proud of the fact that I worked for Congressman Cummings. I’m proud of my dad. Somebody asked me, ‘Why do you go by Jimmy instead of James?’ The reason is that when my mom died, my dad stood up. He was working nights at the newspaper, he was not expecting to become a single father, he had a daughter that was 14, a son that was 17 and another son was about to go off to college. My dad went into work and he said, ‘I’m never working nights again. And you can fire me if you want to.’ And he put himself on the line. One day, my dad heard me go by Jim or James and he said, ‘You know, I’ve really always liked that you go by Jimmy.’ And so I said, ‘Okay, I’ll do that and I’ll honor you with that.’ I don’t think there’s a problem with honoring the people that made you who you are and building upon what they taught you and going forward and trying to make things better. I think that Congressman Cummings would be proud of me because he really believed in our democracy. He said, ‘When we’re dancing with the angels, they will ask us, “What did we do to protect our democracy?”’ This isn’t about Congresswoman Matsui. This isn’t about me. This is about the people that live in this district having an opportunity to make a choice. I know the congresswoman doesn’t pay attention to her fundraising, but I have to spend an inordinate amount of my time doing fundraising to compete. I keep this note on my desk from a woman named Norma. She was 78 and I called her and I said, ‘You can donate on my website.’ And she said, ‘Oh my God, I would love to donate to you, but I don’t do computers.’ I gave a little chuckle and I said, ‘Okay, well I’ll send you a stamped envelope.’ And she wrote to me and she said, ‘I hope that you are successful. I hope that you are able to do well. I know that there is a lot up against you.’ I believe that we should have a choice. So I have this on my desk because I think that’s really cool, and that’s what I tell my students every day: It’s about having a choice. It’s not about making it overtly political, it’s not about making it overtly nasty. It’s about looking at the facts. It’s about looking at the things they haven’t done. It’s about looking at the people that they’ve taken money from. It’s about looking at the issues that affect you, and the things that affect you and making decisions for yourself. That’s what I’m offering here and that’s what I’m excited to pursue in this process.

The Sacramento Bee: Congresswoman, did you want to say a last word?

Matsui: I understand Jimmy’s enthusiasm for being a member of Congress. I was enthusiastic also. But enthusiasm is not the only thing, at all. And I don’t want anyone to think that I’m critical of Elijah Cummings. He was wonderful. Absolutely, wonderful. He was everybody’s hero. I think we take people in our lives and we do feel there are certain ones we can really look too, and Elijah was certainly one of those members of Congress, along with John Lewis and others. I really feel that I have done a lot for Sacramento. And I’m not gonna go chapter and verse. You can look that up, like Jimmy looked up the campaign. I’ve done a lot, and I know that I could do more. I love Sacramento. I want to protect it, I want to make sure they have every advantage possible. I fight for Sacramento in Congress all the time, because it’s a place that not only reveres its past and loves its present but really looks forward to the future. And I really feel the future is going to be a new place. And if we do it right, we’re going to be able to conquer and be able to get through climate change and use new technology to do that, too. Health care that’s going to be more universal, which has always been my goal. And I just feel that this is what I want to do. And I’m not staying in Congress because I like the title. I have a lot more I want to do.

Fremgen: We talked a lot about legacy today. I am at the beginning of my legacy. I believe that we should have an opportunity to build something, that we should be looking at current issues with a current set of standards, with a current set of skills. I grew up with Facebook. I grew up on the Internet. I grew up with people buying and selling my data and taking advantage of it. And that’s the new part of this new gilded era that we’re in. That’s where people are making their money, that’s where people are exploiting Americans. I grew up watching homelessness, get worse. I live in Midtown and I have a guy that used to sleep underneath my windowsill because it was the only place that he could stay dry. I went out and I was with my community, asking them what they needed. I believe in being engaged, I believe in being involved, I believe in listening. That’s why I provided this accessibility plan. That’s why I have a plan to address homelessness on my website. I believe in going out and being excited, chasing things. It’s not just about enthusiasm, congresswoman. I think there are members of Congress that are a little bit too enthusiastic and don’t deliver with plans. I have plans. I have experience. I have experience with people that taught me how to put those plans into action. And they not only taught me how to do it, but they actually showed me when they did and I’m prepared to go there and follow through with it. I’m excited to do that. It’s not just about enthusiasm, it’s about results. Because, at the end of the day, if you look behind me, I live in a 400 square foot apartment. There are a lot of people in this building that live in a crummy little apartment like this. And the reason I live here is not because I want to, it’s because I can’t afford not to because I teach and I work a second job. There are a lot of people like me struggling. There are a lot of people like that in our region and they want a champion, too. Comcast and PG&E are going to be fine. They want someone who will fight for them.

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