Q&A: Michael Feuer. Macro-Vision

11 mins read
Mike Feuer standing in front of a hill
Mike Feuer, Candidate for Congress District 30. Photo: Campaign
This entry is part 22 of 23 in the series 2024 Primary Election Candidates

Q – What are some of the things that have influenced your macro-vision of democracy?

ADemocracy was on display the night the Muslim travel ban took effect in January 2017. I felt like our country was slipping away.

I’d never felt that way before about our nation. I had received a phone call drawing my attention to what was happening at airports around the nation. I dropped everything to get to LAX to get the detainees released. I had to do everything I could to combat what I thought was an act of an authoritarian leader as opposed to a democratic president. I was told members of Congress had tried to protect the detainees’ rights, and they’d been turned away, and the Trump administration representative was not going to see me. I’ve never been angrier in my professional life.

There were hundreds of protestors behind barricades. I went past the protesters, and a major law enforcement leader in our area began to walk with me. He said, “Sir, please don’t make me have to arrest you.” I told him my City Attorney’s office is the lawyer for the airport. I have a right to be here. He said, “You do not. These ramps are international territory. You do not have any authority here. And the Trump administration official does not wish to see you.” I stood down and returned to the Bradley terminal floor. The protesters recognized me, and the chants went from “Let them out” to “Let Mike in.” It was very dramatic. Finally, the Trump official agreed to meet me, and I told him there had been a court order issued across the country banning the deportation of the detainees. I described the order, and I asked if he was going to honor that order. Things de-escalated for a moment, and he promised the administration would contact me in a few hours.

… and the Trump administration official does not wish to see you. I never anticipated that the federal government would be an adversary when I became City Attorney.”

Michael Feuer

I did not get the detainees released that night. But at midnight, I called my chief of staff and asked for

a number of lawyers from our office to be convened to take action. That began a series of very important steps that I led against what I consider to be the authoritarian, anti-democratic actions of the Trump administration. I never anticipated that the federal government would be an adversary when I became City Attorney. I always saw the government as a partner, but things changed that night.

Our office took a number of steps that night that were leading steps in the country. For example, the Trump administration sought to withhold public safety money from cities around the country unless the city police departments became immigration enforcers. I led an effort to stop that order nationally, and the Trump administration had to back off. The administration sought to curtail the census to try to undermine the number of members of Congress allocated to California. We fought back against the effort in conjunction with jurisdictions across the country to prevent the administration from undermining the census. They tried to undermine DACA, the Obama-era order that prevents the government from arresting the dreamers; children who came here with their families from other countries and through no fault of their own were now here as members of our society.

There were many, many other actions as well. It was an extremely important period for the nation and a very significant period for me. I felt extremely strongly about the importance of protecting our democracy before I became City Attorney. I was the majority leader for policy in the California Assembly in the face of efforts by Republicans across the country to suppress the vote. I authored legislation to expand voting rights in California through same-day voter registration. California needed to be the antidote, needed to respond to efforts to constrain voting rights.

I intend to bring the leadership experience that I’ve had and build on it as a member of Congress. Members of Congress need to have both a national vision to be able to inspire the country and galvanize their colleagues and move forward as we put in place rules that will make our country thrive. 

Q – What are some of the issues that matter most in the district?

A – The issue that matters most throughout the district is homelessness. I have concrete actions for Capitol Hill to address homelessness. I want to connect the leadership role that I can have in Washington to what voters can see, touch and feel on the street here. Homelessness is a great example of how I intend to do that.

I have been a leader in the country in going after medical facilities that unlawfully discharge homeless patients. It’s called patient dumping. I appeared on a national news show, and the anchor was describing to me an issue in Baltimore, where a discharged woman in hospital garb was found at a bus stop in the freezing cold right outside the hospital. I said to the anchor, “If we were to change our vocabulary, and instead of saying a woman was found in hospital garb at a bus stop, what if we said my mother was found in a hospital gown at a bus stop in the freezing cold? We would be reacting very differently.”

“It’s a federal rule that shouldn’t exist in the first place, and I will work to change it”

Michael Feuer

We need to address the urgency of the homelessness crisis through that lens. People are at their most vulnerable when being discharged from a hospital. That’s the moment when you want somebody to be given the care they need. I’ve had the experience also of being in communities where homelessness is not just a major issue for the people experiencing it but for the community itself. I want to cut through these artificial false choices between being humane and compassionate on the one hand and ensuring that we have streets that are safe and accessible for everybody on the other. We need to have both.

For example, there is a federal rule that the government will not fund a local jurisdiction building a mental health facility with more than 16 beds. California has been talking about seeking a waiver from that rule. It’s a federal rule that shouldn’t exist in the first place, and I will work to change it.

Mayor Bass described how the Secretary of Veterans Affairs for the Biden administration explained that veterans are often confronted with the choice of accepting veterans’ benefits or qualifying for affordable housing because those benefits count as income. He said that he could not change that issue himself. It takes an act of Congress. I am well familiar with that dynamic. When I was running Bet Tzedek legal services, we led efforts to ensure that Holocaust survivors who received restitution from Germany didn’t have that restitution counted as income, affecting their eligibility for Supplemental Security Income, which includes health care and a basic income.

What matters is veterans shouldn’t have to choose between getting veterans benefits or being housed. I’m going to work to change that. There’s a federal rule that precludes vets from being reimbursed for substance abuse treatment that lasts longer than 90 days. That’s not enough. We need many more federal housing vouchers. There are vouchers for low-income people called project-based vouchers. We need more of those because they spur the creation of affordable housing.

This is a concrete agenda for what a member of Congress can do to have a meaningful impact on how we tackle homelessness in our country. I intend to do that.

I have a multiple-pronged agenda for grappling with affordable housing – e.g., creating a refundable renter’s credit. We subsidize homeowners by giving them credit for their mortgage deduction. But if you rent, the federal government doesn’t offer credit, and that needs to change. We have many renters on the precipice of homelessness. They should be entitled to a similar benefit. I want to infuse federal money into helping to leverage the creation of affordable housing. There’s often a gap between what affordable housing builders have financially and what it takes to build it. That gap slows the creation of affordable housing. The federal government can help alleviate that problem.

First-time homebuyers need to have additional benefits, especially in areas like Southern California.

If you are a moderate-income person, it’s very hard to buy a home. The ultimate issue of whether your member of Congress is effective or not is often tested by whether that official has a national vision and the ability and the command of the issues to work their way through the bureaucracy, to get colleagues to agree with them and get them to defer to them, and then to make something happen. I intend to do that.  

“Homelessness is not a partisan issue.”

Michael Feuer

Gap financing from the federal government can provide an incentive. It’s very important for us to have a mix of affordable housing unit sizes. We have a number of people for whom a studio apartment is an adequate place to live. For other families, seven or eight people are crowded into one bedroom. We need multiple approaches that the federal, state and local governments work on together.

I want to explore whether there are federal changes that can reduce red tape and speed up the creation of affordable housing.

I am often asked about political polarization in Washington, and homelessness is a great example of how I work across the aisle. A leader either stands by their principles or listens and compromises, and I know from my leadership experience that the best leaders are the best listeners to people who don’t agree with them.

I stand by my values, ideals, and principles while finding common ground where possible. Homelessness is not a partisan issue. It’s very important for the next member of Congress from our area, succeeding Adam Schiff, to be able to work effectively across the aisle.

There should be a bipartisan effort to lift people out of homelessness in a nation where homelessness has become a top issue.

Q – You have experience with gun laws. 

A – Gun violence isn’t just a public safety issue; it’s a public health issue.

One of the things I’m most proud of is my leadership on gun violence. Today, I was endorsed by Gabby Giffords, the former Arizona Congress member who was shot in the face when she was trying to serve constituents. She founded a group, which is now called Giffords.org, one of the leading national gun violence prevention groups. She and the organization endorsed me today. I am one of only eight official eight candidates in the country they’ve endorsed thus far. There’s a reason for that. I wanted to be a consequential leader who makes our lives safer.

When something like that happens, it really seers into your consciousness, into your gut.”

Michael Feuer

Much of my work derives from very, very poignant personal experiences. I was on the City Council, for example, when the North Valley Jewish Community Center shooting happened. A racist went on a rampage, shot a Filipino-American postal worker, and then he went to the center and trained his gun on little children and shot them. After I made sure my children were okay, I raced out to the center. I met a couple there whose son had been shot and rushed to the hospital. They asked if I would join them in the waiting room of the hospital. Their son survived. When something like that happens, it really seers into your consciousness, into your gut.

I wrote most of the city’s most significant gun violence prevention laws when I was on the City Council then in the state legislature. I wrote the first in the nation legislation on gun violence, including a law that required what was called a micro-stamping of semi-automatic handguns, which means that when the shell casing emerges from the barrel of a gun, it is stamped with a code that says who bought the gun. It is meant as a lead for law enforcement as they go after criminals. That was called the Crime Gun Identification Act. I did other work at the state level as well.

I recognized from my work in Sacramento that Republicans and Democrats disagreed on many things. But everybody respected what prosecutors had to say. I’d been elected City Attorney and was the city’s top prosecutor. I called the Manhattan District Attorney in New York, Cyrus Vance, Jr., and said we should start the nation’s first coalition of prosecutors to combat gun violence because we would have street cred on both sides of the aisle. That became Prosecutors Against Gun Violence. I co-chaired that group for seven years, and it let us focus on issues like disarming domestic abusers and making sure that guns were safely stored. We prosecuted adults when they did not store their guns safely, and children brought their guns to school.

When the Parkland tragedy happened, even though I had no authority, I convened LAUSD’s first-ever expert panel on school safety. We held hearings in each LA school board member’s district,  took testimony from hundreds of people, and produced 33 recommendations on how to make our schools safer.

I want to take this leadership to Capitol Hill. Because I’ve worked with members of Congress already on gun violence, I’ll be able to step in on the first day and be credible with them. It has been very, very tough to pass all the laws I’ve written and fight in court for more public safety. Often, my adversary has been the National Rifle Association or their surrogates here in California. Voters here want someone who can stand up to powerful interests and win. To be an impactful member of Congress is going to take guts. It’s going to take not just knowledge and experience. It will take the commitment to stand up and hang in there, even when it’s extremely controversial, and the odds are long. I’ve had that experience again and again. Being tough and resilient are very important attributes of a public official. Too often, we see people cave when it gets tough. I think that is what separates someone who’s really going to make a difference in our society from someone who isn’t.

Q – Are some of your reasons for seeking office personal as well as political?

A – When I was in the state legislature before the Affordable Care Act, children with pre-existing conditions were being denied coverage by health providers. I wrote a bill, which you can imagine was not easy to get passed, that said health insurers are going to cover children with pre-existing conditions because I have children. My children were younger then. I couldn’t imagine what it was like not to be able to take my child to the doctor and be confident that she was going to be cared for.

A lot of my career focuses on people who are the most vulnerable in our community. I think empathy is a very important attribute to have. I’m very lucky to have been brought up in a family where serving other people, especially people who are less fortunate than we are, was not just important but required. It created a habit for me that I’ve tried to instill in my children.

So much of our politics now is focused on 140 characters on X, on immediate gratification as opposed to caring about the long-term issues. I’m so focused on the climate crisis, for example, because I think about my children and, at some point, grandchildren and wonder what they are going to say about our generation if we squander the one chance we have to save our planet. I never say climate change,  which is much too innocuous a term. I talk about the climate crisis because that’s what it is.

“I’m very focused on things I’ve done that are first in the nation”

Michael Feuer

If we view the issue not just in some academic way but through the lens of real people, people we know and love, and ask ourselves how they would want us to handle that situation, I think we’d be much better off.

In my campaign, I’m very focused on what makes me a distinctive candidate. I’m very focused on things I’ve done that are first in the nation – not just important locally, not just a vote I cast, but important programs or fights I’ve won that were literally first in the country.

We’ve talked a bit about some of the work I’ve done opposing Trump. But it’s the same case with the lawsuit I brought against Wells Fargo over fake accounts. That changed banking forever, standing up to Wall Street. I wrote a law that gives new rights to people who are victims of elder abuse and domestic violence, again first in the nation. I’ve even worked on international issues when I was in the state legislature. I was the joint author of a law that prevents California from doing business with companies contracting with Iran’s energy sector. We were trying to deter Iran’s pace at getting a nuclear weapon, and the Financial Times of London wrote that the law and its author were having an impact on slowing Iran’s nuclear ambitions. I think it’s really significant in this district that we have a proven national leader who, at the same time, is riveted on what’s most important on these streets here where we are. I hope I can bring that combination to Washington.

Series Navigation<< Q&A: Alex Balekian. Meaningful Community ChangeQ&A: Anthony Portantino. Community Guy >>
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Sheryl Turner

Sheryl is Local News Pasadena's Publisher and Pasadena Media Foundation's Founder. When not saving local news, she devotes her spare time to finding the best meatloaf in town.
Email: [email protected]

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