Interview Part 1 of 2:
Interview Part 2 of 2:
EOO: Hello and welcome to the eyesonobama.com political podcast. We're here with Emanuel Pleitez, a candidate in the California 32nd Congressional District Special Election to fill the seat vacated by now-Labor Secretary Hilda Solis.
OK, so Mr. Pleitez, tell us a little bit about your time with the Obama-Biden Transition Project, and what your role was.
Pleitez: I was on the Presidential Transition Team, and to be specific the economics and international trade team, and within that, I was in charge of the Treasury Department Agency Review Team. So what I did, I was a member of the agency review team. We reviewed the Treasury Department by going in and interviewing top Treasury officials and also meeting with external stakeholders, which were defined as any organization, advocacy organization, or public policy institute that had either an idea for the Treasury, or interacted with the Treasury on a regular basis. And so, we then compiled all that information and essentially put together some memos for Secretary Geithner, to make sure that he was prepared when he came in with the new administration.
EOO: Obviously, what's going on in Treasury right now is one of the more important focuses of the administration. So, was this one of the larger operations? Was this one of the more heavily "focused-on" projects going on at the time when you were there?
Pleitez: Definitely very high profile, if not the highest profile of any department. All eyes were on us. I mean, we were getting inquiries left and right from journalists, from people wanting a job, in terms of- even though I wasn't doing anything in personnel. So definitely the highest profile and I mean, we started before the other departments, and we didn't ended until after the other departments finished their own. Most of the other departments had a certain schedule of what the transition was going to look like in terms of certain deadlines. We had to write a memo in the first week that we were there. So immediately- the Secretary of the Treasury was the first announced in terms of the Cabinet level positions, or one of the first announced. And so, it was definitely true that all eyes were on us, and we knew that. And we knew we had to get a good job done, and make sure that were representing the administration in the right way.
EOO: So if it was one of the highest profile, would you say it was also the highest pressure?
Pleitez: I would say highest pressure, but I think we all came with the understanding that it was going to be high pressure. And I think that everyone- half of the transition team had already worked in the Treasury Department in the previous administrations, so there was a sense of cool, calm, collectedness. People just knew what needed to get done. I was one of the few that had not worked in the Treasury Department, and so I had a different perspective from the outside, and I had a more markets-facing job, while some of the other people in the Treasury Department had either been on the side of investing, or were attorneys that interacted with the securities industry. So, it was definitely a wide array of backgrounds that were all coming together in a high pressure situation, but in a very calm way. We knew what needed to get done, and we were there seven days a week in order to get everything ready and everything done before the new administration took over.
EOO: Now speaking about the Obama-Biden Transition Project as a whole, talk a little bit about the energy and the momentum behind what was going on there, the general feel in D.C. and within the incoming administration.
Pleitez: There was definitely high energy. D.C. was- every day you felt there was a sense of hope happening from election day. There was a new administration. Things were going to be different. Things were going to change. And to be part of it, you felt it outside and you also felt it within the administration, within the Treasury Department. And even a lot of even the civil service who had been there for years if not decades felt that things might be a little different now. And there was definitely that sense of hope that was rampant throughout the city, and within the department.
EOO: You touched on it briefly: you were working for a time at Goldman Sachs, and I assume that brings with it a certain amount of experience in the financial sector. I'm wondering how that helps you in bringing a different perspective to the race you're currently in.
Pleitez: Sure. I'm the only candidate who's ever worked in the financial services industry, and actually worked inside the Treasury Department. I bring an exposure to Wall Street, an exposure to high finance in general, and exposure to government finance that none of the other candidates bring to the table. So, I feel that in this day and age, in this economic crisis that is the worst since the Great Depression, and this financial crisis that is the worst ever, I'm the best-prepared to be a Congressional member for this district. You couple that with my experience of actually growing up in the district, understanding how to grow up poor, without a home, without a job, with a single parent in an immigrant household. It's a unique combination that no other candidate has and that's why I feel I'm the best candidate.
EOO: Now, why did you pick this particular time and this particular race to get involved in national politics?
Pleitez: Let us not forget what happened in November. The country is ready for change. The country is ready for something different. And this district is no different. This district is ready for that same type of mandate that is no to the politicans of old, yes to a new way of doing politics, yes to a new way of doing government. People want to believe in their government. They pay taxes for a reason. They want to believe their money is being used in the right way. And when they see a Sacramento legislature that's putting us in the biggest budget deficit in the history of California, when they see us having to bail out financial institutions and big companies, and only certain politicians are sticking up for the ordinary citizens, people want something different. So we're in that time right now, and I felt that. I felt that because I was involved in the Obama campaign, because I was in government on the Transition Team and saw what needed to get done, and saw some of the ignorance, I would say on the part of some of the Congressional members who didn't really understand what was going on in the markets, and I thought that it was the right time. Me coming from this neighborhood, me believing passionately in helping people, helping my community, having the finance and economic background, it was the right timing for change and the right timing for me to actually commit myself to public service in my home town.
EOO: Tell us a little bit about your home town and a little bit about the 32nd Congressional District. What makes it unique? What makes it special to you? And what do you think voters from the 32nd are looking for in a Representative?
Pleitez: Voters from the 32nd Congressional District want someone who actually understands where they're coming from. Someone who understands the difference in each city. It's actually a pretty diverse area, from immigrant and non-immigrant background, to socio-economic levels that are below poverty to middle-class and upper middle-class areas. It is part of the American dream of coming in at any part of society and being able to work your way up and actually own a home, and have a good job, and have a family, and be able to still access the services of a metropolitan area. The San Gabriel Valley has certain issues in particular, like transportation that we need to focus on. The whole district- including East Los Angeles- has education issues that need to be paid attention to that the federal government traditionally doesn't get involved in. And at this time, with President Obama actually putting this part of his initial rhetoric and initial proposals out, I think we have an opportunity where it's not just the economy, but that every sector of society that is touched by the economy can actually be impacted by legislation, by the stimulus package that is going to come in in this district. This is a district that represents the American dream and can be a model for how we get out of this and bring new leadership to use this time of crisis to bring opportunities for more people.
EOO: In reaching out to a lot of these voters, you've done it in a very grassroots way. Tell me some of the advantages and disadvantages of running a grassroots campaign.
Pleitez: I don't see any disadvantages. Grassroots campaigning is the way to go. Voters want to be engaged. Look, in the end, whether I agree or disagree with you, the fact that I listen to you means more than anything. If I disagree with you and I don't even listen to you, then we're going in the wrong direction. So yes, I'm a Democrat. But I'm engaging every voter in this district, and we're doing it in a face-to-face way that people respect. When one of our canvassers goes and actually leaves a personal note on someone's door, and that voter then calls them back and engages them, that's a different type of campaigning. It's not just sending folks that you pay to do the work of campaigning. It's a way of engagement. And that's the way I want government to be. I want government at every level- local, state, and federal- needs to take a page out of that playbook of civic engagement so that we can actually get people to believe in their government again.
EOO: One last question. Obviously the economy is one of the most important things in most people's minds, but it also kind of has a tendency to overshadow some of the other work that Congress and the Administration need to be focusing on and are going to be before them in the next few months. What are some of those issues in your mind?
Pleitez: Well, we can finally invest in our infrastructure, in terms of transportation. We've essentially ignored it for over 50 years. Health Care has kind of been talked about, but not really in the spotlight since the 90s, since the Clinton administration. We actually have a chance here to revamp our healthcare system, and I think President Obama is definitely going to be pushing that forward. Immigration; there hasn't been any comprehensive immigration reform since the 80s. That's something that needs to get done right away. And that's something that's important to me and important to my district. Education. Again, the federal government usually doesn't play a role. Now, this is an opportunity for us to realize that education is really the foundation of our economy, and if we don't have an educated workforce, these downturns become a lost worse and hit the most vulnerable the hardest. So, it's a time when education, when infrastructure, when health care, when we have an opportunitiy to allow new economies to enter the local areas, including CleanTech, renewable energy sources- there's just so much that can happen. And we need people that can understand those different sectors of society, and that can bring hope to people and say, "Look we're in a crisis situation, but the fact of the matter is that a lot of places in this district, in this area have lived through an economic crisis all their lives." It's nothing new. And it's an opportunity for us to show the country that we can recover. Let's look forward. How we can bounce back.
EOO: Well, the Special Election Primary is May 19th, and Mr. Pleitez, we wish you the best of luck.