KVAL News is speaking with each of the candidates for Oregon's 4th Congressional District. For the first time in almost 40 years, there is no incumbent in the race with the retirement of Peter DeFazio. KVAL's Brandon Kamerman spoke with independent candidate Levi Leatherberry.
Brandon Kamerman, KVAL News: I’m joined by independent candidate for Oregon’s 4th Congressional District, Levi Leatherberry. Levi, thanks so much for taking the time.
Levi Leatherberry: Thank you.
Troubling news month after month with the national inflation report. It’s been trending over 8% now for quite a few months. It takes a toll on a lot of people in this congressional district. What can we do at the federal level to address this problem?
LL: A lot of the inflation actually comes from the federal level so it’s a great place to start. The budget for a long time has been talked about as one of the main reasons for inflation because we spend billions and billions of dollars rather than agreeing on things as a party, as two teams. They often don’t come to agreement. They just agree to large chunks of money going to their donors on both sides, and so government inflation, which is like them spending too much money at the fed, giving too generously to large companies, or whether it’s not agreeing on budgets for large things like the Department of Defense, which gets bigger every year. Congress actually gives them more money than they ask for. The Pentagon’s like, ‘That’s enough,’ and they keep giving it to them because it looks good to their voters. So the budget is a big part of that inflation, but also there’s corporate inflation on top of it. The people who give money to the donors – to the politicians running for office – they actually, those mega-corporations add prices – instead of just adjusting for inflation during COVID, people adjusted beyond it so you see an increase in the profit margins of these very large companies. So much money that it’s basically like little governments giving us their own taxes, and it’s actually illegal in a lot of states. It’s called price gouging, and we need to enforce it to bring down those numbers and lower inflation for everyday Americans.
Is there something to be done to address the fact that specifically wages are certainly not keeping up with inflation, which is one of the reasons this growing inflation is particularly hurting people?
LL: Yeah, what you want to do is you want to increase wages on off years when there’s not inflation because then you actually increase the value of the dollar that the person has, but when you’re increasing wages behind inflation, you’re making no impact in people’s lives. You’re literally just keeping up with the bills, and that’s a bad policy. So we need to budget better, but then we also need to increase wages in off years, in years when there isn’t large inflation so that everyday Americans actually feel the difference in their pocket.
Another wildfire season that we saw this summer: more destruction, we’ve had poor air quality, we currently still have some poor air quality in parts of this district, and a lot of fear for people in this region every summer that their home, their business is at stake when these wildfires begin. How can we manage this crisis better?
LL: A few years ago, I was trying to talk to my local representative, Nancy Nathanson, on this topic because I realized that fire really impacts people’s lives, in my life as well. Like every year it hugely affects our farm so right now I was out there working, choking that smoke. This impacts everyone, and the problem is the money. I say it on many topics, but it’s true on fire as well. Our budgets are insane for the same exact service. We’re paying eight times, 10 times more than we paid a decade ago. There’s price gouging in fire fighting as well. It’s actually one of the clearest examples of price gouging, where like when they drop that fertilizer from one of those planes, what is it, like a million dollars a drop? I’m a farmer. I know what fertilizer is. You can get it cheaper than that. A million dollars is not what it takes for poop. So the thing about it is when we fight fires, we need a larger standing force on the state and federal level, year to year, so we don’t have contract these private armies that can charge whatever they want, and we need to get so that we pay firefighters better for the risk they take so that we don’t have to use these prison services to manage our fires, which is unethical, and also another thing we can do is try to decrease the lack of transparency in the local budgets. There’s so many agencies coming together we don’t actually – nobody really knows where all the money is, and I suspect that if we’re able to find that and there’s more transparency in those relationships between politicians on the local and state level, we’ll actually be able to save huge amounts of money and fight fires way more effectively.
Oregon is perhaps the most successful state in terms of abortion in the country, in access to abortion. Federal lawmakers could institute a ban that would supersede Oregon state laws. Would you support any limits to Oregon’s current laws?
LL: I’m not really in support of limiting anything that’s a private decision of individuals. I believe abortion is a choice that the government shouldn’t be telling you what to do with your body. That’s something that the Democrats have said, but it actually is true from like a Libertarian perspective as well or a perspective of most people who don’t like the federal government dictating health decisions to them. Yeah, so that’s what I would say on that issue. No, I’m not in support of restricting people’s individual choices on something that affects their body.
I know you’ve traveled extensively around the world. Is there somewhere that you’ve been that you felt was doing it better? That was maybe not perfect but a model for how things can be run better?
LL: I don’t know about anywhere that’s being run that well, but I know a lot of places that are trying very good solutions, even in places you would never expect. Like, rural India, they have some cities where they publish the whole budget of the government, every penny on the wall, and every citizen can go up and see where everything is going and mark down things they don’t like. That’s an incredibly democratic solution in a place you’d never see it. I actually think if you want to solve problems in America, you have to learn about how corruption works in other countries because that’s what they’re trying to do here, too. There’s not really that big of a difference between an American politician and an Indian politician. They’ll do everything they can to get money in their pockets the second you don’t push back. So I think learning by how people are pushing back against corrupt politicians all over the world, you can learn how we can do things better here, and that’s what I’ve done. I’ve actually studied this most of my life.
Is it fair to say that you have a certain level of disdain for the two-party system in America?
LL: Uh, yeah. I make that quite clear.
Okay, I didn’t want to put words in your mouth.
LL: Well, that’s absolutely true. When I lived outside America, too, you can see so clearly how they’re identical on everything that counts. When you’re seeing bombings everywhere, money hemorrhaging everywhere. One of my earliest experiences when I was like in high school in Kuwait, when we were bombing Iraq and going in there and they’re bombing us and I had to be evacuated. One of the things I noticed is CNN paid these workers, paid these people who just clean houses, they gave them signs, anti-American signs, they had them standing like this. They didn’t even know what the sign said. They weren’t literate, and they were paying them to protest in the back of the reporter, and I’m standing there and the reporter's doing this in front of me on my way to school, and I’m like, ‘What are you doing?’ It’s so transparent how this system works when you’re outside the system. They don’t even try hiding it when they’re outside of America. They only pretend that for voters. The second you get outside of America, they’re like, ‘Okay, let’s cut it.’ We’re all in this, like on the top level. I’m not talking about the citizens. I’m talking about the people in power.
You’ve pointed out that there is a growing number of independents throughout the country and certainly here in Oregon in the 4th Congressional District. Yet we tend to still elect Democrats and Republicans. It’s rare that an independent does win a race, especially at the federal level. What would you like to see done to change this system so that, as you would prefer, more independents have a chance?
LL: I think we need to get money out of politics. We need to take out money in the pharmaceutical advertising and the media. Basically how you talk about politics and who gets to run, the primary sensor, the budgets of those who get elected it’s incredibly rare. You can look at the federal level in Oregon right now. The Democrat and the Republican party, they’re just millionaires. People who accepted millions of dollars. There’s nobody at the federal level who hasn’t accepted money from those two parties, and I feel that’s the real function of the primary, is to filter out normal people. So by getting rid of those primaries and by getting rid of money, party and money, those two big things make a huge difference in letting individuals run for office, not these big machines where they have to listen to what D.C. says and what a rich guy says behind closed doors. If you can change those two things, it favors independents, people with good ideas, but right now good ideas don’t win. Team and money win.
Do you have optimism because I look at it in the sense that the people who would need to change that are the people who benefit from it so do you have optimism that there can be changes made?
LL: Oh absolutely. That’s what I actually learned from the developing world, people, no matter how corrupt the system is, it’s always badly run, and there’s weaknesses, and if they make one exception, if there’s one congressman can get in, one person, even on the local level, and they can actually enforce laws, a lot of stuff they’re doing, changing the markets for real estate, changing the markets for finance and medicine, it turns out these massive money-rigging systems aren’t legal, and so if there’s one person willing to investigate them and willing to actually go after them for breaking the law and enforce the laws, you can make huge changes because you don’t need to pass any bills. America has good laws right now, but we don’t enforce them for our politicians, and if you have one politician willing to hold others accountable, sure, a lot of them will get away with it, but you’ll get a few and with those few you get, you’ll make a momentum and more people will see that they’re not invincible, that you can make change.
He’s running for Oregon’s 4th Congressional District, not as a Democrat, not as a Republican, Levi Leatherberry. Thanks so much for taking the time, Levi.
LL: Thank you.
Watch our interviews with the other candidates for 4th Congressional District: