Photo by Sarah Malone
Douglas Kmiec, former U.S. Ambassador to Malta and current professor of Constitutional Law at the School of Law, will run as an Independent candidate in the 26th Congressional District race.
Kmiec will face incumbent Julia Brownley (D-Thousand Oaks), Jeff Gorrel (R-Camarillo) and Rafael Dagnesses, a Republican candidate. The two winners from the primary, which will take place June 3, will move on to the final election in November.
Kmiec announced his intent to seek public office through a Facebook post last Wednesday. “Thanks to my many friends who have asked me whether I intend to seek public office. Yes, I am. After a lifetime of supporting Democratic and Republican candidates, I am taking up the challenges that confront our nation directly,” the first sentences read
The 26th Congressional District includes much of Ventura County. Some of the cities included are Oxnard, Ventura, Thousand Oaks and Westlake Village. Kmiec said he is running because the Holy Father —Pope Francis— has inspired him.
“He’s come into his new position as one with great joy and humility,” he said. “I must say he’s reminded me of another time … A world that had less poverty, that had less ignorance, that had more civility and more kindness, a world that had a good understanding of the concept of community.”
A devout Catholic, Kmiec said he is running as an Independent because it’s an honest label for someone who has supported Democrats and Republicans in the past. Kmiec served as a constitutional lawyer under the Reagan administration and supported President Barack Obama in the 2008 U.S. presidential election.
To show his support, Kmiec wrote a book called, “Can a Catholic support him? Asking the big questions about Barack Obama.” In it, he explains why he was Obama’s faith-filled ambassador and why he expected him to win a second term. The book also has a foreword by actor Martin Sheen who is also Catholic.
Kmiec said he is running as an Independent because even though he is hopeful political parties are recruiting good people to run for office, “we need people who can admit that something is a good idea even though it’s coming from somebody that before we didn’t like.”
President Andrew K. Benton said Kmiec is a very dear friend of his. They first met when Kmiec was a distinguished visiting professor at the School of Law after which he moved from Notre Dame to teach in a permanent position. “There would be few with as much knowledge of government,” Benton said. “There would be few with as diverse a set of experiences as Ambassador Kmiec.”
Benton said his first thought when he found out Kmiec was running for Congress was, “Why?”
“Here he is in Malibu, Calif., with a wonderful set of experiences and plenty of good things to do in our School of Law,” Benton said. “But as I ponder that a little bit, he’s a person with a restless desire to do good.”
Benton said he didn’t know who he would support in the upcoming election because he would need to know where all the candidates are going to stand on the issues before he had any idea of who to support. Benton said any support he would provide would be as an individual. “I’d never put Pepperdine in a political posture,” he said.
Kmiec said one of his biggest challenges throughout the election campaign will be, “To stay true to my own self, and I hope that’s a self of positive affirmation and kindness and building up other people and seeing potential rather than deconstructing.”
Kmiec said his approach is to stay positive throughout the campaign and to articulate a positive vision of the economic reform that is focused on the family, the middle class and the people we rely on so often in our democracy who often times get overlooked.
“We don’t measure our entire lives by whether or not it makes a profit,” Kmiec said. “It’s the way in which you contribute something that defines you to a larger world. That’s not necessarily a calculation that’s related to money. And some of the best teachers on this particular aspect of work are women.”
If he were to win the election, Kmiec said he would have to leave his current position as a professor at the School of Law just as he did when he was sworn into office as United States Ambassador to Malta in 2009.
“It comes at a cost because I love what I’m doing,” Kmiec said. “This is a great place to teach. The students are fantastic here and my colleagues are wonderful.”
He said he has mixed feelings. “One is excitement and starting something new and being able to grow from it,” he said. “But the other feeling is immediately ‘I’m giving up what I know.’”
Kmiec said it’s been the story of his life how he’s been fortunate enough to receive prestigious opportunities by people who included him in their executive administrations.
Benton said he wasn’t certain of the arrangements made the last time Kmiec left Pepperdine but that it is way too early to have many thoughts on that due to the early stages of the campaign.
Kmiec said if he were to win the election, one of the first things he would “roll his sleeves up for” would be a push for a sensible immigration law. “They’re human beings, and the fact of the matter is they were attracted to the U.S. just like all of our ancestors were attracted. We hoped there was some opportunity here. We hoped there was freedom here.”
He said to have an immigration system that traps you doesn’t fulfill the sovereign interest of the U.S. “You need a mechanism in which you survey people on the way in, but you also need a mechanism that keeps families together and doesn’t split them,” he said. “We need a mechanism that recognizes that immigration populations are doing excellent work that we couldn’t replace easily if at all.”
To further prove his point, Kmiec laid out the example of Ventura County’s strawberry and vegetable fields. “God created a pretty place out there. But at the same moment you recognize the beauty, you recognize the backbreaking work,” he said. “Just pick one row of strawberries, bending down like that, and these people are at it 8 or 10 hours a day. And if they’re treated unfairly because part of their group might not have gotten an entry card that’s compounding an injury that needs to be corrected.”
Kmiec also said a vastly improved education initiative that would address “the needs of modern job responsibilities” and tackles the imbalance in wealth would also be necessary.
“Make opportunities available to people who are well past your age to come back into the workforce,” he said. “There’s a real benefit to that kind of matching because you bring in the experience of another generation.”
On being Ambassador to Malta
“That turned out to be especially interesting because of the nature of the Arab Spring uprisings and turned out to be somewhat tragic because Chris Stevens (former American ambassador to Libya who died in the Benghazi attack) and I got to be good friends,” Kmiec said. “I lost a friend far too quickly in something we as a nation regret every day.”
Kmiec said the privilege of representing his country in a foreign country is irreplaceable. “I have to say it might have been just the sweetness or kindness of the people of Malta, but I’ve got more friends in that little island than I can count.”
When Chris Stevens died, Kmiec said he wrote a letter to then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in which he offered his services to replace Stevens. “She wrote back immediately a handwritten letter,” he said. “She appreciated it and agreed and said that the offer of assistance was very welcome.”
On being VP
Kmiec said if he wins the election, he would hope to be considered as an option to become the Vice President under the Hillary Clinton 2016 presidential campaign.
“I see it as an outside possibility,” he said. “The idea of running for Congress is to put myself in a position where I’m able to both lead in the interim [Hillary Clinton] for president and be ready for greater responsibility should that be God’s blessing and his wisdom.”
“I do know Secretary Clinton, I do believe she will prove herself to be POTUS and I do think that’s all to the good for both the world order and the America that I love,” Kmiec said.
Kmiec also mentioned improving botched U.S. foreign relations. “The whole notion that we want to treat our neighbor as, ‘Come on over neighbor we’ll give you a trickle’ – you wouldn’t think to do that to someone you know and respect,” he said. “You’d never say, ‘Well, I’m going to have a 16-ounce glass of Pepsi Cola myself but I’ll give you a sip.’”
Kmiec said the office of vice president is one that could be better used, since right now whether the VP has a significant role or not is subject to the direction of the president. “As a world leader as well as a leader that is going to lead to some significant reforms of the American society,” Kmiec said, “I think that I would be able to perform that role for Mrs. Clinton.”
Kmiec mentioned a recent phone conversation with former Congressman who asked him why he would like to join Congress if he believed it was currently such a hateful place. He said, “Because one smile, one act of kindness, one act of positive affirmation goes a long way in that kind of environment. That’s why Christ tells us to love our enemies; it’s not because it’s foolhardy, it’s because it shocks the hell out of them and they’re not prepared for it.”
Follow Ricardo Avila Alvarez on Twitter: @RAvila27