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Henry Waxman looks
back on 40 remarkable
years in Congress
Page 8 Beverly Hills Weekly
heory waxmao |ooks back oo 40 remarkab|e years
8y haocy Yeaog
Are you surprised by all the media
coverage your retirement is getting
from the Los Angeles media?
I’m pleasantly surprised by all the
coverage and nice things that people are
saying about me. I feel like I’m at my
own funeral and I don’t have to die.
You were first elected to the
Assembly when you were 29 years old
in 1968. Tell us about your first race
against Lester McMillan.
I ran against Lester McMillan who was
the Assemblyman in the district. The
district was overwhelmingly Democratic
so the Democratic primary was the only
election that counted. I didn’t think he
was going to run but he decided he was
going to run anyway [and] that he’d have
an easy time of it.
Mainly, [my] campaign was foot
leather; [me] going door-to-door and
volunteers going door-to-door. We spent
a relatively small sum of money. I think
it was around $50,000, if that much.
[McMillan] assumed that I didn’t real-
ly have much of a chance and didn’t
put on a campaign himself. I won
that race and that was the beginning
of being in public office.
I was elated that I had won, but
it was also the same election where
after I had found out I had won
Bobby Kennedy had been assassi-
nated. It was a night of very mixed
In 1974 you moved on to
Congress and served for 40 years.
The districts had changed because
the Supreme Court of California
appointed a Master to draw the
lines after the legislature and the
governor couldn’t agree on a redis-
tricting in 1971. By ’74 they just
took it on because the legislature
couldn’t agree and drew the lines.
It was a district that was without an
incumbent that covered a lot of the
area that I already represented and
so I was able to win that seat fairly
How was the House different when
you first got there versus now?
I think the House I represented was a
lot more collegial. People were open to
bipartisan coalitions of for and against
proposals. There was partisanship, but
after the elections were over we concen-
trated on our job of legislating and solv-
ing problems but it was less partisanship
as we focused in on the actual language
Now, there’s a lot more partisan-
ship and yet there’s still a possibility
for bipartisan legislation. We’re going
through the unfortunate circumstances
where Republicans who would like to work
on a bipartisan basis are intimidated by the
extremist of the Tea Party Republicans
who believe that compromise is a dirty
word and working with Democrats is like
complicity with the enemy, which I think
It’s a little harder, but on some issues
we have been able to work together. In
fact, we’ve made the argument to our
Republicans who are in the majority that
the best way for them to get a bill passed
into law is to work with us. They have
passed a lot of bills through the House
that I’ve fought against, but they haven’t
gotten anywhere. The only legislation that
has become law is where we’ve [worked]
Even in this difficult last year or so,
we’ve passed a bill to auction off some
of the spectrum to make it easier to com-
municate to handheld devices and [a por-
tion of] the money from the auction of the
spectrum is going to go to setting up an
inter-operable communication system for
first responders in the case of an emer-
gency, first responders such as police and
fire. This is something that’s long overdue
[and] was a recommendation after [Sept.
11, 2001] where the evaluation was a lot
of the first responders weren’t able to com-
municate with each other.
Then we passed legislation, a bipartisan
bill, to give FDA authority to police coun-
terfeit drugs and to stop contamination
of compounded drugs. Those were good
bills and had almost unanimous support
behind them, which often happens when
Democrats and Republicans work together.
Even as tough as things have been,
where the Republicans as a party have
been forced unanimously to vote together
everything President Obama has wanted
whether it was to boost the economy after
the crash or to reform the healthcare sys
tem, even along the lines of Republicans
in the past [who] have proposed legislation
to try to regulate the banking practices that
caused so much greed to force the crash in
our economy. Anything else, Republicans
have just voted, “No, no, no,” because they
don’t want to give Obama any victories,
which I strongly disagree with.
We have obligations to work together but
they haven’t been willing to work together
on the big issues, the budget issues of
course, even force them to close down the
agreement at the end of last year and that
was welcome, but it was a small one, but it
was better than closing down the govern
You’ve passed a number of landmark
Amendment in 1990, the Ryan White
Care Act in 1990, and the Tobacco
Control Act in 2009. Is there one that
stands out to you or are you equally
proud of them all?
I’m proud of all the bills that we have
been able to pass. Some are more momen
tous than others, but I think all of them
are an example of how government can do
important things that help the American
people. Even a bill such as requiring nutri
tional information on food that we pur
chase sounds like a no brainer, but that
was a fight to get passed. I think people
wouldn’t know what to think if we
didn’t have it today because they take it
and how that now is becoming a vehicle
ants that are causing climate change and
all the other parts of that Clean Air Act
dealing with toxic air pollutants and
acid rain and deterioration of the upper
and all the other bills that expanded
health care for the people.
I know that if it weren’t for the
approach to dealing with the HIV/AIDS
epidemic here in the United States, it
would be the difference between life
and death if we didn’t have that bill.
Then of course the Tobacco legis
lation is something that I feel very
strongly about, and then the bill to pro
vide generic drugs has meant lower cost
ern miracles drugs that people couldn’t
afford. We tried to create a balance so
that we could give the incentive for
investing and developing new break
Congressman Henry Waxman and his wife Janet Waxman.
“[My father] said to me the powerful groups always
have advocates, but you have to watch out for the
people who are poor or sick or elderly and speak up
for those who have no one else to speak for them.”
February 6- February 12, 2014
through medicines but at the same time
at some point to allow lower price drugs
through competition which is what gener-
ic has done.
You mentioned in your retirement
press release that your parents were
scarred by the depression and that
influenced a lot of your politics. Can
you elaborate more on that?
My parents were scarred by the
Depression. My father had to quit high
school to go to work to help support the
family. He later came back and went
through a program to get a high school
[education] but he never went to college.
I was the first one in the family to go to
college because of his emphasis on how
important education is.
But he believed that what the Democrats
were doing under the
New Deal was exact-
ly the kinds of things
government had to
do. Give people a
chance and try to pro-
tect people and try
to help people help
themselves. Not just
let the market place
operation [be] based
on greed, which
could harm people.
He strongly support-
ed, as do I even to
this day, social secu-
rity, Medicare, Medi-
Cal for California for
All these programs
make a difference in
peoples’ lives and he
impressed that upon
He said to me the
always have advocates, but you have to
watch out for the people who are poor or
sick or elderly and speak up for those who
have no one else to speak for them.
It sounds like you carry a lot of your
father’s words with you while you’re
Yes. He also said to sit up straight
and eat vegetables. I keep on reminding
myself [and] I hear my father’s voice.
Your son Michael used to live in
Beverly Hills when he served on the
L.A. community college board. Tell us
what your family is up to now.
My son Michael [almost 40] is now liv-
ing in the Washington [D.C.] area doing
public relations work. He decided he
didn’t want to be in politics or at least in
Our daughter [Shai, 50] is ten years
older and she’s living in Israel and has
three kids, the two oldest of whom have
already served in the Israeli military
because that’s a requirement. I’m proud of
her, she takes her Zionist views seriously
and wanted to live in a Jewish community
and help build it up. She’s working for
a lot of non-profit groups, helping them
give out money where it could do the
maximum amount of good for people.
My wife is married to me for almost 43
years, she’s been active in a lot of differ-
ent groups and causes.
How often do you get to see everyone
Altogether it’s hard to do, but we try to
do it maybe once a year.
What are your plans when you
retire? Do you plan to move back to
California or stay in Washington D.C.?
I have no idea what I’ll do after I leave
Congress in December. I’d like to have
a position where I’m in Washington and
Los Angeles. I just don’t want to go home
every weekend. I will
not be a lobbyist, but
I am a lawyer, so
I might go back to
that. It’s hard to look
forward to [life after
Congress] until I
know what it’s going
to be. [laughs]
But I felt that after
40 years it was time
to give somebody
new and younger a
chance to build up
seniority and to carry
on the fight and I
also felt for me if
I’m going to have a
life after Congress, I
should do it now.
Did it take you
a long time to
decide on your
I have been mull-
ing it over and I would rather not have
to decide, but the filing for people to run
for office in California is coming up start-
ing Feb. 10 and I then I think it ends some-
where in March, so the only fair thing to
do is to make a decision and to let people
know about it so they could plan their
future. I’m pleased to see a lot of good
people are looking to run.
Are there any past or present Beverly
Hills people that played a formidable
role in your career?
I’ve always been so pleased to represent
Beverly Hills. Whenever I tell anybody
in Washington or anywhere around the
world I always get a look of awe and it’s
a fabulous community. It has the aura
of the entertainment industry because so
many people from the industry have lived
in Beverly Hills. It’s a community that is
in some ways a small town in the midst of
the L.A. area and there’s a real community
spirit that I’ve always admired.
Were there any particular people who
helped you out in your career from
Oh yeah, but I don’t want to start men-
tioning any names because I’ll forget.
What advice would you give to a young
person starting off in politics today?
I think a young person starting off in
politics today who might want to run for
office has a harder time because of the
funding that’s required to run a campaign.
I think that’s unfortunately one of the
unfinished items that we need to reform:
our campaign finance system. It’s gotten
My opponent last time around spent $8
million of his own money. That’s hard
to match. There are outside groups that
can spend unlimited amounts of money.
I just think it’s very difficult for people
to contemplate running for office without
the money in advance and that just means
we’re pricing out a lot of very talented
people who could make a great contribu-
I would urge people to be involved in
politics. If they have a chance to run for
office, do it, but to be involved whether
they run for office or not. They shouldn’t
let the important decisions done through
the elective and legislative process be
done by others without holding them
accountable and being involved.
Much has been said about there being
increased partisanship in the house
these days, what if anything do you
think could be done about this?
I think the partisanship is unfortunate
and I hope we get beyond it. I think the
Republicans are going through a civil war
and I don’t think a lot of rational, reason
able Republicans who represented the
traditional business community base want
to be in the situation where they refuse to
work with their colleagues because they’re
Democrats. I think that the right wing is in
for a challenge in the Republican Party
and I’m hoping that people who emerge
will be more reasonable to work with.
If you could do your career
again is there anything you would do
I have some regrets, but they are few,
and they’re too few to mention, and there
fore I’m not going to mention.
“I would urge people to
be involved in politics.
If they have a chance
to run for office, do it,
but be involved whether
they run for office or
not. They shouldn’t let
the important decisions
done through the elective
and legislative process
be done by others
without holding them
accountable and being
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