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North State elections: Democratic House candidate Kermit Jones

Kermit Jones, a Democrat, is challenging Republican candidate Kevin Kiley in the November election to represent California’s 3rd congressional district. Photo courtesy of Kermit Jones.
Kermit Jones, a Democrat, is challenging Republican candidate Kevin Kiley in the November election to represent California’s 3rd congressional district. Photo courtesy of Kermit Jones.

Democratic candidate Kermit Jones is running to represent California’s newly redrawn 3rd Congressional District. He is challenging Republican candidate Kevin Kiley.

Jones is currently a family physician. He is also a lawyer and a Navy veteran who served in Iraq.

NSPR’s Jamie Jiang recently interviewed Jones about wildfire mitigation, education, and climate action.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

On the top three issues facing the region

When I've gone through our district from, you know, Plumas and Sierra County all the way down to Inyo County, I hear a lot of people that are talking about issues with respect to health care, access to reproductive health … fire-related issues, which is why we are very heavily leaning into our federal fire insurance plan. And then also inflation.

On how to keep constituents safe from wildfires

There are multiple components that we need to put in place in order to keep many of our communities safe. So, first, making sure that people have the resources to harden their homes, create that defensible space, which we know that there have been mandates for, but a lot of people simply can't afford it. So there's that component.

The second component is, as you probably know, in Plumas County, and many other counties, some areas of the county, between 70-90%, is federally owned, or federally controlled forest land. So that second component of that, that I want to do, is really have the federal government take responsibility of some of these areas. Whether it's raising the wages of the people supposed to do the fuel reduction, some of the forest technicians … and then also making sure that they actually put the resources in and cut the red tape for people to get those resources, whether it's organizations that do that on their behalf.

On any plans to make insurance in wildfire-prone communities affordable

I think it's very important. I mean, we're at a period where people are paying more for goods and services than they have in the last 40 years.

My federal fire insurance plan will provide federal and state tax rebates for people to harden their homes, create the defensible space up front, then earn those insurance premiums that the commissioner has talked about, and actually lower the cost of their insurance in real time.

On how Jones would use the position to help fire survivors rebuild

Well, one of the two committees that I plan on being on is the Natural Resources Committee, which does have some jurisdiction and influence over FEMA. So then I will reach out to the officials in that organization and other aspects of the government that deal with disaster assistance, and hold them to account.

On any plans to address the cost of housing

The cost of housing has become exorbitantly expensive, as many people have seen, even interest rates have gone up. And then the place of housing is a challenge as well. Some areas of Plumas County had nearly a million acres burned with the Dixie Fire. And I think if we get more federal support, leasing of federal lands and grants that are tied to the incomes of these areas, that would help support people, especially with limited means, to be able to afford housing.

On plans to advocate for education in the district

One of the biggest reasons that we saw so many teachers retire during COVID is they didn't feel supported. They weren't getting the economic support from the state and from the federal government … And so that's something I want to make sure that we highlight. And then also getting the support for some of the students with special needs.

On whether access to affordable healthcare is a priority and plans to improve access

100%. I've been a doctor for 18 years. But I know what it's like when people can't get access to health care, not just from a patient standpoint with some of my patients needing caps on medication so they can afford them, but also from a resource standpoint. There are just a lot of people that, literally because of where they live — in areas of Plumas County I know there are few hospitals, and other places — even when they have insurance, if they don't have access to hospitals and providers near them, then it becomes more of a challenge. So we want to increase that with some grants to bring some health care workers to some of these rural areas and then also extend some of the broadband that we found works so well in terms of virtual care.

On plans to address the drought

We've seen that there are places — I’ve always used Israel as a good example —where they are water challenged, they can efficiently have irrigation and ways in which they put solar panels over them, (which) lowers the temperature of the water itself and then also produces electricity.

Supporting those things that we're trying to do from a sustainable energy standpoint, and slowly transitioning away from things that are increasing the temperature of the atmosphere, while also doing the things that we need to do with respect to forest health. And then finally, incentivizing a little bit more efficient use of the water so that it can actually go to the places it needs to go, I think are the best short and medium-term things that we can do to address our water shortage.

On how to address illegal weed operations

I'll work with my state counterparts because a lot of these types of issues have to be dealt with at the state level. And I'm proud to say that's why we've been endorsed by PORAC, the largest police officers union in the state, as well as the California Professional Firefighters because we want to work with our state partners to actually address these issues in a way that's conducive.

On whether curbing the effects of climate change is a priority and how to take action

100%. I mean, that's one of the reasons that we have our federal fire insurance plan. And, you know, it's one of the reasons I vowed not to have these conflicts of interest in terms of who we want to hold accountable and then who we take money from.

And we also support those things that I think are being done to help move us into a smaller size carbon footprint.

On the rising cost of gas

I have consistently said that I think we need to consider things like pausing the gas tax. But I think it's much more than that. The gas prices themselves are a system, or rather a symptom of, a much larger problem. They probably will not go down excessively until the war in Ukraine and Russia and that aggression over there is taken care of.

We need to have efficient refineries. And we know right now that there are some challenges with some of the refineries in California, but then also increasing the supply of non-petroleum-based energy sources.

And then finally, like I said, working with our state counterparts on ways in which they can maybe still get the revenue that they need for their roads, while also providing some relief at the gas pump right now in terms of pausing the taxes.

Editor’s note: NSPR also spoke with Republican candidate for the seat Kevin Kiley. You can hear that interview tomorrow during Morning Edition and All Things Considered. It will also be posted on our website. 

Jamie is NSPR’s wildfire reporter and Report For America corps member. She covers all things fire, but her main focus is wildfire recovery in the North State. Before NSPR, Jamie was at UCLA, where she dabbled in college radio and briefly worked as podcast editor at the Daily Bruin.