Name as it appears on the ballot: William (B.J.) Lawson
Date of birth: 3/30/1974
Campaign web site: www.lawsonforcongress.com
Occupation & employer: Congressional Candidate (none)
1. What do you believe are the most important issues facing your U.S. House district, the state of North Carolina and the nation? If elected, what are your top three priorities in addressing those issues?
Our founding documents established a government of, by, and for the people, specifically designed to protect the individual's unalienable rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. This premise means protecting the individual's opportunity to prosper and create value for one's community through free enterprise and exchange, not smothering it with the rapid accumulation of debt and doling out special privileges to corporations. It also means protecting fundamental civil liberties enshrined in the Constitution, not ignoring them in the name of "security." It means defending our people when attacked, not launching costly and unjust aggressive wars. Finally, it means having a government that, at all levels and in all branches, respects the bounds of its Constitutional authority and obligations, not a government that ignores and delegates them.
The most pressing issues facing our district and our nation are our government's departure from its founding principles. This departure threatens our future with $53 trillion in unfunded liabilities, an unstable financial system that relentlessly increases the separation between rich and poor, and the increasing domination of corporate power and interests at the expense of individuals facing increasing pressure to make ends meet. This departure endangers our national security with a belligerent and unwise foreign policy. Finally, it threatens the right of the individual to live and act as one pleases without injuring others, and to be afforded protections and due process under the law.
My first priority in addressing these issues is to improve the legislative process. Specifically, there are four bills that I will sponsor and advance as your Representative: the Read the Bills Act, requiring full verbatim readings of bills before votes; the Write the Laws Act, ending law by decree of the Executive Branch and reasserting Congress' authority and obligation to make laws; the Enumerated Powers Act, requiring every bill in Congress to cite its specific Constitutional authorization; and the One Subject at a Time Act, ending the practice of railroading legislation by adding special favors and combining it with unrelated legislation.
My second priority is the preservation of our nation's financial viability, which is vital for our economic prosperity and growth. I will return economic power to individual Americans, instead of allowing the massive drain on our resources by corporate interests who lobby at the federal trough. We must balance the federal budget, reduce our current national debt, and eliminate our long-term unfunded liabilities -- but we must do so by empowering individuals to create local economic growth in self-sufficient communities. I will also promote alternatives to our debt-based money system, which is devaluing our currency and creates destabilizing financial bubbles such as our current housing and credit crisis.
My third and most important priority is upholding our Constitution. A government serving the people must protect the individual rights and respect the bounds of its authority. Failing to do so leaves our society susceptible to tyranny and domination by special interests. I support legislation and practices that safeguard our civil liberties and assert Congress' legislative authority while preserving checks and balances on the all-too-breached Constitutional authority of Executive and Judicial Branches.
2. What in your record as a public official or other experience demonstrates your ability to be effective in the House of Representatives? This might include career or community service; be specific about its relevance to this office.
As a physician and neurosurgery resident, I experienced firsthand the challenges of our current healthcare system. I left practice in 2001 to start a hospital software company specifically to make physicians more efficient, and patient care safer. These two experiences gave me a wealth of experience studying human nature, defining and solving problems, and working collaboratively to achieve results.
I also learned the challenges of starting and growing a business, and how our federal tax and regulatory environment favors the politically connected over the innovative businesses so important to new job creation and our future economic success.
While I certainly don't have all the answers, I eschew divisive partisan politics and bring a broad educational and career background encompassing engineering, medicine, business, and finance. The skills from these disciplines are poorly represented in our government today.
3. How do you define yourself politically and how does your political philosophy show itself in your past achievements and present campaign platform?
I value principles and policy ideas far more than labels. I adhere to the principles of individual liberty, foreign policy based on diplomacy and trade rather than military aggression, fiscal responsibility, and Constitutionally limited government that effectively fulfills its responsibilities. Philosophical labels serve to lump people into groups, which only leads to prejudice, division, and herd action rather than supporting individual candidates and policies based upon principles and merit.
It is an unfortunate reality that participating in today's political process requires adopting a party affiliation. While I am, and have been, a registered Republican, I prefer to quote Thomas Jefferson on the matter of partisan politics:
"I never submitted the whole system of my opinions to the creed of any party of men whatever, in religion, in philosophy, in politics, or in anything else, where I was capable of thinking for myself. Such an addiction is the last degradation of a free and moral agent. If I could not go to heaven but with a party, I would not go there at all." --Thomas Jefferson to Francis Hopkinson, 1789. ME 7:300
My primary commitment is to uphold and defend the Constitution of the United States to the best of my ability. I'll caucus with Dennis Kucinich to preserve civil liberties, Ron Paul to reform the monetary and banking system, Marcy Kaptur to fight exploitative corporatism, Walter Jones to bring the troops home, Barney Frank to reform unconstitutional drug policy, and Roscoe Bartlett to address peak oil and long-term sustainability.
Our problems are not partisan problems — they're American problems. If you look across Congress, there are glimmers of hope for restoring our Constitution across parties, and among many members. We need principled leaders who serve the people, and caucus based on areas of expertise and interest instead of mindlessly parroting a vapid "party line."
4. The Independent's mission is to help build a just community in the Triangle and North Carolina. Please point to a specific position in your platform that would, if achieved, help further that goal.
As a physician, I am particularly appalled by the fact we treat drug abuse as a criminal offense rather than as an individual medical problem. A particularly egregious byproduct of federal drug prohibition is our inherently unjust way of prosecuting these "crimes" and administering sentences, as rates of drug abuse and incarceration provide ample evidence for institutionalized racism. I reject the idea of incarcerating potentially productive individuals for making choices that hurt only themselves.
In Congress, I will work to end federal drug prohibition and federally mandated drug sentences. These policies are unconstitutional, disproportionately punish the poor and disenfranchised, and empower an underground economy of dangerous criminals that further destabilize disadvantaged communities. Changing our destructive drug policies will create a more just society by reducing crime and violence, reducing rates of drug addiction, and reducing the expense and long-term economic damage of imprisonment.
We learned through experience that alcohol prohibition was an expensive and dangerous failure that empowered organized crime while not reducing alcohol consumption. Today, it is easier for children to obtain "illegal" drugs than regulated substances like alcohol and tobacco. Finally, common-sense state-level regulation of alcohol and tobacco has eliminated the underground economy trafficking those substances, along with its accompanying crime and violence.
5. Identify a principled stand you might be willing to take if elected that you suspect might cost you some popularity points with voters.
A topic of prime importance to our economic future is entitlement reform, which has significant implications for our financial health. Currently, the federal government has long-term unfunded liabilities of $53 trillion to $99 trillion, according to estimates, mostly due to unsustainable growth of Social Security and Medicare. Furthermore, there is no money currently in so-called "trust funds" to cover this long-term deficit. Congress has been spending surplus funds in prior years, instead of saving for the future.
Without fundamental changes in our debt-based money system itself, eliminating this gap is going to require tough choices that will not be popular. But it is vital that we address this issue now rather than continuing to ignore it and jeopardizing the economic viability of future generations. Within the current fiscal framework, reforms such as means testing and raising the retirement age must not be taken off of the table.
6. The U.S. has been fighting the war in Iraq for five years. Was the decision to invade a mistake? What should our policy in Iraq be today? Should we base substantial military forces there for the foreseeable future? Start to withdraw now, or if not now, according to a plan (i.e., on a timetable)? Which, if any, of the congressional resolutions introduced so far on Iraq do you support?
"Was the decision to invade a mistake?" Yes. We should immediately begin to withdraw from Iraq with the goal of a full withdrawal as quickly as possible, without a permanent presence of American troops in the country. I support H.R. 2605, a resolution that would end the Authorization of Use of Military Force in Iraq Resolution of 2002 within 180 days. I support a timetable for withdrawal of U.S. military troops from Iraq.
7. Evaluate the war in Afghanistan. What troop levels and funding should be allocated to fight that war? What is our goal there, in your view? What should our policy be? What legislation should be introduced to address those issues?
The 2001 authorization for use of military force against al-Qaeda and the Taliban was exactly that. There was no language in the resolution authorizing an occupation, installation of a government of our choosing, a nation-building operation, or long-term deployment of military troops. As Michael Scheuer, former chief of the Bin Laden Unit of the CIA, details in his book Imperial Hubris, Afghanistan is a region historically composed of many different and conflicted ethnic groups and tribes who nonetheless share contempt for foreign invasion and occupation. This reality was the case when the British Empire and USSR invaded and occupied, and is becoming the case with our current occupation. Not unexpectedly, warlords are uniting with the resurgent Taliban in resisting our installed government and our intervention.
Afghanistan, like Iraq, is a demonstration of the failure of our unwise and arbitrary interventionist foreign policy. We were financially supporting the Taliban as we did Saddam Hussein, and after deposing them for doing something we didn't like, our hubris led us to install a government and attempt a costly nation-building project that ignores the history and culture of the area. And while we attempted this ill-advised strategy, we simultaneously diverted resources away from it to conduct the ill-advised invasion and occupation of Iraq. Our experience in Afghanistan and Iraq demonstrates the need for a wholesale change in our foreign policy toward one based consistently on the principle of diplomacy and trade rather than aggressive interventionism.
The goal in Afghanistan going forward should be the same goal originally detailed in the resolution: to hunt down those responsible for the attacks on 9/11 and bring them to justice.
8. What other major foreign policy issues do you see as needing Congress' attention? Rate the importance of those issues and explain what you would do in Congress to address them.
Our foreign policy needs thorough re-examination. For more than a half-century, we have conducted a foreign policy of aggressive interventionism, largely influenced by the military industrial complex, the oil industry, and other special interests. This foreign policy generates a phenomenon that former CIA analyst and national security expert Chalmers Johnson terms "blowback," which are aggressive responses by offended parties to our foreign policy that run counter to our national interests. We have seen blowback in nearly every region of the world in which we have intervened, be it the Middle East, Central Asia, Southeast Asia, or Latin America.
Given the increasing interconnectedness of our world, foreign policy is of prime importance. It has relevance not only to our security, prestige, and cultural enrichment, but also our economic well-being. This is true of our trade policy and activity, but it is also true of the exorbitant fiscal cost of our foreign policy, which the Independent Institute estimates to be $1 trillion. Given our dire fiscal prognosis, foreign policy is clearly an area to target for significant reform and expense reduction.
In Congress, I will consistently advocate for a non-interventionist foreign policy utilizing an economic and diplomatic offense with a military defense, as opposed the other way around.
9. In your view, what are the components of comprehensive immigration reform? What needs to happen in order for this reform to happen under a new administration?
As someone once said to me, "Our borders are neither open, closed, nor secure." Our borders are not open to millions around the world desiring to come here as productive participants in our society who are delayed for years, often decades, through the cumbersome and unfair legal process. Our borders are not closed to those who come across with lack of regard for our immigration laws. And our borders are not secure from the trespassing of national security threats.
The vital component of a comprehensive immigration reform bill is physical security of the Northern and Southern borders. Border security is a national security issue, as intelligence reports indicate that al-Qaeda as well as international gangs such as M.S. 13 have infiltrated the country without detection through our borders. Furthermore, this issue is a stark representation of Washington's broken priorities, as we are sending Border Patrol agents to secure borders in occupied Iraq while our borders remain porous. I do not support a border fence, as I believe a physical barrier is impractical. I believe the answer is bolstered Border Patrol.
I would also seek to simplify our immigration laws, which are preventing talented and productive people from coming to our country. I support easing requirements for Student and H1B Visas. I would also work to ease requirements for current legal immigrants to achieve extended and permanent residency status.
Another component is addressing the economic incentives driving illegal immigration, which are driven largely by federal mandates for provision of public services. I will work to end unfunded federal mandates, while respecting the rights of local communities to provide public services to the extent allowed by their local resources.
Finally, a question of great difficulty is the issue of amnesty. I do not support the idea of federal troops and agents barging into homes and private property with machine guns to forcibly take away people who entered the country illegally. Such police state tactics only incite fear, without changing the underlying economic incentives encouraging illegal immigration. However, I do believe that amnesty for immigrants who entered illegally is disrespectful to those who have come here through legal channels, and in good conscience, I cannot support it. I believe people here illegally should be given the opportunity to obtain temporary status as a guest worker, but that a path to permanent residency or citizenship requires that they leave the country and reapply through a fair, sustainable, and streamlined process that is accessible to all.
It is important to remember that an essential part of addressing the immigration issue is the responsibility of foreign governments to institute good economic policies that provide opportunities for their citizens. While we cannot directly control corruption or economic opportunity in other countries, to the extent that our trade and agricultural policies damage other nations, we worsen the problem of illegal immigration.
10. There has been an increase in unemployment, a rise in home foreclosures, a spike in food and fuel prices, a huge federal deficit, and other troubling economic indicators. What do you see as the primary sources of our current economic problems? What measures should Congress use to resolve address them? How would you begin to reduce the federal deficit? What are some of the possible negative consequences of your proposed solutions?
Our economic future is unsustainable, with a $10 trillion federal debt and impossible long-term entitlement obligations.
Working within the current framework, I will advocate for a Balanced Budget Amendment to the Constitution. I support reinstating Clinton-era budget controls such as PAYGO, and I will look to hold all of Congress to this policy. I will fight corporate welfare subsidies, promote substantive structural reforms of entitlement programs such as raising the retirement age, and work for fundamental tax reform of a system that is economically inefficient, benefits special interests, and by many calculations costs hundreds of billions of dollars a year in lost revenue through loopholes. Furthermore, any discussion about restoration of fiscal solvency cannot occur without discussion of our expensive foreign policy, for which the Independence Institute estimates a cost of $1 trillion. Ending the occupation of Iraq, reducing our military presence abroad, and eliminating foreign aid to regimes who disrespect human rights are all vital steps to restoring fiscal health. Examples of some negative consequences of these actions include having to wait longer to receive entitlement benefits, delaying some desired current tax and spending proposals, or removing some popular tax loopholes. However, it is absolutely vital that we get to work now to eliminate the federal budget deficit and the long-term unfunded liabilities gap.
More important than the above discussion, however, is recognizing that the primary source of our current economic problems is an inherently unsustainable, unstable, and unjust debt-based monetary system that has been pushed to its limits of viability. The broadening turmoil in credit markets and the banking system over the past few weeks have reinvigorated conversations about money and banking that have been dormant for almost a century. Just as the gas shortages following Hurricane Katrina encouraged 4th District residents to discuss and understand Gulf Coast refining capacity and the Colonial Pipeline, the credit crisis and surrounding economic turmoil is evidence that we need a better understanding of the most critical commodity in our economy -- our money itself.
Improving our economic foundation requires giving more power to individuals, and reducing the power of corporate interests that currently dominate our government and thus our economy. We need sustainable local communities whose individuals can create wealth using local capital, and who are not solely dependent on credit available at the whim of our banking system. There is no need to eliminate the current system, but we need to recognize the importance of monetary choice and monetary freedom.
I will seek to restore a balance of power between individuals and corporate entities by affirming an individual's right to engage in barter transactions with another individual without incurring tax liability. Individuals should be free to conduct trade in community barter currencies, or other currencies backed by commodities like gold and silver. Local currencies create local economic growth, and we need a return to local, community-based self-sufficiency driven by healthy local economies.
11. What should be done about the growing numbers of Americans without health insurance? What system would most fairly insure all Americans—while keeping in mind the cost?
As a physician and a health care entrepreneur, I believe I have a qualified understanding of our health care system and its challenges. I believe there are steps that the government can take that will increase access while lowering costs.
Congress should use the Interstate Commerce Clause of the Constitution to open a national marketplace in health insurance in which individuals and businesses may purchase cheaper insurance across state lines. We can purchase car, property, and life insurance outside of our state -- why not health insurance? Secondly, I believe we should offer credits to individuals and the self-employed to cover the cost of purchasing individual health plans, while removing the irrational subsidy provided to employer-provided health insurance. Tying healthcare benefits to employment has numerous unintended consequences, as healthcare is an intensely personal issue that should not be dependent on a paternalistic employer.
Empowering individuals to purchase health coverage will result in a greater market for individual policies, and policies will include typical insurance and a combination of insurance and health savings accounts. With these two steps, we will make health insurance more accessible and affordable while further lowering insurance costs by broadening pools. Giving more money, and thus more power, to individual patients instead of corporate and government bureaucrats will facilitate more cost-consciousness by patients working with their chosen health care providers. Increased cost-consciousness for routine care will free up resources so that insurance rates for large unexpected expenses are more affordable for everyone.
We should also look at current government policies that are arbitrarily raising the cost of our health care system. Chris Conover of Duke University found that in 2004, health care regulation imposed an economic cost of nearly $160 billion net of estimated benefits. Clearly, when facing this figure, one would observe that reducing this cost should be a priority. I will work to remove regulations that restrict access to safe, affordable, and effective treatments, such as many alternative medicines and treatment by ancillary and alternative providers. The Food and Drug Administration should focus on its original mission of certifying that food and drugs are pure and contain the advertised substances, as suggested by the Pure Food and Drug Act that effectively founded this regulatory body in 1906. I will also work to reform drug patenting regulations that unduly benefit drug manufacturers while delaying cheaper generic drugs.
12. On the environment, do you support a federal moratorium on new coal-fired power plants until clean coal technologies can be developed? Why or why not? And secondly, what legislation should Congress pass to help address the issue of climate change and global warming?
I do not support a moratorium on coal-fired power plants. It is constitutionally questionable, and energy firms should be free to produce energy if there is a need for it as long as the taxpayer does not subsidize their investment and they do not damage private property through pollution.
I do support options such as pollution charges and substantial tort retribution to prevent damages to the environment and private property, both of which will be economically efficient and effective mechanisms that fit within Congress' Constitutional authority to levy excise taxes and establish jurisdiction of courts.
I am still exploring options to address climate change. One policy proposal in which I am particularly interested is the possibility of a Green Tax shift from income taxation to taxes on polluting non-renewable energy. For example, I am open to substituting a Carbon Tax for the individual income tax. Such a tax honors the principle of individual liberty, as it would assign a cost to private property infringement by environmental damage; and it would be economically efficient, by encouraging people to reduce negative externalities and embrace renewable alternatives. As Al Gore has said, "Tax what you burn, not what you earn." I do not support so-called "cap and trade" legislation, however.
I also believe a change in our foreign policy and ending the irrational subsidization of our petroleum economy will encourage economically viable alternatives to fossil fuels. Eliminating energy subsidies will give consumers a strong incentive to increase their energy efficiency while encouraging development of renewable alternatives. This transition will take decades, but over the long term we simply must become more efficient. Higher unsubsidized energy prices are the natural stimulus for increased efficiency and developing alternatives.
13. Where do you stand on:
a. The death penalty?
I oppose the death penalty.
b. Abortion rights?
As suggested by my opposition to the death penalty, I am consistently pro-life and believe that the purpose of government is to protect life. I personally believe that unborn children have an unalienable right to life. I also believe that the 10th Amendment precludes federal involvement in the issue and leaves jurisdiction over it to states and our local communities. I believe state purview over the matter is Constitutionally preferred, and a good compromise to advance a local debate on how to reduce the number of unwanted pregnancies and provide alternatives to abortions to the state and local level.
c. Affirmative action?
I do not support federally mandated Affirmative Action, as I believe it is unconstitutional. I believe that rights belong to individuals and that success and opportunity should be based on individual merit. I fully support the right of private institutions to employ Affirmative Action policies if desired, however, and I believe states have Constitutional purview to do so, as well.
d. Gay rights?
Again, I believe that rights belong to individuals, not groups. I support protection of every individual's unalienable rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. These rights include the freedom of association, including any state-enforced contractual association with whomever they wish. I will oppose any attempt by Congress to define marriage.
e. Retroactive immunity for the telecommunications companies that engaged in domestic surveillance without a warrant?
14. With the passage of the USA PATRIOT Act, civil liberties—including habeas corpus and privacy rights—have been sharply curbed over the past seven years. Do you think these actions are justified? If so, please be specific in how they've been effective. If not, please explain how you would work in Congress to restore civil liberties, and what, if any, restrictions on them you would propose.
The substantial evisceration of our civil liberties over the past decades is dangerous and unjustified. These basic freedoms are the root the concept of a free society, and it is fundamentally destructive to this concept to jettison them in the name of "security." In Congress, I will work to repeal legislation such as the Patriot Act, the Real ID Act, the Violent Radicalization and Homegrown Terrorism Prevention Act, the Military Commissions Act, and the Secret Evidence Act.
I enthusiastically support the American Freedom Agenda Act, which restores Constitutional safeguards to our civil liberties. I will also confront the deplorable use of torture in interrogations, which I believe is a blatant violation of both the Fifth and Eighth Amendments. I will challenge unconstitutional Executive Orders violating the President's oath of office to preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution while circumventing his authority and obligation to enforce laws rather than make them.
15. Where do you stand on the issue of offshore drilling? What changes do you feel are necessary in the U.S. Energy Policy?
While I support offshore drilling with appropriate environmental safeguards, I also acknowledge that it is neither a substantive way to reduce long-term oil and gas prices nor a sustainable answer to our energy challenges.
We currently subsidize nonrewable energy both directly and by using our foreign policy (and often our military) to open opportunities for investment abroad. We're also subsidizing the corn ethanol industry, which is economically and energetically inefficient and has been linked to significant increases in global food prices. The government advantages bestowed on these industries create barriers for providers of more effective alternative energy.
Another egregious example of government restricting progress on alternative energy is the irrational ban on industrial hemp. Industrial hemp is not a psychoactive substance, and is a much more efficient source of ethanol and plant fibers than currently subsidized food crops.
16. In your view, what are the components of comprehensive immigration reform? What needs to happen in order for this reform to happen under a new administration?
Immigration - repeated
17. District 13 candidates only: What is your view of the National Bio and Agro Defense Facility, which could be built in Butner? What role does citizen opposition play in your decision whether to support it?
Even as a District 4 citizen and candidate, I am strongly opposed to NBAF. While some hail it as a worthwhile federal gravy train in the name of economic development, one must wonder why New York's sitting Congressman Tim Bishop has been encouraging his constituents to reject NBAF at the current biodisease laboratory on Plum Island.
One must also question what qualifies the Department of Homeland Security to run a BSL-4 laboratory given its poor track record for transparency and accountability.
Finally, one must question why my opponent insists on not taking a position on this facility until government contractors produce the final Environmental Impact Statement and thus give Homeland Security a final decision. It seems odd that one would avoid doing research and taking a position, and instead wait to be told what to think.
18. Are there any other issues on which you, as a member of Congress, will focus if elected?
Based upon the philosophy of upholding the Constitution and empowering individuals, I will resist attempts to gain federal funding for projects that support special interests.
For example, special interests in the state legislature have empowered the University of North Carolina to use eminent domain and seize land for a new airport in Orange County, in defiance of local property owners and existing land use agreements. These same special interests appear to be seeking federal funding for this project, which treads on dangerous grounds with respect to eminent domain and property rights.
I have no objection to private aviation or airports, but eminent domain and land seizure are only to be used as a last resort, and for a clear public use. Those desiring a new airport must go through the same zoning and planning process that other potential business owners must navigate. Most importantly, there can be no expectation of federal funds for such a local project.