Sacramento County Sheriff Scott Jones likes to say he’s a sheriff by choice but a politician by force. This year, his maxim will be tested in more ways than one.
Jones, a Republican, is challenging Democratic Rep. Ami Bera, who represents a swing district that takes in much of suburban Sacramento County. Jones sat down Thursday with The Sacramento Bee’s Capitol Bureau for his first extended interview on the race. Following is an edited transcript of the policy-focused discussion.
Q: What do think should be done about immigration?
A: No. 1, you are not going to deport 11 million people. I wouldn’t even advise you do that because by and large they are productive members of our community. They deserve more than what we are giving them despite the fact that they are here illegally. I would advocate for a pathway to legal status for each and every one of them. For some that may be work visas. For some that may mean a pathway to citizenship. For some that may mean temporary visas or student visas. But you can’t have that unless you secure the borders, and that’s either physically or figuratively, but the borders have to be secure.
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Q: By electing you, (would) there be more likelihood that this could happen?
A: I could tell you that whatever position I have there will be a greater likelihood of it happening with me in Congress than Dr. Bera. ... It’s a Republican-controlled House and it will be after this election as well. And so some of the ineffectiveness that he’s had to endure in Congress is not his fault. ... It would be much like me being in the (state) Assembly: There’s not a whole lot that I could do here in California.
Q: What are your choice committees?
A: Judiciary or Homeland Security. (Jones said he’s shared with the National Republican Congressional Committee that he doesn’t want to be “relegated to insignificant committee assignments when I get there.”)
Q: Which Republican candidate would you prefer (for president)?
A: I very much like Marco Rubio. I think he’s moderate on some of the issues. I don’t think he brings a lot of the baggage that we are starting to see with some of the other candidates, Ted Cruz. I don’t think (Donald) Trump will get the nomination. I think what people say they are going to do in polls is different than what they do in the voting booths. And I think at the end of the day people want someone they can trust … they want someone with experience in politics to be their president. That’s not to say I (am) endorsing (Rubio) or would vote for him today. But I can tell you that I like what I see from him.
Q: Abortion? Gay marriage? Where do you stand on those?
A: I am pro-life ... but I will temper that by saying I am never going to be in the difficult position of having to make that decision. And as long as it remains a legal option for folks in America, I don’t think it’s right to try and stall the budget, or use political tools to try and undermine what is the law. If there’s an opportunity to change the law … or advocate on behalf of pro-life causes, OK. But it should remain advocacy.
Q: You wouldn’t join the vote to defund Planned Parenthood?
A: I wouldn’t. I believe there is some rational thought that there shouldn’t be taxpayer-funded abortions, but I believe that could easily be dismissed by tracking the money and the purposes for which it’s being spent. Planned Parenthood does, obviously, more than abortions. They provide essential medical services for women on a whole host of different factors.
Q: And on same-sex marriage?
A: Gay marriage I am completely indifferent to. Why should heterosexual people get to have all the fun? That is something that doesn’t even cross my radar. If gay and lesbian folks want to get married, why wouldn’t they be able to?
Q: What, if anything, do you think Congress should be doing about climate change?
A: I am not sure that’s the right discussion to have because that’s very polarizing. The Republicans deny climate change is even happening. And there’s some authority for that. The Democrats, that’s one of their primary issues. And there’s plenty (of) authority for that as well. I think the issue should be: Are the byproducts of our views on climate change worthwhile to pursue? Reducing greenhouse gases, getting cleaner energy sources. Are those worthwhile endeavors? That’s something I think everybody could agree on. Yes, those are things I would love to work on. But if you take them out of the climate change argument then it really becomes less polarizing. Who couldn’t get behind fewer emissions and cleaner fuel sources?
Q: Do you support the Paris agreement?
A: I don’t know how we enforce it. … I am not sure we should still divest our authority in the world and give it to United Nations and other international associations.
Q: How about the minimum wage?
A: I am against a minimum wage increase. … It’s very politically expedient to say ‘Let’s just raise minimum wage. We can lift people out of poverty. We can shrink the divide between the haves and the have-nots.’ And those are all worthwhile goals, by the way. But the question then is, is that the best way to do it? I think not. I could be convinced otherwise, but my personal belief is that it’s not. I would much rather see minimum wage jobs as entry-level jobs to give people valuable job experience and training to be able to have the skills and the confidence to then go on to better jobs.
Q: Do you think the (Trans-Pacific Partnership) deal will be an issue in the campaign?
A: Maybe. But honestly I believe, I truly believe, that you shouldn’t have to duck what your positions are. (Bera supported giving the president fast-track authority to negotiate the deal, upsetting organized labor, but hasn’t taken a stance on the deal itself. Jones is opposed to fast-track authority and the deal.)
Q: Where do you stand on legalizing marijuana?
A: Absolutely 100 percent against it. … We can look at Colorado. We can look at Washington and other places that have legalized it and we can see the effect … the amount of driving while impaired; the youth addiction to marijuana; all those other issues have skyrocketed. The same thing will happen here. It’s easy to predict.
Q: How about the (water) tunnels?
A: I am against the tunnels. I am against the high-speed rail. … The high-speed rail is easy. It’s too expensive. We can’t afford it.
Q: Do you have any fear (about) your record (being used in the campaign)?
A: Sometimes my officers do things that we don’t approve of. So am I going to be answerable for the excessive force claims that might make the news or the paper? Yeah, I think I am answerable to them. I think folks recognize that I am not responsible for them. But how I respond to those I should be held accountable for. I can tell you that I have fired 40 deputies since I have been sheriff. … I have built a relationship with the community sufficiently, I believe, that when something happens that makes us look bad or is bad, and I stand up and say, ‘I see the same thing as you do (and) I am going to take care of it,’ and then I do take care of it, I think people have trust in that.
Q: Have you seen the changes in the (Gavin) Newsom gun-control initiative?
A: I haven’t. … Don’t trust him. I am guessing I am not going to like anything about it.