Q&A: Nehls, LeBlanc and Kulkarni discuss the issues as they compete for Congressional District 22 seat

By R. Hans Miller | News Editor
Posted 9/11/20

The Congressional District 22 seat is up for grabs after incumbent Republican Representative for the district, Pete Olson, announced last year that he would not be seeking reelection in …

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Q&A: Nehls, LeBlanc and Kulkarni discuss the issues as they compete for Congressional District 22 seat

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The Congressional District 22 seat is up for grabs after incumbent Republican Representative for the district, Pete Olson, announced last year that he would not be seeking reelection in 2020.

Three candidates are vying for the position this fall after the primaries came to a close earlier this year. Sri Preston Kulkarni is running on the Democratic ticket while Fort Bend County Sheriff Troy Nehls is running on the Republican side of the aisle. Libertarian Joe LeBlanc, Jr. will be running for his party.

Each of the candidates was provided the same questions as his opponents with the same amount of time and word count restrictions to answer each question. Their responses are below and have been lightly edited to remove simple typos and for clarity. Each candidate submitted their responses on or before the deadline provided to them.

Responses are listed in alphabetical order by candidate’s last name.

Relations between the Black community and law enforcement are strained right now. What can Congress do to help ease that strain and rebuild trust?

Kulkarni: The African American community has made it clear that they are in pain, and we need to listen to them.

Our policing system is broken for many people and ignoring our problems will only continue to cause suffering and division in our community.

We need to reform our policing system to ensure that everyone in our community feels safe. The solution isn’t to defund the police or demonize hard working members of law enforcement, but to enact common sense reforms that will restore trust in our law enforcement and ensure justice. These include mandatory body cameras, banning chokeholds, and increased de-escalation training.

Additionally, while recognizing the vast majority of law enforcement officers are applying the law correctly and fairly, it’s also fair to ask for greater transparency within policing so that officers who are repeatedly cited for misconduct like improper arrests, destroying evidence and disobeying orders are accountable for their actions.

The goal of any of these initiatives needs to be focused on restoring trust and improving our citizens' lives. Police need to know the communities they serve, and the communities need to be able to trust those protecting and serving them. That makes everyone safer.

LeBlanc: Firstly, we need to admit that the handling of poor policing has been lackluster. Officers who have abused their position as peacekeepers need to be held accountable. We need to reevaluate qualified immunity. Secondly, we need to assess our Criminal Justice system and how it favors punishment over rehabilitation. This goes hand in hand with decriminalizing Cannabis which will help curb the black-market trade that infiltrates our society and keep nonviolent offenders from filling the system making it difficult for their return to society.

Nehls: Congress needs to stop making the issue partisan. Law enforcement in this country can always do better, but the partisan attacks calling for abolishment and defunding of law enforcement is uncalled for and dangerous. I often say if Washington wants to learn how communities and law enforcement get along, come down to Fort Bend County. I truly believe we’re the model for the rest of the country.

As Sheriff, I require all our deputies to take increased de-escalation training well above state requirements and we’ve seen results. In 2019, the Fort Bend County Sheriff’s Office made over 23,000 traffic stops and there was not one case of bodily injury to the violator or officer. I’ve also taken steps to establish a specialized unit at the Fort Bend Sheriff’s Office that responds to mental health situations. In Fort Bend County, our Sheriff’s Office has great relationships with every community regardless of race, religion, or socioeconomic status. I believe the model we’ve built here is a roadmap for the rest of the country.

COVID-19 has forced Congress to spend trillions of dollars to support those economically impacted by the pandemic. This is just one of many reasons the national debt has increased. What should Congress do to alleviate the rapidly mounting national debt?

Kulkarni: We need to stop treating the national debt like a political pawn. Washington politicians have blown a hole in the budget with corporate giveaways while taxes went up for some of our hardest working citizens. We need to stop only giving breaks to our wealthiest individuals and largest corporations so that we can get our debt under control and relieve the middle class. We also need to stand up to special interests who rig our political system to their own advantage, leaving us and future generations to deal with the consequences.

We also must protect Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid. Our most vulnerable citizens should not be made to pay for Washington’s fiscal irresponsibility.

LeBlanc: Congress has a duty to reduce the spending by our government. They need to audit, evaluate, and cut programs that are financially burdensome. It will not be popular with many members of congress but there seems to be a lot of waste in government contracts that are no longer needed. The military while necessary for defense could use a lot of trimming. Changing the way the federal government does budgets could help alleviate the cost as well since departments and military units have to use their entire budget every year or their budget for the next year is cut. So, to ensure that they will have enough funds for the next year they make sure their expenditures are as high as they can, which leads to gross amounts of waste.

Nehls: We need to find other areas where to offset that spending cost and reduce the deficit. As someone with decades of experience in and around government, I’ve seen firsthand the level of waste and excess when it comes to spending taxpayer’s money. Our deficit is not a matter of too little tax revenue but too much spending. We also need to pass a budget, something Congress has failed to do for decades. Instead, Congress passes omnibus spending bills which are drawn up by party leadership and dumped on member’s desks days before a vote on it. Leadership packs as much as possible into it and you either vote yes or no on the entire package. Instead of omnibus spending packages and continuing resolutions, we should get back to passing a complete budget through the appropriations process.

The American health care system has put a financial strain on families across the country, including residents of the district you will represent, if elected. What changes do you support to fix the nation’s health care system and ensure your constituents have access to high-quality, affordable health care?

Kulkarni: At 19, I came home to take care of my family while my father was dying of cancer. After he died, we were pushed to the verge of bankruptcy by the remaining medical bills. Nobody should have to go through this.

Americans now pay twice as much as any other developed nation for their health care, but life expectancy has declined. Two thirds of bankruptcies are caused by medical costs. Before arguing about specific proposals, we must all agree on the two core problems: the cost of health care in America is too high and tens of millions of people still don’t have any sort of coverage. In Congress, I would oppose any effort to dismantle, privatize, or undermine Medicaid or Medicare. I will push for expanded coverage for our nation’s poor, disabled, and elderly. I will support everyone’s right to keep their private insurance if they are happy with it. I will stand up against special interests who put profits over people, and I will advocate for lower, negotiated prescription drug costs. I will protect coverage for individuals with preexisting conditions, such as COVID-19, and oppose Texas Republicans’ lawsuit to repeal the ACA in the middle of a pandemic.

LeBlanc: There are a few changes we can implement at the federal level. Allowing true open insurance markets, where you are not restricted to only the policies in your state, will see a lowering of cost for insurance. Changing the patent system on pharmaceuticals where companies, using loopholes, end up holding eternal patents on their drugs and devices. Opening hospitals to allowing customers the ability to see costs up front and be able to choose which hospital they would like to go to based on price.  These three things have been heavily regulated by the government for years and has caused our skyrocketing health care cost.

Nehls: What Americans like and need more than anything is options. There is no one size fits all fix to our nation’s healthcare problems. What we need to do is increase offerings, protect those with preexisting conditions, protect social security and Medicare, protect Medicaid, and protect private insurance. When Americans are in the market for healthcare coverage, there should be a healthy mix of private and public options that meet all budgets.

Drainage continues to be an issue across the Congressional district you are running to represent. What moves will you make in Washington to ensure drainage for the region is addressed in a timely manner?

Kulkarni: Growing up here, I personally experienced the damage that flooding can cause. My family lost our car and my brother and sister almost lost their lives. We need to be proactive in addressing issues of flooding, we cannot wait until after disaster strikes to act.

We need to increase funding in flood prevention infrastructure, with a particular emphasis on drainage. Hurricane Harvey flooded at least 900 levee-protected homes in Fort Bend (County). We need to strengthen the 20 levees in Fort Bend and identify new areas that require drainage infrastructure. We need to invest in larger storm sewers and pumps in the Katy area, specifically around the Brazos River. We must coordinate with local governments to ensure we are supporting the implementation of flood mitigation projects, such as Katy’s Patna Drive drainage improvement project and the Pitts Road Detention Pond.

We need to revisit our floodplain maps and ensure they are current, while devising and installing a system to address coastal surge protection.

LeBlanc: I believe that it is the Federal government’s responsibility to assess the landscape and to give the evaluation of high-risk areas to the state and local governments. It is the state and local governments’ job to address the drainage issues and it is us, the voters’, responsibility to hold those elected accountable.

Nehls: As Sheriff, I’ve seen firsthand the issue of flooding and drainage in our communities. During (Hurricane) Harvey and Brazos River floods, I was out on airboats helping folks evacuate, rescuing left behind pets, and helping get food to ranchers’ stranded cattle.

Every time a flood happens, people’s lives are fractured, and they are left picking up the pieces. We are the greatest country on earth, and we can solve the problem if we work together. In Congress, I will make funding for our district’s numerous drainage projects including Addicks and Barker (reservoirs) a top priority, and I will lobby leadership to fully fund the project as soon as possible. In addition, I will coordinate with the Army Corps of Engineers to ensure they have what they need to complete the project and are doing so in timely manner.

Partisanship is a notable challenge in today’s America. What measures will you take to reach across the political aisle to work with your opponent’s party for the benefit of your constituents?

Kulkarni: I spent 14 years in the Foreign Service, where my job was to bring people together in war zones and dangerous places to find solutions to some of the world’s hardest problems. I would sit at a table with people who wanted to murder each other and find common ground to create real solutions that actually helped people. Unfortunately, that experience is pretty relevant to working in Congress these days. We need to cut through tension and ideology to get real results.

In Congress, I commit to rising above partisan politics and putting the people of this district first. We need to start solving our problems with evidence and science, not political ideology. We can’t afford to play games with situations like the coronavirus.

When elected, I will put politics aside and focus on delivering real solutions to the people of our district.

LeBlanc: Personally, I am willing to sit down with anyone from any of the other parties, discuss and hash out bills that are beneficial to the American people, that are constitutional, and do not restrict our Natural Liberties. But I will also be very outspoken if bills brought by other members of congress increase the size of our government, restrict our liberties, or are blatantly unconstitutional.

Nehls: Partisanship is a problem and one in which I’ve worked to avoid as Sheriff for the past eight years. As Sheriff over 826 employees and 500,000 residents, I do not protect and serve Republicans or Democrats, I am Sheriff for all people. The same is true when I was deployed overseas with the US Army. I didn’t pick and choose who to stand beside or protect, we all treated each other like brothers.

These experiences have instilled in me an understanding of how to work with all people regardless of race, religion, or gender to accomplish a goal. There are numerous areas where I believe I could accomplish meaningful progress working across the aisle on criminal justice reform, increased education and resources for mental health, and veteran’s healthcare.

Human trafficking is a significant concern for the district with I-10 and other regional highways noted as trafficking thoroughfares. What will you do in Congress to help prevent human trafficking and aid victims?

Kulkarni: This is an issue I take very seriously. I worked on countering human trafficking in the State Department and worked on the End Modern Slavery Initiative Act in the Senate.

As most people in the district already know, human trafficking is an issue that too many local officials have failed to address in our community. That being said, District Attorney Brian Middleton, County Judge KP George, and Constable Wayne Thompson deserve credit for organizing and leading a recent multi-agency human trafficking sweep.

This kind of interagency cooperation is exactly what we need to address human trafficking and keeping our citizens safe. We also need to put resources behind raising awareness of how to spot the issue. Contrary to common opinion, the issue of human trafficking does not discriminate against any communities, anyone can fall victim to it. We need to enable our citizens to look out for signs a loved one might be at risk, and ensure they know where to get help, and we need to ensure no victims are turned away when they are looking for help.

LeBlanc: Human Trafficking is something even Libertarians support the Federal government combating. I applaud those who are on the front lines of combating human trafficking. But we can also assist them even more. Immigration reform is a necessity, and our laborious, expensive immigration system leads to millions of people willing to risk their lives to come into this country and has led to a large amount of the trafficking business.

The other major prong in trafficking is the sex trade. Decriminalizing prostitution will help remove the need for trafficked individuals to be forced into the sex trade. While it won’t end trafficking completely it will also help narrow the focus to those forced into it, making it easier for officials to apprehend those responsible.

Nehls: As the father to three beautiful daughters, I’m always concerned for their safety and wellbeing and as Sheriff of Fort Bend County, I’m always concerned for the safety and wellbeing of all residents. That’s why I’ve taken numerous steps to prevent human trafficking from gaining a foothold in Fort Bend County by establishing a local hotline for reports, hiring detectives dedicated to human trafficking cases, and shutting down numerous illicit massage parlors.

I will take this experience with me to Congress and work across the aisle to ensure the necessary resources for education and training are available to combat this global threat. I will also support interagency missions and task force

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