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Independent presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy Jr. speaks during the Libertarian National Convention at the Washington Hilton in Washington, May 24, 2024. Kennedy is giving a speech on foreign policy at the Nixon Presidential Library & Museum in Yorba Linda on Wednesday, June 12, 2024. (AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana, File)
Independent presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy Jr. speaks during the Libertarian National Convention at the Washington Hilton in Washington, May 24, 2024. Kennedy is giving a speech on foreign policy at the Nixon Presidential Library & Museum in Yorba Linda on Wednesday, June 12, 2024. (AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana, File)
Kaitlyn Schallhorn is a city editor with the Orange County Register. She previously served as the editor in chief of The Missouri Times, overseeing print, television, and newsletter coverage of the State Capitol. Throughout her career, Kaitlyn has covered political campaigns across the U.S., including the 2016 presidential election, and humanitarian aid efforts in Africa and the Middle East. She studied journalism at Winthrop University in South Carolina.
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Third-party presidential contender Robert F. Kennedy Jr. pointed to housing affordability as he made his case to Southern California voters ahead of the November election.

Kennedy, who is running a longshot bid for the White House, was set to lay out his foreign policy plans — which cover “how do we wind down the American empire abroad and leave us a stronger country than we are today,” he said — at the Richard Nixon Presidential Library in Yorba Linda on Wednesday evening. Ahead of that speech, the Southern California ɫ̳ Group caught up with the candidate to talk about the state of the race, artificial intelligence, immigration, housing and more.

As he has throughout his campaign, Kennedy often drew on his family: His father was Robert F. Kennedy, a former U.S. attorney general and U.S. senator; former President John F. Kennedy was his uncle.

But he’s also focused on voters’ dissatisfaction with President Joe Biden and former President Donald Trump, the presumptive nominees of both major parties. Those two candidates aren’t focused enough on issues that impact Americans’ wallets, including housing affordability, he said in an interview Wednesday.

“If we’re going to keep our middle class — which is the greatest economic engine in the history of mankind — if it’s going to continue to be the foundation stone of democracy, we need to make sure that all of our kids can get into houses,” said Kennedy.

Kennedy, 70, has qualified to be on the ballot in California, Delaware, Hawaii, Michigan, Oklahoma and Utah so far, . Petitioning for ballot access is ongoing in several other states, according to his campaign.

With less than five months to go until Election Day, Kennedy is polling a distant third in California, .

The responses below have only been lightly edited for length and clarity.

SCNG: What is your message to voters in Southern California? Why you over the other presidential candidates? 

Kennedy: Everybody in this country is concerned about the direction that we’re going in. Everybody’s concerned that we now have a $34 trillion debt, which is largely the military budget, and that affects everything. It affects the price of housing. 

Orange County is this kind of utopian ideal for America, and there’s this assumption that everybody should be able to afford a home. And today there’s a whole generation of kids in Orange County who are not going to be able to afford a home, who are going to have lives that are vastly diminished from the lives that their families led. That fact has really dire moral implications for our society, that our children are going to live less well than we are. 

The reasons for that are easy to change. They’re easy to understand, and they’re changeable. 

We need to unravel the war machine. We don’t need 800 bases abroad. … We spend more on our military budget than the next 10 nations combined. 

The bigger cause, which is five times the military budget, is chronic disease. 

In Orange County and elsewhere, parents are watching children being plagued by autoimmune diseases like juvenile diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, neurological diseases, peanut allergies and food allergies. 

We have the sickest children in the world, and this is easy to fix. That’s what the role of government is, to eliminate the toxins that are causing those epidemics and give us healthy kids again. 

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SCNG: You just touched on housing affordability, which is obviously a big issue for voters in Southern California. Walk us through the specifics of your plan to make buying a home more accessible. 

Kennedy: The most important thing to do right now is to make it illegal for big investment firms to do mass purchasing of housing. I will immediately propose that legislation to Congress.

If we’re going to keep our middle class — which is the greatest economic engine in the history of mankind — if it’s going to continue to be that, if it’s going to continue to be the foundation stone of democracy, we need to make sure that all of our kids can get into houses. 

I have a whole host of plans, including encouraging and incentivizing federal loans, and incentivizing localities to change their rules to allow innovative housing, particularly housing that’s accessible to the middle class. There are all kinds of new innovations in construction — small houses, environmentally friendly houses — but a lot of times you can’t get permits for them. 

My plan is to increase the current housing construction rate by 2 million a year. And that will not only create a boom for the economy but will also quickly remedy the housing shortage. 

I’m going to do a 3% mortgage for young people trying to get into their first home, and I’ll finance that with the issue of treasury bonds that are tax-free at 3% interest. 

SCNG: Something you’ve been particularly critical of the Biden administration about is immigration and border security. Can you detail your plan for us?

Kennedy: I’m going to shut down the border immediately. We should have high walls at the border, but we should have wide gates with legal immigration. We need to have a compassionate immigration policy that reflects our values and our needs. 

If small businesses in this country are now looking for 10 million workers from abroad, we need to be able to get those workers into place in American businesses to pay taxes in this country and keep Social Security solvent and do all the other things that legal immigrants do for our country. 

I want to make sure there is a faster track for citizenship for people who come in here legally, but no nation can survive if it doesn’t secure its borders.

I’ve seen in New York City and other cities around the country, immigrants are coming in, they’re being preyed upon by predatory employers who are paying them $6-$10 per hour. They’re crushing the social safety net. 

I worked with (labor leader) Cesar Chavez for the last couple of decades of his life. He had two big issues: One was pesticides, which disproportionately affect Hispanic farmworkers, and that was my interest. But the other issue he was working on at the time was securing the border. He understood that the illegal immigrants coming across made it more difficult for him to negotiate more salaries and conditions for U.S. workers. All of the lessons I learned from him are true today. We need to shut down the border. 

• Editor’s note: the late labor leader in his campaign and endorsed Biden in his re-election bid. Kennedy’s father worked closely with Chavez on farmworker labor issues. 

SCNG: A that showed you . That poll was conducted in five states — not California — but why do you think your message may resonate with Latino voters?

Kennedy: I think I’m doing fairly well because the concerns of Latino voters are a big priority for me. The issues that affect Latino voters have been a priority for my family for generations.

Plus, I’m talking about issues that they’re concerned with — which is building small businesses. The Hispanic immigrants are right now one of the greatest economic drivers for small businesses. They are very entrepreneurial, very hard-working, and they’re optimistic and idealistic about the American dream.

• Editor’s note: in Arizona, Nevada, North Carolina, Pennsylvania and Texas and found Biden leads Trump in a head-to-head matchup 59% to 39%. But when third-party candidates are added to the mix, including Kennedy, and Jill Stein, Biden’s support drops to 47% while Trump is at 34%. Kennedy took 12% in the poll.

SCNG: What is your plan for artificial intelligence? How should the federal government balance regulation and safety and promotion? 

Kennedy: I’d answer the question with the question you just asked me — you have to balance safety, and you have to balance the potential. 

We need to make sure that AI becomes a tool for the people to control their government, which it should be. We should have AI walkers doing inventory in the Pentagon and … auditing the Pentagon for the American people, auditing the entire government. We can make government much more efficient. 

But at the same time, Elon Musk warned that AI is first going to steal our jobs and then it’s going to kill us, and between those two things, it’s going to become potentially a tool for totalitarian control by intelligence agencies, by corporations. That’s the danger. 

This is a very complex issue that we need somebody in office who is thinking about this every single waking moment; how do you make this happen? 

You need to regulate it, but if you overregulate it, you drive it out of the country. 

AI can be used for bad things or good things. We want to keep it in the hands of the people to make government more responsive and more subservient to the people, and we shouldn’t allow it to be used by government to make the people more compliant and subservient.

SCNG: What’s your go-to campaign trail food? 

Kennedy: Dried mangos, and I’m a cheeseburger guy. I eat a lot of those. And whenever I’m near the ocean, I eat fish.

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