By Mike Roberts
"Moderate is not a dirty word," said upstart Democrat Jack Uppal, 57, who faces an uphill battle against incumbent Tom McClintock, R-Elk Grove, for California's 4th Congressional District seat in the U.S. House of Representatives.
Uppal's economic policy is a mix of "trickle up" relief for a beleaguered middle class, which he sees as the main driver to a healthy economy, and "trickle down" investments in strategic industries that stimulate growth.
He's already visited all 10 counties in District 4 and reports, "The people I've met, including a lot of Republicans, want a moderate [in Congress] who can work with both parties and get things done."
He accuses his opponent of ideological posturing rather than working for the district's residents. As an example he cites the City of Colfax's recent hiring of McClintock's predecessor, John Doolittle, to help garner federal funds for their leaky sewer plant.
"Colfax residents don't need rhetoric," he said, "They need money to fix the sewer system. In my mind, that's the current, not former congressman's job."
El Dorado and Placer Counties make up roughly 70 percent of California's 4th Congressional District, which also includes all or portions of eight other counties, including many rural areas with destitute fire districts, crumbling roads and no high-speed internet access.
"Throughout this district there are projects that would bring jobs and growth into our communities, but they can't get support from their congressman," he said. "We need that stimulus as much as anyone."
The little-known Democrat spent most of his career at Intel. He's now retired, living with his wife Kate in Lincoln, "which is in the district unlike my opponent," he said.
McClintock's Elk Grove address isn't the biggest issue in the current election, he said, "but it's bad form."
The budget battle and debt ceiling brinksmanship of 2011 motivated Uppal to abandon retirement for politics. "There were no other qualified candidates in this race and I couldn't tolerate the idea of another two years of Tom McClintock."
He read up on the issues and found it all quite interesting, he said, "I actually enjoy digging through this stuff. I've always been a pretty good at juggling large volumes of data and solving problems."
Jack, not Jill
Uppal was just 7 years old when his family arrived in the U.S. from India. He recalls his father registering him for the third grade, and the principal wincing when he heard the boy's name, "Bhupinter." He suggested enrolling the boy under a nickname that other kids could pronounce.
"My father told me to pick a name for myself," he said. "The only names I knew in English were Jack and Jill."
Within a year Jack spoke fluent English. He went on to become a good student, eventually earning a PhD in Chemistry from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. At Intel he was responsible for purchasing a billion dollars of overseas manufacturing equipment every year.
The negotiations taught him to work with people with different goals and points of view to come up with solutions that benefit both sides, he explained.
His wife and campaign manager Kate ran Southern California Democratic Congressman Jerry McNerney's 2004 campaign. The experience gave Uppal behind-the-scenes perspective on the people and the job, and, he said, left him with a confidence that he had both the intelligence and the integrity for the job.
Uppal knows he will need Republican votes to unseat McClintock in the heavily conservative 4th Congressional District, but said he believes many Republicans are as frustrated with McClintock as he is.
He cites conservative Capitol Hill daily "The Hill's" recent naming of McClintock as one of the "dirty dozen" thorns in Republican House Speaker John Boehner's side as evidence that, "He doesn't seem to work well with the Republican leadership in the house and certainly doesn't work well with the Democrats.
"Republicans have good ideas. Democrats have good ideas. We need to take the best and craft a budget strategy that works for the country," he said. "It's going to take strategic investments, some more spending cuts, and yes, it will probably take tax increases on those who can most afford it."
Uppal opposes Republican budget proposals that give massive tax cuts to the wealthy, and called the elimination of the Capital Gains tax "wrong-headed."
In a recent Village Life interview Uppal said economic recovery is only possible with a confident middle class, a sentiment that has since become a talking point for candidate Obama.
"Stimulate the middle class and everything else follows," Uppal said. "Business owners are motivated to hire and expand not by tax breaks, but by increased demand" from a middle class that's not worried about their "uncovered pre-existing condition or their underwater mortgage," he said.
"That's Keynesian economics," Uppal continued. "It's worked in the past and it will work in the future if we take the right steps."
How does a PhD chemist, engineer and manger claim to understand economics? His father recently retired from New York State University as an economics professor.
"We talk about this stuff a lot," he said.
"McClintock is famous for saying government can't create jobs," said Uppal. "I disagree."
Taking a page out of McClintock's book, Uppal used recent history to make the case that government programs not only create jobs short term, but have birthed entire new industries that pump billions of dollars into the national economy.
Aerospace, bioengineering and the semiconductor industry's multi-headed Hydra of sub-industries all have origins as government spending projects.
Uppal suggests pervasive fiber optic networking and stem cell research as candidates for future strategic spending.
The candidate also supports President Obama's Health Care Affordability Act. "It's not perfect, and will probably require some tweaks, but it does a good job covering those who can't afford insurance," he said.
Uppal and his wife pay for their own health insurance, and can testify first hand that "Going back to what we had is unsustainable," he said. "The Republican presidential candidates all vowed to repeal Obama's plan, but none have any solid ideas about what else to do."
Political support for a Medicare-ish single payer system doesn't currently exist, but Uppal isn't opposed to the idea. He suggested a pilot program at the state level first. "I'd love to see California try it."
Uppal insists he has no political aspirations beyond representing District 4 in congress. "I don't need a job. This is just something I felt I needed to do."