Posted on September 23, 2022 at 06:15
Jerry McNerney likes to think about what’s next. Mathematics Ph.D. and former engineer co-chair of the Artificial Intelligence Caucus and has spent most of his 16 years in Congress focusing on cutting-edge science topics.
But the California Democrat said he didn’t go far enough to advance in the House. The retired member’s advice for the next generation of lawmakers in Washington? Figure out if you’re going to live here for 40 years or just 20 and plan accordingly. “That’s one thing that will help me,” he said.
Wearing a solar system tie, McNerney sat down with CQ Roll Call for an interview today. While McNerney lamented the rise in partisanship over the years and the lack of progress in riparian policy on the drought-plagued West Coast, He took comfort that he left on a high note.
This interview has been edited and condensed.
A: Nothing. I mean, redistricting [this cycle] didn’t help. My new district will be more competitive, so I need to raise more money.
I have been here for 16 years, and the partisanship is so grotesque and ugly. And of course, we may be in the minority. Only a few things are accumulated.
It’s good to go out on a high note. Even the people who are against me who are developing negative ads now say, “You know, Jerry’s a good guy.”
Q: You are the co-chair of the Artificial Intelligence Caucus. What’s one thing your colleagues get wrong about AI?
A: They basically don’t understand what it means. Is this a great mind that will rule the world? No, it will increase people’s productivity. But there is a possibility that it could lead to labor displacement.
So the purpose of the caucus is to inform members of Congress and their staff. Will AI benefit your district? Will it help agricultural production, will it help health? Yes. Will it help the climate? I mean, there are so many benefits, but there are also some risks.
Q: You said you left on a high note, but you must also have unfinished business. What do you wish you could do?
A: I’m sad that we probably won’t get the privacy bill done this year. What is proposed is not where we need to be.
And I’m working on a resolution to ask the House to debate the principles of “war of war” before declaring war or authorizing military force. I have significant support, but I don’t have bipartisan support. So I reached out, having forums in different universities to get people more involved in the issue. What I would like to see is a framework for discussing the request from the White House to authorize military force so that we can determine whether or not we made the right decision.
Also, water policy. My district has the Delta [Sacramento–San Joaquin River], which is the end of San Francisco Bay with fresh water coming in from the mountains. There is a lot of demand on Delta water and the little water coming from the Sacramento River is now oversubscribed.
We do not have a decent water policy in this country. It’s my bailiwick, but it seems like it’s out of reach now.
Q: What advice do you have for the next generation of lawmakers?
A: If you’re going to be here for 40 years, make a plan for yourself. You might be on one of those difficult committees, like Ways and Means or Energy and Commerce, that take a long time to move forward. But if you’re only going to be here for less than 20 years, you can aim for one of the smaller committees, because there are more opportunities to move into their roles.
That’s one thing that will help me. I’ve been here 16 years, and I’m not even subcommittee chairman yet.
Also, listen to your campaign consultant, but don’t always do what they say.
Q: One of the joys of leaving a place is that you can finally tell people what you think. So, what do you think?
A: Well, we’re not going in a good direction right now. We need to get money out of the campaign system, at least as much as we can. It’s just so terrible for me.
One thing I heard from talking to old people, like Don Young before he passed, is that we need to put more power in the hands of committee chairs. They are motivated to implement legislation, while the leadership is motivated to retain the majority, on both sides.
If you get a bullheaded committee chairman, then you won’t get much done in that area anyway. But I think the Republican party has a pretty good system of rotating people into seats. Maybe three terms is too short, but the idea is useful.
And more social interaction between the two parties. You develop relationships on CODELs or in the gym, maybe, but we need more time in social situations. It’s harder to annoy someone when you know them personally, and when you know their family.
The last book you read? “What We Owe the Future” by William MacAskill and “Reality +” by David Chalmers, on the hypothesis that we live in a simulation. I also read math books, functional analysis. But it’s a slower slog.
Your least popular opinion? Science. I’m really big into science, and it’s not a big deal in my county.
One thing you would change about Congress? Campaign money, absolutely. I propose a constitutional amendment just about every Congress to get rid of PACs and dark money.
Something you are proud of? What I do for veterans, and lately my work on climate management and my work as chairman of the Artificial Intelligence Caucus.
your next move? I still want to contribute. It doesn’t look like lobbying. But I could go to Stanford and help them build some programs there on the sustainability and ethics of artificial intelligence.