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Bohemian: You've said you didn't run for office to be a bill-writing machine. So let's say you're elected to the Senate as a non–bill writing machine, what do you see as the biggest traps that are out there for the state in general?
Yamada: I have three primary areas; I call them three legs on my policy stool. I will continue to make aging and longer-term care a top policy priority. . . . Secondly, not only because of the district itself but the future of the state, my focus on natural resources and land use and water resources will also be a very clear sort of policy area, with particularly attention to the Delta.
Bohemian: What's your take on Gov. Brown's twin Delta Tunnel proposal?
Yamada: I oppose them. I have opposed them since the beginning and will continue to oppose them.
Bohemian: Since there are two of them, you and Dodd can each oppose one!
Yamada: [Laughs] Right. I think the fact that the Senate District 3 is four or five of the Delta counties, we clearly have to be defenders of the Delta.
And the third leg on my policy stool and born out of my personal view of the world, growing up in a household where my parents had been interned and in a fairly hardscrabble part of town in Denver called the Five Points—about a 95 percent African-American community in the 1950s and '60s. That was the lens through which my view of the world developed [and] my belief in the fundamental values of our society that we must continue to work for social, economic, educational and environmental justice.
Bohemian: How will your experiences in elected office translate to the Senate?
Yamada: Having served in Yolo County—that was my first elected position as a supervisor—there were certain models that were developed. My principal area was in aging and long-term care, so there were a lot of what I would consider to be models of collaboration or integrated services that we attempted to implement in Yolo County that could potentially go statewide. This is a way to reduce inefficiencies in our aging and long-term care system that pits the social model versus the medical model, which leads to a lot of confusion for everyday people—somebody who wants some help with their immediate crisis but doesn't know where to go to get their needs met.
Bohemian: So, Hillary or Bernie?
Yamada: My heart's with Bernie, my head is with Hillary. And I have not, I have honestly not decided. . . . My first election as a voter was George McGovern . . . and we saw what happened there. And honestly, that's really where I am right now.
I know that Mr. Dodd has already participated in headlining fundraisers for Hillary, but I have honestly not made up my mind. Having said that, your primary vote should go to the person who you most believe reflects your values, and that's where my heart is. But I'm just going to watch it a little bit more and see.
Bohemian: It's interesting that the vernacular of "socialism" around Sanders is lost on a lot of younger voters, who don't really care about the label as much as older voters do.
Yamada: He certainly is contributing to one of the liveliest debates that I have remembered, and very substantive. He is saying exactly what this country needs to hear, and I think he's worrying a lot of people, he is worrying Wall Street, certainly the Clinton campaign has to pay attention. I understand that [Hillary] is well-prepared. She has an experience level that cannot be matched, and, honestly, Bernie comes from a state that has 600,000 or 700,000 people. My Senate district has more people than Vermont has as a state. That's a consideration. . . .