The student news site of Los Altos High School in Los Altos, California

The Talon

The student news site of Los Altos High School in Los Altos, California

The Talon

The student news site of Los Altos High School in Los Altos, California

The Talon

The Talon’s 2024 House candidate questionnaire

Milan Grbovic
A photo of the United States Capitol building. The Talon emailed every candidate in tomorrow’s House primary race with questions about how they would address issues important to young people; here’s what the candidates who responded had to say.

Tomorrow is the California primaries, and among elections for Senate candidates and party presidential nominees, one key race is the primary House election for California’s 16th Congressional District — which includes Los Altos, Mountain View and surrounding cities. Longtime incumbent Anna Eshoo announced her retirement this year, making this region’s House race competitive for the first time in decades. Due to California’s primary system, the top two candidates, irrespective of party, will emerge from a crowded field of eleven candidates, nine of whom are Democrats. 

The Talon emailed the candidates for California’s 16th House District, asking them three questions about how they would address issues important to young people. Four candidates responded, three of whom responded to our questions: businessman and longtime candidate Rishi Kumar, investor and activist Joby Bernstein and attorney Ahmed Mostafa. Here are their responses. (Some answers were edited for conciseness and style; to view the candidates’ full, unedited answers, please visit this link.)

1. What do you view as the most pressing issue(s) for young people today, and how would you address them?
Rishi Kumar: The climate crisis, social media and education accessibility.

Climate change is the single biggest national security threat for the United States and the single biggest threat to worldwide industrialized civilization. We are already seeing the impact climate change is having here in California. Wildfires devastate our communities, leaving families in hardships and ruin.

I think about the future and the state we will leave this world in. It worries me. As our world continues to change, we need to create a system that prepares today’s generation and future generations to come. We are tasking these young individuals to solve imperative climate challenges that the world has never witnessed before. (…)

As your congressman, I will push to ensure a massive-scale mobilization to halt and reverse the increasing CO2. We need to ensure that the next generation will still have a planet to habitat on. Now is the time for America to take charge for the rest of the world and make a massive investment considering any and all fast acting technology efficient options.

America today also has a crisis with teenagers who are vulnerable to social media algorithms and facing depression and even suicide risks. Instagram has been in the news — located right in our Congressional district — but nothing has been done to address the evils of social media. Our representatives from Silicon Valley could do better — this problem has been playing out for decades. We need tech-savvy energetic elected leaders who will be able to truly address the angst of the youth.  It is hard for a high school or college student to find any affinity to a senior politician when the world has left them far behind, making them incapable of addressing the challenges of the youth of today. (...)

As your Congressman, I will work to make education available for the masses — especially for our youth from disadvantaged communities. I support the expansion of early childhood education programs to give the best possible start to all children (…)

As your congressman, I will go beyond surface-level photo ops and enact real change for our youth. I will push efforts across the nation to empower the next generation. Youth across America should discover a dynamic path to success via real opportunities.

Joby Bernstein: The climate crisis.

Climate change presents an existential crisis for our district, for California and for the world. But too many leaders in Washington are focused on the latest political squabbles or are too busy taking money from the oil and gas industry to meaningfully tackle the scale of the problem we face. 

For over a decade, I’ve devoted my time and energy to solving climate change. From leading cutting-edge environmental science research, to doing trail work to improve access to public lands, to investing in climate change startups, I know there isn’t a simple fix. I worked on the Hill and for three state legislatures, so I understand the complex landscape of climate policy work, and I bring a technical background and spirit of innovation to policymaking in Washington. 

Our world is changing. We’ve all experienced the devastating impacts of breathing in toxic wildfire smoke, of anxiously checking the snowpack data to see if California still faces an extreme drought, of watching our loved ones impacted by landslides and record flooding. The reality of our situation becomes clearer with every devastating storm and climate disaster. Without our stewardship and leadership, these challenges will only get worse.

You might be wondering — why should we send a tireless 28-year-old to Congress? The answer is Washington needs young leaders who will prioritize issues that will have lasting reverberations for generations to come. Young people like me are seeing people in Washington ignore climate change as a threat or who lack the expertise to create good climate and energy policy that keeps prices low and protects our planet.

I am ready to fight for our climate and fight for our future. That is my promise and commitment to you.

Ahmed Mostafa: The climate crisis.

One of the most pressing issues facing young people today is the climate crisis — right now, our communities are already witnessing the impacts of climate change in the form of severe flooding, devastating wildfires, and extreme droughts. Instead of pushing climate action aside until 2050, 2040, or 2030, we must take action today to build a livable and sustainable future for young people and the next generation. 

In Congress, I would fight to pass legislation like Congresswoman Cori Bush’s Green New Deal for Cities to address climate change from an intersectional lens by supporting cities and localities with the resources to respond to the climate crisis while empowering them to act in the best interests of their community.

2. What would your policies be on improving K-12 education in your district and federally?
Rishi Kumar: Adapting our education systems to the future with government assistance.

Youth empowerment and education is one of my top priorities. It’s important to give the bright young minds of today a steady platform to explore new opportunities and find their voices. I advocate for tuition-free college education that benefits the local economy. My view is that colleges should promote fields of study that swiftly integrate graduates into the workforce. Our education system today is not agile and has to be ready for the emergence of societal changes such as automation with Artificial Intelligence. Our education system, from K-12 to higher education, needs to be adaptable, focusing on the needs and aspirations of our students. (...)

I strongly support the development of Innovation Centers of Excellence. These federally funded centers will focus on engaging our local high school and college students with cutting-edge research in areas such as artificial intelligence, healthcare, transportation, climate and biotech that promote both startup and innovation culture. Partnering students with world-class academics and successful entrepreneurs in this way will provide the intellectual seeding that can drive Silicon Valley forward into the next decade and beyond. The idea is to develop a center to nurture and train young innovators, a strategy that has not traditionally been a focus in Silicon Valley.

My innovative and pragmatic policies have resonated with the youth as we have a track record of actually doing something. I have worked to address the issues of disadvantaged communities across Silicon Valley, seeking to bridge the income gap, with a focus upon youth. We launched the no-charge Entrepreneurship Bootcamp for youth in disadvantaged neighborhoods of Silicon Valley, which benefited thousands of disadvantaged students by empowering them through STEM and entrepreneurial skills. We hosted the no-charge Lego Robotics Bootcamp to teach students robotic design and programming. As a member of the California Computer Science Strategic Implementation Panel, a California Department of Education initiative, we rolled out a K-12 Computer Science curriculum for every Public School student in California that went live in Fall of 2020.

Joby Bernstein: Making education more accessible and supporting educators.

Education is the backbone of innovation, growth, and equality. We must work to improve our local schools, support our educators, provide accessible pre-K and make higher education more accessible and affordable. I'm committed to ensuring every child and young adult has access to a world-class education.

I’ve met with teachers, professors, students and parents, and the need is greater now than ever for greater access to high quality education for a brighter and more equitable future for our children. Unfortunately, the federal government doesn't have much ability to control K-12 education. So that is why I am proposing free Pre-K and free vocational training.

Ahmed Mostafa: Expanding public school funding, increasing accessibility and investing in technical education.

Every student deserves equitable access to a high-quality education that equips them for success both inside and outside the classroom. In order to ensure that every student receives the quality education that they deserve, regardless of their ZIP code or background, we must expand funding for our public schools, support our teachers with higher salaries that reflect their role as educators of the next generation and invest in the trades and technical education so that every student can succeed in their chosen career path.

In addition, I firmly believe that every student should be able to obtain quality, affordable higher education without incurring massive debt. In Congress, I'll fight to cancel all existing student debt, make every public school tuition free, and cut down on the miscellaneous expenses that make college inaccessible for many students.

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3. As a Representative, what do you want to do for high school students like those of Los Altos High School?
Rishi Kumar: Support students through my summer internship program.

We seek to empower the youth and discover the power of social media via our summer internship program. College admission teams are now reading essays with a tooth-comb. Without SAT and ACT scores, college essays and volunteer work have become much more important. Not just activities with volunteer hours — students need to demonstrate impact and leadership.  Our political internship provides interns the opportunity to showcase their leadership, get volunteer hours and even a recommendation letter and make an impact in their local community. Our congressional fellowship program has empowered thousands of high school and college students already. (...)

We believe that equal opportunity should be afforded to all youth, regardless of their family’s income level to begin to bridge the income inequality gap. Education is key!  

The younger minds bring unique approaches, they are more technology aware, and social media aware. Their ideas are fresh and unique. Our Internship allows students to develop their ideas, providing means for them to flourish based upon the structured corporate approach of this program. 

Joby Bernstein: Listen to youth voices actively.

As someone who was active in politics and debate in high school just ten years ago, I will show up to whatever you invite me to. Even if not all of you are old enough to vote, your voice matters. I promise to visit, listen, and find ways to work together. I would also love to continue an expansive internship program for interested students, similar to what Anna Eshoo has done!

Ahmed Mostafa: Make living in the Bay Area accessible and center the needs of young people.

Right now, many high school students in our district will be forced to move away after graduation because of the skyrocketing costs of living in the Bay Area. Instead of handing out blank checks to big corporations and the ultra-wealthy, we need to build a human rights economy that places the needs of students and young people above the interests of the few and the powerful. 

In Congress, I'll fight for tuition-free public education, the cancellation of all student debt, Medicare for All, solutions to our affordable housing crisis, and fair wages and robust benefits for every worker, because no student should have to struggle to make ends meet in the wealthiest part of the wealthiest nation in the world.

Additional Information
Rishi Kumar: Let’s elect a non-career politician.

I am NOT a career politician — I’ve worked for over two decades in the private sector, even while I fought for people, first as a community activist, and later as a city councilmember. My efforts have successfully reduced crime, taxes, and utility bills, always prioritizing my constituents’ needs. 

Our willingness to tackle tough challenges and deliver tangible results led to the reelection with the highest vote count in my city’s 66-year election history. (...)

It's time to embrace fresh ideas and experienced, ethical leadership. Rishi can win this, at a time when America is pushing back against out-of-touch, long-tenured politicians. Let's send a dedicated tech executive to bring common-sense pragmatism to Washington.

Ahmed Mostafa: I’m deeply committed to addressing gun violence.

In addition to the priorities mentioned above, I am deeply committed to addressing gun violence and its impacts on students across our district and the nation. No student should have to live in fear that they won't make it home from school, but gun violence is now the leading cause of death for children and teens in the United States — we can’t afford to wait another day to enact common-sense gun control legislation. 

In Congress, I will work to close the gun show loophole and support common-sense gun control legislation, like universal background checks and a ban on assault weapons, because we cannot continue to protect the interests of the gun lobby over the lives of our young people.

Rebekah Park, Audrey Tsai and Kathleen Zhu contributed to reporting on this story.

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About the Contributors
Matthew Kim
Matthew Kim, Web Managing Editor
Milan Grbovic
Milan Grbovic, Staff Writer

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