Interstate 10: Southerners Discuss Political Issues

Voters who live and work along Interstate 10, a transcontinental highway, share thoughts about the economy, security, health care, and immigration ahead of the presidential election. Interstate 10 runs across the southern U.S., from California to Florida.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Good morning. I'm Renee Montagne with Steven Inskeep.

What with tomorrow being the first day of an election year, we decided to start 2008 with a road trip, talking to voters. They live and work along a transcontinental highway - the 10 or the I-10. It runs across the southern U.S. from here in California all the way to Florida. We'll hear from these voters over the next several days. And Steve has the first leg of our journey.

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

We will begin on the Santa Monica Pier, which is near the terminus of Interstate 10. The Santa Monica Pier is facing the Pacific Ocean and that is where we found John Vellosky(ph). Welcome to the program.

Mr. JOHN VELLOSKY (Resident, Santa Monica, California): Good morning.

INSKEEP: You - and you actually work on Santa Monica Pier?

Mr. VELLOSKY: I'm working at the and I'm talking to you.

(Soundbite of laughter)

INSKEEP: What's it called? We want to be sure to get that plugged in.

Mr. VELLOSKY: I'm at Santa Monica Pier Bate and Tackle.

INSKEEP: What do you catch?

Mr. VELLOSKY: Mackerel, perch. We catch halibut, different types of sand sharks - no real mean stuff. But just the sand sharks.

INSKEEP: Hmm. So there, along the western terminus of Interstate 10, what are some concerns that people have? What's on your mind when you think about your community?

Mr. VELLOSKY: Not too much, really. I'm - I don't know anything else but just being on this pier. I've been here all my life.

INSKEEP: Have you followed the presidential race at all?

Mr. VELLOSKY: Not much - no. As much as I'm down here on this pier area, I don't even know what the traffic's like on the freeway, to tell you the truth.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. VELLOSKY: But I know it's bad. But…

INSKEEP: Well, maybe there is somebody else who can help us with the traffic and some other things.

Let's bring another voice into the conversation. Stay with us Mr. Vellosky.

Mr. VELLOSKY: All right.

INSKEEP: David Oheida(ph) is in Pomona, California. Welcome to the program, sir.

Mr. DAVID OHEIDA (Resident, Pomona, California): Well, thank you.

INSKEEP: How is traffic on I-10?

Mr. OHEIDA: I-10 traffic is terrible. I live 36 miles from my job's site.

INSKEEP: Oh.

Mr. OHEIDA: And on a bad day, it will take me an hour and a half to two hours to get into work.

INSKEEP: So, after that commute that could be a couple of hours. What do you do for a living?

Mr. OHEIDA: I got a bus for MTA…

INSKEEP: Oh.

Mr. OHEIDA: …in Los Angeles.

INSKEEP: How long have you been doing that?

Mr. OHEIDA: 21 years.

INSKEEP: 21 years. Wow. And can you give me an idea of what is on your mind or what concerns there maybe in Pomona, California?

Mr. OHEIDA: The housing - a lot of people are losing their homes. And I'm seeing more in my neighborhood - a lot of foreclosures.

INSKEEP: Is Pomona a place where home values went up a lot in recent years and then started dropping again?

Mr. OHEIDA: Yes. I bought my home for 140,000. And all of a sudden, it shot up to 490. Now, it's back down to 395, I believe.

INSKEEP: Were you one of those people who borrowed against the extra value or the house?

Mr. OHEIDA: No, I did it once and that was it and I'm comfortable where I'm at.

INSKEEP: What do you use the money for the one time you did take out that home-equity loan?

Mr. OHEIDA: Improvements in the house. You know, I have a daughter who is disable. And I had to make my house all tiled so that she can roll around in her wheelchair.

INSKEEP: Has health insurance been a serious issue for you because you do have a daughter who needs extra help?

Mr. OHEIDA: Oh, yes. I think that the key in this country is health benefits. You know, my daughter was born with cerebral palsy, and she has had all kinds of equipment that she needed throughout her life. I've never had to pay for any of it because I have great health benefits. But I just transported a lady today that she was taking her daughter to the county hospital because she didn't have health benefits. And she's going to have to wait, like, maybe 10 hours before a doctor sees her.

INSKEEP: Let's continue right along the map in front me here. And we're following Interstate 10 across the United States. And we have reached Palm Springs, California, which is where we have called Jackie Wax(ph). Welcome to the program.

Ms. JACKIE WAX (Resident, Palm Springs, California): Well, thank you very much.

INSKEEP: What do you do for a living in Palm Springs?

Ms. WAX: I work for a company that assists seniors in finding assisted living because they can no longer live in their home.

INSKEEP: Some of those people must have health insurance, I imagine?

Ms. WAX: Well, unfortunately, health insurance doesn't pay for a - their residential. It has to be a private pay or if they have long-term care insurances.

INSKEEP: Now, I want to ask - because as I look at this map of Interstate 10, I can see that you're not that far north of the U.S.-Mexican border in Palm Springs.

Ms. WAX: Mm-hmm.

INSKEEP: Are there a lot of immigrants there - working there?

Ms. WAX: Well, yes, because we're in what's called the Coachella Valley. There are a lot of people who come here to find work because it's a bit agricultural and also - other areas that they work in.

INSKEEP: You probably know that there's a big debate over whether to legalize illegal immigrants. There's a big fence that's being constructed to the south of you - on and on.

Ms. WAX: Right. Part of me doesn't want more people to be coming in and the other part is - I feel that people are hardworking and if they make the effort, then they should be able to come in to the country.

INSKEEP: Let me ask you about that part that doesn't want more people coming in. Why not?

Ms. WAX: Because we're so crowded.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. WAX: We're so crowded. And then, unfortunately, I'm not quite sure how we're all going to be able to accommodate everybody.

INSKEEP: David Oheida in Pomona, John Vellosky on the Santa Monica Pier - have you been paying close attention to that issue of immigration and what - how it's affecting your community?

Mr. VELLOSKY: Yes, I have, yeah.

INSKEEP: What do you think?

Mr. VELLOSKY: I have think about just like she's thinking. I got a lot of Hispanic friends and a lot of them were here illegally. But I wouldn't know what to do about that.

Mr. OHEIDA: David from Pomona. The thing that I don't like is that immigrants who come here to work, but yet they'll come and burn the American flag - they'll protest. I believe that everybody should have a right to come and build that American dream. But as far as being a Mexican-American here, you know, my heritage is from Mexico but my loyalty is to this country. You know they do jobs that people don't want to do that - what we take for granted. And anyone who tries to better themselves, they should be allowed to come work.

INSKEEP: David Oheida is from Pomona, California. We heard John Vellosky in Santa Monica. Jackie Wax is in Palm Springs. They're all along the route of Interstate 10.

And we're going to continue along that route across the state border now to Ehrenberg, Arizona, which is where Larry Seidel(ph) has being listening in to the conversation.

Mr. Seidel, welcome to the program.

Mr. LARRY SEIDEL(Resident, Ehrenberg, Arizona): Yes, good morning.

INSKEEP: Is immigration on your mind in Ehrenberg?

Mr. SEIDEL: Certainly. I think it's going to be on everybody's mind that kind of follows issues in this country.

INSKEEP: And what is the situation there? Do you see a lot of immigrants?

Mr. SEIDEL: Oh, yes. I'm a small business owner, and we were primarily in eastern California and all of southern Arizona. And so we see a lot that pertains to immigration.

INSKEEP: What's your company called?

Mr. SEIDEL: It's Aztec(ph) Drilling and Pump. We're in the water well business.

INSKEEP: I don't suppose you also drill, I don't know, border fence posts, anytime?

Mr. SEIDEL: Oh, yeah. We actually haven't drilled border fence posts but we have work with homeland security for water, for construction along the border of southern Arizona.

INSKEEP: You're in Arizona, which is the home state of a presidential candidate.

Mr. SEIDEL: That's correct.

INSKEEP: John McCain, your senator, one of your senators. Are you a McCain supporter?

Mr. SEIDEL: No.

INSKEEP: Another candidate?

Mr. SEIDEL: Well my primary concerns, there are several candidates that have expressed views on as primarily that keeping this country safe, the issue of immigration, the issue of taxation and energy independence.

INSKEEP: You mentioned immigration. Your senator, John McCain, was one of the sponsors and supporters of a measure that would have given, as they describe it, a path to legalization for illegal immigrants.

Mr. SEIDEL: That's correct. I thought it was a poor bill.

INSKEEP: What was wrong with it?

Mr. SEIDEL: My opinion is that everybody - I have a mother-in-law that's a World War II bride that immigrated to this country legally. And I think that's the way the processes has to be done, and that we need to first strengthen our borders and have controlled immigration, and then we have to address the issues of the people that here illegally.

INSKEEP: Should they be made to leave?

Mr. SEIDEL: Now, I don't know that necessarily that they should be made to leave, but I think we have to stop the bleeding first, to do what's right for America.

INSKEEP: Well, Larry Seidel in Ehrenberg, Arizona; Jackie Wax in Palm Springs; David Oheida in Pomona, California; and John Vellosky in Santa Monica. Thanks very much for speaking with us.

Mr. SEIDEL: Thank you.

Ms. WACKS: Thank you very much.

Mr. VELOSKY: Well, thank you.

Mr. OJEDA: Thank you.

INSKEEP: I've enjoyed it. Best wishes to you.

Mr. SEIDEL: Bye.

Ms. WACKS: Bye-bye.

Mr. VELOSKY: Bye.

INSKEEP: And we will continue our highly unscientific survey of public opinion along U.S. Interstate 10, tomorrow.

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