The following is an interview with congresswoman Lois Capps (D-Santa Barbara), conducted on Thursday, May 20.

Thank you for taking the time to answer my questions. If you could, please describe the atmosphere in Washington, D.C., right now. Is it as bad as we hear? Do you see any long-term consequences of the bitter partisanship?

As a democrat, it is obviously disheartening to me that my party is in the minority. The republican leadership has created a bitterly partisan environment in Washington that has made reaching bipartisan agreement on issues such as Medicare and a national energy policy extremely difficult. As a result, my colleagues and I have had to work even harder to ensure our views are heard on issues of importance to our constituents. On the other hand, I have had success in working with a number of republican members who share my concerns on particular issues.

Over the last few years, UC Santa Barbara has emerged as one of the nation’s top universities, with a rising quality of undergrads and three Nobel prizes in the last five years. Have you seen the amount of political activity grow as well on UCSB’s campus?

I congratulate UCSB on its recent achievements and am proud of my 30-year attachment to the institution. As for the politics of the campus, I think UCSB is a microcosm of the country, which is more politically energized than ever before. UCSB also has a long and proud history of registering students to vote. I hope this important election year will see more student voters than ever before.

Have you ever felt concerned about a perceived lack of political balance in the classrooms at UC Santa Barbara?

From time to time, students have complained to me about what they perceive is a political or ideological bias on the part of one of their professors. Frankly, I don’t think this is a problem at UCSB, and in any case, it’s a matter for the university’s administration to address, not a member of Congress.

You have reiterated time and time again your steadfast support for the state of Israel. What is it about the U.S.-Israel alliance that draws your support?

I support Israel because of the strategic value it has to the United States and the democratic ideals our two nations share. I also believe that our efforts to ensure the safety and security of Israel are inextricably linked to the need to provide full political, economic and human rights to the Palestinians.

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has said that he will withdraw from Gaza unilaterally, a significant step in that it does not require reciprocal steps by Palestinians. Should Sharon enjoy the backing of the U.S. for this bold and potentially stalemate-breaking move?

Yes. I support the Gaza withdrawal plan, and I have encouraged President Bush to ask Mr. Sharon to push ahead. It would be tragic if this initiative were blocked because of a nonbinding vote by Likud Party members, who represent a small minority of Israelis. In addition, the Gaza disengagement plan must not be an end unto itself – it should be the first step in a process by which Israel also withdraws from much of the West Bank, consistent with the “road map.”

You sit on the House Committee on Energy and Commerce. What proposals have been floated for reducing our dependence on Middle Eastern oil?

Conservation is the key to reducing our dependence on foreign oil. The average weight of automobiles is back to 4,000 pounds – the weight of cars back in the 1970s. And fuel efficiency of cars has actually dropped in the last few years. In an age where SUVs rule, our country relies on approximately two-thirds of imported oil to fuel our automobiles. In Congress, I voted to raise fuel efficiency standards for automobiles. I will continue to advocate raising fuel efficiency standards, which have not been raised since the 1980s.

Last week, the UCSB men’s lacrosse team seized the national championship. Any words for our returning heroes?

Congratulations Gauchos!

Joey Tartakovsky is a Daily Nexus columnist.