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The Dartmouth
April 20, 2024 | Latest Issue
The Dartmouth

Q&A with Joby Bernstein ’17

Bernstein is simultaneously running to represent California’s 16th Congressional District and earning his MBA and MS from Stanford University.

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With a platform built on combating climate change, educational reform and change in immigration policy, Joby Bernstein ’17 is running for Congress as a Democrat in California’s 16th District. The 28-year-old is also currently earning his MBA and MS in climate science at Stanford University. The Dartmouth spoke with Bernstein about his campaign, inspirations and future goals. 

Tell me about your Dartmouth experience. How did your experiences here shape your political aspirations?

JB: Dartmouth is the perfect place for people who aspire to get involved with public policy. I was heavily involved with the Rockefeller Center for Public Policy, which kept me engaged in policy and politics. I was a First-Year Fellow my freshman year and worked in Washington, D.C. I really fell in love with public policy at Dartmouth. In high school, you don’t really get the chance to take policy classes. At Dartmouth, I was an economics major with a public policy and environmental studies minor. I really enjoyed the experience of being able to go from First-Year Fellows to working for the states of New Hampshire and Vermont to doing my own public policy research on the side. Dartmouth is the perfect place to really dive into politics and policy. The professors at Dartmouth are unmatched. 

What inspired you to run for Congress? 

JB: I’ve watched, over the last 15 years, the devastating effect that climate change has had. Whether it’s the most precious groves of Redwood trees in California succumbing to wildfires or the prettiest alpine lakes overtaken by algoblooms, it’s evident that climate change is having a large impact. It really extends far beyond the wilderness and gets interwoven into society. I spent the last 10 years focused on climate change. I’ve dedicated my career to it from trail work to environmental science research to starting two corporate sustainability programs to becoming a climate investor. I know policy is the biggest lever, and while business and investing is important, it’s not going to be enough. We have five to 10 years to really chart a new course for this country. Action needs to be happening in D.C., and it needs to happen today. 

Unfortunately, we don’t have time for another year to wait for another generation to take action. The issues that Congress cares about right now are fundamentally different from our generation. If we’re going to solve climate change, fix education and keep the best talent in this country, we need to rise up and face these challenges. It’s time for a younger voice, a fresh voice — next generation leadership that’s going to come from us and bring our voices to D.C.

According to your website, your campaign focuses on climate change, improving education and fixing immigration. Why these three core issues?

JB: For too long, I think the discourse around climate change has said there needs to be some sort of tradeoff. People say, “to solve climate change we need to take away jobs or slow growth.” But that discourse is funded by Super PACs and oil and gas executives who really don’t understand that there are a lot of easy fixes out there that can make a huge difference. People say, “every Democrat cares about the climate, why do we need someone who is focusing there?” To me, most Democrats care about climate, but they don’t realize how much of a crisis it is. 

If you look at education right now, we have a huge skill gap in vocational labor and union jobs. We have a shortage of plumbers, electricians and welders. We need more training and apprenticeship programs. We need to keep investing in things like STEM research and making preschool affordable. We need to ensure that mothers don’t have to leave the workforce for things like childcare in early years. Focusing on early development is key. 

Lastly, on immigration, immigrants come here because they care about the American Dream. They want to live in America, be American, pay American taxes, contribute to our communities and create jobs. Yet we say, “I’m sorry, the system doesn’t work, you shouldn’t come here.” There are people on waitlists that are estimated to take 50-100 years. Our system is flawed. It was built in 1986 — it hasn’t been updated — and there are easy things we can fix to ensure we keep talent in America. 

We want to protect our environment, protect our kids and ensure that America continues to be a bright spot in the world. My platform focuses on ensuring our next 30 years are as great as our past 30.       

What is it like to simultaneously be running for Congress and working on your MBA and MS in climate science at Stanford?

JB: It’s the perfect time to be doing it because there are so many resources I can leverage at Stanford, which is really the heart of the district. My professors have been extremely helpful with giving advice, endorsing me and contributing to my campaign. They’ve been consistent supporters the entire time and willing to help me make connections to gain a stronger foothold. My friends here are helping by getting out, knocking on doors, getting signatures, sharing my stuff on social media — you name it. Having the resources here has been extremely helpful in running the campaign and managing it and really growing this army who cares about these issues and wants to see change. While I’m sure some parts of school might suffer a bit, I am so grateful for the community here that’s fighting with me to make a difference in our district.   

The average age of a House of Representatives member is around 58. Do you think your young age will be an asset? Why or why not?

JB: I definitely think it’ll be an asset. I have the energy and grit to get stuff done. The people in the district can have trust and faith in me — I’ll be here for a long time. I’m not looking at a two-year timeframe, I’m looking at a 30-year time frame, where I can really make a big difference. I also think that younger generations in America have different goals for what America should be, and where America should go. 

It’s clear that our voices aren’t being heard right now, and I hope more young people can get out there, vote and get involved in politics and policy. It really makes a difference. When young people stand up for marches, Congressmen and Congresswomen listen. I promise that any effort young people make does pay off. We have a lot of leverage. Getting out there and using it makes a huge difference.

What advice would you have for Dartmouth students looking to get involved in public service?

JB: The resources at Dartmouth are fantastic. Getting involved with the Rockefeller Center is a fantastic place to start — there are tons of resources there. New Hampshire is a cool place because it’s a part-time legislature. Same as Vermont. They don’t have hired research staff, and assembly members and State Senators work only a few weeks a year in the state legislature. They need a ton of help, and Dartmouth students are the best asset for them. 

I had way too many 2 a.m. conversations at Collis Late Night about policy topics with the most random people that I’ll always remember. Having that environment of people who are engaged and thoughtful is so special. Take advantage of the people you’re with because you can learn a ton from other Dartmouth students!

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity and length.