California Lieutenant Governor Eleni Kounalakis urges other Greek Americans to see the upcoming US presidential election as an opportunity ‘to right the wrongs of 2016 and set our beautiful country back on a track of competent leadership at home and in the world.’
Democratic candidate Joe Biden has knowledge of the issues concerning Greece and Cyprus and as president of the United States would take an active interest in the region, California Lieutenant Governor Eleni Kounalakis tells Kathimerini.
The Greek-American politician is also a close personal friend of Biden’s running mate, vice presidential nominee Kamala Harris, and an active Democrat, with the second most powerful job in one of the country’s most important states, ranked as the fifth-largest economy in the world.
A friend of the Clintons – she served as US ambassador to Budapest when Hillary Clinton was secretary of state – and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Kounalakis notes that the United States can and should do more to mediate a de-escalation of tension between Greece and Turkey over energy and maritime rights in the Eastern Mediterranean.
She describes US President Donald Trump as “ruthless” and warns of his “cozy relationship” and admiration for his Turkish counterpart, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, calling on Greek Americans to cast their ballots in favor of Biden-Harris. However, Kounalakis cannot hide her concern that we may see a repeat of 2016, when Democratic candidate Clinton secured more votes than Trump but lost the presidency in the electoral college.
How do you assess Joe Biden’s chances of winning the November election?
In 2016, I learned the hard way that you cannot predict elections. Because of our electoral college system, Joe Biden may win the popular vote and still fall short in electoral votes from key swing states. I try to avoid spending time making predictions and instead use every spare minute to raise more money, and get more votes.
What is at stake in this election?
Both sides agree that this election is about the soul of our country. Donald Trump’s election was a tragic mistake, one that was fueled by both a complacency that Hillary Clinton would win as well as outrageous foreign interference. We have a chance to right the wrongs of 2016 and set our beautiful country back on a track of competent leadership at home and in the world. It is a critical moment in our history and the stakes could not be higher – from healthcare, to the Covid-19 response, to economic recovery and America’s place in the world.
Will President Trump’s “law and order” message resonate with the electorate?
Trump creates lies about his enemies, and then attacks them up for things that are not true. At their convention, Trump and his allies repeatedly called Democrats “socialists,” which for the vast majority of us, including our Biden-Harris ticket, is patently false. His convention speakers repeatedly accused Biden-Harris of wanting to “defund the police” – also untrue. Trump is ruthless and while fierce fighters, our ticket has ethical standards. It will be up to the American people to decide which approach will prevail.
What is your personal sense of how are things unfolding, both in California and on a national level?
Again, this time I won’t be making any predictions! But in California, where Democrats outnumber Republicans by almost 2-1, we will continue to send a largely Democratic delegation to the Congress and will surely pledge our electoral votes for Biden-Harris, overwhelmingly. We will also phone-bank, text-bank and volunteer to help get out the vote across the country. Everything I hold dear, as a Greek American, patriot and former US ambassador, is on the line. I’ll also be lighting a lot of candles over the next 65 days.
How will or should Greek Americans vote and why?
Never before has an American president been so aggressive toward our allies – NATO in particular – and so friendly to tyrants and dictators. Trump admires men like Erdogan, Putin and Kim Jong-un. He wants to be one of them and wield authoritarian power in our country as they do in theirs. I hope Greek Americans recognize Trump’s style and rhetoric for what it is. I also hope they see that Trump’s incoherent foreign policy, chaotic leadership and cozy relationship with Erdogan has destabilized the region and made it less safe for Greece. Meanwhile, Joe Biden is a longtime friend of Greece and Greek Americans. He is a Philhellene who for decades has had the nickname of “Joe Bidenopoulos.” I worked directly with the vice president when he was personally involved in ensuring Greece stayed in the eurozone. The difference is staggering.
What should Greece and Cyprus expect from a Biden administration, especially against the backdrop of today’s tense relations with Turkey?
I was on a Zoom call with Joe Biden and Kamala Harris a few weeks ago, just before he chose her as VP. In the “waiting room” we talked about Cyprus and he expressed his frustration with the current situation. Biden has visited Cyprus, he knows the facts on the ground and I know he is committed to making meaningful progress on this difficult issue.
How do you assess the recent US decision to end the embargo of non-lethal arms sales to Cyprus?
The bipartisan decision to end the small arms embargo is a welcome and important step in building a closer security relationship between the US and Cyprus. But there is a long road ahead to solve this decades-old stalemate and bring long-term stability to the region. With tensions escalating over energy exploration and immigration, we need US leadership to be consistent, coherent and in partnership with our allies and partners in Europe.
Is Washington doing enough to mediate between Greece and Turkey in order to avoid a conflict?
The US can do more to mediate relations between Greece and Turkey and it must. It is imperative that we engage to de-escalate current tensions. Donald Trump’s cozy relationship with dictators and admiration for their unilateral authority should concern everyone who cares about international law and security in the Mediterranean.
Kamala Harris has ‘philotimo’
What do you think of Biden’s VP pick, Kamala Harris, whom you know personally?
During the “veepstakes” process, I made no secret of my view that, among many great choices, Kamala Harris was by far the one who could rise to the level needed to win this election. So I am thrilled, but also relieved to have the ticket we do. Kamala and I have been friends for almost two decades. She is smart, hardworking and joyful. She believes in progressive change, without dismantling our institutions. On a personal level, Kamala exhibits “philotimo” in everything she does, and as VP will act honorably in service to our country and all our people.