Ukrainian-born Maksim “Max” Semenenko is a 39-year-old father of four (with a fifth on the way) and owner of his own construction company. A Sacramento-area resident for the last 25 years, the Republican said he now wishes to give back by serving in Congress. “I say I was born again three times. The first time by my mother. The second time as a Christian, and the third time when I arrived in America.”
Semenenko is running in California’s 7th Congressional district against incumbent Doris Matsui. The newly redrawn district covers the southern half of the city and county of Sacramento, and at 77, Matsui is older than the combined ages of Semenenko and her other opponent, progressive Democrat Jimmy Fremgen (33).
Elected in 2020 to the North Highlands Recreation & Park District Board, Semenenko lists his top issues as reviving the economy, defending the 2nd Amendment, reforming the U.S. immigration system, and lowering healthcare costs. Last week, he answered questions from SactoPolitico.com. Fremgen’s Q&A can be found here. Matsui’s campaign did not respond to multiple offers for their own Q&A.
SACTO POLITICO: What top issues inspired you to run for Congress?
MAX SEMENENKO: There are a lot of issues that inspire me. The top issue is the economy. People in this district are feeling the real impact of record inflation. Rising housing costs and everyday goods are more and more expensive. So I will fight for my district to give a break to our people.
I feel the main way to lower costs right now involves sustainable energy. Right now, we are purchasing all of these fossil fuels from other countries, but I would encourage [the Biden] Administration and our people to be energy independent again. Even as a builder and a business owner, as soon as the prices and materials and gas go up, costs go up for everyone.
Another big cost here in California involves the [scarcity] of water. This affects the cost of everything farmers produce. I know we passed $5 billion in bonds to build water reserves. Something happened, but we still don’t have the water that our farmers need. We need to focus on building more water reserves and give more water to our farmers. They are paying a premium right now.
S/P: What is your background?
MS: My parents received refugee status and emigrated from Ukraine. We arrived in 1997 at Sacramento airport in the middle of the night. I was 14½, and driving on the freeway after arriving, I was fascinated by all the street lights. I was like, “Wow, how can these Americans handle all of those battery replacements?” on those lights. [He laughed.] I knew America was great, but not that great. It was like a Disneyland for me. In Ukraine at that time, street lights at night and water was a luxury outside the cities.
Once here, we worked at night. I helped my dad clean the Florin Toyota. It’s not there anymore. We were very grateful for the social welfare programs we were on the first couple years. My second job was as a paper boy for the Sacramento Bee, throwing the papers at 6 a.m.
I grew up in Oak Park near Fruitridge and Stockton, right there at 56th Street, and I graduated from Hiram Johnson High School. And I wish to thank everyone for helping me and my family become free Americans. Now it’s my time to give back.
S/P: Most Americans are saddened by the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Given the level of destruction and personal upheavals happening there, do you think the U.S. is doing enough?
MS: I think we are doing everything we could. You can always do more, but American people are doing more than enough at this point.
I’ll note that when the war started, I almost made a decision to go back [to Ukraine]. My wife Irina said, ‘We understand and respect you as a man. You have protected us for 20 years. We know you are real. When you say something, you do it. You’re not just talking. But if you are elected to Congress, you can do more. You can finish your dream. Your dream was to show the whole world that America is a free country that gave you the chance to become somebody. To become a business man, a husband. Then you can show to Ukrainians how to be a free country and free human beings.” That made a lot of sense to me.
S/P: Why are you a Republican?
MS: This is very interesting. I was brought up as a non-party person in Ukraine. For us, it was a sin to be part of any party, to carry any kind of firearm, to reflect any of the government positions. But when I came here, I was looking for ways to be involved in American society, and I decided to run for office in 2020. When I was looking through the parties, the Republican Party was closer to my beliefs and perspective of life.
For me, everybody is an American, and everybody is fighting to protect this country and protect the Constitution. But in the Republican Party, they are pro-life like I am. They are pro-family like I am. They start meetings with prayers and the Pledge of Allegiance. They believe a little bit better world can exist. This the is best country, but there is going to be another, I hope, another big country like America. We call it heaven. My main purpose on this Earth is to serve and to show I have a little bit bigger dream, and I think Republicans have that bigger philosophy that is motivating them.
Additionally, coming from a country with too much government overreach, I am all for small government and reducing regulations on the economy. Republicans encompass the beliefs of small government and more economic freedom for businesses. We saw what leadership did during the pandemic to shut down so many businesses, which should have never happened. Small businesses, restaurants, and everyday American workers took the biggest hit from Democrat policies on shutdowns, and we need to get government out of the way on this.
S/P: What are your thoughts about your main opponent, Rep. Doris Matsui?
MS: I know her story. I respect her. I know she is doing everything she can to help the district, but people start saying, “You know Max, we never see her. She doesn’t live anywhere near here. She has already been too long in office. Her husband was in office too long. We want something different, and we believe that you can bring the difference.”
It’s not that I am saying I am better than her, but I think I have more in common with regular hard-working people. I came from nowhere. I was a nobody, but now I am a true free American and a successful businessman. I hope I will next be a true servant in Washington. People are tired of lifelong politicians and its time Sacramento vote for someone who will fight harder for them. I am that person.
S/P: I saw on your Facebook page your November post about “industrial child trafficking.” Please explain this issue and why it is so important to you.
MS: Children are very vulnerable human beings. For me to hear that one child has been abused is a tragedy for me. I will do just as I do to protect my girls and my family. I am every day talking to them. “Be sober. Be vigilant.” I want to make sure they are protected. Especially for girls, I know how easy it is for them to be abused in this world. Same thing for the average child, for my neighbor’s child, for all American children. I will fight to make sure they are protected. This will be my second most important issue.
This is a disease. If we look at history, we will not be able to eliminate it, but at least I can protect at least one more child in my district. It is a world issue. Even in Ukraine, there were people caught over the last six, seven months trying to take children over the border. It is like a small business already. They are also using technologies like social media to lure in children. I want to make sure we have more tools to catch these guys.
S/P: Sacramento has a significant human sex trafficking problem, and there are also high-profile national cases like Jeffery Epstein. But other people have taken this real issue and taken it over the top by claiming there was a child sex ring beneath a D.C. pizzeria or that Hillary Clinton was involved with sex trafficking. What is your feeling about these over-the-top claims?
MS: I want to be honest with you. I understand the laws and that you need proof of these things. Right now, I am on the sidelines, but I said I’m not going to believe in [the over-the-top claims]. So I don’t believe that our government, our leaders, are doing this. I believe they are clean. That they are fighting for us. But if I am elected and I see the evidence myself, then I will say it openly.
At this point, I believe it is a smaller number of evil people hiding and abusing children. I still believe ours is the greatest government in the world, that they are doing their best to protect our children, to protect me, to protect our system of government. So no, I don’t think there is some underground world in which our government is involved trafficking children.
S/P: One of your top issues is the 2nd Amendment. Roughly 15,000 Americans die every year from gun-related homicides (not including suicides). To reduce this, do you believe we have all the laws needed or should we do more?
MS: The 2nd Amendment is something I thank Americans and our Constitution for. I know I can smell it that someone is working behind the scenes to erase or change our Constitution. The 2nd Amendment has given us the right to protect ourselves. Not to hunt, but to protect ourselves. We see what dictators do. They first will divide the country and the people, and then they will disarm them. Then you have what we see in Ukraine right now. People are dying.
But I will work hard to protect the 2nd Amendment and to find ways to disarm the criminals. We need to make sure law-abiding citizens are not suffering. I have firearms, but I am limited in their use. Right now regular people are suffering, but not the criminals. We need to change that.
S/P: What about the view of those people who do not wish to get rid of the 2nd Amendment but wish to ban automatic and semi-automatic weapons?
MS: I would keep the 2nd Amendment at its fullest as it was originally intended. But of course, we aren’t going to allow the sale of rockets and tanks and land mines, but [beyond that] I will have to think more about supporting other kinds of limitations on fire arms.
S/P: Your website also lists the need to “loosen big pharma’s grip on our healthcare system.” How extensive are you recommending the U.S. government intervene to achieve this, and in what ways?
MS: I would like to see more affordable healthcare and greater availability. This includes lowering the cost of prescription drugs. I think the main issue right now is Big Pharma has too much access to our politicians. I would vote to restrict or have a moratorium on the financial contributions that members of Congress can receive from Big Pharma so they will not influence law makers.
S/P: However, the Supreme Court ruled in its 2010 Citizens United ruling that political donations are a form of free speech and corporations are considered an actual person in this respect. So their free speech and donations cannot be curtailed differently than for actual human beings. Would you like to see this changed?
MS: Yes, there should be a change to this.
S/P: Do you believe California elections are free and fair, or do you believe – as more than a few California Republicans do – that the state’s election system is riddled with fraud that makes our elections untrustworthy?
MS: I believe our election system is fair, especially as compared to where I come from. But not just that. I did my research, and we met with our voter registrar. They are very transparent and very open. Yes, I believe that our system is fair. But we know if humans are involved, there will always be some errors.
S/P: Do you believe Joe Biden was fairly elected?
MS: Yes, I didn’t see any evidence over the last year.
S/P: Any final thoughts?
MS: I just wish to thank you for this opportunity to share my story. Overall, I am grateful. Every day for me in this country is like Christmas. I just want to serve as I serve my community.