This piece first appeared at Newsmakers with JR on October 6, 2022.
In recent weeks, Representative Salud Carbajal embarked upon a “Central Coast Community Project Victory Tour,” trumpeting his support and sponsorship of newly passed federal legislation that yields large sums of cash, grants, and pork for his 24th Congressional District.
Campaigning for a fourth term against token Republican opposition, the Democratic congressmember positions himself as a transactional, pragmatic problem solver more interested in delivering for constituents — $75 million for the 101, $3.7 million for SBA, $3 million for the Goleta Valley Community Center, $1.3 million for the Veterans Memorial Building, $1 million for Santa Maria’s Airport, half-a-million for Carp shoreline “resilience work,” the list goes on —than in the extremist politics now tearing the nation apart.
However, at a time when seven of 10 GOP voters do not regard Joe Biden’s presidency as legitimate, nearly 70 percent of the party’s House members voted not to certify the 2020 election, and November’s midterms may well hand control of Congress to GOP majorities even more deeply committed to Donald Trump’s fake narrative of a stolen election, Salud’s senescent bromides about “collaboration,” “bipartisanship,” and “working together to solve problems” can register as dewy-eyed echoes of a long gone era.
In a far-ranging Newsmakers interview this week, the Democratic congressmember discussed in depth and detail how he tries to square that political circle in Washington — a case study of striving to employ venerable legislative tools like persuasion, compromise, and good faith negotiation, in an era of toxic, zero sum power struggles shaped by grievance, menace, and rumblings of civil war.
Although Carbajal portrays today’s GOP as a far-right, anti-democracy party, he nonetheless boasts of success in partnering with Republican colleagues on an issue-by-issue basis.
“Certainly there are many Republicans that have fascist tendencies that we are seeing more and more of in Congress,” he told Newsmakers.
“A good part of the Republican Party is focused on the ‘Big Lie’ (that the election was stolen) and is following the cult of a man named Trump, versus an ideology or a conservative platform,” he said. “So from that standpoint, it is a new party, overwhelmingly a new party.
“I try to (call that out) as often as possible, but in addition to doing that, I also believe in collaborating and creating a collaborative environment, where we can get things done,” he added. “Look, the people in the Central Coast, my constituents, want me to govern. They don’t want me there focusing overwhelmingly on ideology … And I try to reach that balance because I want to be effective for my district.”
State of Play. In the November 8 election, Carbajal ‘s opponent is Dr. Brad Allen, the sacrificial Republican (Dems start with a 46-to-26 percent district registration advantage) who finished second to him in the June primary. A pediatric surgeon who says he is running as a “common sense” alternative to “career politicians,” Allen reported $2,500 cash on hand in his latest campaign filing to the Federal Election Commission; Carbajal reported $2.4 million.
“I never underestimate any campaign, any race,” Salud told Newsmakers, “and I am spending substantial resources this race as well, because I don’t take anyone for granted.”
In our interview, Salud answered questions (and parried spasmodic snark) on a host of other consequential issues, including the controversial refit of the Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant in his district — and what it means for the future of a major wind energy venture planned nearby, a project he surely views as the stuff of political legacy.
He also discussed the economy, inflation, and the local impact of a series of huge pieces of legislation passed by Congress and signed by Biden, including the $1 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill; the massive and sprawling, so-called “Inflation Reduction Act”; and the $280 billion Chips and Science Act to boost the semiconductor industry and establish reliable manufacturing supply chains (“jobs, jobs, jobs,” he repeated three times).
In response to other questions, Carbajal insisted the new $700 million federal gun safety law, providing state grants for “red flag” law policies, was more than a token measure; discussed the war in Ukraine and how the U.S. should respond if Putin follows through on threats of using nuclear weapons; and speculated that the Dobbs decision, overturning Roe v. Wade, could be determinative in Democrats surprisingly holding the House.
Majority or Minority? Contrary to the view held by many political professionals, Carbajal stated that he is “not absolutely sure that (Democrats) are going to lose the House” to Republicans in the fall.
The GOP needs to net only five seats to take over — think Speaker Kevin McCarthy — and if they do, Carbajal said, he’ll hunker down to “negotiate with a Republican-led House to try to find common ground on continuing to move legislation forward, when we can find agreement.”
Carbajal pointed to his membership and good working relations in the bipartisan “Problem Solvers Caucus” (of 19 Republican members, just five Trump loyalists refused to certify the election) and the “For Country Caucus,” composed of ex-military members (where five of 14 GOP members stood behind the rigged election canard) as proof of viability for his across-the-aisle style and brand.
(Data Point: Don’t look now, but among Republican election upholders, at least five of those 19 GOP “Problem Solvers,” and three of the nine “For Country ” Republicans who voted for reality won’t be returning in January, either retired or beaten in primaries by MAGA Trumpers. But we digress).
“Most of the people that are on the other side, that are part of the bipartisan caucuses that I’m part of, overwhelmingly … those individuals have not been the ones promoting the Big Lie, have not been the extreme individuals,” Carbajal said.
“But I will tell you, I stand up for my district, I stand up for my ideals, day in and day out,” he added. “I don’t hesitate to call out the Republicans on extremism, and things that they do that are not in keeping with … American values of being inclusive — making sure everybody has opportunity, making sure we are doing everything possible to improve the lot of Americans … and giving people hope and opportunity to live the American dream.
“So that’s what I fight for every day,” the congressmember said.
You can watch Newsmakers’ interview with Rep. Salud Carbajal in part or in full via YouTube or by clicking through this link. The podcast version is here. Check TVSB and KCSB-FM for their air times of our program.