(Cross-Posted from The Alternative D.C., http://thealternativedc.com)
It was 5:30 AM. I was at the Concord BART station. With me were two friends sporting
“Garamendi for Congress” shirts. Also with me was the Lieutenant Governor of California, John Garamendi. How did I get here?!?
I’ve always been active in politics, even though I’m only a freshman high school student. For me, this campaign started in June. My friend, Jeremy Wolff, invited me to volunteer with the Garamendi for Congress campaign, where he was working. I was already more-than-familiar with the congressional race and John Garamendi. Unable to refuse anything related to politics, I accepted without hesitating, and on the same day, met John for the first time at the Campaign Headquarters.
Since then, I’ve been volunteering regularly, phone banking every other day, and canvassing on weekends. I’ve spent a good deal of my summer with this campaign. Not only am I a campaign enthusiast, I am also a blogger, and am the editor-in-chief of The Alternative DC, a national bipartisan youth political blog. It was under this position that I agreed to interview John for the blog at the crack of dawn.
Back to 5:30 this morning: I joined John and some volunteers at the Concord BART station and we reviewed the plan: we would take the BART all around the district, talking to and addressing constituent’s concerns, and distributing campaign information. After all, tomorrow is the election.
Several minutes into our southwestern BART ride, John sat down and promptly pulled out the Contra Costa Times, reading every article. As we heard a Ping!, the doors opened and John put the Times away to socialize with the new passengers.
It’s interesting to watch John Garamendi and his methods of dealing with people. He starts off saying “My name is John Garamendi. Tomorrow’s election day, and I’d like to be your congressman,” to each person. Some people shrug him off. Others seem honored and astonished to meet the Lieutenant Governor. The most interesting people are the ones who begin conversations with John, who always is happy to engage in conversations with constituents ranging from tomorrow’s election to tax issues.
After a few conversations, we left the BART to distribute literature to new voters, and then to board the BART going north. During this ride, the seats are mostly empty, so we were able to begin our interview.
I launched the interview with a question that I know is on the minds of many in the district: “After your years of experience in state-level office, why are you running for federal?”
John explained how he also, “has experience in the federal level, under Bill Clinton [as Deputy Secretary of the Interior]. [The] issues I’ve worked on my entire career, they’re all in Washington right now- Healthcare issues, transportation issues, the issues of climate change policy- all of those things I’ve spent my career on- are in Washington.” John then elaborated on his role in climate change negotiations as Deputy Secretary of the Interior, and concluded with:
“… So, my Washington experience prepares me for what’s going on back there.”
I asked my next question: “If elected to congress in November, what would your first actions be?”
Garamendi thought for a moment, then answered. “A lot of it depends on where congress is on policy; if healthcare [reform] is still going on; I’ll be very involved in that. [There’s] the energy policy… Then, there are issues specific to the district: transportation issues… education issues, all of those things are in process… research issues… so there’s this series of things we have to do, on all of these district issues… I’m going to hit the ground running.”
I asked him a different type of question next- one that dealt with the campaign: “In what ways do you differ most from the other democrats in this race?”
“Well, first of all- vast experience on critical issues… [then] there’s detailed knowledge of government working…” John expanded that he knows Insurance reform (he served as California Insurance Commissioner in the 90’s), and will be able to assist committees on the subject. He also touched on his detailed knowledge of climate protection, and how he:
“…Helped develop the American climate change conference in June of 1998. So, again, detailed knowledge… and those are the things I’d bring to Congress.”
As a follow up, I then asked in what ways he most differed from David Harmer, the presumptive Republican nominee.
“Harmer is inexperienced, and very, very, conservative. Thus far, the only thing he talks about is balancing the budget. In fact, it’s the republicans who fail to balance the budget… In the Clinton administration, we cut the Department of the Interior by 15,000 people, and we balanced the budget, and created a surplus. Republicans talk about it but they don’t do it. In fact, George [W.] Bush and the Republicans created the biggest deficit EVER. Now, the stimulus package… was necessary to keep the economy from total collapse… so I think the basic difference is, I have walked the walk, he [Harmer] is just talking the talk.”
Moving on, I asked him, “You’ve spent decades building up considerable influence here in California. How would you continue this as a freshman congressman?”
“I’ve got relationships… I know the committee chairmen. They’re personal friends of mine… these are people I’ve worked with years and years… Nancy Pelosi, too. So, relationships are useful… we will work together.” He continued, talking about how the committees will, as they have in the past, consult him on issues that he has proved himself knowledgeable in. He also mentioned that he’s worked closely with many Senators, campaigning with many of them, including Majority Leader Harry Reid. He went on: “I have a very significant advantage, not only knowing the issues, [but] knowing this district. I’ve represented this district for seven years. I’ve been on the ballot nine times!”
I now went for a question that I knew would be one of the most important: “What are your specific goals for District 10?”
“Well, as I covered some of it, transportation issues are very, very important. The research issues- this district has in it and adjacent to it, three of the greatest research institutes in the entire country… I’m very involved with research issues… [we’ve got] the Lawrence Livermore Labs, and the Travis Air Force Base is the economic force of Fairfield. Next, agriculture. I’m a farmer-rancher. Water- I’m a 35-year-veteran of California water issues. I know the issues of the Delta. I’ll be the only congressman EVER to live in the Delta. I’ve lived on the Sacramento River for 32 years. So I know the Delta… Healthcare is a big, big issue in this district… again I know the Chairman of the Health Committee… I’ll be able to bring that knowledge to Washington, D.C.-Small things, like regulations, to big things like Medicare, Medicaid, I have a record for these things… The welfare program in California is one that I basically designed in 1980, and that Bill Clinton modeled his Arkansas and National program on.”
The BART halted, and we were at El Cerrito. We decided to continue the interview later on, as Team Garamendi exited BART.
In El Cerrito, Garamendi courted a large crowd of voters, with great reception. And again, he used “My name is John Garamendi. Tomorrow’s election day; I’d like to be your congressman.” He talked to still more voters- young and old and in-between.
Eventually, it was time to head back to Concord and wrap up the round trip. I managed to ask one last question before it was over. I mentioned that, if he wins, Arnold Schwarzenegger would have to appoint a replacement, and asked his thought on that selection. On this he was very straightforward. He explained that the Legislature (controlled by Democrats) has a bigger say in the appointment. Because of this, Schwarzenegger cannot push through whomever he wants for the position. Basically, Schwarzenegger will either appoint a place holder or leave the seat vacant.
PING! We had arrived at Garamendi’s stop.
“Mr. Garamendi, thank you so much for your time.”
“No, thank you.”