Interview with Congressman Salud Carbajal

Pam Flynt Tambo and Karen Fields interviewed 24th District Congressman Salud Carbajal on Saturday, February 10th. This is a summary of their conversation. —

Salud Carbajal hasn’t gotten much sleep lately. We caught up with him after he’d participated in a late night vote in Congress followed by a red-eye flight from D.C to Santa Barbara. It would have been easy to forgive him if he’d shown signs of wear-and-tear, but instead he was energetic, enthusiastic, and anxious to talk about women’s issues and about the SBWPC.

In fact, he began our conversation with, “Let me start by saying how appreciative I am of the SBWPC and the role you guys play. I think it’s invaluable, and I think you’re one of a few, and there should be more, but one of a few organizations, that I think really are promoting the interests of women and empowerment of women in our communities.”

Salud pointed out that he had been mentored by a number of women throughout his career. He specifically referred to the late Naomi Schwartz, a County Supervisor who hired him to be her Chief of Staff. He credits her with introducing him to elected public policy, and recalled, “I was very green, and she mentored me, and took a chance on me. Talking about somebody who believed in empowerment! She was a strong feminist, but she also believed in equity among groups that aren’t represented.”

We asked about the current composition of his staff, and about the actions he’s presently taking to mentor and empower women.

It turns out that eleven of the sixteen members of his congressional staff are women (including his Communications Director, and Legislative Director.) Seven are minorities; five are Latinas. He also has a campaign staff, in which six of the seven members are women. The LGBTQ community is represented as well.

Salud has internship programs in his California offices and in D.C. He indicated that most of his interns are women. In the context of mentorship, he noted his participation in the Latino Caucus and the Tri-Caucus in Washington — organizations whose values support the empowerment of women.

Inevitably, our conversation drifted to the #MeToo Movement. Salud shared that he had proactively (perhaps presciently), instituted anti-harassment training for his own staff. He co-sponsored two bills (H.R. 4155, and H.R. 4396), which mandate anti-harassment training, and revise the way in which complaints are investigated within the House of Representatives.

As a former Marine, Salud is on the Armed Services Committee. He was instrumental in convincing the Marine Corps to adopt changes in the design of body armor for women. The move to provide greater comfort and safety to women serving in combat had been implemented by the Army, but not the Marines. The commitment to make these changes are now part of the current Defense Authorization Act.

We wanted some insight the way that budget negotiations have impacted the interests of the Dreamers. Salud had some interesting insight. He acknowledged that he’s been criticized for not supporting a government shutdown in the absence of explicit Dreamer protections. He explained a bit of the backstory that we were unaware of.

It turns out that the proposed Republican budget was the vehicle used to fund California disaster relief. A “no” vote would have denied the victims of the recent fires and floods in our community access to those federal dollars. For this reason, Salud compelled to vote in favor of the budget. In his words, “When you have disasters, it’s health and safety first. And when you have death in your district, there is no way you’re afforded the opportunity to play politics. You just don’t. That’s just the non-starter. And I explained that to some of the groups in the Latino community … I’m Latino. I’m an immigrant. It was really hard. So I share that with you because within three weeks of the disaster, there were two or three votes where I had no choice.”

Moving onto another issue, we asked Salud about gun control. After some collective head shaking about the fact that progressive legislation is unlikely to move forward in a Republican congress, Salud pointed to a few bright spots. In the spring of 2017, he introduced H.R. 2598, the “Gun Violence Restraining Order Act”, which would allow individuals who feel threatened by a family member to prevent that person from having or purchasing a gun. Unfortunately, the bill is still sitting in the House Judiciary Committee — but at least the proposed legislation is on record. In addition, Salud is working with a Republican colleague to propose a bill that would block “straw-man” purchases of guns, in other words it would prevent one person from buying a gun for another. He’s especially hopeful about this particular bill because it is being written in a bipartisan manner. Salud emphasized that he takes the opportunity to work collaboratively whenever he can, also citing his membership in the Bipartisan Problem Solvers Caucus. This group focuses on building trust, and developing a framework for working across party lines to find areas of agreement.

As our final topic, we asked the Congressman to update us on healthcare legislation. He began by pointing out that even though the California Senate had approved a proposal to adopt a single payer system, they didn’t include a method to pay for the plan. He said that “If we’re the most progressive state, and we can’t do this? {No wonder} all eyes are now on California.”

He went on to say, “If you ask me, am I for single payer?” He smiles and spreads his hands indicating “of course”, and then continues, “I’m for us some day getting there, because it makes sense. The question becomes, how do we get there, and how do we pay for it? So I’ve been focusing all my efforts on, fighting for the Affordable Care Act. Can you imagine? We just survived this, by one or two votes. Women’s healthcare was going to go back to the dark ages! Preventative care was going to go. We were going to lose what we have now, and just, look what they {Republicans} did to the tax plan. They took away the individual mandate. … They’re doing everything possible to undermine it, since they weren’t able to do it through their legislative process. So, I’m a believer in single payer, but before I get behind any bill, I have to see it, and I have to be part of a plan, that articulates, how we’re going to pay for it, and how we’re going to get there. … I think it’s possible. I really do. We’ve just got to put our minds together, and do it.”

Salud’s enthusiastism is positively infectious. Feeling like we were ready to take on the world, it would have been great to hang around longer and have him talk about his work on education and the environment, but we were just the first of many appointments he had planned for the day, so sadly, we thanked him and said goodbye. As we parted he urged us to encourage SPWPC members, particularly those interested in running for office in the future, to consider visiting him in Washington, D.C. for a behind-the-scenes view into government.

Salud’s web site is: In addition to coverage of issues and legislation, the site contains comprehensive information for constituents who have been impacted by the recent disasters.