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One year later: Carbajal reflects on his first year in Congress 

When U.S. Rep. Salud Carbajal (D-Santa Barbara) spoke with New Times in February 2017, the congressional freshman was one month into his new gig.

It was the first few months after the election of Donald Trump, which alarmed liberal voters across the country, and Carbajal was quick to express hope that legislators could work together to pass meaningful legislation despite the concerns raised about the newly elected president.

"I'm an optimist," he told reporters at the time.

click to enlarge 365 DAYS LATER U.S. Rep. Salud Carbajal (D-Santa Barbabra) is finishing out his first year as a congressman and preparing to run for re-election against a familiar challenger in November. - PHOTO BY CHRIS MCGUINNESS
  • Photo By Chris Mcguinness
  • 365 DAYS LATER U.S. Rep. Salud Carbajal (D-Santa Barbabra) is finishing out his first year as a congressman and preparing to run for re-election against a familiar challenger in November.

One year later, Carbajal gave his thoughts on Trump's first State of the Union address. His assessment of the 80-minute speech is blunt.

"It was hollow rhetoric," Carbajal said. "One hour in front of a teleprompter isn't going to make his year of hate, bigotry, incompetence, and dysfunction go away."

For those who followed Carbajal's first year on the job, the words shouldn't come as a surprise. The former Santa Barbara County supervisor spent most of the last 365 days standing in staunch opposition to the majority of the policy pushes that emanated from the Trump White House and the Republican majority in Congress. He opposes the expansion of offshore oil drilling, the promised wall along the U.S. border with Mexico, efforts to dismantle the Affordable Care Act, and the recently passed Republican tax bill.

When he speaks, it's clear that one year under the shadow of Trump has not softened his image of the president.

"His speech won't erase the dysfunction and chaos he's inflicted on our nation for one year," Carbajal said.

That dissatisfaction isn't confined to the president alone. As he sat through the speech, Carbajal likely saw Republican lawmakers on the other side of the aisle jump up to deliver raucous applause at the words many of his fellow Democrats also characterized as "hollow rhetoric."

A year ago, Carbajal's optimism was, in part, based on the hope that some of those same Republicans might be willing to reach across the aisle to help blunt the president's erratic governing style and disconcerting policy goals.

"We'll see if his antics and terrible agenda is one where at least a core number of Republicans will say, 'No, we're not going along with that,'" he said in 2017.

One year later Carbajal was chiding those Republicans who have backed the president's agenda for their role in "shoring up an incompetent president."

"I think there's a level of complicity that is going on, and I think that is unfortunate," he said. "Party matters more than our democracy and finding solutions for the American people."

Carbajal is up for re-election in November, and has already accrued a sizeable war chest in preparation for the race. According to campaign finance filings, he's raised more than $1.5 million. His closest competitor, Republican Justin Fareed, whom Carbajal defeated by 6.8 percentage points in the 2017 election for the 24th Congressional District seat, has raised a little more than $373,000.

The June primary is still months away, but Fareed is already taking aim at Carbajal, calling out the more than $437,000 in money from Political Action Committees that make up an estimated 27 percent of Carbajal's fundraising for the election, and turning the votes he's cast against the Republican majority into a line of attack against the now incumbent congressman.

"While Carbajal has been in Washington, he's voted in lockstep with Nancy Pelosi and introduced legislation at the behest of special interest groups but has yet to produce solutions or results for California families and struggling businesses," Fareed said in a written statement issued by his campaign.

With the divisions both inside and outside Washington, D.C., seeming to grow deeper with each passing day, it raises the question that after his first year as a congressman, is Carbajal still an optimist?

Despite all he's seen on Capitol Hill this last year, Carbajal still claims he sees "glimmers of hope" to move forward with bipartisan solutions to important issues. He said that he is part of a bipartisan group of about 48 lawmakers known as the "Problem Solvers Caucus," which recently made headlines when it rolled out a proposal to address immigration reform and the fate of DACA recipients.

"We are working to come up with frameworks on infrastructure, health care, and the Dream Act," he said. "I continue to try and work across the aisle."

Another reason Carbajal and other Democrats may be optimistic is the upcoming midterm elections. A number of Republican lawmakers have announced that they are retiring, and Carbajal believes that unpopular Republican legislation, such as the attempt to repeal Obamacare and the passage of the GOP tax plan, could usher in a wave of Democratic wins and push remaining Republican lawmakers away from Trump.

"Look at what happened in Virginia and Wisconsin," Carbajal said, referring to recent Democratic Party victories in special elections in those states. "This is going to be a very interesting November. ... I hope that what is coming in the future will get [the Republican majority] to be more pragmatic." Δ

Staff Writer Chris McGuinness can be reached at cmcguinness@newtimesslo.com.


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