Heard on the Hill

Take Five: John Garamendi

California Democrat says Congress started ‘unraveling’ in 2010

 Rep. John Garamendi, D-Calif., says knowing yourself is key to running for Congress. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

California Democratic Rep. John Garamendi, 73, talks about campaigning in a deep purple district, watching Dodd-Frank unravel and how he hit the ground voting.

Q: What was your first-ever vote in Congress in 2009?

A: [The Affordable Care Act] House version. We knew it was coming. The vote had been delayed until after the special elections. We provided the votes that allowed it to pass. It was important. I had been working in health care since 1975 on various issues, including universal health care. It was a continuation of 30 years.

[Take Five: Steve Scalise]

Q: What big changes have you seen in how Congress operates?

A: When I arrived, the Democrats controlled it and we had a Democratic president. In 2009 and ’10, an extraordinary amount of very, very positive legislation was passed — the Affordable Care Act, Dodd-Frank — in that period of time. All of that very positive legislation to build safeguards into our financial system, health care system, expand health care for Americans. All of that took place in two years. Of course, the 2010 election came along and the Republicans took control of the House. Since that time, it has all been the unraveling and the destruction of programs that have been helpful to the American economy and to Americans.

[Take Five: Claudia Tenney]

Q: Tell me about your very politically diverse district.

A: It’s a deep purple district. It’s a district that has one of the most liberal communities in America — Davis, California, has two Air Force bases on either end of the district, and a whole lot of agriculture in between. It’s a $4.4 billion agricultural district with anything you can imagine being grown there, from pomegranates to wine grapes and olives and a whole lot of rice and all kinds of nuts.

[Take Five: Stephanie Murphy]

Q: What advice would you give someone interested in running for office in a diverse district like yours?

A: You have to know yourself. The people in my district have a very keen sense of hypocrisy and dishonesty, and they want to hear it straight. The military has no patience for people that aren’t willing to be clear about where they are on issues, and I believe I am. There are descriptions for people who are not straightforward that farmers use. I won’t tell you what they are. My job is to represent that very diverse — politically and economically and socially diverse — district, which means that I have to be prepared to address their legitimate concerns on a whole range of issues.

Q: If you could have any job unrelated to anything you’ve done, what would you want to do?

A: My wife and I had a marvelous journey in our life. We’ve been married almost 53 years now. We have had many opportunities to go another direction, but this particular work in public policy was a choice we made way back in 1974.

It has been a very good choice. We’ve been able to raise our children — I have six children and I have 12 grandchildren — and we carry on our ranching activity through all of this.

Quick hits

Last book read: The collected works of Shakespeare.

Pet peeve: Ignorance.

Cats or dogs: We have dogs.

If you could have dinner with one person, living or dead: I’d love to have a long conversation with the pope.

Closest friend across the aisle: Rep. Mark Meadows.

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