SANTA BARBARA, Calif. - In the middle of his reelection campaign, Congressman Salud Carbajal contracted the coronavirus.
He's currently recovering from mild symptoms and will be out of quarantine soon. Rep. Carbajal said he took every precaution but was still exposed in Congress.
The two-term incumbent is running against Republican Andy Caldwell to represent the 24th Congressional District. Carbajal said President Donald Trump and the Republican Party are being "reckless" about their COVID-19 response.
"President Trump all along knew that this was a significant contagious and deadly virus," Carbajal said. "Certainly, he's never put in place any comprehensive strategy. Instead, he's really polarized the issue, polarized whether we should wear masks or be social distancing."
Carbajal, who served in the U.S. military, said President Trump continues to divide the country. "This president has really demonstrated that he is not up for the challenge of being our president. I think the best thing we can do is make sure come November we have a new administration in the White House."
The growing federal deficit is also a concern for Carbajal who says the GOP tax proposal only benefits the top 1% of the country and adds trillions to the nation's debt. Carbajal said he wants to help reform the tax code and close loopholes that benefit wealthy corporations. Carbajal said President Trump and corporations need to pay their fair share in taxes.
"We just learned from the media that this president paid zero dollars in taxes for many years, and the last few years paid $750 in taxes," he said. "That's less than my 20-year-old son paid. That is audacious."
Carbajal is also focused on the issue of climate change. The self-described advocate for the environment said, "We have to look no farther than our own backyard to see the impacts." His district spans Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo counties, and includes part of Ventura county. "Fire season is year round," Carbajal said. "A great part of climate change is resulting from human activity. We need to make sure that we are not emitting more emissions, that we are mitigating those emissions and that we take the challenge seriously."
The representative's first act in Congress was the California Clean Coast Act which bans future offshore oil and gas drilling on the coast and he is working on new legislation. "I am proud that I sponsored the Energy Opportunity Zones Act legislation just this week, which would incentivize businesses to invest and get tax credits for investments in renewable energy technology off our coast."
The issue of fracking on the Central Coast has always been a challenge for lawmakers according to Carbajal. "I'm proud that I also sponsored the Central Coast Heritage Protection Act, which is a bill that would put into conservation public lands in the U.S. Forest Service and on the Carrizo Plain, over 250,000 acres into conservation and stop future gas and oil drilling on those public lands."
A big issue on the Central Coast is a lack of affordable housing and the high cost of living, which Carbajal said needs to be continually addressed.
"We need to provide financial grants and funding for states and local governments, so we can partner at all levels of government to incentivize more workforce and affordable housing," Carbajal said.
Along with good paying jobs, Carbajal said the focus needs to also be on partnerships between the public and private sector.
"I think it's important we do that so that people who grow up on the Central Coast can have a shot at owning their home in the future."
Carbajal said he's used his role on various committees in Congress to create jobs and help rebuild areas damaged by natural disasters like the Montecito Debris Flow.
But, he said there is still so much work to do, including dealing with fallout from COVID-19 and providing economic relief to schools and local governments.
Carbajal said this election provides a big contrast and a clear choice between what Carbajal represents for the community and what his opponent, Andy Caldwell does not.
"In my opponent, you have somebody who like the president has called Covid a 'hoax'," Carbajal said. "Caldwell does not believe in women's rights to reproductive choice or healthcare decisions for themselves, and he is a climate change denier."