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Election 2020: Caldwell challenges Carbajal to represent Central Coast

Courtesy of KEYT
The two candidates participated in a virtual debate hosted by KEYT on Oct. 17, 2020.

California’s 24th congressional district race features an incumbent Democrat who has emphasized sustainability and preservation of the Central Coast during his tenure. His Republican opponent is an outspoken radio host and columnist who has been commenting on area politics since the 1990s.

Each weekday the latter, J. Andrew Caldwell, hosts the Andy Caldwell Show, which airs on a few local AM talk radio stations. He brings on guests to talk about their recently-published work, as well as comment on national and local news.

The radio host also runs Santa Barbara County’s COLAB, or the Coalition of Labor, Agriculture and Business, aimed at promoting the common business interests of its members. He’s been the executive director of COLAB SBC since 1991.

Caldwell was formerly a columnist at the "Santa Maria Times" for 17 years. He’s now published three times a week in the "Santa Barbara News Press."

Originally from Lompoc, Caldwell lives with his family in Nipomo. He says he never planned to go into politics himself, but was encouraged to do it by friends and family.

“I’ve been a government watchdog for the last 30 years,” Caldwell said. “I’ve been painfully aware of how I believe our government is failing us.”

Caldwell also cited his concerns about recent protests and social unrest in San Luis Obispo as a motivation for his campaign.

“[San Luis Obispo is] one of the most bucolic towns in all of America,” Caldwell said. “These people shut down our freeway twice and they tried to do it a third time—now, I don’t deny that people have griefs but I wanna work on the problem, not create more problems vis á vis the protests.”

Caldwell said his other top priorities include improved forest management for wildfire prevention and keeping the Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant open. The California Public Utilities Commission signed off on the closure of Diablo Canyon in 2018, and the plant is set to start closing in 2024. The Republican candidate says keeping the plant open is critical to the economy and the state’s power grid.

Caldwell said he learned early on in his life that manufacturing and industrial jobs were key to a healthy economy, and he wants to take care of the workers along the central coast.

Caldwell’s opponent is incumbent democrat Salud Carbajal. He was elected in 2016 after serving three terms as a Santa Barbara County supervisor.

Carbajal said his most recent term since 2018 has been especially productive given the house majority, and he hopes to continue this work next year.

“I went from being a marginalized member of Congress, or should I say party, in the House, to actually moving things forward and solutions forward,” Carbajal said.

Carbajal has introduced 39 bills as the primary sponsor during his two terms in Congress. Nine of his bills have passed through the House as parts of larger bills. For instance, Carbajal sponsored the Coastal State Climate Preparedness Act, which directed the Secretary of Commerce to establish a response program for coastal climate change. Parts of the bill ended up in the Coastal and Great Lakes Communities Enhancement Act, which passed the house.

Many of Carbajal’s infrastructure and transportation-related bills ended up in H.R. 2, the Moving Forward Act.

One of Carbajal’s bills, which protected the decorations of veterans with records damaged in a 1973 fire, ended up enacted into law via the National Defense Authorization Act for 2020.

The representative currently serves on the agriculture, armed services, and transportation and infrastructure committees.

The democratic candidate has voted against party lines just four times in the most recent term, according to ProPublica’s vote tracking. Carbajal is, however, a member of the Problem Solvers Caucus, a bipartisan group of 50 representatives committed to finding common ground.

Representative Carbajal was also recently diagnosed with COVID-19 and has been quarantining in his home since then. He says he’s feeling better, but that the virus should be taken very seriously.

Carbajal has raised about $1.7 million for his 2020 campaign, according to the Federal Election Commission. Caldwell has raised just under $800,000.

Sean Flannelly is a journalist and student at University of Southern California's Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism. He previously reported for KPFA Radio in Berkeley, California, and served as his student newspaper's sole podcast editor. Outside of the newsroom, he can be found hiking, climbing and camping his way around California.
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