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“It’s a real concern:” Rep. Salud Carbajal reflects on the future of democracy after election win

Rep. Salud Carbajal | Courtesy of Rep. Salud Carbajal

In this month’s general election, Democratic Congressman Salud Carbajal re-won his seat as representative for California’s 24th District on the Central Coast.

Post-election, Carbajal reflects on what’s become a growing fear in many American voters’ minds.

On November 10, two days after the election, the Associated Press released results of a poll conducted by the AP VoteCast. It indicated that 44% of American voters said that the “future of democracy” was their primary consideration when voting.

It’s a response, in part, to conspiracies about election fraud, heightened by political polarization in the US in recent years. Highlighted by the Jan. 6 insurrection and by vote-by-mail conspiracy theories, the American people feel more distrust in democracy now than in the past.

Carbajal refers to election distrust as a “phenomenon” that’s unfounded in reality, and promotes political violence.

“We need to take the speech as seriously as we take the violence it causes,” Carbajal said. “Because we know that [violence] is the end result of all those individuals that make and create and perpetuate the Big Lies, the conspiracies — and it undermines our democracy.”

Carbajal also pointed specifically to the recent attack on Nancy Pelosi’s husband, Paul Pelosi, when addressing what he calls the “growing rhetoric of lies and promotion of violence” in the U.S.

“I think it’s going to promote more extremists,” Carbajal said about the attack. “We were concerned about terrorism and the… radicalization of individuals — be it as it relates to terrorism — and now we’re seeing them here with extremists… and radicalizing people to actually believe in and act on those tropes and conspiracy theories.”

Carbajal cited “mainstream individuals” like former President Donald Trump — as well as extremist groups throughout the United States — as responsible for perpetuating conspiracy theories “without any evidence.”

The selection process for new San Luis Obispo County Clerk-Recorder Elaina Cano took place Tuesday during a special meeting of the Board of Supervisors.
SLO County Board of Supervisors
Screen shot from SLO County Board of Supervisors meeting video
Elaina Cano was sworn in as SLO County's Clerk-Recorder in 2021, after the resignation of Tommy Gong.

He also noted that political figures who promoted this violent rhetoric were “overwhelmingly” defeated in the November 8 elections, contrary to what many thought would be a “Red wave.”

“The American people are responding to say: ‘enough is enough,’” Carbajal said. “‘We don’t want people… perpetuating the Big Lies and conspiracy theories and really questioning and threatening our democracy.’”

Even after taking the results of the election into account, however, Carbajal said the future of democracy is a “real concern.” Still, he remains hopeful.

“Can we survive?” Carbajal posed. “I’m an optimist. While I, too — I’m fearful and concerned — I’m optimistic that the American people will recalibrate [and] continue to send strong messages to extremists, to those that promote ‘Big Lies’ and conspiracy theories and promote violence. That’s not who we are as a country.”

Election fraud conspiracies have made their way into local politics, too. In 2021, former SLO County clerk-recorder Tommy Gong was the target of unfounded accusations about rigged election results in the county — which he said played a role in his departure from his position.

According to Carbajal, conspiracy theories are best fought off in the polls.

“It is so important that people stand up and make themselves heard through elections, make themselves heard that this rhetoric, these divisions, these lies, you know — assertions without facts — will not stand,” he said.

Carbajal is the clear winner of his congressional seat representing California’s 24th District, which he feels is “a big vindication and reaffirmation of [his] service.”

Election offices across SLO, Santa Barbara, and Ventura Counties — which Carbajal represents — have yet to certify their election results.

Nico Viñuela began as a news intern at KCBX, and then regularly hosted our weekend programs. He also substituted hosting Morning Edition, middays and All Things Considered. Nico graduated from Cal Poly with a BS in Journalism in December 2022. During his time at Cal Poly, he worked as a news anchor and Assistant News Director for the campus radio station, KCPR. He was embedded in Salinas, California covering the Kristin Smart murder trial for Mustang News and KCBX. Nico also did other occasional reporting for KCBX News. In 2023 he moved on to New York to work for Dateline at NBC Universal.
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