Andy Caldwell wants to be our Representative for the 24th U.S. Congressional District, which encompasses all of Santa Barbara County along with a big chunk of the Central Coast from Oxnard to well north of San Luis Obispo. Mr. Caldwell is running against incumbent Salud Carbajal, who’s hoping to garner a third term as the 24th District’s Representative. It’s fair to say that Mr. Carbajal sits on the far left of his Democratic Party persuasion and that Mr. Caldwell is about as far to the right as one can be as a Californian politician. The following interview took place in a private home in Montecito.
Q. As Founder and President of COLAB (Coalition of Labor, Agriculture, & Business), guest editorial writer for the Santa Barbara News-Press, and a radio talk-show host (daily on AM1290 from 3 pm to 5 pm), it came as a surprise to many when you stepped into the ring to take on Salud. What put you over the edge?
A. Well, my day job has been as a local government watchdog, primarily at the county level. I’ve known Salud for over 20 years, since he was an aide to (the late) Naomi Schwartz and as a Supervisor. I’ve watched him in Congress. If this were probably two to four years ago, I wouldn’t be running.
What happened – and people don’t know this or fully appreciate this – is that when Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (AOC) and the social justice Democrats formed their little group, they put a target on 40 Democrats in Congress who are not, I’m going to say “Socialist,” and were not for them. Her Social Justice Democrats are running their candidates against 40 incumbent Democrats and Salud Carbajal and other people saw the writing on the wall and threw their hat in with that crowd lock, stock, and barrel.
For instance, Salud endorsed and co-sponsored the Green New Deal. He signed on for Medicare For All. He endorsed Beto O’Rourke and Kamala Harris (both of whom have since dropped out of the race for President). Salud went decidedly Left. He used to have the reputation here of being somewhat of a moderate, but in these last two years, he shifted entirely Left. He was a loyal foot soldier for Pelosi, but now he’s trying to straddle the fence between Pelosi and AOC. Our country can’t withstand this.
So, where does Medicare For All go wrong?
We are in a crisis. There’s no ands, ifs, or buts about it. We are in a crisis because the baby boomers are aging. We don’t have enough facilities. We don’t have enough money. Medicare right now is going belly-up. Social Security is going belly-up. For [the Democrats] to add more people to the roles via “Medicare For All” right now would just cripple it. Plus, the dirty little secret of Medicare is that it pays pennies on the dollar. Care providers – doctors and hospitals and facilities – cannot afford to provide services based on Medicare’s rates, or the pittance that it pays.
I’m not taking you down a rabbit trail, but here’s the deal. I believe we have to fulfill our commitments to seniors and we have to help those who can’t help themselves. That’s what a compassionate society does. But we have to be able to pay for it.
Is there something else with which you differ from what Democrats are offering?
I believe we would be better off in the long run to transition younger generations off of Social Security and to some sort of a savings plan akin to a 401(k), IRAs, and things like that with a backstop for people that need extra help. We need to do something like that to salvage the system. All Democrats do is keep promising more and more to more people when they can’t even afford to support the people that are on the system right now.
Is there a pre-market solution?
Part of it starts with transparency and pricing, so that you can shop. If you have skin in the game, if you have out-of-pocket in the game via a Health Savings Account or what have you, you can shop comparatively for prices and do direct negotiations with care providers. We have to get away from this issue of charging everybody different prices depending on whether they have insurance, no insurance, or Medicare.
Airlines and hotels, rentals and taxis, Uber, Lyft, VRBO, AirB&B and lots of other services and companies are all charging via demand and supply. There is no set pricing anymore. You’re fighting the tide, Andy…
…Maybe, but the tide’s not working. Besides, there’s another issue here. If somebody has been a raging alcoholic all their lives, do they have the same priority to get a liver transplant as somebody that never drank a drop?
David Crosby comes to mind…
There are all sorts of people that come to mind. There’s people that exercise, they eat right, they don’t abuse drugs and this, that, and the other, and there’s a point where the Left doesn’t want to make distinctions.
With car insurance, if you got a bunch of tickets, or you live in a place that’s high risk for auto theft and you don’t garage your car and blah blah blah, your rates are different because it’s based on risk. Nowadays, what they want is they want everybody to get the same plan, everybody gets it at the same cost, regardless of risk factor.
Let’s shift gears and go to President Trump. What do you think of the guy?
He was not my first choice for president but I did vote for him because I preferred him ninety-nine percent over Hillary any day. I think he’s been a good president. He’s been an extremely controversial president, but some of the controversy has been manufactured. I’ll give you an example of this. On my radio show, before he was inaugurated, people were calling for his impeachment. There’s a part of me that says the Democrats have been more interested in impeaching him even before he was inaugurated.
He has turned the economy around. I believe his “America First” strategy is not an isolationist policy, as people have put it. I’ve talked to people over the years that are international business experts, and they have said that we’ve been getting robbed blind by all of these trade agreements plus China literally robbing us blind of trade secrets, manufacturing secrets, and things like that. I’m glad he’s standing up for us. It was time for somebody to stand up for us.
A lot of people can’t stand his public demeanor, his tweets, and his middle-school-level argumentativeness.
The people who I know who have met him say that that public persona is not the guy he is in private, and that includes Abel Maldonado, who was our lieutenant governor who was a candidate for Secretary of Agriculture. But I’ll say this: the Republican Party ran gentlemen in the form of Dole, McCain, Romney, and they all let themselves get run over. Part of the antipathy and angst against Trump is that he wouldn’t allow them to do that. I’ll admit that Trump is an instrument of blunt force trauma, but I think our side needed that.
In 2018, half a dozen seats flipped from Republican to Democrat in California right after the election was over. Six or seven Republicans lost their seats after having been pronounced winners the night before. Democrats kept finding just enough votes to turn a loss into a victory. How do you deal with that and if you become our Representative, do you have any plans to try and reinvigorate the Californian Republican Party here?
I’m going to start one election at a time and one seat at a time. I believe we have a solid chance at beating Salud because he’s shifted so far Left. I think he’s left people behind including moderates in the Democratic Party not to mention Independents. I was a Democrat half my life. I care about issues affecting minorities, especially with regard to upward mobility and assimilation and things like that. My mom was an immigrant from Austria. My dad was a Bataan Death March survivor. Because of my Democratic background and Republican background, I feel like I can relate to moderates in both parties.
So, how will we be better off if we send you to Washington, D.C.?
I’ll give you a clear example here in Montecito. The Montecito debris flow and the Thomas Fire would never have happened if I had a vote.
Because for over twenty years, I’ve repeated a speech in print, on radio, and in front of the Board of Supervisors called “Fires, Floods, and Fools.” We’ve allowed the fuel to build up here for upwards of a hundred years. We don’t do control burns, we don’t do mechanical clearing, and we don’t do chemical clearing.
Montecito itself is the debris flow. This whole shelf is a debris flow. The fact that another debris flow came should have been a surprise to nobody. We need more debris basins. We need to control the brush, and we need to do mechanized clearing to prevent the fires that denude the hillsides and actually sterilize the ground.
I’ve been arguing about this for almost thirty years and yet Salud Carbajal, for instance, the one bill he co-sponsored with Kamala Harris, upped the protection of the fuel. Plus, he does fundraisers with Las Padres ForestWatch. They’re the ones that sue to make sure nothing gets cleared. The point is, it’s not even good for the environment; it’s not good for the ecology because it limits the amount of grazing areas because it’s all overgrown with thick brush and dead trees.
California has a hundred-forty-million dead trees because we quit managing the forest. We came up with this hands-off, “nature is sacred, nature is holy, don’t let mankind influence it” policy. What happens is the brush and the trees grow at a rate of ten to twenty times more growth than is healthy per acre. It has to compete for water, soil, sunshine. Everything gets weakened and becomes disease-prone, and it turns into kindling. We have to break that cycle. Salud Carbajal is doing nothing.
How are you doing with the UCSB student vote?
I’m not counting on their votes. They voted ninety/ten for Bernie over Hillary in the last election cycle. I want to reach out to them, but I don’t have the ability to do that as a candidate. I’m hoping to be able to do that as an elected Representative. See, this is the problem: the Democratic Party I grew up with and in is not the party today. They promise everything; they deliver on nothing. They just exploit people. They exploit those students into saying, “Hey, I’m all for you,” and they do nothing.
Is there another bill or another way that you would differ from Salud?
Yeah, like I said, I would do more fuel breaks. I would do more mechanical clearing. I would dump a bunch of cows and goats out there. I mean a bunch: I’m talking thousands as a natural means of keeping the brush down to a manageable level.
I would create buffer zones. I would pay somebody to plant and water avocado trees or lemon trees or what have you on those slopes to create a green buffer zone between the urban-wildland interface. I would also maximize our ability to have debris basins.
The Environmental Defense Center and Salud Carbajal and some of these other politicians in this region, not only were they not building and maintaining the debris basins, they were trying to get them removed because they want it to be fish passage habitat. The reason Carpinteria didn’t get wiped out is their debris basin was adequately sized.
Yes, I saw photos; Carpinteria’s largest debris basin (the Santa Monica Basin) was filled all the way to the top.
Yes, it filled, but it held. If it had not been as big as it was, there would have been catastrophe in Carpinteria. I respect Mother Nature, but I don’t think Mother Nature is benign. She’s a natural born killer. We found that out. We found that out in this debris flow.
These creeks that flow through Goleta, Santa Barbara, Montecito and Carpinteria, those creeks are there to convey floodwater and runoff. You’ve got a choice; you either maximize the carrying capacity or you suffer the consequences.
When the water or the mud or the debris exceeds the capacity of the river, stream or creek, what happens when there’s no more room in the creek? Mother Nature creates a new creek or river or stream. And those one-hundred-forty-million dead trees? They’re either going to be removed by humans or they’re going to go up in fire. That’s the only two choices we have. Thus far, they’ve been going up in fire.
As a Congressman, is there anything you can do about 101 or desalination or supplying a steady, reliable source of water? I think those are the two issues – in addition to natural disasters – that Montecito cares about most.
The 101 definitely needs to be widened. The other thing, we haven’t built a new freeway in California I think since the 5. If you think about it, we probably had 20 to 30 million people instead 40 million the last time we built a major new freeway. We need new freeways and we need connectors between the 5 and the 101.
Now, of course, because they delayed, it’s prohibitively expensive in Southern California to do this because they’ve got to either demolish houses or go to double deckers or what have you. It’s going to be expensive, but we need more freeways and highways.
Is there a place for commuter rail?
The commuter rail works in densely populated areas. It’s really hard to make it work in an area like this. I think they’re spending way too much money trying to make this Ventura-Santa Barbara thing work.
What I have suggested – and I know this sounds a little crazy, but they’re doing this in other places – have you ever noticed that the Union Pacific trucks and utility vehicles have regular car tires and then they have rail wheels on them so that they can drive to the track and then get on the track.
If you ever look at them when they’re doing construction, they have these vehicles that are dual capacity or dual modality. I’ve always asked them why can’t they do that with a bus.
Put the buses on the train!
They’ve done it in other places, and instead of trying to run all-train, you just put the bus on the rail, because here’s the problem: once they dump you off at the train track, how do you get to work or how to do you get back home? It’s called the Last Mile. You don’t have commuter lots big enough and you don’t have enough buses serving the area. They have a problem with that, whereas if they just move the bus up the railroad track, that bus could take them the last mile.
It’s not far fetched. Like I said, there are places in other parts of the world where they do something like this. The point is we need innovative thinking.
And our local water situation?
With regard to water, I do believe we need desal but we also need more dams and reservoirs. Gibraltar, San Ysidro, Lake Cachuma silt up. There is no plan to get rid of that silt. That’s also a flood control issue. The other thing is that the dams serve for flood control and water supplies. These guys aren’t building any more. The Trump Administration has been trying to raise the level of a dam in Northern California, but California sued to stop it. It’s not a new dam, it’s just a higher dam.
The south county gets ninety percent of its water from the other side of that mountain either in the form of Lake Cachuma or the San Luis Reservoir or what have you, but it comes from the other side of the mountain. They can’t be opposing dams and reservoirs and still expect a reliable water supply. This is not popular down here, but I never wanted to be a politician because I don’t tell people what they want to hear. I tell them what I think they need to know.
I’ve lived in the region fifty-one years. Because of the newspapers and radio, I have high name ID, especially on the other side of the mountains. I want people down here to know that when they vote for me, I can win. We have tremendous support. When they look at the numbers, the numbers are skewed because the Democrats in Lompoc and Santa Maria are working-class Democrats. They’re blue-collar Democrats. I will get their support. We’re getting tremendous response from Hispanics and Independents and moderate Democrats throughout the region because they know and believe and they can intuit that the Democratic Party, with regard to how the Congress represents it, has shifted far to the Left. They can’t identify with it any longer.
Sure. Our website is andycaldwell2020.com. We’re looking for volunteers to host meet and greets so I could introduce myself to people. We have asked Salud to debate. He will not debate me. That says something about Salud. The debate had been scheduled over two months ago and he bailed just two weeks before the event. There are other business organizations that have asked him and non-profits have asked him to do a debate and he won’t do it. That tells you something right there in terms of my viability as a candidate.