Andy Caldwell’s mother was an immigrant from Austria and his father was a Bataan Death March survivor. Andy was born on an Air Force base in Jacksonville, Arkansas. After his father got out of the Air Force, they moved to Kingsburg, California, just south of Fresno. His dad passed away when Andy was nine years old and the family moved one year later to Lompoc.
There probably couldn’t be a worse time to be butting up against an incumbent officeholder than this pandemic year, yet Andy, who’s seeking to replace our 24th U.S. District Representative Salud Carbajal, remains not only undaunted but optimistic in the face of the many restrictions his campaign has had to deal with.
The following is an edited version of a lengthy lunchtime interview with Mr. Caldwell, held on the patio of Ellen’s Danish Pancake House in Buellton.
Q. Why do you believe this district will be better served with you as its representative in Congress?
A. Salud has endorsed and co-sponsored the Green New Deal. He signs on for Medicare for All. He endorsed Beto O’Rourke and then Kamala Harris for President. Carbajal 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 [Speaker of the House] Nancy Pelosi, but now he’s trying to straddle the fence between Pelosi and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (AOC). Our country can’t withstand this.
Well, okay, but you’d expect him to follow the path of his party, wouldn’t you?
My problem – and this is where I’m going in the exact opposite direction of Salud Carbajal and the Socialist Democrats in Congress – is that I believe we have to get back to the fundamental principles established in the 9th and 10th Amendments. The Constitution was written to tell the federal government what it can do, and the Bill of Rights, what they can’t do. It starts with the words, “Congress shall make no law.” In other words, the principal was, the federal government was not supposed to be the be-all, end-all for government. You had these specifically enumerated powers and then everything else was a restriction.
The federal government has to get out of the stuff it’s not supposed to be doing, that it can’t afford to do in order so it can afford to do the stuff it’s supposed to be doing.
Can you give us an example of what you mean?
Sure. I believe that we would be better off in the long run to transition younger generations off Social Security 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. All that the Democratic Congressional caucus does is keep promising more and more to more people when they can’t even afford to support the people that are on the system now.
Back when Social Security was created, people had a much shorter life expectancy. Social Security only paid for a couple of years before the people passed away. Some people are living longer than they worked, longer than they paid into it. Somebody has to figure out a way to get ourselves out of this bulge of which I’m a member. I’m a member of the baby boomers. It is going to be a catastrophic event for healthcare systems in America and as a fiscal conservative, I want to find a way to pay for it.
Fair enough, but it seems to me that Republicans always get beat up on this issue. Is there really a pro-market solution, or are we going to just admit that we have to match the Democrat plan and everything must be free?
I’ve interviewed people on my radio show (KZSB 1290 AM 3 pm – 5 pm daily) that have written entire books and/or papers on the subject. One of them points out that Singapore has one of the best models in the world. Part of the solution starts with transparency and pricing, where you can shop comparatively for prices and do direct negotiations with care providers … I’ll give you an example:
I had a rotator cuff surgery a few years ago. Before I could determine whether the insurance would pay for it or not, I had to get an x-ray. My deductible is super high. I actually found out the cash price is four-hundred bucks but if I went through my insurance and used my deductible, it was $1,100. That right there, if you multiply that by tens of millions of people, it is significant. What they’ve done in Singapore is you publish the price. I think we have to get away from this issue of charging everybody different prices depending on whether they have insurance, no insurance, or Medicare.
You’re fighting the tide, Andy.
We are, but you know what? The tide’s not working. This is the kind of intelligent discussion we have to have versus arguing via sound bytes and getting nothing done because it’s not working.
Let’s go to President Trump. How do you think of the guy?
He was not my first choice for president, but I did vote for him because I preferred him 99% over Hillary any day. I think he’s been a good president. He has turned the economy around. 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 was robbing us blind of trade secrets, manufacturing secrets and things like that. I’m glad the president is standing up for us.
As for his demeanor, the Republican Party ran gentlemen in the form of Dole, McCain, Romney, and they all got run over. Part of the antipathy and angst against Trump is he wouldn’t allow them to do that. I admit that Trump is an instrument of blunt force trauma. But I think we needed that.
Fires, Floods and Fools
Is there something specific you’d do differently in this district if you were elected?
Sure. The Montecito Debris Flow and the Thomas Fire would never have happened if I had a vote.
We’ve allowed the fuel to build up for upwards of 100 years. We don’t do control burns; we don’t do mechanical clearing and we don’t do chemical clearing. I’ve lived in this region for over 50 years, and I’ve known family members of people that have lived here for over 100 years. We’re always subject to wildfires.
Montecito itself is the result of 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.
The one bill Salud Carbajal co-sponsored with Kamala Harris upped the protection of the fuel. Plus, he does fundraisers with Los Padres ForestWatch, the ones that sue to make sure nothing gets cleared. It’s not even good for the environment because it limits the amount of grazing areas, overgrown as it is, with thick brush and dead trees.
California has 140 million dead trees because we quit managing the forest. What happens is the brush and the trees grow at a rate of 10 to 20 times more growth than is healthy per acre. That growth has to compete for water, soil, sunshine. Everything gets weakened, it becomes disease-prone, and it becomes kindling. We have to break that cycle. Salud Carbajal is doing nothing.
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.
You can look at the Isla Vista Bluffs. Nobody’s died except for some drunken college kid falling off the bluff. They’re going to let those houses fall into the ocean. Why not armor the coast? When Isla Vista had a redevelopment agency, they didn’t use the money to redevelop. They used the money to buy bluff-top parcels and leave them in open space; they called that “redevelopment.” They didn’t put in sidewalks. They didn’t put in lights. They didn’t do anything.
Not only were the Environmental Defense Center and Salud Carbajal and some of these other politicians in this region, not building and maintaining the debris basins, they were trying to get them removed because they want it to be fish passage habitat. It would have been worse if they had not been able to clear those basins out. The reason Carpinteria didn’t get wiped out is their debris basin was adequately sized.
Yes, we have photos showing that it filled to capacity with logs, boulders, and other debris.
If it had not been as big as it was, there would have been catastrophe in Carp. I respect Mother Nature, but I don’t think Mother Nature is benign. She is a natural born killer.
These creeks that flow through Goleta, Santa Barbara, Montecito, and Carpinteria, 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, when there’s no more room in the creek, Mother Nature creates a new creek or river or stream. For almost 30 years now, we have no longer been maintaining these things or creating debris basins or doing anything else to manage the ecological reality that we’re living in every day: the cycle of fires and floods.
Those 140 million dead trees are 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 could do about, say, Highway 101 and local congestion?
I know this sounds a little crazy, but they’re doing this in other places: have you ever noticed that the Union Pacific vehicles, trucks, and utility vehicles have wheels? They have regular car tires and then they have rail wheels on them so they can drive to the track and then get on the track. Why can’t they do that with a bus? Put the buses on the train.
I’m on the 101 Oversight Committee and the problem they’ve found is that 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.