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By Miriam Raftery

Listen to the full interview, originally aired on KNSJ radio: click the audio link.

Learn more about Ammar Campa-Najjar's town hall at the Alpine Community Center on August 18 from 1-4 p.m. by clicking here.

August 9, 2019 (San Diego’s East County) – “We need an economy and a government that works for working people,” says Ammar Campa-Najjar, who is running for the 50th Congressional district seat currently held by indicted Congressman Duncan Hunter. So we sat down with Campa-Najjar on our radio show to discuss those plans in detail.

Headlines tout a strong GDP as well as low unemployment. But  those numbers don’t tell the full story,  Campa-Najjar points out. “That’s great if you own stock.  But it’s not great if unemployment is low because one person is working three jobs, barely making a living and living paycheck to paycheck, having to choose whether to buy a gallon of gas or a gallon of milk.”  He says that in talking with people across the district, he’s hearing from people who are having to cut prescription pills in half or who can’t pay for insulin, choosing which bills to skip paying to cover basic survival needs. “These are real issues in the district, especially in rural areas."

Unlike most candidates who have run for this seat through the years, Campa-Najjar says he is uniquely positioned to bring good jobs to East County and elsewhere in the district because “I worked at the Department of Labor to create good-paying jobs, not just in San Diego County, but throughout the country.”

At the Department of Labor, he worked on creating apprenticeship jobs to train workers in high-paying fields, as well as setting up summer youth jobs and opportunities for veterans.  He later worked for the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce as communications and marketing director, which included promoting opportunities for small businesses to secure contracts with the federal government and corporations. He’s also worked as an educator teaching at UCSD, USD and SDSU.

He’s also a small business owner and Jamul resident who was born in La Mesa and raised by a working class Catholic mother. His first job was as a janitor at his church, where he became a youth leader before graduating from San Diego State and later working in the White House and at the U.S. Department of Labor.

So what kinds of jobs would he bring to the district, including rural areas, small towns and Native American reservations?

The secretaries of the U.S. Labor and Agricultural departments, during Campa-Najjar’s tenure, “realized rural areas were very hard hit. The only groups that did not get jobs back (after the recession) was the white working class.”  So program were put in place to bring good-paying jobs that don’t require college degrees into rural areas.  These included developing IT professionals, teaching coding and computer software skills.  “In Kentucky we have a program called “From Coal Mining to Coding” that’s going from blue collar jobs to new collar jobs.”


He adds, “These are great paying jobs.  The average apprenticeship makes $70,000 to $100,000 a year—that’s double or triple the median income in America and in our district where the median  income is in the mid twenty thousands.” 

Campa-Najjar affirms, “If we could do it in Mississippi, we could do it in Ramona or Jamul or Alpine.”

Another tactic is to encourage more companies that have off-shored jobs to return to the U.S.A.  “Offshoring is more costly now as gas and oil are going up,and retention is lower due to cultural differences,” Campa-Najjar states.  Cost savings for companies that outsource jobs overseas has dropped in the past decade from 38% to 27%, he says. As a result, some companies are now “onshoring” and looking for places where the cost of living is low, retention is high, and people have “fun, friendly attitudes.  That’s rural folks…Retention will be high because we love where we live, and we don’t want to leave.”

A problem in California has been corporations leaving the state due to high corporate tax rates here.  Campa-Najjar is proposing a “big, bold idea” to encourage companies to partner with Native American tribes to bring facilities to tribal lands that are exempted from those taxes. San Diego County has 18 federally-recognized Native American reservations considered sovereign nations. But 30% of Native Americans are living in poverty, Campa-Najjar notes.

“What if you could build a base for SpaceX?”  He says of local reservations, adding that he's spoken with some tribal leaders who are interested. “Imagine the cowboys and aliens scenario in East County…you’d create coders and manufacturers…and a supply chain to bring food and supplies.” Defense contractors would have peace-time work in space exploration, which would also be a win-win for small businesses, Native Americans, other East County residents getting jobs, he says.

Two-thirds of all new American jobs are created by small businesses, which in turn hire others, he notes.  But a key problem is access to capital. He says the federal government fails to live up to its mandate of making sure that 21% of certain funds go to small businesses. “It doesn’t….A lot goes to big corporations,” Campa-Najjar says. He would apply skills learned at the Hispanic Chamber to help assure that more funds flow to help small businesses locally.

“One thing I want to do is invest in rural broadband and make sure everyone in the district has access to high-speed internet,” he adds.

Another hot topic for people he’s talked with in the district is healthcare. “I want to make sure we have a healthcare plan where everyone is putting into it and everyone is getting out of it what they are putting in,” Campa-Najjar says, noting that 20% of our healthcare costs go to administrative costs including bonuses and executive salaries, 25% is from pharmaceutical costs and 7% due to exorbitant premiums with many under-insured.  He wants to have Medicare negotiate for bulk purchase of prescription drugs and expand our market to include regulated countries such as Canada where Americans could purchase prescription drugs, where the same medicines are often much cheaper than here. 

He also wants to allow people to buy into Medicare early, expanding in four-year increments starting with people over age 55, then 45, then 35, then younger people.  It would be an option and anybody who wants to keep their private healthcare could do so. Those who choose Medicare early would pay into the system, an option he believes would be embraced by Americans through the free market system.

On climate change he says there is a “huge contrast between me and Duncan Hunter.”  He says climate change is real and notes that the military has called climate change the biggest threat we face, with 45 military bases threatened by rising tides and floods tied to climate change. Climate change is also an issue tied to wildfires. While the Green New Deal is merely a nonbinding resolution with no mandatory requirements, Campa-Najjar wants to see a mobilization to fight climate change much as America did to fight World War II and the Nazis. “Investing in a clean, green economy is the way of the future” he says. This includes solar, geothermal, quieter versions of wind turbines that are designed not to hurt birds (double helix style, ie), and incentives via tax credits to property owners and business owners for things like going solar.

He wants to see SDG&E reimburse victims of the 2007 fire and notes that not all wood poles have been replaced yet by steel.  “They should be burying them underground,” he says of powerlines in rural areas.  He also faults Hunter for voting for the first version of a tax plan that provided relief to victims who lost homes in hurricanes, but nothing for people in California who lost homes in wildfires.  Campa-Najjar also wants to see California, which pays in hefty taxes to the federal government, get more back for firefighting at the state and county levels.  He says voters need “people like me going to  Congress to fight for more of our taxes coming back here, because we’re not getting back what we put in.”

On immigration, he believes “We could secure our country and secure our American values at the same time. We are America. We are a nation of immigrants, unless you are Native American or descended from someone who came here as a slave.” He is troubled by the pattern of people blaming the most recent immigrants for economic troubles and by a lack of compassion.  He says he worked on a study with the conservative Bush Institute while at the Hispanic Chamber which found immigrants are “job creators not job takers” and they contribution a trillion dollars to our economy each year, with  one in 10 small businesses owned by immigrants.

He is troubled by seeing asylum seekers including many children “held in terrible conditions without showers” for many days and deprived other basic needs.  He calls for more immigration judges to process asylum claims faster.  He notes the prior administration invested $750 million into Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador, the countries the asylum seekers are now fleeing due to violence and persecution. He believes it would be a better investment to improve conditions there, rather than have people flee and spend money here on detention facilities and immigration hearings. He also supports comprehensive immigration reforms including protection for “Dreamers” who came here as children, such as that proposed by a bipartisan group of Senators in the past.

His opponent, Rep. Hunter, has drawn widespread criticism for campaign flyers that have been characterized as racist and Islamophobic. Campa-Najjar is Catholic, not Muslim, but his grandfather was a  Palestinian who some reports have indicated may have been involved in a terrorist attack at the Munich Olympics in the 1970s. He died before Campa-Najjar was born, and Campa-Najjar has renounced terrorism.  Campa-Najjar says people in the district tell him they want him to put “country over party” (Campa-Najjar is a Democrat) and want to see a focus on issues, not “identity politics.” He adds that many Republicans have said they don’t like President Donald Trumps tweets and divisiveness, either. They wanted to see a “businessman, not a showman.”

Campa-Najjar says, “I’m an American. I was born here. I love my district, and I don’t look at the issues as leftist or rightist..It’s a showdown by those on the inside of Washington and those on the outside who have been disempowered.”

Hunter goes on trial in September on 60 counts of federal corruption. He has pleaded innocent. His wife, Margaret, pleaded guilty to one count and is cooperating with prosecutors. The charges include stealing $250,000 in campaign money and spending it on personal expenditures including family vacations and overnight visits with five mistresses.   

Hunter, a Marine Corps combat veteran who served in Iraq and Afghanistan, recently had the Marines file a cease and desist order to stop him from using the Marines’ logo and slogan on campaign materials.  Joseph Riley, a D-Day veteran honored by President Trump, has called Hunter “dishonorable”, Campa-Najjar notes.

Campa-Najjar says he will support our troops and their families, a well as veterans, even if he may disagree with any particular mission. “It would be a huge mistake to go into Iran without the support of the international community” he says, “but I always support our troops.”

Campa-Najjar came with 3.4 points of beating Hunter in 2018 despite the heavy Republican registration in the district. Besides Hunter, who so far has said he won’t resign, there are several other Republicans who say they plan to run including talk show host and former city councilman Carl DeMaio, El Cajon Mayor Bill Wells, retired Navy Seal Larry WIlske, former Escondido Mayor Sam Abed, and Temecula Councilman Matt Rahn. Independent Helen Horvath has also announced plans to run.

“ I’m the only guy who almost beat Hunter. I got 48.3%,” says Campa-Najjar. He says he’s hit the ground running – and showed us the holes in his shoes to prove it.   If elected, he pledges, “I will be humbled to serve with a lot more dignity than the current occupant…I’ve spent my whole life committed to service,” he says, adding that he hopes to serve voters as well as “turn this chapter of corruption and bring accountability to corruption. If you give me a chance and give me your voice this election,” he concludes, “I will be your voice in Congress.”

He is holding town hall meet and greet on August 18 from 1-4 p.m. at the Alpine Community Center, where the public can ask questions. RSVPs are requested at 818-439-0250 or meetAmmarAlpine@earthlinklnet. (See flyer, left, for details.)


Ammar Campa-Najjar interview

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