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Note: This interview was recorded in early February.

March 22, 2022 (San Diego) – Joseph Rocha, the Democratic Party's endorsed candidate in the newly redrawn 40th State Senate district currently represented by Republican Brian Jones, recently sat down for an in-depth interview with East County Magazine that originally aired on KNSJ radio.  He’s running to focus on jobs, housing, infrastructure, veterans and climate change among other important issues. The interview addressed these topics and more.

Rocha is a veteran of both the Navy and Marine Corps. He served as a bomb dog handler in the Persian Gulf and later, after obtaining his law degree, as a Marine Corps captain and prosecutor. He’s also a former intern at East County Magazine, where in 2008 he gained interest in politics while interview candidates for Congress and City Council. 

“I think the adversity in my life has given me the passion for service,” he says.  “I’m second generation Mexican-American,” he says. His mother was a grocery store worker who struggled with addiction; his father worked as a truck driver, raising five children. “These bread and butter, working class issues of the middle class have been a core passion of mine since I can remember," Rocha says.

At 17, he came out as gay and left home, working as a dishwasher until he graduated high school and joined the Navy. He became a military police officer and bomb dog handler, then spent over two years doing explosives detection in the Middle East.

His testimony was instrumental in the Supreme Court overturning the don’t ask, don’t tell policy in the military as unconstitutional. He now says he’s committed to justice for everyone. “I went to law school, returned to the service and commissioned as a Marine Corps officer.” He earned Legal Assistant of the Year award.  He was deployed to Central America during the global pandemic shutdown, where he was a subject matter expert on embassy evacuations. Later he became a prosecutor for the Marine Corps.


Housing: Rocha has been both a renter and homeowner. He wants to increase access to first-time ownership, especially for communities that lack such access.  He also supports renter protection as well as building more housing, “but we need to make sure we’re not just giving a windfall to developers to gouge and run renters into the ground.”  He supports “reducing red tape”  to boost homebuilding.

Homelessness:  “There needs to be better communication between all levels of government,” he says.  “At the core of all of our issues is housing…a lot of people are homeless because they missed a mortgage payment or a rental payment.”  He wants “compassionate empathy” for hard working people who fell on hard times. He supports mobile teams to deploy healthcare, mental health and drug addiction services, as well as to help homeless veterans. “I think there is more we can do to help veterans transition to civilian life,” he says.

Veterans:  “This is something I feel very strongly about and I love to talk about,” he says. “I think California needs to do more for our active duty service members.”  He says Texas has programs that help support military members and build rapport with service members and notes that such programs can help stem the rise in radicalization in our community, veterans and military ranks.  For example, in Texas “service members get free education” and so can give their GI benefits to their children. He decries food insecurity in military families, and wants better jobs for military spouses.

Jobs:  Asked for examples of how he would create good paying jobs locally, he says, “People should be able to have a single job that supports their families.” He believes unions “built the middle class” and helped his own family.  “These were good, hard, honest jobs that could provide for a family. He wants to help rebuild the middle class and provide opportunities such as he enjoyed, first in his family to graduate college and become a military officer and lawyer.

Infrastructure:  Asked his priorities in our region, Rocha says he supported the bipartisan infrastructure bill that was signed into law.  “I would absolutely fight hard for resources for the district” from the federal bill.  He says it’s equally important to have transportation to pick up kids at school as well as to shore up aging dams to prevent flooding, adding that he would listen to experts in prioritizing local projects.

Climate change and firefighting:  Senator Brian Jones has long been outspoken as a climate change denier.  By contrast, Rocha says, “Last I checked, Brian was rated 8% for his legislative record on the environment. He also prides himself on being a supporter of firefighters. You cannot be a climate change denier and be a supporter of firefighters,” Rocha says, citing worse and larger fires in recent years. “Nowadays we lose more firefighters to suicide than we do to fires due to back to back rapid deployment cycles that they are facing.”  He adds that climate change is a life or death issue, too, for seniors as summers get hotter and winters colder.

Utility rates and gas prices

“We are the fifth largest economy in the world and corporations are not paying their fair share,” he said, adding that he supports protecting incentives for homeowners to sell solar back to the grid.  “That goes right back to corporate greed,” he said, faulting big utilities. “Another example of that is oil and gas companies having skyrocketing prices while gas is going up,” asking whether that’s because “we are continuing to allow these companies to bleed us dry.” 

Hate crimes

“What drives me absolutely nut is people in positions of leadership being unable to condemn actions” such as neo-Nazism or radicalization. “That’s not something that I’m afraid of doing.  I was close to taking a national stage for LGBT rights” during the Bush administration. “I was exposed to the wrath of the darkest parts of the Internet…Ten years later…I have skin as thick as a rhino…Nothing has or will stop my commitment” to protect the rights of everyone. “It builds your empathy with shared experiences with other communities,” he says, citing recent incidents targeting the Arab-American community, hate against the Asian people fueled by the COVID pandemic, and more. “IT’s something I am passionate about and have dedicated my life to, and I would love to put that spirit and that fight to service of the community in the capitol.”


Asked how to balance competing concerns during the pandemic, Rocha said, “I think that first and foremost, we’ve learned a lot of lessons from the pandemic,” adding we should not forget them. “It’s also important to evolve with the pandemic.  Restrictions put in place two years ago may not be practical now” after the advent of vaccines and treatments. He voiced concern over “politicization of the pandemic” in what should have been ”a 911 moment.”  But he says the pandemic has drawn attention to the struggles of under-served populations – “things like paid sick time, childcare, broadband…access to healthcare, and who is an essential worker.” He adds, “Finally grocery store workers and teachers and nurses are getting their day….but “saying you’re supporting your community while doing absolutely nothing legislative in the capitol to insure that they get the protection and dignity they deserve is not enough.”


Asked about a healthcare for all bill that was just defeated in the legislature, Rocha says he would rely on experts and doctors, but he believes “healthcare is a universal right” and that working toward that goal is important.  “Faith is being lost in our system. We have to take more bold actions” to increase access to healthcare and make it more affordable in our state.  He wants action to decrease costs of prescription drugs in our state, especially for seniors and low income people. “There are a lot of questions of where the revenue would have come form for the bill” among other concerns over the universal healthcare bill. He adds that the state needs to look at how to get adequate staffing to eventually take on a single-payer statewide system.  “It is very important to me that we are not creating more problems than we are solving, just to have an exciting legislative piece to put our names to.”

Budget surplus

Senator Jones suggested that the budget surplus should be divided and over $1,100 be given to each Californian.  Rocha notes that Jones’ party at the federal level allowed a $600 childcare credit to expire. “It’s just one more to take the easy way out when facing difficult issues,” he says, noting that Jones’ proposal does not provide solutions to institutional problems.

District’s competitiveness

Rocha initially aimed to run for Congress, but after redistricting changes, set his sights on the 40th State Senate district instead, which he believes is a more competitive district, encompassing coastal areas as well as broad sections of East County, North County and San Diego. 

“Brian won this district by only three points four  years ago,” Rocha says, noting that Biden won the district which had a Republican advantage of three to four points. Now it’s  nearly evenly divided among Republicans and Democrats, far more competitive in the past.

The district also includes parts of Escondido, San Marcos, Santee, Poway, Fallbrook, Lakeside, Winter Gardens, Ramona, Alpine, San Diego Country Estate, Valley Center, Lake San Marcos, Eucalyptus Hills, Hidden Meadows, Bonsall, Harbison Canyon, Harmony Grove, Pine Valley, Descanso, Rainbow, Pala, Del Dios, and Mount Laguna.

Closing thoughts

“We’ve been talking about empathy and lived experience,” he says, adding there’s no substitute for these. I’’ve dedicated my life to service. I’ve come through some tremendously difficult challenges emerged stronger for it. I’m very proud of it. I’m not afraid of anything, and I won’t let things get in the way of helping my district.”

He acknowledges, “We do have a more moderate/conservative base in our district. I’ve lived in and thrived in conservative spaces all my life, having just left the Marine Corps as a captain and prosecutor. I’m a member of the VFW here” and says his campaign has “led with common sense” and “kitchen table issues…Where are the services falling short of helping you get ahead?”

Rocha concludes, “I think this is the future of the Democratic Party. We cannot be the party of major cities on the coast,” he says of the Democratic party. “We have to start showing our ability to lead and serve in spaces that are more moderate and conservative, and change what people think of as Democratic leadership.”

More information

Rocha’s website is



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