Valley News talks to Ammar Campa-Najjar

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Ammar Campa-Najjar
Ammar Campa-Najjar. Valley News/Courtesy photo

Valley News interviewed Ammar Campa-Najjar, one of the candidates for the 50th Congressional District, Friday, Jan. 31. Campa-Najjar, a Democrat, previously ran against former Rep. Duncan D. Hunter in 2018 before Hunter pleaded guilty to a federal corruption charge and resigned from his seat.

For anyone who’s not familiar with you, give us a snapshot of who you are, a little bit of background and why you’re running.

I’m the fella that ran last cycle against former Rep. Duncan Hunter, nearly half the district voted for me, but unfortunately, we came up short. Just barely, the wind could have blown one direction and we would have won. We lost by – if we got 1.7% more, we would have won the race. 

So that’s one reason why I decided to run again, because people really put their hopes in me. And everywhere that we went, we won. Everywhere that we didn’t spend enough time, maybe say, Fallbrook, we came up just short. So we’re not taking Fallbrook for granted or Bonsall or anywhere else. 

But to step back a bit, starting – I was born in East San Diego County, son of a single working-class mother. My father took off when I was about 9 years old … my mother raised me on her own through being broke and brokenhearted. I’m sure many of us know that kind of story, you know, trying to figure out what bills to pay, raising two boys who were difficult children growing up. Opinionated, stubborn. Qualities that serve me well running for office now, but were tough for my mother and father. 

I had a great education and went to Grossmont College, Southwestern College and San Diego State University, where I studied psychology and philosophy and political science, and my mother was like, ‘What are you gonna do with those degrees?’ Turns out, a couple of years later, I was running for Congress.

But my faith and my mother really inspired me to commit my life to service. When my mother was really struggling, at the age of 15 I took a job as a janitor at my local church and that job became a groundskeeper, then I became a pastor’s assistant. I was giving sermons to youth groups, and that was amazing. And I got that feel of what it’s like to serve people, and be part of a community. Be part of something bigger than yourself. 

When you have that big, good-sized hole as a man and a young man without a father, that sense of community really feeds you. It was Eastlake – it’s Eastlake Community Church. It’s down south. A lot of folks from Jamul and Chula Vista go there. And it’s a great church, it’s nondenominational. 

But a lot of my values came from that experience of working with my mother and church work, and so I decided to devote my life to service, because it’s not just this altruistic thing; it feeds your soul. So I became a community organizer, then I got to work in the White House, the U.S. Department of Labor, the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce and I decided to come back home and give back. 

And the reason I’m running is because you know, I think a lot of people are fed up with politicians, on both sides, not just Republicans. In the sense of, we feel like we’re, the people that I’ve looked up to my whole life. Politicians look down at the people I’ve looked up to my whole life, working people. They make these promises to you, and they turn around and turn their backs on you. They mistrust the public sentiment, and they don’t uphold the values of the people that they are meant to serve. 

Hunter unfortunately is an example of that, but he’s not the only one. So I got tired of that and I decided, you know, we need to live in a country where we reward work, not just wealth, where people who are closest to the pain aren’t furthest from the power, that our voices matter and that every person in this district should live, work and retire with dignity. That’s important to me, because I knew what it was like to struggle growing up. 

And I looked around, and I said, I don’t like anyone who’s running for office, so I’m gonna throw my hat in the ring and just see what happens. And I can’t believe it, but we almost won last time because we live with our values. I didn’t come from money or any special pedigree; I didn’t have an Ivy League education. I was just a child who was born on a dirt road who lived in Jamul and just believed enough in our community, and they believed in me and almost got me into office. So I can’t turn my back on that, so I’m doing it again. 

Comment about being “most conservative congressman in San Diego” in Union-Tribune interview. 

So I said if I was elected I would be the most conservative congressman in San Diego County. And it’s a little tongue-in-cheek, but at the same time, think about the people who are in Congress in the county now. They’re all Democrats. So it’s a low bar. 

Living in Jamul and owning a gun already makes you more conservative than anybody else, right? It’s a very low bar to be the most conservative anything in San Diego these days. Because you have Mark Levin and Scott Peters and Juan Vargas and Susan Davis, they’re all proud liberals. 

So me owning a gun and saying that I believe in sane, trained, law-abiding gun ownership, that I believe in the Second Amendment, just saying that – that being part of my platform just puts me in a more conservative column than others. 

And I think in the traditional sense, I’m conservative in the sense of – in the Nixonian sense when it comes to the environment, right, being a conservationist. The idea of being a Democrat or a Republican and what values those were back 30 years ago are different, right. 

Bill Clinton was the guy who helped fund the wall we have in San Diego, and Ronald Reagan was the one talking about amnesty and now the parties are switched on a lot of things. So that’s just a tongue-in-cheek thing, you could be the most conservative congressman in the county, but also the most progressive congressman in the district’s history. Those two can be true, depending on what issue you look at; so yeah, people were kind of confused by that comment. 

So what other areas do you consider yourself conservative?

Yeah, I think, look, I don’t want to open up the border. I feel like it’s sad that we have to even say that. But there are some who think that’s a solution. A very vocal minority. But I don’t believe in opening up the border. 

I don’t believe in racking up the national debt. I don’t believe you could spend the same dollar twice. A lot of people want to spend money on programs that they don’t even know where the money is gonna come from. Forty trillion dollars of whatever – you can’t do that. 

And I also believe California, we’re the fifth biggest economy in the world – not the country, the world. And we’re the biggest – we pay more in federal taxes than any other state in the union, and we don’t get back what we put into the system. You know, we still have to shoulder the burden of raising our taxes for infrastructure and housing and health care when we’re already spending a lot of money of our federal tax dollars going to the federal government every year. 

What I want to do is bring home our federal tax dollars and put them to work for us, for our roads for our homes, for education for our children and a whole host of issues that we can do. 

I’ll give you an example. So San Diego County is the fourth biggest homeless population in the country, and we’re ranked second in terms of the homeless population among veterans. 

And yet, with (U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development) funding, we’re 20th. So we’re 20th in funding, and we’re fourth in need. There’s something wrong about that. And if you could change how much money we get as a county, for housing, affordable housing, midlevel housing, without raising a single tax dollar – just fixing and modernizing the formula, taking us from 20th in spending, or investment, to fourth. And all of a sudden, the county would have a lot more money to fix the affordable housing issue, the homelessness issue and midlevel housing, for those of us who are not rich enough to be able to afford a home and be OK or poor enough where we get subsidies for housing, those of us who are kind of in the middle, the middle-class folks – getting more funding back from our taxpayer dollars that we have already paid is a way to grow our economy here at home without raising taxes. 

I guess, and in some sense, those things are conservative principles – not raising taxes, but just adjusting where we invest to create smart growth.

You did barely lose last time, but it was against a candidate who was literally under federal indictment. Your opponents this year don’t have that problem. What are you doing differently this year? 

I would say they also don’t have the 40-year name in the district. They haven’t ruled this district for half a century, one-sixth of our country’s life span, so there’s benefits and liabilities to not being the Hunters, right. 

But I think for us, we learned that everywhere we went, we won. Every person I could talk to, we were talking. There were some conservatives who I’ve talked to who said I never thought in a million years I would vote for a Democrat, but you’re a certain kind of candidate where you don’t make me feel like it’s a fight between the left and the right, it’s a fight between the insiders, the political class and the outsiders, the rest of us here. 

So what I offer that’s different from the other candidates or the leading candidates other than me, is I’m not a career politician. I’m not a lifelong politician. I haven’t been a candidate for the better part of a decade trying to win one race after another that’s not something that my phone’s been claimed. I didn’t leave the district to go run in a more convenient seat. I was born here. I live here. I can vote in this race – my opponents can’t, they don’t live in the district. 

So I think that means something. It’s the same thing as a handshake meaning something in this district. We’re a certain kind of folks where your word is your bond, ‘You say what you mean, you mean what you say’ goes a long way. 

And I’m not the kind of candidate who just tells people if you’re a hardcore Democrat or a hardcore Republican, you’re gonna be pissed off and impressed with what I have to say. You’re not gonna be happy because I’m not here to appease either side. 

And I think I’m right on the issues. I’m the only one talking about taking on big pharmaceutical companies to lower the cost of prescription drugs. No one’s talking about that. I’m the only one talking about getting big money special interest money out of politics in a real way and not just nibbling around the edges like Carl DeMaio, but overturning Citizens United so that money doesn’t equal speech and corporations aren’t people. 

I don’t know about you, but Amazon’s not a person. It doesn’t breathe, it doesn’t pay taxes. People pay taxes and people breathe. So I don’t think that they should be able to give a bunch of money to campaigns and not have to pay taxes and still be regarded as people. That just doesn’t make sense. 

But I’m the only one talking about the cost of living in the real way, lowering the cost of health care education, housing, taking on the corporations. Protecting Medicare and Social Security is a big issue. 

Julie Reeder can be reached by email at jreeder@reedermedia.com.

Will Fritz can be reached by email at wfritz@reedermedia.com.