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Jimmy Panetta on Immigration, ISIS and Why He's Running for Congress in In-depth Interview

Jimmy Panetta, Democratic Candidate for Congress


Lewis Leader's complete interview with Jimmy Panetta.

Monterey County Deputy District Attorney Jimmy Panetta is one of  three candidates, so far, running to replace retiring Representative Sam Farr in the 20th Congressional District, which includes Monterey and San Benito Counties as well as parts of Santa Cruz and Santa Clara Counties.

The son of former Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, Jimmy Panetta served in the U.S. Navy Reserve as an Intelligence Officer for eight years.  As part of KAZU’s election coverage leading up to the June primary, journalist Lewis Leader interviewed Panetta about his decision to run for office.

Jimmy Panetta (JP): The reason that I’m running is because of my sense of belonging to this area, which has created my sense of service to this area.  We were always told that because we were allowed to live the reality of my grandfather’s American dream we should always give back to this country and this community that gave us so much.  And so I have lived up to that sense of service in my adult life, be it my time in the military, my time as a prosecutor in Oakland and Salinas and be it my time serving on the number of boards.

Lewis Leader (LL): This is your first attempt at public office.  You are running for Congress.  Did you consider running for something else as a stepping stone, perhaps the Board of Supervisors, State Assembly or State Senate?

JP: The answer is posed in that question. I would not want to run for office where I knew it would be a stepping stone.  That would be a disservice to the people that I would represent in that position.  I feel that based on my commitment to this area and my commitment to service of this community and our country and what I have done in my adult life, I am qualified to represent this area in Congress.

LL: The name Panetta.  It’s a well-recognized and respected name.  There are people who say if you name was say, Jimmy Mercurio or Jimmy Sanchez or Jimmy Thompson, it would be a whole different ball game.  Well how do you respond to that?

JP: Well, I say that’s right.  I say don’t just look at the name, look at me.   I know people know the name, but they need to know me, and if you talk to people who know me and who support me and if you look at my endorsements, it’s not because of the name.  It’s because of what I have done in my past in demonstrating my commitment to service.

LL: If you are elected what committees would you like to be one?

JP: You’d be remiss if you weren’t on the agriculture committee being from this area.  I look to forward to being on the Agricultural Committee back in Washington, DC so that I can continue to support the number one industry in this area.

LL: At an appearance in Santa Cruz you said your first priority was immigration reform.  Where do we go on immigration?

JP: I was fortunate enough to take an Ag Focus class up in Santa Cruz County through the Farm Bureau.  And every farmer I spoke to in that class and subsequent to that class, what they tell me is yes, water is an issue, but the most pressing issue to them is immigration.  Because we live in an area with more crops that any other single state in the Union.  These are specialty crops.  These are crops that you can’t just bring a machine through the field to harvest these crops.  You need human sight, sense and touch in order to pick these berries, to pick these artichokes, cut the lettuce because they need to determine what’s aesthetically pleasing to the consumer.  And so having an adequate labor force for that industry is essential in this area and it is unfortunate that Congress has yet to produce any sort of resolution in dealing with comprehensive immigration reform.  And the frustrating part is back in 2013 when the Senate had their bill that they put forward, that was a solution.  It was comprehensive immigration reform, but unfortunately the Republican House leadership failed to bring it forward. So what I’m hoping is when there is a new administration, no matter who it is, that this issue will come up again and I look forward, if I’m so fortunate to be in that position, to work on that issue.

LL: Casey Lucius is a Republican also running for this Congressional seat.  What would you say is  the difference between you and her?

JP: She’s a Republican.  If you are a Republican, you are going to have to vote with the Republican leadership when you get to the House and if you don’t, how are you going to get things done?

Democrat Jimmy Panetta is currently running against Republican Casey Lucius and Independent Matt Bruner for the Congressional seat in the 20th District.  The top two vote getting candidates in the June primary move on to the November general election.

About the Interviewer: Lewis Leader is a journalist who was a longtime newspaper reporter and editor for 27 years with various publications including the Monterey Herald, San Francisco Examiner, Toledo Blade and Los Angeles Times.

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