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Congressman Jimmy Panetta's Third Run For The House

Congressman Jimmy Panetta.
Congressman Jimmy Panetta is currently facing his second re-election contest for California's 20th Congressional District seat. In this interview he discusses, among other things, the coronavirus pandemic, climate change and wildfires.

Congressman Jimmy Panetta is one of the candidates running for California’s 20th Congressional District seat. Panetta is the incumbent Democratic. He is undefeated and running for his third term in the House of Representatives.

Michelle Loxton (ML): Congressman, if elected, what will your work be like if Donald Trump  wins reelection? 

Jimmy Panetta (JP): Oh look, I've been dealing with this for the past three and a half years, OK. It's continuing to obviously push back against this administration, which we have been doing a number of ways, not just out there politically, but professionally and policy wise. But at the same time, it's continuing to work for why I'm there in Washington, D.C. To fight for the values of the people of the Central Coast. And I think we've done a pretty good job at that, to be frank, despite having Donald Trump in this administration. But let's not think about that. Let's talk about having a Biden-Harris administration and how much will get done. Not just here on the Central Coast, but throughout this country if the people play their part and participate in this upcoming election. 

ML:Well, that's actually my follow up question is how will your work be different if Joe Biden wins?  

JP: Look, when I think about having a President Joe Biden and Vice President Harris, I can't help but smile because you can only imagine what we've been dealing with back there in Washington, D.C. A 117th Congress with a Biden-Harris administration will be very productive and not just introducing legislation, not just laying the foundation with legislation like we have been in the last two years, but actually getting it signed into law. Having another relief package basically on the books is something that needs to be done A.S.A.P. We're going to focus on climate change, making sure that we cut our carbons by 2050 one hundred percent. We're going to work on immigration reform. Also dealing with affordable housing. I think we need to look at a renter's relief act to ensure that people get a federal tax deduction if they have to pay more than one third of their income for housing... is very important. And then it's making sure that we close the inequality gap that has expanded so much under President Trump. And we can do that by more focusing on education, focusing on health care, focusing on housing, focusing on a fifteen dollar minimum wage. We need to revisit and reverse the 2017 tax law that was passed under President Trump. Gun safety reform is another issue. 90 percent of the American people agree that universal background checks is something we can do. Of course, we passed that in the House of Representatives. If there's a Biden-Harris administration, we’ll get it done, this coming Congress. 

ML:So how will you reach out to members of the opposing party to work together on issues and attempt to find compromise?  

JP: I've made it clear that I will work with anybody that will benefit the people of the Central Coast. And so I have laid that foundation through my work on certain caucuses - the Problem Solvers Caucus. Through my work in legislation, the Farm Workforce Modernization Act, in which Democrats and Republicans, farmers and farm workers were at the table for nine months grinding away on legislation. And what you realize is that this job is about relationships. This job is about what relationships are built on, and that's trust.

ML:So why does the Monterey Bay and beyond need you representing them in the house rather than your opponent, Jeff Gorman? 

JP: Look, I think now more than ever, government needs to work for people. And I think if you're in public office, it's our obligation to make government work for people. There's so much unpredictability going on. There's so much uncertainty right now. People are very unnerved right now. And the least that we can do is live up to our obligation to make government work for people. And I believe that I've provided that. Looking at the last relief package, how much money was brought in to the Central Coast. Look at the wildfires that we've had to experience. Basically, it was my work and advocacy, which allowed the federal government to determine to make the major disaster declarations to then allow FEMA relief to come into Santa Cruz counties and Monterey counties. We help people on the Central Coast. And I believe that people understand that and appreciate that. And that's why they'll send me back to Washington, D.C., to continue to fight for them.

ML:So if I could ask you to choose three words that you think describe the things or the issues that are most important to residents in this district, which would those words be? 

JP: Climate, housing, immigration. 

ML:And I wanted to finish off now with talking about a number of key issues this country and California has faced in recent months and how you'd rate the response. Let's start with the coronavirus pandemic. How do you think this is being handled?  

JP: Look, I think at it from a national perspective, in looking at the administration, I think absolutely failed. There has not been a national, unified, singular strategy. But I believe that people in lower levels of government have stepped up and instituted a strategy that is federally funded, state mandated and locally executed. And when it comes to federally funded, we've lived up to our role, 2.2 trillion, the largest relief package in the CARES Act, basically allowing funding to come into our districts. Over 1.4 billion dollars into the Central Coast [reporter note: this was a figure calculated by Panetta’s office]. And then obviously making sure that there's another relief package. You hear the Chair of the Federal Reserve, Jerome Powell, basically say that if nothing's done in regards to a relief package, there's going to be tragic results. Federal government has the resources to do that. The Federal Reserve Bank has lowered the interest rates for us to do that. So now, more than ever, it needs to be done. That's why we passed the Heroes Act back in May. That's why I hope that leadership continues to push forward in passing another relief package, because that's what's needed right now to get us through this health and economic tragedy that we're going through.  

ML:And what about Black Lives Matter and policing? How do we build more trust between minority communities and the police?  

JP: Yeah. Look, I think I think we all understand that Black Lives Matter. But it's also making sure that we turn those words into deeds. And we did that in Congress. We passed the George Floyd Justice and Policing Act, a bill that will revamp the legal standards for prosecuting police misconduct, it creates a national database to track police misconduct, and it focuses on police training to de-escalate force rather than use of force. And that's a first step, just a first step in getting that passed to make sure that we deal not just with Black Lives Matter, but we understand systemic racism and how it affects and that we need to stop that in all of our systems of government.

ML:And finally, I wanted to ask you about wildfires. So homes have been destroyed. Tens of thousands have been evacuated. Our air quality has been horrid in recent days. Our future looks like one where we have to coexist with fire. How do you think California should be approaching this ongoing challenge?  

JP: Let me make it clear, this is not a binary choice. It's not just about dealing with the climate crisis or dealing with our federal forest. We can do both. And that's why I've put forward legislation to deal with both. Obviously, we understand that it's hotter, it's dryer, our forests are more vulnerable to wildfires. Looking at what's going on in Louisiana right now, you're seeing these hurricanes that are bigger, stronger and lasting longer. So something needs to be done at the climate level. There's no silver bullet, but it's way beyond time that we start loading and firing our legislative gun to dealing with the climate crisis. It's exactly why I introduced the Climate Action Rebate plan that cuts carbon output by 50 percent by 2030 and then 100 percent by 2050. It's why I put forward legislation like the Wildfire Public Safety Act, which allows us to go into federal forests and reasonably remove all the dead fuels that are there, making our forests so vulnerable and susceptible to those dry lightning strikes that are coming through and sparking those fires. But it's also about reforestation projects. There's a backlog right now of reforestation projects that go in and replant trees after wildfires. We need to provide more funding for those projects, which my bill, the REPLANT Act does. And then I'm going to be introducing a bill in the next two weeks that allows for more funding for federal workers in the federal forest service to ensure that basically we're not just there to suppress fires, we're there to prevent fires.

You can find our conversation with Panetta’s opponent, Republican Jeff Gorman, here.

From 2019 to 2021 Michelle Loxton worked at KAZU as an All Things Considered host and reporter. During that time she reported on a variety of topics from the coronavirus pandemic, the opioid epidemic and local elections. Loxton was part of the news team that won a Regional Edward R. Murrow Award for the continued coverage of the four major wildfires that engulfed California’s Central Coast in 2020.
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