Rep. Cardenas was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 2012 and re-elected in 2014. He served three terms in the California State Assembly and also was elected to the Los Angeles City Council
You represent California’s 29th Congressional. What areas does that cover?
My district covers a range of about 180 square miles from North Hollywood to Sylmar and includes San Fernando, Pacoima, Lakeview Terrace, Mission Hills, Granada Hills, North Hills, Panorama City, Arleta, Sun Valley, Lake Balboa, Van Nuys, Valley Glen and Valley Village.
Where did you grow up?
I grew up in the San Fernando Valley, in Pacoima.
Tell us about your wife, Norma, and your children.
Norma stays busy, while I’m in our nation’s capital, running her small business. My kids are all artists. My sons Cristian and Andres are artists and create amazing graphics. My daughter, Alina, is in school learning the culinary arts. She also bakes the most delicious cakes and pastries. That definitely is one of the things I look forward to when I fly back to my San Fernando Valley district.
Your congressional bio says you were raised by immigrant parents. What did your parents do for a living?
My parents, Andres and Maria, had a first and second grade education when they came here. My mom stayed home and raised 11 kids, including me, and my dad supported us by working as a farmworker in the Central Valley, before working as a construction worker and eventually starting his own business as a gardener.
How did your parents or family influence your political beliefs and your career choice?
The biggest thing in my office is a black and white painting of my father and grandfather working in the fields of the Central Valley. I keep that picture in my office because the work of my parents and the lives they led guide everything I do. My parents taught us all basic values that have guided me well throughout my life: be honest, work hard and be giving and caring.
Those lessons guided my education and work as an engineer. Academics were not easy for me, but I worked as hard as I possibly could, got extra help and I was honest with myself when I knew I was struggling. As a small business owner, those lessons from my parents were the only reasons I was successful. Now, as an elected official of more than 18 years, I look back and see how those same lessons have dominated the decisions I’ve made, and the legacy I’ll leave behind. I may have been the first Latino to represent the (San Fernando) Valley in Sacramento and Washington, but I am determined not to be the last. I’m proud to say I’ve worked with my colleagues throughout the Valley and where there was only me, now there are five elected Latinos. That’s what caring and giving back is about.
When did you first get interested in politics? Why did you decide to run for elected office? Did a specific issue lead to your political involvement?
I owned a small business in the Valley, and I had a big house and a nice car and Norma and I had a good life. A friend of mine said, “We don’t have anyone who grew up here who represents the Valley in Sacramento. I think you’d be perfect to run for a seat that’s opened up.” I told him absolutely not. It took him six months to convince me and my wife, Norma. That was 18 years ago.
Tell us about your life before entering Congress. You were both a councilman in Los Angeles and a member of the California Assembly. What were your biggest accomplishments? Are you able to continue fighting for those same initiatives or causes now that you are in Congress?
In Los Angeles and in Sacramento, and now in our nation’s capital, I’ve passed laws to help business grow more family-wage jobs and to help create safer communities.
I was proud to fight for one major issue that I’ve brought to Congress and will continue working on, as long as the people of California will let me: Juvenile Justice Reform. In Sacramento, I created the first funding mechanism for truly community-oriented, evidence-based gang intervention reform. We have a huge problem in this country in that we put way too many of the kids who should be building the next generation of our nation in jail.
In Los Angeles, I created the first renewable energy portfolio mandate that required the city government to get at least 20 percent of our power from renewable sources by a certain date. Not only did Los Angeles meet the goals we set, but we set a new set of goals that we were also able to meet, far ahead of schedule.
Here in Washington I’m working across the aisle to pass laws to help small business, so we can create even more jobs in the Valley.
Most, if not all of your congressional district, is urban meaning there is little or no production agriculture in it. How do your constituents view agriculture and its impact on the state’s economy?
I think my constituents understand that California is the world’s grocery store. Many of them, like me, had relatives involved in some part of food production and are therefore personally touched by how important agriculture is to our state. That’s one of the reasons I led the way in Sacramento to provide the tax holiday for the purchase of farm equipment and also to provide funding to speed up the construction of UC Merced, the only UC in the Central Valley.
Considering agriculture plays a major role in the state’s economy, do your constituents view water use for agriculture purposes favorably?
I educate my constituents all the time, reminding them that we are all connected to each other and that farmers are using the best practices they can, and continually improving their consumption levels, and that we have to do the same thing.
During Western Growers fly-in this past July, you were kind enough to meet with our members who came into D.C. You gave a moving, emotional and candid account of your family background that was well received by our members. What advice would you give to others who might be in similar circumstances as you were in to achieve the successes that you have had?
The most important lesson I learned was to work hard, be honest and smart and you can achieve anything you set out to. Then, you have to help others do the same. I had a 10th grade English teacher who believed in me, who knew I could go to college if I tried hard. When I was in school, I sought out all the extra tutoring and help that was available and I worked as hard as I possibly could to not only succeed, but excel. Then, it’s important to reach back behind you to help others along.
You are supportive of immigration reform and list it as one of your top priorities. Now that Speaker Paul Ryan has indicated that he will not bring immigration reform to the floor while President Obama is still in office, what can pro-reformers do to either change his mind or keep the issue alive until a time when it can be voted on?
Ryan is making excuses. Comprehensive immigration reform can absolutely pass and it is what is best for the economy and the future of our country. We need to do what is right for that future, not simply capitulate to what might be popular at the time. We know that a stable, legal workforce would create millions of new American jobs and pour billions of dollars into our economy, truly supercharging it. This is growing our country with every tool at our disposal, especially bringing 11 million people, who are working hard in this country, out of the shadows. Those who favor comprehensive immigration reform, the only way to achieve such success, should continually remind anyone in Washington, to whom they talk, of this truth.
As a pro-business Democrat, what issues do you see are the most important for ensuring a thriving economy, in your district, California and the U.S.? What are your most significant pro-business accomplishments?
Comprehensive immigration reform is the most critical issue facing Congress. We have the ability to supercharge the economy, creating millions of American jobs and pouring hundreds of millions of dollars into our GDP. At the same time, it would create a much more predictable, stable workforce, which is critical for farmers, manufacturers and anyone else who wants to know their workers will be there every day.
There are other important issues that face American businesses every day, and I’ve been working in our nation’s capital to help meet the challenge, including working with my Republican colleagues.
I worked with Rep. Mick Mulvaney of South Carolina, a self-described Tea Party Republican, to write a bill that would create a stipend to help long-term unemployed Americans to move to states where jobs are plentiful.
Florida Rep. David Jolly and I created a law to officially recognize companies who hire veterans, to give them an incentive and let consumers know which companies really put their money where their mouth is, when it comes to hiring our heroes.
Finally, last month President Obama signed a law I wrote along with Kentucky Rep. Brett Guthrie, to stop health insurance rate hikes for small businesses and their employees.
What is in your political future?
I just want to do the best job I can at representing the San Fernando Valley, working hard for my district, my state and the country. All I can do is look back at what my parents taught me growing up. I’ll always work hard, be honest with my colleagues and the people who picked me to represent them, and I’ll do the best I can to lift others up. With my engineering background, I’m not afraid to take on a tough problem and find a solution that works, even if it’s out of the box. Finally, as a former small business owner, I’ll continue fighting for the people who go to work every day and grow their business while they help build our nation.
Our members produce the finest fruits and vegetables in the land. Are you a consumer of our products?
I absolutely am. I seek out California produce and products whenever I’m in the grocery store. Thanks to our bountiful farms, they’re not hard to find!