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March 23, 2020

Legislator Profile: U.S. Congressman Salud Carbajal — The Farmworker, The Public Servant

Editor’s note: Congressman Salud Carbajal represents the 24th Congressional District of California. The 24th Congressional District includes the entirety of San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara counties, and a portion of Ventura County.

Congressman Salud Carbajal’s father was a part of the Bracero Program, which brought millions of Mexican guest workers to the United States, primarily on agricultural labor contracts, during the 1950s and 1960s. Carbajal’s family migrated from Mexico to Arizona where his father first worked in an underground copper mine. During Carbajal’s sixth grade school year, the copper mine closed down and prompted the family to relocate to Oxnard, Calif.

While in Oxnard, his father worked as a farmworker. Carbajal vividly remembers working alongside his father in the fields during his summer vacations, which transformed his perspective on the agriculture industry.

“That was when I first understood, from the farmworker’s perspective, the hard work that farm work entails,” the congressman observed while reminiscing about his childhood.

Following high school graduation, Carbajal attended the University of California Santa Barbara where he joined the United States Marine Corps Reserve. From there, he served as the Chief of Staff for Santa Barbara County Supervisor Naomi Schwartz before deciding to run for a seat himself, which he won in 2004.

As his professional path evolved, public service became a noticeable trend within his career choices. Having served in the Marine Corps and in local office, the foundation of his commitment to public service was formed. In 2016, Carbajal won the race for California’s 24th Congressional District.

Now entering his fourth year in Congress, he has has demonstrated an ongoing commitment to addressing agriculture’s most pressing issues.

“My background is unique in that I understand what the farmworker experience is like, but then became a county supervisor later on in life, which has allowed me to go full circle in understanding the public policy issues facing agriculture in our local communities, our state and our nation,” he noted.

During his time in Congress, the congressman has focused on addressing the workforce shortage in agriculture, and was one of the bipartisan co-sponsors of the Farm Workforce Modernization Act, which passed the House in December of 2019.

In supporting the bill, Carbajal stated, “I have heard countless times from producers about the devastating labor shortage that stems from our broken immigration system. This groundbreaking bipartisan bill creates a lasting solution by providing earned legal status for our existing agricultural workforce, and modernizing the guest worker program to ensure long term industry sustainability that supports farmworkers and growers alike.”

Likewise, Carbajal understands the importance of trade to the agriculture industry, and has worked to bring trade deals like the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement across the finish line. He also lists transportation and infrastructure as priority issues, and has worked to direct federal tax dollars toward supporting local infrastructure projects.

Given that he was raised in the agriculture community alongside farmworkers, Carbajal values his ties with many local family farmers today. He has forged positive relationships with many Western Growers (WG) members, including WG Chairman Ryan Talley of Talley Farms in Arroyo Grande, former WG Chairman Craig Reade of Bonipak Produce in Santa Maria, John Jackson of Beachside Produce in Nipomo and George Adam of Innovative Produce in Santa Maria, to name a few.

He proudly boasts that agriculture is the number one industry in his district, which, at $2.6 billion, ranks as the 3rd-highest crop producing congressional district in California, and the 15th-highest crop producing congressional district in the country.

Although agriculture was a large portion of his childhood, Carbajal has gained an even greater level of understanding of the industry since serving in Congress.

“First, I learned about the diversity in farming across the United States,” Carbajal shared. He would go on to deepen his knowledge of the unique needs of California farmers, and the specific needs of Central Coast fresh produce growers.

Carbajal applied this broader perspective to his efforts on the 2018 Farm Bill, where he pushed for funding for mechanization, research and crop insurance programs that benefit the specialty crop industry. Furthermore, Carbajal is proud of his efforts to maintain important nutritional programs for the most vulnerable Americans in the form of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.

Beyond his focus on agriculture, Carbajal is passionate about the environment, and counts environmental preservation and energy efficiency as policy priorities. As an example of his dedication to conservation, he shepherded his Central Coast Heritage Protection Act through the U.S. House of Representatives. This bill, which passed the House in February 2020, would designate 250,000 acres of land in Los Padres National Forest and Carrizo Plain National Monument as protected wilderness areas.

Upon passage of his bill, which is now in the Senate, Carbajal stated, “Our district is the most beautiful in the nation—we must do all we can to preserve the ecosystems that make our Central Coast so special…I will continue working to elevate public lands and public safety along our Central Coast.”

After spending a long week on Capitol Hill, Carbajal seizes any opportunity to spend quality time with his wife, children and grandchildren. “I find they are my motivation to continue my good work,” he exclaimed.

He also recognizes that, as a politician, there is little down time. When he returns home to his district, Carbajal finds time to meet with his constituents and local organizations.

“I’m trying to be the best listener and best representative for the Central Coast,” he states. “I am attempting to balance competing interests to achieve win-win results for my constituents, because that is my purpose here.”