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Democrat Ammar Campa-Najjar Counting On Underrepresented Voters In 50th District

Ammar Campa-Najjar, a candidate to represent the 50th District in the House o...

Credit: Courtesy of Ammar Campa-Najjar

Above: Ammar Campa-Najjar, a candidate to represent the 50th District in the House of Representatives, is pictured in this undated photo.

Democrat Ammar Campa-Najjar Counting On Underrepresented Voters In 50th District


Ammar Campa-Najjar, candidate for the 50th District in the House of Representatives


KPBS Midday Edition is interviewing candidates running to represent San Diego County residents in an effort to give voters the information they need to decide who to vote for in the June primary election.

Democrat Ammar Campa-Najjar is running to represent the 50th District in the House of Representatives.

The 50th District comprises much of San Diego’s East County from Fallbrook and Escondido to Lakeside and Jamul. It also stretches into Temecula in Riverside County. Republican Congressman Duncan Hunter has represented the district since 2009.

Campa-Najjar is a small business owner and a former public affairs officer in the U.S. Department of Labor under President Obama.

He joined Midday Edition on Wednesday to discuss why he wants to represent the 50th District.

Q: What are your qualifications for this congressional seat and why are you running?

A: I had the honor of working at the U.S. Department of Labor, helping people punch their tickets to the middle class and beyond. Not only do I have the solutions for a district like mine, where we have double the unemployment rate compared to the rest of San Diego County, where people are working more for less and they are living paycheck to paycheck. But I myself have had that experience. At the age of 15 and a half, I had to work as a janitor to help my mom pay the bills. She raised two boys by herself through being broke and brokenhearted. People like my mom deserve not just equal pay, in my mind, sometimes even double pay for raising kids like me. I was a pain in the butt. So I think I’m uniquely positioned because I understand what the working-class people go through in my district. As a small business owner, I understand the burdens that we face and I think that at a time like this we really need to make sure we are investing in our people, in our schools, control American health care costs and bring people back together again. Like one of my volunteers said, ‘We don’t need a Hunter in congress, we need a gatherer.’ And I know how to bring people together.

Q: Congress has not yet passed a replacement for DACA, would you support a bill that provided a path to citizenship for people brought to the United States illegally as children?

A: Yeah, through no fault of their own. Absolutely, and look, a lot of what I talk about, it’s not poll tested but it’s people tested. I’ve talked to, as early as last Friday, to people in Escondido walking by my office, Trump supporters, who say we are willing to give a pathway to citizenship for those Dreamers, who came here through no fault of their own, and they contribute to our economy and way of life. They just want to make sure that our country is also safe. Those immigrants who have come to this country, who are fleeing persecution and execution, they care about safety as much as we do and I’d submit even more than us. So we shouldn’t be demonizing immigrants, we should be embracing them and allow them to be our eyes and ears when it comes to bad actors from all communities. So I support a clean Dream Act.

Q: If you are elected, what would your position be on funding for the border wall proposed by President Trump?

A: You know, Duncan Hunter Jr. talks about how his dad, Duncan Hunter Sr., helped fund the barrier that we currently have. And he said that it reduced apprehensions by 95 percent. So why are we going to spend $35 billion on a wall that we don’t need. 40 percent of people who are here undocumented, they overstayed their visas and they came here legally and they usually fly over. So unless that wall is 40,000 feet in the air it won’t solved half of the problem. What if we spent that $35 billion of American taxpayer money, because Mexico is not paying for the wall, on rebuilding the middle class instead of building another wall. I have been to the border. There’s three barriers. It’s hard to penetrate. I do think we need to make sure that we are secure as a country. I don't think the wall is a solution.

Q: Many politicians on both sides of the aisle agree that the Affordable Care Act needs some fixes. Do you see problems with Obamacare and if so, how would you fix them?

A: I see problems with it and guess what, President Barack Obama sees problems with it. And what he told people like me who worked in his administration is, don’t worry about my legacy. If you could improve what we’ve done, it’s your duty to do it. That’s the spirit of President Obama, is to work selflessly towards helping people who need help. It’s great on care. It’s not great on affordable. We still have to work on it. People are still paying way too much money. We spend one in five American dollars on healthcare and we still don’t insure everybody. What I like, is maybe giving an option of what we do for seniors and what we do for the military. TRICARE for the military, Medicare for seniors. It works plenty good and actually is more affordable than what the insurance companies give. The insurance companies get 20 percent of our premiums on overhead and administrative costs. Medicare only costs 2 percent of that. We should make sure that people are getting out of the system what they are putting into it and the current system doesn’t do it all the way. It's done a lot of great but there is a lot of unfinished work with the ACA.

Q: So you would support something along the lines of Medicare for all?

A: Yes, and the question is how do we pay for it. We are already paying for it. I want to make sure we could reduce costs and increase the quality of care. One of the ideas that even Bernie Sanders has proposed because he knows that the Republicans, if they control the house, will never give Medicare for all. What I think we should do is expand it like LBJ envisioned to people who are 50 and older. Get people to buy into the system earlier at a lower cost and it would force the free market to compete with lower costs and higher quality of care. The other thing it would do is take the people who cost us the most, older folks, into a more affordable pathway instead of like the current system does, forcing young people to kind of pay for the cost of those who are elderly. If we expanded the base of medicare and reduce the rates, we would make it more affordable and move toward universal coverage, which is the goal. It doesn't matter how we do it, through Medicare for all or some other means, we have to move towards universal healthcare.

Q: On the issue of gun regulation, would you support creating additional regulations on gun ownership nationwide?

A: I'd love to see what the military does, impacted in and translated into civilian life. They do background checks, mental health checks, training and when you are done with your gun you put it in the armory. We should be putting guns away in storage and the thing is, I know Duncan Hunter has said that we should have teachers carry firearms. That is a terrible idea, even the military, if you are on a base and you are military personnel, even though you are trained you are not allowed to carry a personal firearm in a classroom. That’s why they have military police. And they actually caution against it because they are afraid of potential suicides attacks or accidents or something else happening. So, if the military thinks that having teachers not carry firearms on a military base why on earth would we have civilians.

Q: Now, you describe yourself as Latino-Arab American and some of your family history has surfaced in this campaign when a Tel Aviv newspaper reported on your grandfather's ties to a terrorist organization. What’s been your response to that connection?

A: First of fall, there is not a connection. He died 16 years before I was born. I knew him as much as you do. So I am able to talk about it as much as you are. It’s terrible what happened but I also think this election is not about one family’s past, it’s about every single family’s future. I think that one of my opponents probably planted the story. It came out the week of the California Democratic Convention so the timing of it is peculiar. But, you know a lot of people said our district has a past. Santee was known for something. Fallbrook was known for something. None of us are responsible for those who came before us and just like my district, we’re moving forward, I am moving forward and I’m certainly not running for office based on what I inherited. It’s more about merit. I can’t say the same about Duncan Hunter though.

Q: You’re only 29-years-old.

A: That’s right, Joe Biden was 29-years-old and so was JFK. Big shoes to fill but I wouldn’t be the youngest person in Congress.

Q: Do you think your age will be a problem for voters?

A: I don’t think so. I think young people are leading where a lot of people haven’t and I think the generation before me will admit to that. We have young people who are leading the charge on gun safety for example. And we deserve a voice and if people think my age is a problem, what I tell them is you know, I lean on the wisdom of our forebears who said by the Constitution that I’m legally allowed to run at my age and I think people want a fresh take and new leadership in our district. We’ve had four decades of the Hunter dynasty. Nothing lasts forever. People want new leadership in my district.

Q: You are running against a GOP incumbent who is a former Marine in a heavily Republican district. Your fellow Democratic candidate Josh Butner is making the most of his Navy SEAL background to win over voters in the district. What is you strength in this 50th District?

A: That’s a great question. For me, it’s a contrast election year. We flipped Alabama and we did it by getting everybody to vote including African-American women. I’m uniquely positioned to turn out young people, people of color, women, lifelong Democrats and even those Trump supporters who voted for Obama in 2008 and Trump in 2016 to the tune of 9 million people around the country. They're not ignorant. They’re ignored and you can’t just run on your resume. We already have a congressman who never shows up, who runs on his resume and thinks that’s enough. You’re going to have to do more than that and the people in my district, 10 percent of them are veterans. I’ve been working really hard to court them, my opponent has hardly been working and the truth is, the people that my opponent is going to have to court are probably the most unpersuadable crowd that we could take away from Hunter. Those people are going to vote for Hunter every single time. It’s about expanding the electorate and turning people out and I have a lot of veterans who are supporting us. Especially Vietnam veterans who think that just running on your resume as a veteran isn’t enough. And we know veterans don’t always stick up for other veterans, case and point, Duncan Hunter in their minds.

Election 2020 news coverage


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