California’s 51st congressional district– now CA-52— is the very southwest corner of the continental U.S., in the San Diego area and along the Mexican border all the way to Arizona. It’s over 70% Hispanic and it’s very, very blue– and progressive.
Bernie won the district both times he ran for president. The incumbent, Juan Vargas, is a corrupt New Dem with a long, self-serving careerist history, first in the legislature and then in Congress. You might call him business-friendly but a more accurate term is Vargas-friendly.
His opponent is Joaquín Vázquez, a working-class, son of Mexican immigrants who was just endorsed by Blue America.
Below, Joaquín talked with us about the reality of working class candidates representing working class districts. And I’d like to ask you to consider contributing to his campaign once you’ve read what he has to say. It’s why I’ve included the Blue America 2022 congressional thermometer. Just tap it and find Joaquín Vázquez on the page and give what you can to his campaign.
As we’ve gotten to know each other over the last couple of months, he told me that he’s witnessed how people have been losing faith in our government:
“Our schools, infrastructure, homes, and overall economy,” he said, “keep decaying, making our region the perfect place for more affluent transplants to move in, while the vulnerable communities of color are displaced. Politicians have been more concerned with listening to the country’s elite and their corporate funders than listening to the concerns of our people.
You ask what am I gonna do differently? I’m going to listen to the constituents and stand up for them, because I cannot bear to see my friends, family, and neighbors continuing to suffer as they struggle to make ends meet. Our founding fathers once claimed that they were building a government of, for, and by the people. It’s time we deliver on that promise. As I’ve campaigned and spoken to people, I’ve listened to what they want, and it is not anything out of the ordinary. They want food, they want a steady roof over their heads, healthcare, and the ability to afford a good living so they can enjoy time with their families.”
All of this is now nearly impossible as corporations keep getting away with gauging gas prices, raising medication prices, doubling rents, with virtually no one keeping them on check. People want to be able to know their government has their back. That the representatives they elected are going to stand up for them.
Instead, what we have are politicians abusing their power, allowing corporations to go unchecked, while losing touch with their districts and the priorities of their constituents. In my district, for example, we are situated in a particular area with the busiest international border in the world, with more than 200 thousand people crossing it every day. A good 170 thousand of those cross to go to school, work, or for medical needs. Many of those people are working-class Americans who have been displaced due to the skyrocketing cost of living in San Diego. So much that they have to move to Mexico to be able to make ends meet. CA-52 is the region’s working-class district, with primarily people of color, and our region keeps getting the short end of the stick election after election. Here, $1,500 rents you a small space of 598 sq ft: a minuscule 1 bed, 1 bath unit. The average income per person is just over $33K, meaning that people are spending close to 55% of their income on rent. It is beyond unjust, and our politicians continue to stall.
For being a solid blue U.S. House district, represented by a party and a Congressmember who comes from the working-class, there doesn’t seem to be much work actually being done for the working-class. As he cozies up with the local conservative powerhouse, the San Diego Chamber of Commerce, it comes at no surprise that Rep. Juan Vargas is out of touch with the district he doesn’t even live in, while he enjoys a lucrative living in the wealthy neighborhood of Bankers Hill north of downtown San Diego. While his campaign is mainly funded by the corporate real estate industry, he stalls on delivering or even introducing legislation that could help with the housing crisis that we’re experiencing. An issue that is most important to me as I myself suffered through childhood homelessness when my father was deported in 2000 and my siblings and mother were evicted. There are thousands of families currently on the verge of being homeless, beyond the hundreds that already live in their cars, in our parks, or that have moved south of the border. We need a representative who actually writes and introduces legislation. We need to implement policies that can help us build actual affordable housing, curb rent hikes, and help families with basic resources so they can put food on the table and have healthcare without breaking the bank. Rep. Juan Vargas has absolutely not introduced any legislation for most of his time in Congress, other than co-sponsoring bills. He has become complacent in his seat, comfortably cruising through elections without even campaigning, and still racking up stacks of corporate donors dollars.
My goal, when I get to Congress, is to listen to the community, and include them in the process while actively introducing legislation to improve the lives of so many who have been left out of the political process. Legislation that truly centers the working-class; allowing us to have more money by fighting for livable wages above a $15/hr minimum wage, and ensuring they do not have to spend over 20% of their pay on rent; to guarantee them housing and healthcare. I will also seek funding to address the decaying infrastructure in the Brown, low-income areas of Barrio Logan, Otay Valley, and address environmental racism in communities near the shipbuilding yards along Harborside, National City, and inner parts of Chula Vista where politicians don’t go because of the low propensity voting history.
Unlike our current member of Congress, I do not take a cent from corporate PACs, because I stand by my word when I say that I will actually fight in the House of Representatives for the legislation that I commit to. We know too well that politicians who are funded by private industry are beholden to uphold the business interests of their lobbyists. Just like how Rep. Juan Vargas has been beholden to his top industry funders. Now, which funders are these? Insurance companies (blocking any progress on healthcare reform), big real estate (arguably America’s biggest lobby, blocking any truly affordable housing policies or universal rent control to end homelessness), and private prisons (blocking all criminal justice, prison system, and immigration reforms). The latter has even become the focal point the civic engagement community has come after Vargas for. This is because as he claims to advocate for migrants, he was found taking money from the companies running the overflowing migrant detention centers, where children are caged without their parents, and women have been sterilized during Trump’s family separation policy.
Not taking corporate money may put me at a disadvantage in fundraising, but this is how we will ensure we are only beholden to the people’s actual priorities, not to big business. It is the only way we will make true progress in centering the working-class in our region. It is how we will stop displacement, and ensure that people can continue to afford a living in the only place they’ve ever called home. It is how we will ensure that families are no longer separated at the border and within our neighborhoods, and get closer to abolishing ICE. It is the only way that we will restore the faith in our government, for people to trust that we will get the job done, and bring much needed resources to elevate our communities. To fight climate change, help rid them of debt, house people, expand public transportation into historically neglected areas, and streamline the border crossing to enhance our cross border economy.
People are waking up to understand how our system is rigged for the 1%. If we are to have any chance to turn it around, we need fighters like Joaquín Vázquez on the front lines.