Andy Caldwell has never been one to mince words, unapologetically a true representation of himself at all times.
You can thank 9-year-old Andy for that.
Just months removed from losing his father, Mr. Caldwell’s mother was forced to relocate her family from their small family farm in Kingsburg, Ca. — a rural town in Fresno County.
The Caldwells arrived in Lompoc, with Mr. Caldwell’s mother landing a part-time job — making it tough to support Mr. Caldwell and his two siblings.
Instead of complaining, Mr. Caldwell decided that he’d start to work to earn his own spending money.
He’d go door-to-door, selling advertising for a magazine, followed by gathering newspapers to be recycled, earning change for his efforts.
As he approached junior high, he took on two newspaper routes with the News-Press, earning accolades for his effort, even though he still remembers agonizing over the massive sections during Fiesta — “they used to print the number of pages on the front page, those papers were like 170 pages. I had to make two or three tips to get those delivered.”
In the Caldwell family, hard work wasn’t a request, it was a requirement.
“The bottom line is that the way that I was taught if you want things, or you need things, then you have to work to get them,” said Mr. Caldwell, a UC San Diego product. “No one is going to give you a handout, and I still believe that to this day.”
And Mr. Caldwell has done the bulk of his hard work on the Central Coast, spending the majority of the past 51 years in Lompoc, Orcutt and Nipomo.
The father of seven and husband of 32 years, Mr. Caldwell hasn’t been immune to the severe costs of living in Santa Barbara County, moving his young family to Nipomo from Orcutt due to quality of life.
“The cost of a regular sized rural lot in Orcutt was the same as an acre in Nipomo,” Mr. Caldwell explained.
And therein lies Mr. Caldwell’s overarching reason for running for Congress against incumbent Salud Carbajal — he believes the quest to achieve the American Dream is lost, particularly in California.
“My clash in my life with people that would deny others that chance for upward mobility,” Mr. Caldwell said. “The American Dream, in my opinion, is defined as the opportunity for success through hard work and making responsible choices in life.”
Mr. Caldwell worked for Union Sugar in Santa Maria, starting as a seasonal laborer and growing into an industrial relations manager.
But he was concerned by what he saw as an environment of overregulation in Santa Barbara County, eventually opening his own business called the Coalition of Labor, Agriculture and Business — or COLAB.
In creating this coalition, Mr. Caldwell is actively opposing a quote that came from a county representative. It read:
“The cost of preserving the high quality of life in Santa Barbara County includes limiting opportunities for others. It limits economic mobility and that’s a legitimate political choice.”
In Mr. Caldwell’s words, it means: “We’ve got in made, we’re living in Paradise, we don’t want anything to change. If that means that other people can’t achieve the American Dream or get a better-paying job, then so be it.”
Mr. Caldwell prides himself on growing up in a middle-class family, as well as raising one of his own. But he saw how the lack of opportunity can impact families, as his mother was an immigrant, coming to the U.S. from Austria as a World War II bride.
“She didn’t have any education, we were poor when my dad was still alive. Even though we farmed, it was just a little farm. They both worked summer jobs and she sometimes worked during the years at low-level jobs, even when he was still alive,” he said. “Both of them worked in a cannery during the summers, then she worked in a convalescent home at other parts of her life.
“We didn’t have any money, and when my dad died, it was even worse, but we found a way. It has only become more difficult since.”
In founding COLAB, Mr. Caldwell points to the inherent bipartisanship that comes along with dealing with labor, agriculture and business — usually entities with very different interests.
“It’s no easy task, when interests are at odds with one another. It’s inherently bipartisan, which is how I live my life,” Mr. Caldwell said. “I don’t want to just represent an area, I want to represent the entire district and not just one political party. I want to represent the whole district.”
Mr. Caldwell has sat on both sides of the political spectrum, with the first half of his life spent as a Democrat, values that he still holds near and dear.
“I still hold the values that John F. Kennedy and Robert Kennedy held,” Mr. Caldwell said. “They wanted people to be able to become upwardly mobile, for people to have freedom of opportunity and quality of opportunity, so I am still all for that.”
And he intends to do this through public service, pointing to his father’s service in the Air Force, mother’s work with the county’s veterans service office and sister’s duty as a nurse on an Army base and VA hospital in Los Angeles as the inspiration.
“I’m going to consider this service to my country in light of my family’s service,” Mr. Caldwell said.
And he hopes to restore the Central Coast — and California, in general — as a destination place.
“I think people are desperate. And the desperation is manifesting in the fact that 70% of the people in California want to move out,” Mr. Caldwell said.
“This state, when I was young, was considered to be the No. 1 state to work and live in. And what we’ve seen is a one-party system that has destroyed it. And I think people feel desperation if things don’t change, they too are going to have to leave.”