If you ask Rep. Salud Carbajal, D-Santa Barbara, why he turned to a career in government, he’ll tell you he was looking for a way to help positively change public policy to bring opportunities to everyone in our community.
“It was something that inspired me; that I could step up in that arena and try to impact people’s lives,” Mr. Carbajal told the News-Press.
Since he was first elected as supervisor Santa Barbara County’s 1st district in 2004, Mr. Carbajal has worked in public safety, environmental protection, mental health, drug and alcohol programs, and to promote economic opportunity.
Elected to Congress in 2016, Mr. Carbajal serves on the House Committee on Armed Services, the House Committee on Agriculture, and the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, where he serves as the Vice Chair.
It’s an impressive resume that encompasses a wide range of issues and areas of expertise, and it may seem like Mr. Carbajal is trying to do it all, but he brings all of his knowledge to bare, both political and personal.
“They say we’re all a sum of our experiences,” said Mr. Carbajal.
The youngest of seven and born in Moroleón, Mexico, Mr. Carbajal and his family immigrated to a mining town in Arizona and then Oxnard when his father was a part of the Bracero labor program of the 1950s. In California, Mr. Carbajal’s father worked in Oxnard’s farms, and over the summers, Rep. Carbajal was by his side growing and harvesting strawberries, tomatoes, cucumbers, or onions. With his mother home with rheumatoid arthritis, Mr. Carbajal’s father was the main breadwinner for the family, he told the News-Press.
“We were low income. Even though my father worked six or seven days a week, working in ‘ag,’ at least at that time, didn’t provide for a real living wage. No vacation pay, no sick days, no healthcare,” said Mr. Carbajal.
Much of his time growing up was spent in public housing, where Rep. Carbajal saw the hardships faced by immigrants in the US. Luckily, his parents taught their children to value education, said Mr. Carbajal.
“Despite growing up in financially and economically challenging environments I was able to do well in school and got accepted to all the schools I applied to and ended up coming to UCSB,” said Mr. Carbajal.
Even as an undergrad, Mr. Carbajal showed an interest in diverse subjects. Before settling on a major in Latin American and Iberian Studies, he tried pursuing a degree in computer science and pre-med. He went on to earn a master’s degree in organizational management from Fielding Graduate University.
While in school, Mr. Carbajal took on even more responsibility and joined the United States Marine Corps Reserves, where he served for eight years.
“Living in this country and having been given so many opportunities, I saw it as my duty to serve, to give back. It was just something that I thought was important to do,” said Mr. Carbajal.
Mr. Carbajal’s time has been short in Congress compared to his career in health and human services, as the late Supervisor Naomi Schwartz’s chief of staff, and time on the County’s Board of Supervisors, but he’s gotten a lot done. In his first year in Congress, Mr. Carbajal sponsored 24 bills, including the bi-partisan Federal Firefighters Fairness Act and the Central Coast Heritage Protection Act.
In 2019, he introduced 20 bills on issues including affordable education, agriculture workforce, and maritime safety. Of the bills that Mr. Carbajal co-sponsored last year, he will proudly tell you 52% were bipartisan efforts.
“I’m part of the Problem Solvers Caucus, which is a group of 50 Republicans and Democrats who are committed to working together to find common ground. Be it on prescription drug and health issues, infrastructure, or immigration, we’ve worked on a lot of issues to find common ground, and I’m very proud of that work,” said Mr. Carbajal.
To that end Mr. Carbajal has taken a civility pledge with his colleagues, and has made efforts to build relationships across the aisle like visiting his Republican colleague Don Bacon’s district in Nebraska and inviting Mr. Bacon to Santa Barbara.
“It’s one thing to talk bipartisanship, but to actually walk the walk are two different things, and I think if you look at my record, I’ve walked the talk,” said Mr. Carbajal.
His respect and drive for bipartisanship came from his time in local government, Mr. Carbajal told the News-Press.
“I was both in the majority and the minority in local government, and the conclusion I reached is that instead of focusing on ideological differences, that we could achieve more by working together on things that we agree on in commonality,” said Mr. Carbajal.
“There’s more than unites us than divides us, and I think that if we’re committed to really working together we need to walk the talk and let our actions represent that.”
To Mr. Carbajal, partisanship is one of the greatest impediments to effective governing, and has seen how politics can either be put aside or it can run wild.
“The wheels in Washington turn a lot slower than in local government. I really appreciated local government because you could see the result of your actions relatively soon. In Washington it’s just a much more partisan world,” said Mr. Carbajal.
Mr. Carbajal hopes that overcoming ideological differences will get Washington back on track.
“You cannot change Washington from the gridlock and the terrible things that go on, partisanship, unless you’re committed to taking a different approach,” said Mr. Carbajal.
Though he now splits his time between Washington and his wife Gina and two adult children in Santa Barbara, Mr. Carbajal always carries his experiences with him.
“I know what it’s like one, as an immigrant to this country, but two, to know what it’s like growing up poor, to work in the fields with my father in the farms, to know what it’s like to struggle living in public housing. Despite that I think I also know what it’s like to be able to work hard, to get a great education like I did, serve my country,” said Mr. Carbajal. “