My turn: We’ll be watching to make sure Congress keeps its promises

Alma Hernández, Special to CALmatters

California will send only seven Republicans to represent its 53 seats in Congress, the smallest Republican delegation since 1883.

Explaining their defeat in last month’s election, GOP operatives blamed everything from “overconfidence” to democracy itself. Speaker Paul Ryan called California’s policy to count every vote “bizarre,” a sentiment echoed by Republican Congressman Jeff Denham, who was ousted from his San Joaquin Valley seat.

Service Employee International Union members have a different view. House members were elected to represent their constituents’ values of dignity, respect and inclusion, but instead chose to stand for extremism and exclusion. They paid the price at the polls.

I grew up in a small town in Denham’s district, a two- hour drive on Highway 99 from Republican Congressman David Valadao district to the south.

My parents were farmworkers and we stretched hard earned dollars by buying most of our goods at swap meets.

My mom was lucky enough to get out of the fields and into Foster Farms where her union job gave her access to healthcare and a retirement account. Our family was one of the few who had healthcare.

More than 300,000 people in Denham’s district and 400,000 people in Valadao’s district rely on Medicaid and the Affordable Care Act for their care.

With the Affordable Care Act on the line in 2017, 1,000 people packed into a town hall and heard Denham promise to protect their care. Valadao’s constituents found his seat at their town hall empty.

Days later, both GOP members played a crucial role in moving President Donald Trump’s extremist Affordable Care Act repeal out of the House, even though their constituents would have been among the hardest hit by the legislation.

Earlier this year, news networks streamed the sights, sobs and screams of children in cages, after being ripped from their mothers’ arms. Denham used the humanitarian crisis as a publicity opportunity — taking to national TV to call for a bipartisan solution to end family separation, and inviting cameras to follow him to an immigrant detention center.

Valadao initially spoke out against the separation of migrant families, but soon shifted to Trump-speak, invoking language of crime and prosecution rather than humanity toward refugees, babies and toddlers.

Given the chance to prevent separation of immigrant children from their parents, Denham and Valadao voted with Trump on a bill the American Academy of Pediatrics blasted for subjecting even more children to long-term detention.

When all the votes were counted, it was clear that voters had imposed a price on Republicans who turned their backs on their constituents. Latino voters in particular held officials accountable for representing our values.

SEIU’s Protect Our Kids and Our Healthcare PAC invested heavily in a Latino-focused voter engagement campaign targeting Republican members of Congress from California who refused to stand up to Trump.

It worked. In California’s Central Valley and Orange County districts where Republicans lost, post- election polls show strong indications of an uptick in Latino turnout.

Much has been said about how California Republicans can become relevant. Their road is a long one, and it cuts through the heart of the Central Valley along Highway 99 and winding along a now solid blue Orange County’s I-405.

From the farm fields to the suburban neighborhoods, to the coastline, Californians voted their values of dignity, respect, and accountability at the polls in 2018. The SEIU’s effort will continue through 2020. We’ll be looking to see whether House members stick to their promises and vote their values on Capitol Hill.

Alma Hernández is executive director of the Service Employees International Union in California, [email protected]. She wrote this commentary for CALmatters.

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