Government / Politics

2022 General Election: 18th Congressional District

Peter Hernandez and Zoe Lofgren address top issues of the newly formed district.

Peter Hernandez and Zoe Lofgren are in the runoff for the redrawn 18th Congressional District, which will take effect after the general election. The district includes all of San Benito County, as well as the eastern half of Monterey and Santa Clara counties and the southeastern part of Santa Cruz County. Peter Hernandez and Zoe Lofgren are vying for the position. BenitoLink sent each of them questions and requested responses in their own words. 

Peter Hernandez, 47, is a first-generation Mexican American, born and raised in San Benito County by parents who worked the fields, and he grew up in the agricultural community. He lives in Hollister. He is a San Benito County Supervisor and the owner of Ohana Shave Ice in Hollister. He graduated from San Benito High School and has been endorsed by the Monterey County Farm Bureau and the Salinas Chamber of Commerce.

BenitoLink: Why should residents vote for you rather than your opponent?

Congressional District 18 is a brand new district with the need to address serious issues of infrastructure, out of control inflation, rising crime, and fentanyl destroying lives every day. All this while being pressured by a state bent on increasing every county’s housing capacity including the demands of the Silicon Valley workforce. We need local control in planning, preservation of our rural and agricultural way of life. As a local county supervisor and public servant who’s been known to fight for representation, I fought for businesses to stay open, children to receive in-person education, and the preservation of individual rights. 

We are in a truly unique position with a brand new district with no incumbent, to have me (your San Benito County neighbor) represent your needs and interests at the federal level. I am keenly tuned into the issues of the district and with a growing network of supporters and endorsements. I am truly fit to represent this majority Latino, rural, agricultural and middle-class district. As a father and small business owner, I am truly focused on restoring the middle class, which is why I say “I am Congressional District 18.” 

What are the top three issues that apply to the entire district? 

1) The heavy regulatory burdens on our small businesses and local governments. From licensing to the need for business-friendly laws and an ongoing demand on the business community, i.e. the new $22-hour minimum wage requirement that will impact franchise and non-franchise businesses alike, we are being dealt a death blow to small family-owned businesses. [Editorial note: The proposed minimum wage requirement pertains to fast food chains of 100 locations or more. The law states the minimum wage shall not be greater than $22 per hour.]

The unfunded mandates on local governments and lack of local control are creating a tailspin environment sending our ability to manage our own resources completely out of control.

2) Public safety and mental health is an out-of-control issue. With all the demands on mental health and substance abuse, fentanyl coming across the border, and the homeless population exploding we are at a tipping point. Crime is on the rise, and it’s directly correlated to “defund the police” movements, decriminalization laws that have weakened accountability and encouraged dangerous criminal activity. Although some of these elements are state driven, the federal government has been quick to endorse this sentiment with HR 1280 that seeks to limit on top of the aforementioned and eliminating qualified immunity that discourages people from joining the police force and has created a wide gap of adequate staffing levels that are necessary to keep our streets safe.

3) Food and energy security is officially a national security issue. Increasing regulatory demands on farms to produce more with less. My opponent is crushing family farms and making our dependency on foreign governments’ unregulated crop production to replace our local family farms. We have been slowly increasing more imports and slowly decreasing exports, shrinking and endangering our food security. Cleaning up regulatory practices with the intent of having healthier partnerships with farmers will ensure healthy crop yields, create efficient processes, and encourage best practices to protect public health and the environment.  

Should the Pacheco Dam project move forward? 

Yes, it should move forward without delay. Statewide voters voted for a huge bond measure to fund such projects and we are in dire need of more water storage to capture water from wet years for use in drought years. It is a no-brainer, especially considering it is already a reservoir and helps manage the San Luis Reservoir to the benefit of the entire state. Here, locally, the original purpose of the Pacheco Pass Water Reservoir remains and will be greatly enhanced to recharge the aquifers that serve San Benito County. While we ensure better management practices of water as a strict accountability component in earning public trust, if we ask the public to cut back, it’s because we are holding the government to the highest standards possible.  

What is your position on the Strada Verde Innovation Park project as it relates to the state’s move toward electric vehicles?  

I support ongoing technology advances that increase efficiency and benefit the people of the district. I believe Strada Verde as a private company focused on an autonomous vehicle industry and is a good opportunity for San Benito County. Job creation coupled with a new industry benefiting funding to support ongoing resource management demands puts us in an excellent place to finally be able to fix our infrastructure and other resources that our district desperately needs. The idea to protect the environment and public health is a worthwhile focus. There is much to be considered in what are truly sustainable forms of efficient, clean, stable, and low-cost energy which would be able to handle the demand of our constituents’ needs. Bottom line is the goal should not be lacking prudence in preserving a stable grid that is necessary for protecting life and the economy.

What is your position on student loan forgiveness and who will pay for it? 

While anyone can understand how those carrying student loans will benefit, we have to acknowledge how unfair it is to those who never incurred the debt, paid the debt off, or have loans ineligible for the government handout, such as those with private loans. The fact of the matter is that only about 30% of Americans have college degrees and many do not have any loans or the wrong type of loans. My guess is that those that do will be attracted to candidates promoting the handout. What does everyone else get?  

At a certain point, the college system should be held to a standard that requires a career path placement and the intention to meet market demands ensuring not just job security but also a strong American economy, inflation at the gas pump, grocery store, in rent payments, and degrees that are shelved with huge amounts of debt. Not a good idea.

 

Zoe Lofgren, 74, was born, raised and still lives in San Jose. She attended public K-12 schools locally and was the first in her family to graduate from college, receiving a BA from Stanford University on a California State Scholarship, and a JD from Santa Clara University School of Law on another scholarship. Early in her career, she served as a member of staff for Rep. Don Edwards (her predecessor in Congress) for more than eight years in both his San Jose and Washington, D.C., offices. She spent a few years practicing immigration law at the firm Webber and Lofgren and taught immigration law at the University of Santa Clara School of Law. Her first elected position was as a member of the San Jose Evergreen Community College Board in 1979. That same year, she became the first executive director of the San Jose nonprofit Community Housing Developers. In 1980, she was elected to the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors as part of the first ever female-majority board. She served as a supervisor for 14 years. She was first elected to Congress in 1994 as the only freshman Democrat from west of the Rocky Mountains. She also sits on the House committee investigating the Jan. 1 insurrection at the Capital.

BenitoLink: Why should residents vote for you rather than your opponent?  

Lofgren: I am dedicated to public service and am well positioned to bring new opportunities to this newly formed Congressional District. As you likely know, the nonpartisan redistricting commission in California took the unusual step to combine part of Silicon Valley—which I currently represent—with parts of Monterey and Santa Cruz Counties and all of San Benito County to form the new 18th Congressional District. So far as I am aware, this is a first for this combination. While it’s an unexpected combination, the good news is I’ve been hearing from people about potential benefits. Some say they would like to have access to higher-paying jobs available in Silicon Valley, others that this could help facilitate growth of technology in the agricultural sector. Others have welcomed my experience as an advocate for farmworkers.  

On the tech side, I have long advocated for expanding access to broadband for rural and other underserved communities. Most recently, I voted for the bipartisan infrastructure law, which is improving connectivity for an estimated 10 million Californians. As a senior member on both the House Science, Space and Technology and House Judiciary Committees, I have focused on policies that facilitate economic growth for America during the digital age. I’ve been a champion for a free and open internet, and believe new technologies have the potential to benefit all communities. I see many opportunities to connect agricultural areas with Silicon Valley.  

I also chair the House Immigration and Citizenship Subcommittee and am very familiar with agricultural labor issues. I led a group of bipartisan lawmakers in negotiations with the United Farmworkers of America and farm employers that resulted in the Farm Workforce Modernization Act. The comprehensive agricultural workforce reform bill provides a path to legal status for undocumented farmworkers and their families. It also improves the H-2A temporary agricultural visa program. The bill—which has support from the UFW, as well as growers in Monterey, San Benito and Santa Cruz counties—passed the House with overwhelming support in both the 116th and 117th Congresses. I am particularly proud that this bill and my reelection campaign are endorsed by the California Farm Bureau. 

What are the top three issues that apply to the entire district? 

Economic Prosperity & Opportunity: Our country has been through a wrenching and difficult time with the deadliest pandemic in 100 years. It turned our lives and our economy upside down. Problems that existed before were exacerbated. I hear from the people who live in all parts of the future CA-18 about their concerns about the cost of food and housing. While strong employment is good, prices are growing faster than income for many. That’s why House and Senate Democrats recently passed the Inflation Reduction Act, which President Biden signed into law. The legislation slashes prescription drug costs, reduces the cost of health care, dramatically decreases the country’s deficit and lowers energy costs while delivering large-scale climate action.  

Immigration: Whether you’re talking to farm workers in the more rural part of our Congressional District or first-generation immigrant families in the city, you hear gripes about our country’s unworkable immigration system. One of my top legislative priorities is reforming this broken system. The economic and cultural benefits of immigration to the U.S. are substantial and uncontroverted, but our immigration system has not undergone meaningful change in decades.  

Democracy: I carry a copy of the U.S. Constitution with me every day, and I firmly believe in the promise of our democratic republic. Whether you are a capital D Democrat or capital R Republican, you can recognize that, for every American, our vote is our voice. Therefore, if we want Americans to have faith in our government, there must be faith that every vote matters and is counted. I have been leading the push in Congress to enact legislation that ends the dominance of big money in politics, makes it easier—not harder—to vote, and ensures that politicians actually serve the public interest through real government ethics and accountability reforms. We must put power in the hands of the American people.       

Should the Pacheco Dam project move forward? 

I have supported the Pacheco Dam project in the past but must point out that this is a decision for state and local leaders, not the U.S. Congress. However, it is clear to me that, because of climate change, we need to have additional storage capacity in dams and aquifers.  

What is your position on the Strada Verde Innovation Park project as it relates to the state’s move toward electric vehicles? 

Like the Pacheco Dam project, this is a decision that will not be made by the U.S. House of Representatives, but by local leaders. I understand that the people supporting the project are excited about the economic possibilities, while the opponents are concerned about preserving open space and growth potential. This is a decision the local government will decide.  

What is your position on student loan forgiveness and who will pay for it?  

The total amount of student loan debt in America is estimated at $1.75 trillion. That’s so large that many economists are concerned that it has the potential to destabilize our economy. People who already paid off their student loans may be unhappy about a benefit to others that they themselves did not receive. Yet it’s important that individuals buried in debt have an opportunity to move forward in life—not only for their personal well-being but for the wholesome functioning of society. It has been estimated that the national size of this debt overhang could negatively impact the entire national economy and be as destabilizing as the housing collapse in 2008. I have great sympathy for individuals who are trying so hard to improve themselves and their families while faced with the astronomically high cost of college. Further efforts are needed to make education, whether it is training or college, affordable so people can get ahead economically.

 

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John Chadwell

John Chadwell is a BenitoLink reporter and an author. He has many years' experience as a freelance photojournalist, copywriter, ghostwriter, scriptwriter, and novelist. He is a former U.S. Navy Combat Photojournalist and is an award-winning writer who has worked for magazine, newspapers, radio and television. He has a BA in Journalism and Mass Communications from Chapman University and underwent graduate studies at USC Cinema School. John has worked as a script doctor and his own script, God's Club, was released as a motion picture in 2016. He has also written eight novels, ranging from science fiction to true crime, which are sold on Amazon. To contact John Chadwell, send an email to: [email protected]