Government / Politics

Election 2020: California’s 20th congressional district

Voters will choose between incumbent Jimmy Panetta and challenger Jeff Gorman.

Watch candidates for California’s 20th congressional district answer questions from the BenitoLink 2020 Virtual Election Forum.

Two candidates are running in California’s 20th Congressional District: incumbent Jimmy Panetta and challenger Jeff Gorman. District 20 includes San Benito and Monterey counties, most of Santa Cruz County, and part of south Santa Clara County.

Jeff Gorman was born and raised in Monterey. He went from Monterey High to UC-Berkeley, where he earned a BA in Political Science. Gorman has worked in investment management since 1992. He chaired the Monterey County Republican Party, is treasurer of a charity and believes in giving back through volunteer service.

Jeff Gorman.
Jeff Gorman.

BENITOLINK: Why are you running for the 20th Congressional District seat?

GORMAN: I’m running because I have a fundamentally different view of government than the incumbent. We have many hardworking, freedom-loving people on our Central Coast who disagree with the direction California has taken. We would like the government to leave us alone. Our community has been poorly served by the Pelosi-Newsom policies and I look forward to voting for a new speaker of the house.

What issues are most important to your district?

The federal budget is way out of line, with a terrible deficit, yet my opponent votes for every spending measure the speaker puts up, every single one.

Our federal government has a core mission, national security and general welfare. It needs to be focused on that and learn to respect local autonomy and individual rights.

Current issues include riots, which points out the need for law and order. The National Guard needs to be ready.

Fires bring up the need for oversight of California’s failed land management leadership. With an all Democrat administration for over 10 years, our forests have been poorly cared for and many, many homes and lives have been ruined.

China is clearly the most important threat to America. The current federal administration has brought much attention and policy change. We need a supportive Congress to take the threat of Communist China seriously. I subscribe to the philosophy “peace through strength.”

Finally, we need “law and order.” Instead of “defunding” as the Democrats advocate, we need to encourage training and discipline. Democrats have shamefully done much to erode the morale of our law enforcement. I back the blue.

Are there issues you feel are important to your district that the public may not know about?

Water is a very important issue. While some in our community are focused on it, my opponent has failed to bring resources or attention to this critical California issue.

School choice is another hugely important issue my opponent won’t take on. Parents and students would be better served with choice. Children should be the driving force but instead my opponent takes money from special interest groups who stand to lose if we focus on the kids.

What obstacles and challenges does the district face?

I believe we have an identity crisis in California. America isn’t about race, it is about liberty and justice for all. We should encourage love and confidence in our nation, not attack it and teach our children to hate it. Let’s build America up! After COVID, we really need to “make America great again.”

How do you plan to address those issues?

By running for Congress as “the underdog” I hope to show people on our Central Coast they are not alone questioning the direction we are going.

How do you intend to communicate and stay in touch with the constituents you’d represent?

I promise to hold town halls in the biggest city in the district of each county. The budget for congressional offices is substantial and Congress provides strong tools for communication.

What is the role of the federal government?

The federal government provides an equal playing field domestically for all citizens. It must not favor one group of citizens over another. Promoting the general welfare means supporting freedom, so that all Americans may pursue their own happiness. It must not meddle in individual lives, beyond ensuring domestic tranquility.

The federal government is the sole arbiter of foreign policy. It is charged with protecting the American people from foreign threats, whether by nation-states, cartels or subversive cults like Al-Qaida and Marxists.


Jimmy Panetta, 50, is the 20th District incumbent. He has held the office since January 2017. Panetta grew up in Carmel Valley where he lives with his wife and two daughters. He previously served as deputy district attorney in Oakland and in the Navy as an intelligence officer who was mobilized and deployed to Afghanistan for Operation Enduring Freedom.

Jimmy Panetta.
Jimmy Panetta.

BENITOLINK: Why are you running for the 20th Congressional District seat?

PANETTA: I am running for reelection because I can affect people’s lives as a U.S. Representative. One of my most important roles is helping constituents and their families with a very personal immigration, veterans, military, social security, IRS, or any other issue that entails representation in dealing, and at times fighting, with the federal government. Many people run for Congress with absolutely no idea of the impact that you can have on individuals by being that bridge for them to the federal government and back. I ran for Congress with that understanding and continue to fulfill that responsibility of this vocation by serving and working hard for the people and values on the Central Coast. Having grown up here, my sense of belonging stokes my sense of service to the people and place that I have always called home. Our local values drive me to continue the fight for our issues in our nation’s capital, including ensuring that we have the federal funds available for the local resources to battle the health and economic crisis of the COVID-19 pandemic, protecting our environment, providing more affordable and accessible healthcare and housing, ensuring that our agriculture industry continues to thrive, and passing the immigration reform legislation that I authored so that those who came here and contribute continue to have the opportunity to fulfill their dreams here. I have done a lot in a limited and challenging time, but appreciate and know that there is much more work to do. 

What issues are most important to your district?

As a country and community, we continue to fight for our health and economy during the COVID-19 pandemic. Without a national unified plan to battle this disease, our government has developed and executed a regional strategy that has been federally funded, state mandated, and locally executed. Congress has lived up to its part of that strategy by passing fiscal relief packages that were necessary to maintain the health of our nation and economy. 

Over the past few months, I have fought hard to ensure that San Benito County received its fair share from those relief packages. Having worked on and supported the passage of the CARES Act, I am proud that San Benito County received $6.4 million, Hollister received $500,000, and San Juan Bautista received over $50,000 in federal funding for local government services. During the pandemic, Hazel Hawkins Memorial Hospital received close to $8.5 million from a Provider Relief Fund and the San Benito Health Foundation received close to $2.9 million in relief funding. At the same time, I worked with local and state leaders to help Hazel Hawkins Memorial Hospital obtain the Critical Access Hospital designation to ensure continued care for our community members. Seeing firsthand the challenges faced by our students, teachers, and administrators during the pandemic, the schools in San Benito County received over $10 million in federal funding. 

My congressional colleagues and I also established the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) to ensure that small businesses throughout the Central Coast stay afloat during these challenging times. In San Benito County, 600 small businesses utilized the program, which led to the retainment of over 7,500 local jobs. I worked with many of those employers to facilitate their usage of the PPP and will fight to ensure further funding of such a beneficial program. Additionally, the CARES Act provided economic impact payments, unemployment assistance, and protections from eviction for many community members.

The CARES Act also provided relief for our farmers and farmworkers in the form of the Coronavirus Food Assistance Program. During the pandemic, I worked with the administration to ensure that our specialty crop producers could fully benefit from this program. Additionally, I fought to protect our farmworkers to ensure they have adequate access to personal protective equipment, testing, and education on COVID-19. Our Central Coast farmers and farmworkers deserve that type of funding and safety protections as they continue to work tirelessly throughout this crisis to provide our country’s food security. 

As a member of a bipartisan group of Congress members that was asked to advise the White House Coronavirus Task Force, I pressed the president in April of this year to ramp up testing as a way to see and fight this often asymptomatic, yet highly communicable, disease. Realizing that the president did not listen to me or the advice of scientists when it came to our nation’s testing capacity, I introduced legislation that would mandate the use of the Defense Production Act in order to produce the necessary quantity and quality of accurate tests. I have continued to advocate for increased access to COVID testing and contact tracing, as well as a potential vaccine and its equal distribution, through congressional relief bills. As we continue our work to defeat COVID-19 and get on the road to recovery, I will keep pushing for further relief packages to ensure that the federal government is working for San Benito County and the rest of the Central Coast.

This summer, we are enduring some of the most devastating wildfires and I remain focused on ensuring the federal government is doing its part to get us through this crisis. In August, I worked diligently with state and federal officials to secure a Federal Emergency Management Administration (FEMA) disaster declaration so that community members impacted by the fires qualify for federal assistance. I also am focused on long-term solutions to reduce the threat of wildfires. In July, I introduced bipartisan and bicameral legislation to reduce wildfire risk in our federal forests, improve our response to wildfire, and make our communities and energy grids more resilient. In June, I introduced the Replant Act to increase federal funding and enable the U.S. Forest Service to prioritize and reduce the backlog of 1.3 million forestland acres in need of replanting. Investing in reforestation is critical to protecting wildlife and preventing future disaster. We know that wildfires will continue to threaten our communities if the federal government fails to provide meaningful, long lasting change, including a more comprehensive response to the climate crisis. 

Recent local measures that ban oil drilling in San Benito County don’t apply to federal lands. As your federal representative, I authored the California Central Coast Conservation Act to block leasing of new federal public lands for oil and gas drilling. I authored the bold Climate Action Rebate Act to cut greenhouse gas emissions with carbon fees. Revenue generated would support low-income families, help transition workers, build resilient infrastructure, and foster research and development for green technologies. We have some of the most beautiful landscapes and bountiful farmland and I will always fight for their protection as we address the climate crisis.

As our country continues to struggle with racial inequality, police brutality and violence toward police, I will continue to work hard to provide evidence-based solutions for peace, accountability and justice. This summer, I was an original cosponsor and voted to support the passage of the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act. This bold legislation would hold those accountable for official misconduct and improve law enforcement so that it can support and sustain all of our communities.  

I’m committed to finding federal solutions for local affordable housing challenges. I have secured over $40 million in federal grants for homeless programs and affordable housing development, have authored and passed legislation to increase federal tax credits for affordable housing developments, and support the Rent Relief Act for federal tax deductions to people paying 30% of their income on rent.

I worked to pass a bill to lower prescription drug costs, combat the opioid epidemic, and expand Medicare to include dental, vision and hearing coverage. I support Medicare for all, but want to ensure that those satisfied can keep their employer provided healthcare. I fought against the repeal of the Affordable Care Act and cuts to Medicare and Medicaid. I worked with Republicans and Democrats to improve the ACA so that those with preexisting medical conditions are covered and provided care.

I am also committed to making higher education more affordable by supporting student loan reform. Last year, I introduced the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Modernization Act to simplify and modernize federal student loan forgiveness programs. We must support the nurses, teachers, emergency responders, servicemembers, prosecutors, and other public servants who have dedicated their lives to helping their fellow citizens by assisting them with their student loans. 

Investing in our infrastructure and strengthening our electric grid is long overdue. That is why I introduced legislation to improve the infrastructure of our nation’s electrical grid as well as supported the passage of the Invest in America Act to rebuild and reimagine the nation’s infrastructure. That comprehensive bill would make significant investments in our transportation system, schools and child care centers, water treatment plants, rural broadband, affordable housing, hospitals, postal service, and renewable energy efforts. I will continue to support legislation to improve Central Coast infrastructure that our communities can benefit from for years to come.

As the grandson of immigrants, I’m fighting for immigration reform for hardworking families throughout the Central Coast. I worked to pass legislation to protect Dreamers, TPS recipients, and farmworkers. Last year, the House passed the Farm Workforce Modernization Act, my bill that would allow qualified farmworkers to stay and work here and to streamline H-2A visas. That bill stemmed from months of negotiations with producers and farmworkers and Republicans and Democrats. It passed with bipartisan support and by the biggest margin in decades for any immigration bill.   

Are there issues you feel are important to your district that the public may not know about?

My constituents know how important farmworkers are to the Central Coast, but Washington doesn’t necessarily understand how crucial it is that we protect these community members. Last year, the House passed the Farm Workforce Modernization Act, which I co-authored. When people outside of our district think of the Central Coast, the men and women working day in and out on local farms don’t always come to mind or receive the recognition they deserve. I’m working to ensure that their voices are heard and represented in the halls of Congress.

As a veteran, I know that our service members make enormous sacrifices every day to keep America safe and secure. That is why I am proud to support legislation to make sure that our troops not only get the support they need in the field along with the larger support they deserve upon coming home. Throughout my time in Congress, I have been proud to introduce legislation to honor our service members, fight veteran homelessness, and provide these men and women the benefits they deserve. This year, the House passed my legislation, the Full Military Honors Act, as part of the National Defense Reauthorization Act. My legislation would provide a full military honors ceremony to Medal of Honor recipients and Prisoners of War eligible for burial at Arlington National Cemetery, giving the recognition these men and women deserve. Adequately honoring those who have answered the call of duty means providing the care they deserve. I was proud to introduce the Legal Services for Homeless Veterans Act to provide funding to organizations that provide legal services to homeless veterans and those at risk for homelessness. My bill would also appropriate at least $20 million to organizations that focus on aiding women veterans and their families. The House unanimously passed this legislation in a critical step toward honoring the service of all those who served our nation. 

COVID-19 has put many of our National Guard service members on the frontlines of the pandemic. I introduced the National Guard COVID-19 Earned Benefits Guarantee Act to direct the Secretaries of Defense and Veterans Affairs to treat a full-time National Guard COVID-19 activation as not shorter than 90 days, thus qualifying these servicemembers for certain educational and retirement benefits. I continue to work with congressional leadership and numerous veteran service organizations to advance this measure and expand my bill’s coverage to all members of the Reserve Component. I look forward to my continued work to advocate for veterans who need help cutting through red tape at the Department of Veterans Affairs, find meaningful employment, support efforts to get veteran-owned businesses off the ground, and more.

Many San Benito County residents experienced flooding in 2017 when storm waters burst through a Pacheco Creek levee, resulting in emergency responders rescuing dozens of families. The Pacheco Reservoir Expansion Project would expand the existing Pacheco Reservoir and construct a pipeline from the Pacheco dam to the Pacheco Conduit. The additional storage in the Pacheco Reservoir would help alleviate the pressure on the San Luis Reservoir to deliver water to our region when that reservoir is at its low point. Had that project been in place, that flooding would have likely been reduced and prevented unnecessary damage and danger. I am proud to lead my fellow members of Congress, whose communities have also been affected, to put pressure on the Bureau of Reclamation to provide federal funding for that project. 

The San Justo Reservoir remains threatened by invasive non-native zebra mussels. This year, I was able to secure funding in the House-passed FY21 Appropriations Bill to put pressure on the Bureau of Reclamation to move the San Justo Zebra Mussel Eradication Project forward. San Benito County has waited long enough for the reservoir to reopen and for this harmful species to be removed. 

What obstacles and challenges does the district face?

2020 has brought on a deadly pandemic and wildfires that have further compounded many of the issues we face in our communities on the Central Coast. Nevertheless, in fighting COVID-19 and the wildfires, we must continue to work hard to provide solutions to the pressing issues of accessible and affordable housing and healthcare, the impacts of the climate crisis, and the absence of immigration policy reform. Moreover, our nation has also come to face a reckoning of racial justice that will guide how we respond to injustice for generations to come. We also are facing a threat in which one of our nation’s most trusted federal agencies, the Postal Service, is under attacks that aim to weaken it, which can threaten our community’s ability to vote. Despite these threats and uncertainties, the strength of communities across the Central Coast energizes me as I work on meaningful, long-lasting solutions.

How do you plan to address those issues?

In Congress, I am proud to support federal relief to help get our communities through the pandemic. I will continue to advocate for the needs of the Central Coast in future relief packages as my colleagues and I continue to work on Congress’ response to COVID-19.

This summer, I cosponsored the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act to improve transparency in policing, improve the training process for police officers, and hold those responsible for misconduct accountable. This is an important step forward in addressing racial injustice, but we must continue to address racial injustice in all its forms in our communities.

I have been proud to support legislation to provide critical aid to the U.S. Postal Service (USPS) and improve protections for postal workers amid partisan attacks. The USPS employs over 600,000 Americans, including 100,000 veterans, and provides an essential service to our nation. I will continue to support legislation to protect the USPS and the over half a million Americans employed by the agency.

As the Central Coast continues to endure a housing crisis, I will continue to push for federal policies to help tackle it. In three years, I secured close to $50 million in federal grants for local housing programs, including for low-income families, veterans, and the homeless. I was also proud to author the Opportunity Starts at Home Act to increase federal tax credits for the development of more affordable housing as well as secure grant funding for affordable housing programs and increase access to affordable housing near public transit. I am also a cosponsor of the Rent Relief Act, which would provide relief to renters who spend more than 30% of their income on rent and utilities. I remain committed to working with local and state leaders to implement federal solutions for more affordable housing on the Central Coast.

I’m working in Congress to pass comprehensive immigration reform that supports our diverse communities, strengthens compassionate border security, provides effective worker programs, and improves educational opportunities for the children of immigrants. I have been proud to support the American Dream and Promise Act as well as the Farm Workforce Modernization Act to provide a path to citizenship for those who choose to call this country home and enrich our communities and economy.

How do you intend to communicate and stay in touch with the constituents you’d represent?

One of my most important roles is helping constituents and their families with personal issues on immigration, veterans, military, social security, IRS, or anything that entails representation in dealing, and at times fighting, with the federal bureaucracy. I have over 1,200 individual cases completed for constituents dealing with federal issues since January of 2019, totaling nearly 2,700 cases since taking office in 2017. I work to ensure that anybody who wants to meet with me or my office, gets a meeting. I have held close to 1,000 meetings and events and participated in close to 20 town halls throughout the district this term. I work hard so that anybody who contacts my office gets the necessary response as demonstrated by my receiving and responding to over 87,000 pieces of correspondence, including email, phone calls and letters in 2020.

I keep an active presence across social media (@RepJimmyPanetta on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook) and on my official website at to make sure my constituents can stay engaged with how I’m working for them day in and day out. Further, I send out quarterly newsletters via mail and email to keep community members updated about my work in Washington and on the Central Coast. 

What is the role of the federal government?

The federal government must work for the people of our country and that is why it is my job to ensure that the federal government works for the people of our community. As a United States Representative, it is my job to be that bridge between the Central Coast and the federal government and its many bureaucracies. Be it through funding, legislation, or case work, my role is to ensure that the federal government works for you and upholds our values. The federal government must keep us safe, but also must be focused on implementing policies to provide everybody with the opportunity to fulfill his or her dreams. I have always said, good governing is good politics, and if I am re-elected I will continue to fight for and deliver results for our home on the Central Coast.


Carmel de Bertaut

Carmel has a BA in Natural Sciences/Biodiversity Stewardship from San Jose State University and an AA in Communications Studies from West Valley Community College. She reports on science and the environment, arts and human interest pieces. Carmel has worked in the ecological and communication fields and is an avid creative writer and hiker. She has been reporting for BenitoLink since May, 2018 and covers Science and the Environment and Arts and Culture.