“Our biggest problem is that local polluters have poisoned our communities year after year with impunity. “
Green Party candidates neither seek nor accept corporate money, so fundraising against lavishly bribed Democrats and Republicans is always a challenge. Corporations commonly pour “donations” into both Democratic and Republican coffers to make sure they own a piece of whoever’s elected.
We all know it’s going to be tough for California’s three Congressional candidates: Laura Wells, whose name will appear alongside incumbent Barbara Lee’s on the November ballot in District 13; Kenneth Mejia, whose name will appear alongside incumbent Jimmy Gomez’s in District 34, and Rodolfo Cortes Barragan, whose name will appear alongside incumbent Lucille Roybal Allard’s in District 40.
This week Laura was startled to learn that her campaign will have to pay Alameda County nearly $13,000 to publish her candidate statement in their voter pamphlet in English, Spanish, Chinese, Tagalog, and Vietnamese. So were Kenneth and Rodolfo when they learned that they will have to pay Los Angeles County $12,000 and $11,000 respectively. Kenneth will have to pay $6000 for each language he publishes in, Rodolfo $5500 for each, and both plan to publish in English and Spanish. The publication fees, totaling $36,000, are due by August 10.
I spoke to Rodolfo Cortes Barragan.
Ann Garrison: Rodolfo, Democrats won’t miss a beat over these $11,000 to $13,000 costs just for publishing their promises in the voters pamphlets, will they?
Rodolfo Cortes Barragan: Of course not.Candidates running as Democrats are often able to pull in hundreds of thousands of dollars from corporate PACs. Those corporations then hold lawmakers accountable on bills that boost their bottom dollar. The Green Party, as the only federally recognized, anti-capitalist party, rejects those bribes. We are a party of regular people, for regular people. That means it takes us longer to raise funds and we can’t raise nearly as much, but that's OK. We cannot allow our movement to be co-opted by corporate money.
AG: I believe that Greens from other parts of the country have offered to initiate a national fundraising campaign to have your candidate statements published in the voter pamphlets because they think that these three Congressional races, with Greens going head to head against incumbent Democrats, are so important. Is that right?
RCB: Yes. We’re fortunate that people from all around the country have reached out to help, and getting those candidate statements printed would really push us forward. Not all voters in our congressional district are online, and many don’t have the luxury to follow day-to-day politics closely. But most understand that the pamphlets with candidate statements are important for them to examine before voting. If we were able to raise the needed funds to get the word out to the voters as we should, that could give us a jump start towards our goal of breaking down the two-party duopoly in these races.
AG: And that would free up whatever funds you’re able to raise for grassroots campaigning, right?
RCB: Yes, and we are a tightly focused grassroots campaign. We are using the power of technology, including texts and emails, particularly to reach young people, and to run a campaign unlike any that has ever been run in our area. We’re the first campaign to seriously challenge the Democratic incumbent, Lucille Roybal Allard, since her election in 1993. She’s so sure she’s got it in the bag that she isn't even campaigning, but there’s a lot of hardship in our district and we know that the people who live here are ready for change.
AG: Can you tell us about your district, California Congressional District 40?
RCB: The District is made up of East and Southeast Los Angeles County. It's a heavily polluted and impoverished area. It’s also the most LatinX District in the entire country, more than 85% LatinX. It’s 5% Black, 5% White, and 2% Asian. We have some of the highest rates of childhood asthma, cancer, and obesity in the state.
Our biggest problem is that local polluters have poisoned our communities year after year with impunity. Entire families have died of cancer and other environmentally induced illnesses. See the Los Angeles Times:
For public officials, accountability for Exide lead contamination has been scantand;
Air regulators find a cancer causing metal at 350 times normal levels in Paramount. Now they’re looking for the source.
AG: Lucille Roybal-Allard is a 13-term incumbent. She’s been in Congress for 26 years. Could you tell us about her voting record and how you would vote differently?
RCB: Just take a look at three key bills that Lucille Roybal-Allard has voted for in the Trump era. She voted for $700 billion for Pentagon funding, for reauthorizing the Department of Homeland Security, and for the Blue Lives Matter Bill that made police a special, federally protected class. All three bills promote a right-wing, authoritarian agenda. I would have voted against all of them. We need to stand for peace and diplomacy in foreign policy, for protecting the people’s rights to security from DHS surveillance, and for protecting communities from police brutality, especially communities of color. On the floor of the House, I would be a reliable vote for the progressive, leftist movement.
AG: And with a Green going head to head against an incumbent Democrat, the Democrats won’t be able to shriek that every progressive deserves a special place in hell if they fail to vote for the least-worst candidate—the Democrat—just to beat a Republican.
RCB: Indeed not. The GOP has collapsed in America's largest, bluest cities. In our Congressional District, there hasn't even been a Republican challenger in over a decade. That means that people are realizing that our biggest problems, including the pollution causing so much tragedy in our district, have actually been created and maintained by the Democratic Party.
As Greens, we offer a comprehensive way out. The Green New Deal in the Green Party platform will create good-paying, local, sustainable jobs that will be good for both the planet and human health.
AG: I see that you emigrated to the US from Mexico with your family in 1996, at age nine. That was three years after Lucille Roybal Allard’s first election, so she’s been your Congressional representative ever since you’ve been here. You graduated from the University of California-Berkeley, then earned a Ph.D. in cognitive psychology from Stanford, and now you’re a National Science Foundation Postdoctoral Fellow studying altruism in childhood development.
One might expect someone like you to use your top flight degrees to get out of the troubled district you grew up in once and for all, but instead you returned home and now you’re running for pubic office. That suggests a real commitment to your community.
RCB: That’s correct. I did get a prestigious degree, but what about my parents, who don’t have any type of healthcare coverage? What about my aunt, who lives right in the part of District 40where the water comes out brown like it does in Flint? And the hundreds of thousands of people in the District who live in these conditions? It’s not right. The community needs a way out.
AG: At last year’s Green Party annual meeting, Philadelphia economic human rights campaigner and former Green Party vice presidential candidate Cheri Honkala said that Greens should be focusing on frontline communities, and that’s what you seem to be doing.
RCB: Politics are mainly local, and the Democratic Party has ruled East and Southeast Los Angeles for 70 years. They, not the Republicans, are the ones that have presided over the long-term decline in the quality of life here. They are the problem. The community sees that, and people are hungry for political change. That is why in our campaign, we are empowering our LatinX community to break free from the chains of the corporate, pro-war, covertly racist Democratic Party.
Rodolfo Cortes Barragon is a Mexican immigrant, cognitive psychologist, and Green Party candidate in California Congressional District 40. He can be reached on his website: Rodolfo for Congress
Ann Garrison is an independent journalist based in the San Francisco Bay Area. In 2014, she received the Victoire Ingabire Umuhoza Democracy and Peace Prizefor her reporting on conflict in the African Great Lakes region. She can be reached at [email protected].