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Ammar Campa-Najjar is challenging Duncan Hunter for Congress


Ammar Campa-Najjar likes to reach across party lines to connect with people who might not like him at first blush. Recently the Democratic contender for Congress ventured into the Turkey Inn in neighboring Ramona, which is arguably comparable to an ant visiting a bee hive— and made friends in that notoriously rightwing watering hole.
When Trump was moving into the White House Campa-Najjar, who was with the outgoing administration, left a memo on his desk that he hoped would be read by the new president.
If there is an overarching theme to Campa-Najjar’s campaign to eject Duncan Hunter from the 50th Congressional District, it’s that of service.
The son of an Arab father and a Hispanic mother he says, “From my first job as a church janitor to serving in the White House; advocating for small businesses, to fighting for American workers: I’ve devoted my life to service.”
It’s a young life. At 29 years, Campa-Najjar has squeezed a lot of service into just a few years. In 2012, he served as Deputy Regional Field Director for President Obama’s reelection campaign, helping oversee Southern California’s grassroots operations. He also worked for the Department of Labor “Helping people like myself get jobs.” After the election he served in the White House, on the team that selected the ten letters from citizens that the president reads every night. If you think that’s easy work, keep in mind that the president gets thousands of letters a day.
Asked why he is running for Congress, Campa-Najjar noted that he was born in East County and raised throughout the county. “My mother raised me on my own, but I had lots of step-in parents. All my life people have been looking out for me.” At the age of 15 he was a janitor helping his mother make ends meet.
After he graduated from San Diego State University, “I got to live beyond my zip code,” he says. That’s when he went to Washington. He says, “I was given these incredible opportunities, how to see, how to move the levers of power. In 2016 I decided to come back to San Diego and give back, but I didn’t yet know how.”
He assembled a group of people from the community who had been tracking his progress. They told him: “You should be running for Congress. JFK ran for Congress when he was your age. Biden was 29. We’ve had Hunter for forty years. We don’t need a hunter, we need a gatherer. You have brought people together with your work. You have a positive vision of a unified future.”
They told him they would back him 100%. He is confident of his chances. “By all measures we are the front runner of those running against Duncan Hunter,” he says.
Campa-Najjar likes to say, “This is a special time in America. This is a ‘Where were you?’ moment. Regardless of what you think about our politics, people years from now are going to ask where you were when people were having these conversations about what it means to be an American, when people were fighting for good wages and health care and literally for their lives.”
He knows how he will answer that question. “I want to be able to say I did public service and did everything I could to bring people together. I got tired of complaining and got to campaigning,” he says. Before that he was yelling at the TV news and it wasn’t answering him. “Me watching the news all day was not going to solve anything. I realized I only had myself to blame if I didn’t do anything about it.”
Asked to list the major campaign issues, he says, “Obviously the things in our district. Affordable housing is a huge problem, and lack of access to healthcare. If you ask people in Ramona it’s water and workers, in Julian it’s preserving their natural heritage, in El Cajon it’s poverty and homelessness.”
Recently he spoke to a Lakeside man who had to decide whether to buy a gallon of gas to drive home or a gallon of milk for his children. “Those issues are bigger than Stormy Daniels and political theater,” he says. “The underpinning is the dignity of a good paying job. My biggest focus and obsession is jobs, not just jobs but good paying jobs.”
When he was at the Department of Labor he worked on the Registered Apprenticeship Program. “The average apprentice makes $70,000 a year,” he says. “Double what the average American makes. If we could scale these kinds of wages, the conversations about affordable housing would be less strenuous. A lot of people in our district don’t have the means to go to college. I am fighting hard for trade schools.”
This has won him the endorsement of the California Labor Federation. In this area, Campa-Najjar says, “there’s not much daylight between me and Trump. When I left the department, I left a memo for Trump that said the apprentice program sounded a lot like his TV show.” He advised the president, “Double down and lift up the middle class.”
Currently the Apprenticeship Program spends $90 million annually. “Germany spends $1 billion,” says Campa-Najjar. “Its middle class is growing. They do seem to have a pipeline of opportunities that America should be having.”
There are states that do a good job of lifting up the middle class, he says. States such as Illinois and Michigan. “I think we could bring these programs to our district. I’ve seen it succeed time and time again.”
Campa-Najjar would fund the program by looking at where the federal government is overspending, he says. “I think $35 billion for a wall that California has that needs patchwork is excessive,” he says. “Hunter Jr. likes to tout that his old man helped fund the current barrier and touts how that barrier reduced illegal crossings by ninety five percent. If that’s so, why do we need more funding for it?”
Security is a top priority for him. “Security is important, but we don’t have to demonize communities to achieve it. You ask people from Syria or Israel, they say security is the biggest issue. They fled those countries seeking security. But we don’t have to demonize those communities. We should embolden them to fight against bad actors.”
He would like to take what he calls “excess funding of the wall,” to “build up working families, invest a billion dollars a year, to make sure native-born Americans have the jobs they need that they feel immigrants are taking away from them. It’s not immigration, it’s automation. I think apprenticeships are the answer.”
Campa-Najjar says unemployment in the 50th District is double that of the rest of San Diego County. “That has been under the tutelage of the Hunter family,” he says. “It’s a struggle for a lot of people. I don’t like blaming any one person for the problems. But when your family has held this seat for 40 years and we are the afterthought of being invested, I place them at the feet of one family.”
The Hunter family has done a lot for the military, he says. “But what happens when they become veterans, or their spouses or their children want? There is a lot more to be desired in East County and North County by having a congressman who invests in our people. Nothing lasts forever, It think people are ready for new leadership to take on these defining issues of inclusion.”
Campa-Najjar adds that he intends to fight for women’s issues, “for equal pay, for protection against domestic abuse and harassment in and out of the workplace. I grew up being not Latino enough, not American enough. I have a soft spot for people who feel forgotten.
“My mom voted for Hillary and my stepdad voted for Trump. A lot of them voted for Obama in 2008. To paint them as bigoted, backwoods people is insulting. A lot of people who voted for Trump are less ignorant than ignored. I want to get past politics and say I don’t care about their personal politics, I care about their personal health, personal safety and personal financial dignity. It’s about trying to depoliticize politics and make it about public service.”
The candidate wants to have “a sensible conversation about gun safety in our country.
A good starting point is to look at what our military has done. When you serve in military you need a background check, mental health check, and training, and you have to properly store your weapons. All those things should be applied to civilian life in gun ownership.”
When it comes to the environment, Campa-Najjar says he wants to end corporate subsidies to fossil fuels, which he says are $4 billion annually. “If we were able to remove that we would create an even playing field for small business ventures trying to start renewable energy. Just like ice and water are one degree away from each other, scalability of renewable energy is one degree away from achievability. If we could make it more affordable the fossil fuel industry would disappear. It complements the desire to preserve our natural heritage and preserve jobs.”
Asked to summarize why people should vote for him, Campa-Najjar says, “Showing up is half the battle. I will be here for you. We have had a congressman who has been absent. I am a former federal official and a local business owner. I know how to get things done. And I’ll never stop fighting for your guys.”
Going back to his visit to the Turkey Inn, he observes. “I’m not afraid to talk to people. When I went to the Turkey Inn they were taken by me. I told them, I have to live in your kids’ world. I’m going to fight for their futures, and make sure they don’t inherit soul crushing debt. I’m going to be fighting tooth and nail so that the American dream doesn’t skip a generation. That sways people. They realize I’m a normal guy.”
After he told them that, people in the bar asked for some of his campaign shirts. “These were died in the wool Republicans,” he says. “I don’t mince words. They know that I stand firmly about what I believe I and they see a little of themselves in my vision.”
To learn more about Campa-Najjar visit his website: www.campacampaign.com.

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