A decade ago, then Congressman Bob Filner described then state Senator Juan Vargas like this: "While Juan has not yet been convicted of a crime, virtually everyone closest to him has been found guilty of something. Juan's former Chief-of Staff and handpicked successor on the San Diego City Council is now a convicted felon [StripperGate]. Another of Juan's political cronies made millions off the poorest people in National City as a slumlord and recently, Juan's chief campaign consultant was convicted of a felony for misusing public money... If Juan truly didn't have any knowledge of the crimes his close associates have committed then he may well be the most clueless man in America." In Sacramento, Vargas, a notorious shill for the insurance industry, had a well-deserved reputation not just as a conservative but also for being one of the most corrupt members of the state legislature.
In 2010 California unions spent more money trying to keep then-lobbyist Juan Vargas out of the state Senate than they had ever spent in a state legislative race-- and they almost succeeded. In the Senate, Vargas was as bad as labor had feared he'd be... so they turned around a backed him in a major way. Why? To get him out of Sacramento and let other people deal with him in DC. This despite the fact that he voted against single payer health care and almost every other labor priority.
Today Vargas is a waste of a congressional seat in Washington, a man with no influence and no aspirations other than his own careerism. He's a member of the corporately-funded, Wall-Street operated New Dems and sports a grade of "C" from ProgressivePunch in a solidly blue district with a PVI of D+20 and where Trump won less than a third of the votes. It's also one of the California congressional districts that Bernie won both in 2016 and 2020. I asked Joaquín Vázquez, the progressive Democrat seeking to replace Vargas in Congress to introduce himself to DWT readers. If you like what he has to say below, please consider contributing to his campaign here.
My name is Joaquín Vázquez
I am a first-generation San Diegan from City Heights, son of working-class Mexican immigrant parents. I am running for Congress in the new CA-52 because I want to represent my community in Washington, DC so that we can finally have a voice in federal policy. Una voz de la gente! My district is home to some of the most diverse communities in the country, with constituents with roots from around the globe. Mostly working-class from migrant descent, which reflects our region's strong support for issues like immigration reform, Medicare for all, living wages, and rent control. After all, we want to ensure that our families remain together, and that the place we have called home all our lives continue to be affordable to us without getting priced out.
These years, however, it has been increasingly difficult to live a good and dignified life given our country's politics that never seem to prioritize our working families. We get hit left and right with cruel immigration policies to the high cost of living, health and food deserts, lack of affordable housing or protections for tenants to ensure we have roofs over our heads. These are issues we have been facing since the 90's and have hit directly home as well. When I was a child, I overcame family separation after my father was detained and deported. When my mother could no longer afford our apartment, we were evicted and left without a roof. Living between our van, hotels, and the garages of friends and family made it hard to get by, and we made the tough choice of moving to Mexico to join my father.
Since then, I came back to become the first and only in my family to go to college, earning my Bachelor's in Political Science and International Relations focused on Economics from U.C. Davis, and after serving in the federal government during the Obama Administration, working on economic and labor policy to uplift working families, I returned to school for my Master of Public Policy and Administration from Northwestern University.
Knowing first-hand the struggle and pain of the social inequities my community faces, I dedicated my life to helping people, through community organizing, focused on empowering working-class families living in poverty, to working on economic, environmental, and labor policy in Washington, DC. On the international stage, I worked to help refugees and displaced people to resettle and find a home in host countries through the UN Refugee Agency and locally with Border Angles, providing humanitarian aid to migrant families in the San Diego-Tijuana region. During the pandemic, I served struggling tenants and small landlords impacted financially by the pandemic, helping them get the funds they needed to get back on their feet. Through my work I have seen up-close how the system is rigged against us. Today, I am running for us to have a seat at the table and to fight to bring the resources that we have worked so hard to earn.
Rep. Juan Vargas has been in Congress for a decade now, and nothing has changed. For someone who represents communities as diverse as ours, many that are along the US-Mexico border, we should have someone championing progressive causes like immigration reform, rent control, and universal healthcare. However, what we get instead, is someone who uses his three decades of experience in politics to take money from private migrant detention centers that are banking off the migrant crisis since the Trump administration, in which women have been sterilized, and children are being caged without access to essential healthcare nor COVID-19 vaccines as infections kept rising since the beginning of the pandemic. All in addition to taking money from pro-Israel groups like AIPAC, supporting the apartheid state that keeps killing and destroying the lives of Palestinians while displacing them, from the insurance industry that profits from the lack of healthcare access we have as medical emergencies keep rising since COVID-19, and from the corporate real estate industry, one of the country's strongest lobby responsible for the lack of policy to cap skyrocketing rents. None of which represents progressive values, nor the values of the people who elected him.
The civic engagement community in San Diego has been longing for someone else to step up to represent us, and we have come to the conclusion that for these structural changes to take place, we need to do it ourselves. We cannot afford to keep an insider career politician like Juan Vargas as he keeps accepting corporate special interest money, while championing their business interests. This is why activists and groups like the immigrant rights and the Sunrise Movement have even gone on to protest him, calling him to stand up for the environment, to support Palestinian human rights, and to protect our migrant communities. What we see, however, is him going abroad to speak in support of anti-LGBTQIA+ spaces like the conference he spoke at in Ukraine last year or tweeting about his support for Israel's atrocious acts of violence against Palestinians.
The time is up for the fossil fuel companies profiting off the climate crisis. The time is up for private insurance companies and big pharma profiting off the medical emergencies of middle-and working-class Americans. Time is up for giant real estate and corporate developers profiting off the homeless crisis, and people getting displaced are they are priced out of their homes. It is time to put people over profits. My promise to the constituents in our CA-52 Congressional district is to not take a dime of corporate money, and fight for transformative policies that will bring about the much-needed structural change that we need, like Medicare For All, a Green New Deal, a National Homes Guarantee, rent control, canceling all student loan debt, taxing the super wealthy, and immigration reform. We are calling for the support of all progressive organizations to join us in this fight as we take seek to end the corporate reign over our district and our democracy.