Editor’s note: In the weeks leading up to the March 3 primary election, The East County Californian will publish Q and A’s provided to congressional candidates.
Tell us a little about yourself, where you live and why you are running for Congress.
AMMAR CAMPA NAJJAR
I was born in East County and raised by my working-class Christian mother. Growing up with a single parent, I worked as a janitor and groundskeeper at my evangelical church to help support my family. My mother and faith inspired me to graduate from San Diego State University and pursue a life of service.
Before running for office, I worked at the White House, U.S. Chamber of Commerce, and as a federal official at the U.S. Department of Labor serving working families like the ones I grew up with.
I’m running because I’m done letting politicians look down at the people I’ve looked up to my whole life. I’m running for Congress to bring some East County grit to Washington, honor my mother’s generation and help people live and retire with dignity.
Washington politicians have given billionaires and big corporations all the breaks, while the rest of us work hard to keep up with the high cost of living.
Jose Cortes is a socialist revolutionary, proud Chicano and worker who was raised in Lakeside. His father graduated from El Cajon High School and his mom and sister both teach at a school in the 50th district. Cortes himself was working at a school in the 50th district when the murder of unarmed black man Alfred Olango by the El Cajon Police Department and subsequent militarized police response to community protests awakened his political consciousness. During that spontaneous uprising he met organizers with the Party for Socialism and Liberation and decided to join to fight for revolutionary change.
Since 2016, Jose has also become an anti-war organizer with The A.N.S.W.E.R. Coalition (Act Now to Stop War and End Racism). He was instrumental in rescinding the ban on feeding the homeless in Wells Park in 2018 and also participated in the community defense of historic landmark Chicano Park against white supremacists and neo-nazis who tried to vandalize the murals. Jose has experience in the nonprofit sector with A.C.C.E. (Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment), where he lobbied lawmakers in Sacramento, lead rallies and marches, and canvassed thousands of people in San Diego for rent control and affordable housing. He has achieved positive results for the working class already by organizing in the streets—if elected, he will be able to take that fight to the halls of congress where rich politicians aren’t typically held accountable.
What are your top three priorities at the national level and how do you expect to make an impact?
CORTES: 1) End imperialist war and U.S. intervention abroad, bring the troops home.
Whether he is elected to Congress or not, Jose will continue to be a strong voice against war for profit and influence. If elected to congress, he will fight the war machine and advocate that money be spent on important social programs and infrastructure rather than death and destruction. We will close overseas military bases, end occupations of sovereign countries, and bring all the troops home.
2) Healthcare, housing, education, and a job as a human right.
We are guaranteed life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness in the constitution, but what is that guarantee worth when we are hungry, homeless, or unable to access basic medical care? We plan to bring this revolutionary demand to the national stage by pushing for a constitutional amendment guaranteeing access to free universal healthcare (including dental, mental health, and reproductive care), free education from preschool through graduate school, and a tenant protection bill that implements national rent control and an eventual cap on rent at a certain percentage of household income.
3) For the earth to live, capitalism must end.
Capitalism is a disorganized, ad-hoc economic system that encourages corner-cutting and chasing ever-expanding markets and profits at the expense of humanity and the environment. If we are going to address the pressing threat of climate change, we need a centralized, planned economy that is not beholden to profits but rather to the greater needs of humanity. We need to address the fact that the US military is one of the world’s largest polluters.
CAMPA NAJJAR: 1) Cost of living and housing: California is the fifth-largest economy in the world. One thing that really frustrates me, in addition to the state taxes we pay, is that Californians pay more federal taxes than any other state in the nation, and yet, we don’t get back what we put into it. That’s why, when elected, I’ll fight to bring home our tax dollars and put them to work for us by investing in affordable and middle-income housing, infrastructure, public education, wildfire relief and more. San Diego has the fourth biggest homeless population in the country, yet it’s ranked 20th in terms of HUD funding when it should be ranked fourth commensurate with its overall homeless population. Reallocating HUD funding to the county, and working with the county government to ensure federal dollars are being properly spent will help folks keep a roof over their heads.
2. Middle-class and Small business tax cuts: As a business owner myself and a former executive director for a national chamber of commerce, I know small businesses are the lifeblood of our economy and create two-thirds of all new jobs. I’ve also experienced the burdens small businesses face due to unnecessary red tape. That’s why one of my top small business priorities is to eliminate the barriers entrepreneurs face trying to afford healthcare for themselves and employers.
As your congressman, instead of tax breaks to multinational companies that ship our jobs overseas, I’ll work to provide American small businesses access to more tax credits, capital, government contracts, and corporate procurement opportunities to help our local economy thrive.
3. Healthcare and Social Security: Stand up to the health insurance and pharmaceutical companies and prioritize patients over profits. End the billions of taxpayer dollars we give to drug companies and use those funds to lower health care and prescription drug costs while protecting Medicare and Social Security. I pledge to protect Social Security by securing funds into a “lockbox” that bars the government from raiding the earned benefits of seniors; raising the $137,000 cap to better fund Social Security; and filling the 7 million job vacancies in America today with skilled workers who will grow our tax base and add billions to Social Security.
What makes you the best candidate for the 50th District and why?
CAMPA NAJJAR: Being from East County and raised by a single, working-class mom, you see the world a little differently. As a Christian, I’m called to serve my faith by showing compassion to my neighbors, being a person of character, and holding corrupt political leaders accountable to a moral code.
I’m uniquely positioned given that nearly half the district entrusted me to be their congressman in this district [in the 2018 election].
Our “People over Politics” campaign garnered 48.3% of the vote in 2018. Now is the time to come together, pick up the pieces, move forward as a district. I’m the only candidate running who wants to represent everyone, not just put one party ahead of the other, but genuinely put country over party. For me, this isn’t about personal politics — it’s about your personal health, safety, and financial dignity.
CORTES: The unique challenges facing the 50th district can’t be solved with business-as-usual politics. The Democrats, Republicans and independents in this race are practically indistinguishable from each other when it comes to foreign and economic policy; Jose is the only candidate who is brave enough to stand up to corporations, U.S. imperialism, and the ruling class to fight for the changes working-class people need. Although he is endorsed by two major political parties (Peace and Freedom and Green), his campaign is run entirely by volunteers and his largest donation to date is $250. Jose currently works 40-plus hours a week at a call center, making him the only person on the ballot that is actually a worker and not independently wealthy. He is the true people’s candidate! This year, he hopes voters will take advantage of the opportunity to vote for a socialist candidate in the 50th district and make their vote count for revolutionary change.
What would you like to say that is not covered in the above questions?
JOSE CORTES: Cortes is running on the Peace and Freedom ticket; PFP is a party that has its roots in the anti-war and civil rights movements of the 1960s. His top three campaign priorities are ending imperialist wars and closing U.S. military bases overseas, a constitutional amendment guaranteeing housing, healthcare, education and a job as a human right, and an end to the capitalist economic system that causes exploitation, poverty, and climate destruction here and in the global south. Peace and Freedom is a socialist electoral party; the full platform also includes ending racism and discrimination based on gender or sexual orientation, abolishing private insurance companies, protecting union rights, ending mass incarceration and police brutality, reparations, decriminalizing drugs, protecting workers’ rights to own firearms, and respecting Native American treaties and sovereignty, among other issues.
While Democrats and Republicans argue over whether we should use a fence or a wall to stop immigrants, Jose Cortes is the only candidate who has suggested fully decriminalizing immigration and ending imperialist US foreign policy in Latin American that is causing mass migration. Voters are growing disillusioned with the two-party system and the “lesser of two evils” fallacy. They are hungry for real change.
Both parties have balked when it comes to affordable housing and wage increases; Jose’s platform calls for doubling the minimum wage and indexing it to the cost of living to ensure everyone working full-time can afford to live with dignity and stability. Additionally, he has called for a cap on rent at 10% of income to ensure housing is treated as a necessity rather than a commodity to be bought and sold for extreme profit. As the contradictions of capitalism sharpen, it’s important that voters have a real progressive option and an alternative to the status quo economic policy that is failing so many people. Rampant homelessness, chronic unemployment and underemployment, and high housing and medical costs are symptoms of the capitalist system. We can’t solve these problems with band-aid solutions, we need to address the root cause!
CAMPA NAJJAR: Did not answer.