Valadao will focus on water, immigration in congressional rematch with Cox

David Valadao, left, a Hanford Republican, lost his congressional seat to Fresno Democrat TJ Cox, right, in 2018.
David Valadao, left, a Hanford Republican, lost his congressional seat to Fresno Democrat TJ Cox, right, in 2018.

It was his neighbor’s frustration and distrust in Rep. T.J. Cox that finalized David Valadao’s decision to try to take back his District 21 congressional seat after narrowly losing to Cox last year.

“When I hear people talk about the frustration they’ve got with what they’re seeing in Washington and watching from the other side of the country – where it’s literally just fighting and not accomplishing anything – that’s very, very frustrating,” Valadao told The Bee on Wednesday evening.

Cox, D-Fresno, won the election in 2018 by less than 1,000 votes, and the election was originally called for Valadao before ballot counting had been completed.

Valadao officially launched his campaign on Wednesday and spent the day driving from Kern County to Fresno County for a number of media interviews.

The Republican from Hanford last month filed a statement of candidacy with the Federal Election Commission and sent out fundraiser invitations for his campaign in Washington D.C., but it wasn’t until this week that he confirmed he was running. He said he was wrapping up family matters in that time.

In the time since he lost his re-election bid, Valado said he’s spent time with family and farming. While serving in Congress, he didn’t have time to adequately manage his dairy farm, which faced similar financial challenges as other California dairies.

The Democratic response to Donald Trump’s presidency in 2018 made District 21 hard to win for a Republican, he said. He hopes during the 2020 campaign he will be able to be more visible in the district since he won’t be tied up in Washington.

Water will be his top issue, and not just for farmers.

“It’s not just about the agriculture component of it,” Valadao said. “We’ve got communities like Kettleman (City), Delano, Lanare and all these communities that truly need water. … I think we take it for granted when we turn on the taps and we have water there.”

Valadao also criticized a proposed House of Representatives bill cosponsored by Cox for water infrastructure. Valadao said the legislation doesn’t actually guarantee water will be secured for the Valley.

Immigration reform also should remain a priority, Valadao. He supports policies that would put more judges at the border to process cases quickly and guest worker programs for agriculture and other industries.

Already, Democrats are attacking Valadao’s record on health care and his alignment with the president. But Valadao said numbers don’t tell tell the whole story and he’d prefer to focus on issues.

He also said he’ll continue to be an independent lawmaker who is willing to work across the aisle.

“I’ve always tried to be that independent voice, that person that works with both sides across the aisle and delivers no matter who’s in the White House,” he said. “And I think that’s very important.”

Cox’s campaign in an emailed response to The Bee defended his record in Washington:

“Congressman TJ Cox hit the ground running when he took office in January, and he’s already delivering for the working families of the Central Valley and standing up to Trump’s out of control presidency.

“In less than a year, he has introduced bold, bipartisan legislation to expand rural health care access, secured $10 million for post-traumatic stress research in servicemembers, he’s delivered millions in funding for desperately needed water storage and infrastructure, and just this week, the president signed Rep. Cox’s bill to provide relief to more family farmers during the agricultural downturn.

“Congressman Cox is laser focused on those priorities and expanding opportunity in the Central Valley.”

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Brianna Calix covers politics and investigations for The Bee, where she works to hold public officials accountable and shine a light on issues that deeply affect residents’ lives. She previously worked for The Bee’s sister paper, the Merced Sun-Star, and earned her bachelor’s degree from Fresno State.