Originally published in the Moorpark Acorn.
When she’s on the job in Washington, D.C., nearly 3,000 miles separate U.S. Rep. Julia Brownley from her constituents in Ventura County.
Although Brownley’s work on Capitol Hill takes her across the country, the four-term Democratic congresswoman from Thousand Oaks said her sights are always set on the needs of California’s 26th district, which includes more than 700,000 residents in cities like Thousand Oaks, Westlake Village, Camarillo, Oxnard, Ventura, Santa Paula and Moorpark.
“One of my priorities is always to advocate for Ventura County and its residents,” the congresswoman said.
The T.O. resident said she often hears from city leaders, harbor commissioners and community members about big-ticket concerns such as healthcare and education, as well as local requests for more jobs and improved roads.
“I hear a lot from the community on a variety of different issues,” Brownley said. “The topline issues are without a question healthcare and climate change, which is another issue that is raised quite frequently from my constituents.”
Brownley hopes to address these questions during her term as a member of the Select Committee on the Climate Crisis, which was formed this year and is tasked with examining the causes and impacts of climate change.
“I am honored to serve on that committee and we have every intention to put forward some policy recommendations to address climate change,” she said.
In terms of healthcare, Brownley believes access to medical care is “a right and not a privilege.” She would like to see Congress shore up the Affordable Care Act and have an open debate about the feasibility of progressive ideas, such as Medicare for all.
“It’s complicated and I believe that we need to work together to reach the end result, which is that we have high-quality, affordable healthcare for every American,” she said. “Healthcare should not be bankrupting families, which happens when they face a tragedy or an illness of any sort.”
John Andersen, first vice chair of the Ventura County Republican Party, said he agrees that healthcare is an important issue for all Americans, but he doesn’t want to see Congress remove private insurance companies from the equation.
“If the Democrats’ plan is to take us further down the road of single-payer socialized medicine rather than more market-based solutions, they will simply accelerate the country’s indebtedness while delivering worse healthcare for all,” Andersen said.
On a national level, Brownley said she often hears about jobs, the economy and education. One of her most recent bills, the Student Loan Repayment Assistance Act, aims to drive down the cost of education by incentivizing employers to offer student loan repayment assistance.
“It provides an opportunity for companies to help with repayment of student loans with some tax relief,” she said of the bill, which was introduced in January. “It’s just one of many bills and ideas to address student debt in our country because there is a large debt burden on the backs of our students who are trying to get ahead and be responsible citizens.”
Several of Brownley’s bills on government oversight have been incorporated into a larger Democratic package that focuses on redistricting, voting rights, voter registration and campaign disclosures.
“I think it’s going be abundantly clear that people will see representatives putting forward bills in a common-sense way to address these issues,” she said. “It’s hard to say how the Senate will respond and hard to know how they will vote on these bills. . . . But we have sound solutions to the issue.”
Brownley said both Republicans and Democrats want to work together to pass an infrastructure bill that would improve roads, bridges and harbors, and create jobs across the country. In Ventura County, an infrastructure bill could help devote money to easing congestion on the 101 Freeway or expanding the Port of Hueneme, the congresswoman said.
“I’m confident we can get a bill signed by the president,” Brownley said. “We need it desperately not only here in the county but across the country.”
Local Republicans, however, hope the proposed bill will not follow the model set by California’s high-speed rail project. In February, the federal government announced plans to cancel funding for the troubled project.
“A good infrastructure bill focusing on fundamentals like repairing bridges and highways can benefit the country,” Andersen said. “But if California’s failed high-speed rail project is an example of what the Democrats are going to propose in an infrastructure bill, America will be better off not wasting the money.”
Brownley continues to devote much of her work to supporting veterans and military families. It’s a personal passion for Brownley, who is the daughter, sister and niece of veterans.
As chairperson of the House Veterans Affairs Committee, Brownley has focused her efforts on improving veterans’ access to healthcare, providing long-term support through mental health facilities and tackling veterans’ homelessness and unemployment.
Recently, she introduced bills to protect veterans from financial fraud, help homeless veterans with children find safe housing and combat homelessness among veterans by strengthening jobtraining programs.
Locally, Brownley is working to address the long-term healthcare needs of women veterans, which she said is the fastestgrowing population of veterans in the community. The congresswoman hopes to help this subpopulation through an expanded clinic in Oxnard that will offer its male and female patients specialty care and treatment.
“We have the resources now to build a larger clinic that will include primary care and mental care and specialty care so our veterans don’t have to travel to west L.A. to get their needs met,” Brownley said.
“We are in the beginning process of finding the location with that new clinic, but I’m very excited about it. There is a clear need for it and this will make healthcare delivery in the county for our veterans who live here much easier.”
In her own way, Brownley is considered a “veteran” herself, having taken office in 2013 before a wave of Democratic voices joined Congress. As more than 65 freshman representatives settle into their new jobs, Brownley said she and other longtime Democrats are working together to mentor the newcomers.
“This new class is young and energetic and smart and have tremendous backgrounds,” she said. “They are going to bring so much to the table.”
Issues: 116th Congress, Healthcare, Transportation and Infrastructure, Veterans' Affairs