United States Representative Eric Swalwell gave two back-to-back talks in Livermore last week, speaking at the Rotary Club of Livermore meeting on August 21, and at the Livermore Valley Chamber of Commerce Wine Country Luncheon on August 22.
As the Representative for California's 15th Congressional District, which covers most of eastern Alameda County and part of central Contra Costa County, Swalwell spoke about issues gripping both the region and nation, and commented on his experiences as a Democratic presidential candidate earlier this year.
“I made my decision to run on election night 2016,” said Swalwell. “Over the next two years, I started a group called Future 40. I found 40 candidates across the country who were in their 40s and under for seats that we could flip — to put a check on the president. Most of my constituents at our town halls said that their number one priority for me was to change the composition of Congress. Twenty eight of the Future 40 candidates won, and 19 of them beat out NRA-endorsed members of Congress. It was a youth quake. It gave me a lot of hope to have collaborators to solve problems and get things done. This is the youngest Congress ever, the most diverse Congress ever, and a majority minority Congress, meaning that the majority are women, persons of color, and people from the LGBTQ community. The combination of the new energy and taking on gun safety inspired me to want to run.”
Although Swalwell’s presidential candidacy lasted only from April 8 to July 8, he accomplished much he had set out to do, including garnering support for gun-safety and immigration policies.
“My congressional orientation happened with Sandy Hook,” said Swalwell, referring to the December 2012 shooting in a Connecticut elementary school that took the lives of 28 people. “I thought this would be an opportunity to do something; we just went from shooting to shooting to shooting. There is this carousel of loss, grief, anger, and ‘thoughts and prayers’ from Washington, and it happens again and again.”
Swalwell, a Livermore resident and the father of two young children, has been a staunch backer of gun safety, proposing legislation to ban and buy back 15 million assault weapons in America.
“I may be out of the race, but this issue has become a top-tier issue. I believe we’re starting to recognize that we don’t have to live that way, that we can have a country where you can go hunting, you can shoot for sport, and you can protect your house, but we can make sure dangerous people don’t have dangerous weapons,” he said. “This is an issue I’m going to continue to carry on and advise other candidates on. I’m coming back early from Congressional recess, and in two weeks we’ll have hearings on having a magazine-capacity ban, on putting in place federal red flag laws to intervene if somebody is not well and shouldn’t have a firearm, and on prohibiting additional persons who have committed different crimes from purchasing a firearm.”
Since taking office in 2013, Swalwell has worked closely with those affected by gun violence, notably Fred Guttenberg, whose 14-year-old daughter was one of 17 people killed during the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, on Valentine’s Day 2018.
“The difference between Sandy Hook to Parkland is that the Sandy Hook children were five and six years old. They weren’t able to articulate their loss. Parkland students were on their way to college; they were taking live video and sending their last thoughts to blog posts. Now they’re using social media to organize, and have converged with other gun-safety groups,” Swalwell said. “I’ve told my colleagues, ‘Discount them as kids at your own peril, because this is the largest voting-bloc generation – the Millennials and Gen Z.”
Swalwell stated that he believes the U.S. is five to 10 years away from seeing the sweeping legislation needed to curtail mass shootings.
Speaking about immigration, he said, “It is complex, and it’s not just America that struggles with this issue. Solving it on the border is the worst place to try to sort out this issue. We should understand why people are leaving, and what we can do through private sector investment, and work with other countries, as we all have a responsibility to provide economic stability and stem the flow. Most people want to stay where they’re born and where they’re from, rather than come to the United States under the conditions so many of these migrants are coming. But without that, we have a responsibility to make sure that families stay together.”
The Rotary Club talk took place at the GHMG Hotel (Good Hotel Management Group), and the Chamber luncheon talk was held at Concannon Vineyard.
Of his three months on the campaign trail, Swalwell discovered that while Americans face different regional issues, they share many similarities.
“I went to a lot of communities where they have bottled water for drinking, because their water is contaminated. I went to a lot of communities with empty textile factories and high rates of drug overdose to opioids, because people aren’t working and have fallen on really hard times,” he said. “When you don’t have job opportunities, and you look at your kids and don’t think they’re going to do better, that’s when people feel isolated. There is an immeasurable anxiety that I see in the heartland of America. That’s when the worst things come up – fear, anxiety and blaming of ‘the other.’ You start to see us go to our corners rather than being connected and united.”
Conversely, residents in the economically-booming Bay Area struggle with the astronomical cost of housing – both buying and renting, and with severe traffic congestion.
“The unemployment rate may be at an all-time low, but most Americans who work are taking on extra hours just to stay above water,” Swalwell said. “Wages may be going up slightly, and we may be doing a little bit better, but is our quality of life better?”
Still, Swalwell found more that unifies Americans.
“We value the same things – we want our kids to do better than we did; we want to believe that if we work hard our paychecks aren’t going to be eaten up by healthcare costs, and that we’re going to be able to buy a home,” he said. “To connect all of America to each other and to the rest of the world, it’s going to take investments, but the return on the investment will be a more-connected America with more job opportunities for more people.