LODI, Calif.—With less than four weeks before the midterm elections, Republican congressional candidate Marla Livengood is busy running a campaign in a district she said has mostly been forgotten by Congress.
“I really feel that we have been forgotten here in this district,” said Livengood, a wife and mother of three children who grew up in Lodi, a city of 70,000 people in California’s 9th Congressional District. The district has a few small cities, with large areas of farmlands, and agriculture-related industries.
“I don’t see our district having a voice in Congress,” Livengood told The Epoch Times.
The object of Livengood’s criticism is Democrat Jerry McNerny, whom she faces an uphill fight against. He has name recognition and the advantages of incumbency, having represented the 9th District since 2007. He also has a sizeable cash advantage.
San Joaquin County, where Lodi is located, was considered “one of the foreclosure capitals” during the 2008 financial meltdown. Stockton, another city in this district, filed bankruptcy during the meltdown time.
With the economic growth of the last two years under the Trump administration, the residents of the district are ready to take full advantage of the nation’s economic growth. “We are ready to grow,” said Livengood.
But she said the district needs proper representation in Washington to deal with many policy questions; key in her district are issues relating to agricultural workers.
Need Stable and Legal Workforce
The farmlands in this district grow lots of crops, such as cherries, tomatoes, and grapes, that are special because they can’t be harvested by machines. When harvest time comes, the farms in this region need access to seasonal and legal workers. Farmers invest heavily in their farms all year, but the harvest may last only a couple of weeks.
“If you have no one to harvest your crops, you just lost your entire investment,” Livengood said.
But it’s not an easy process to go through the current H2A visa program to gain access to temporary labor.
The H2A program comes with lots of limitations, and heavy rules,” said Livengood, pointing out that because the rules are very complicated, it is easy for farmers to violate them without knowing they have done so. Livengood believes that immigration reform is very much needed.
Congress is currently working on a new bill that would use the H2C visa program to replace the H2A one. The legislative process has been led by Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.), Chairman of the House Judiciary committee, but he is retiring at the end of the current session.
“Somebody needs to carry that torch, and I would like to carry that torch,” Livengood said.
There have been high numbers of workers illegally working in the agriculture industry. Livengood believes that the H2C program will provide a legal path for these illegal immigrant workers, and result in a more stable and legal workforce in her district.
Sanctuary State Policy Hurts
“I believe that [sanctuary state policy] is a dangerous policy. All it does is to protect criminals. It does nothing to help anyone here,” said Livengood.
Livengood believes that just because illegal immigrants are here doesn’t make them dangerous, but the ones protected by the sanctuary state policies may be dangerous.
“We can’t deport millions of people, I would never want to do that. But we need to come up with a policy to allow people to get in line, and we need to know who is in our country,” said Livengood.
Livengood’s view on immigration is very similar to Goodlatte’s.
Goodlatte says on his website: “To be clear, any immigration reform proposal must first guarantee that our immigration laws are enforced both at the border and within the United States. I remain opposed to amnesty, as I always have been. I do not support a special pathway to citizenship that rewards those who have broken our immigration laws.”
The AG and Legal Workforce Act (H2C program) also requires all U.S. employers to use E-Verify, an effective web-based program that protects jobs for legal workers.
Congress Needs an Agricultural Expert
“Congress often passes regulations, but the regulations are not passed by folks who understand how things work,” said Livengood.
She used the Food and Safety Modernization Act (FSMA), a massive bill that was signed into the law by President Barack Obama in 2011, as a way to explain why Congress needs experts like herself to draft legislation related to agriculture.
Livengood said that Congress made a mistake by letting the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) draft the bill, instead of the Department of Agriculture (USDA). She said bureaucrats in the FDA really didn’t have on-the-farm knowledge, and didn’t get clear direction from Congress, and drafted massive documents, regulations, rules, and guidance, without a clear understanding of what is like to be on a farm. For this reason, FSMA became burdensome to many farmers.
“Our farmers have to deal with that legislation,” said Livengood.
Livengood has more than 20 years of experience helping draft legislation, as the current regulatory affairs manager for the California Strawberry Commission. She previously served as the legislative affairs manager for the San Joaqin Regional Transportation District and was legislative director for former Rep. Richard Pombo, who represented California’s 11th District in the U.S. House.
Livengood is also from a farmer’s family; Her grandfather from Italy worked in agriculture, and her father was a farmer.
“I drove tractors when I was a child,” said Livengood.
Many farmers in her district feel that the Congress doesn’t understand what their daily lives are like, she said. As a result, she says farmers in her district have been under-represented in Washington.