RIO VISTA — Students who felt snubbed by three federal lawmakers got a visit Tuesday from Rep. John Garamendi – who was among officials the youths said had first overlooked their requests.
The advanced placement government class at the school with an enrollment of about 360 had sent emails to U.S. Sens. Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer, along with Rep. Garamendi, D-Walnut Grove, but found registered letters to the lawmakers spurred a better response as well as the visit by the congressman.
Chace Marlowe, 18, a senior at Rio Vista High, spoke with the congressman by phone last week while Marlowe was on his way to Disneyland for the school’s senior trip. The call was part of the government class effort to arrange for Garamendi to speak with students.
Marlowe said after the congressman’s talk Tuesday that, “His responses were really good.”
“I found more knowledge about what really goes on,” the student said.
Garamendi spoke to students on matters that included the political dangers of taking on Medicare, lessons from the now-closed Blackwelder Manufacturing Company in Rio Vista and the difference between socialism and insurance.
Blackwelder manufactured tomato harvesting machines, was a major employer in Rio Vista and paid workers middle-class wages that allowed them to buy homes, educate their children and have health insurance, Garamendi said.
The United States in 1990 had 20 million manufacturing jobs but that number was cut by almost half 15 years later, the congressman said.
A principal task of government is to create good, middle-class jobs, Garamendi told students.
When one of the youths said risk pools, used to provide individuals access to health insurance, sound a lot like socialism and added, “I know that doesn’t work,” Garamendi questioned her conclusion.
“It’s not socialism at all,” he said. “It’s insurance.”
“You need to spread the risk out over a large number of people,” said Garamendi, who for eight years served as insurance commissioner for California.
The congressman said Medicare, health care coverage for Americans 65 and older, is widely popular and that you can lose an election advocating for its end. He also said that while Republicans trash the Affordable Care Act, about 13 million people in America now have health insurance because of the federal program.
Students, who have said they want political leaders to work together rather than hurt the county through inaction, asked Garamendi about measures he’d undertake to bring compromise to lawmaking.
“Those people who refuse to compromise are in the wrong business,” he said.
Garamendi told students almost everything they’ll do is going to be a compromise and said marriage is one compromise after another – or you won’t be married long.
Alex Johnson, 17, who is in the government class and describes her politics as close to the tea party, said she was impressed by the respect Garamendi showed students.
“He let us have our say,” Johnson said.
Not all of her peers agreed. Senior Jamie Moe, 17, said of the congressman’s visit that, “I wasn’t too impressed.”
“I’m not easily impressed,” she said.
State Assemblyman Dan Logue, R-Loma Rica, who is running against Garamendi to represent the 3rd Congressional District that includes Rio Vista, Fairfield, Vacaville and Suisun City, said the Democratic incumbent’s comments about compromise don’t match his record.
“His voting record is to the left of Nancy Pelosi,” Logue said of Garamendi and the San Francisco Democratic Congresswoman who is a former Speaker of the House.
Logue’s campaign slogans include “Keep your doctor, change your congressman.” He said Garamendi in 2010 parroted President Barack Obama’s promises that people could keep their doctor with passage of the Affordable Care Act.
“He’s probably the only congressman in the country, next to Pelosi, who believes it is working,” Logue said of Garamendi and “Obamacare.”
Garamendi near the end of his talk urged students to be curious and study subjects that include history and economics.
Paul Heaney, who teaches the government class, praised the congressman for coming to Rio Vista as well as emphasizing the importance of the past. Heaney in the 1970s worked as an aide to Rep. Barry Goldwater Jr., son of the conservative Republican presidential nominee in 1964.
Heaney said his own politics aren’t part of the class and lamented the left-leaning perspective of most college professors.
“It’s sad we don’t let the students decide for themselves,” he said of positions on political issues.
Maria-Elena Becerra, vice principal at Rio Vista High and a 1994 graduate of the school, said Garamendi’s visit Tuesday is a first.
“I don’t remember having a public figure here,” she said.
Reach Ryan McCarthy at 427-6935 or [email protected]