FAIRFIELD — Rep. John Garamendi began a five-day trip Tuesday to Cartagena, Colombia – travel paid for by the Aspen Institute Congressional Program.
“There’s no taxpayer money involved,” said Donald Lathbury, spokesman for Garamendi, D-Walnut Grove. “We think most of his constituents want their congressman to stay informed.”
Travel Garamendi undertakes is for a purpose, Lathbury said.
“These are serious trips funded by serious organizations,” he said.
“The congressman believes the most dangerous thing in Congress is ignorance,” he said. “It’s helpful for members of Congress to see the world.”
The National Journal, a Washington, D.C. based-publication whose website states the Journal is “scrupulously nonpartisan,” reported the travel to Colombia by Garamendi and a dozen other congressional representatives, including Californians George Miller, D-Martinez, Zoe Lofgren, D-San Jose, and Sam Farr, D-Carmel.
Republican representatives from Nebraska and Virginia are also listed as traveling to Cartagena.
The Journal said the State Department warns about the hazards of U.S. citizens traveling to Colombia, but the Journal noted a Colombian national tourism promotion proclaims, “the only risk is wanting to stay.”
Travel by Garamendi in 2013 cost private sponsors about $70,000the most spending on trips for any U.S. congressional representative. He traveled last year with his wife to Sudan in February, Turkey in April and Ethiopia in August – trips Garamendi’s office has said provided “valuable opportunities to advance America’s foreign policy and national security.”
State Assemblyman Dan Logue, R-Loma Rica, who’s running against Garamendi to represent the 3rd District in Congress, said of the Colombian travel that, “I guess he wants to maintain his No. 1 ranking.”
“I don’t think he realizes that it’s an issue,” Logue said of Garamendi’s trips.
“It sends the wrong message that Congress is detached,” he said. “We have enough problems at home.”
Logue cited California’s high unemployment and the drought as among issues that face the state.
David McCuan, a political science professor at Sonoma State University, said of Garamendi’s trip this week that, “You wouldn’t do that if you thought you were in electoral peril.”
“He doesn’t feel threatened by his current opponent – not yet,” McCuan said.
Other representatives from California traveling to the Caribbean are Democrats holding safe seats and enjoy “a lot of electoral security,” McCuan said.
Referring to Garamendi as first among congressional representatives in privately sponsored travel in 2013, McCuan said, “The smart politics is to pause and move down the list.”
“He’s not a rookie,” McCuan said of Garamendi. “He knows how the game is played.”
The professor said of the Colombian trip that, “educational opportunity is how, I’m sure, the congressman and his staff would portray it.” But everybody else calls it a junket, McCuan said.
“The congressional junket is one of the last remaining visible vestiges of a kind of old-style politics,” McCuan said.
Monica Brown, vice chairwoman of the Solano County Central Democratic Committee, spoke about Garamendi’s roles as lieutenant governor, state insurance commissioner and now congressman.
“I trust John,” she said. “He’s one of the most honorable men I’ve ever met.”
“If he says he needs to go,” Brown said of the travel, “then it’s fine in my book.”
The website for the Aspen Institute Congressional Program states former U.S. Sen. Dick Clark established the program in 1983 and describes the effort as a nongovernmental, nonpartisan educational program for members of the U.S. Congress.
Reach Ryan McCarthy at 427-6935 or firstname.lastname@example.org.