As the U.S. midterm elections draw near, Congressman Pete Aguilar returned to his alma mater last Monday, addressing the university community in the Casa Loma room. The discussion covered a variety of topics in his campaign including gun control, immigration, juvenile justice reform and representing a minority in Congress. The town hall was an opportunity for students to ask questions about the Congressman’s stances and future goals regarding a variety of political initiatives.
Rep. Aguilar graduated from the University of Redlands in 2001 with dual degrees in Government and Business Administration. He was a Community Assistant in Melrose Hall and President of U of R’s chapter of Habitat for Humanity.
The Congressman’s background in politics was extensive before running for federal office. He served on the Redlands City Council from 2006-2010 and was elected Mayor of Redlands (one of America’s youngest) in 2010 and again in 2012, in addition to founding a small business for government consulting. In 2014 Aguilar was elected to represent California’s 31st congressional district and is up for reelection this year.
Aguilar’s notable positions in Congress include sitting on the House Appropriations Committee, which controls expenditures, acting as Whip of the Hispanic Congressional Caucus, and serving as Assistant Whip for the House Democratic Caucus.
The Congressman described his duty as a federal legislator.
“My job description is my job title, and it is to represent you each and every day,” Representative Aguilar said.
When asked about his support of early childhood development services, Rep. Aguilar discussed the recent announcement of increased federal funding directed towards preschools. For his first job, Aguilar was a preschool teacher’s aide. Describing it as a reality he’s seen first-hand, Aguilar was struck by how many parents of young people “were struggling to make ends meet.” Experience taught him that families rely on immediate and extended family to take care of their children.
Rep. Aguilar spoke about his hopes for improving the juvenile justice system, as lower-income communities can be more susceptible to falling into criminal behavior. He argued that encouraging a community and support system for young offenders is critical to positively changing their path.
“As part of the rehabilitative process I think reinstating voting rights makes reasonable sense,” Aguilar said. ”We don’t want young people to feel like they’ve fallen through the cracks once they have a criminal record.”
During his time in Congress, Aguilar has been known to reach across the aisle to get things done. Rep. Aguilar was a co-author of the only bipartisan bill, with 30 Democrats and 30 Republicans working toward a common cause–saving DACA. Rep. Aguilar described the reality of working in a gridlocked Congress.
“It’s those members of Congress who work hard to build bipartisan coalitions […]that will pay dividends no matter who is in control,” Aguilar said. “Not all of my colleagues liked that I was working with Republicans—but it was the right thing to do.”
With Hispanic-Americans making up roughly half of San Bernardino County, DACA is an important cause to Aguilar’s constituents. . Highlighting this, Rep. Aguilar stated that reinstating DACA would be his first legislative priority if Democrats took power of the House this November.
A student showed concern about how to stop tragedies like those in Parkland and Las Vegas. In turn, Rep. Aguilar cited his co-authorship of a bill that would have banned assault weapons, his support of mandated universal background checks and outlaw of bumpstocks–as used in the Vegas shooting.
Aguilar discussed what he calls “common sense” gun reform that is supported by the vast majority of Americans and does not encroach on a person’s Second Amendment rights. Aguilar argued against narratives from gun rights activists that any step toward regulation aims to restrict legal gun ownership. In his opinion, gun owners across San Bernardino County support background checks for all firearm purchases.
The Congressman expressed support for the growing movement to ensure equal pay between men and women across all lines of work. According to the Bureau of Labor’s 2017 report on women’s earnings, women in full-time wage and salary jobs earned only 82% of what their male coworkers made. This would be fixed by a constitutional amendment, exemplified by states like Illinois, which ratified equal pay.
He also addressed the need for improvement in Congress’s diversity. With the growth of organizations like the Hispanic and Black Caucuses, and more women running for office than ever before, Aguilar is optimistic about the future of fair representation.
“We need to make sure that whenever decisions are made, the people around the table look like the communities that we serve,” Aguilar said.
Rep. Aguilar shared a piece of advice for all the hopeful students who want to hold public office one day. He emphasized community involvement and volunteering because we all have a shared responsibility. He said that the university’s philosophy of giving back is a great starting point. U of R’s community service requirement pushed him beyond the physical campus to help those in need.
The values instilled in Aguilar’s upbringing are the principles that guide still guide him as a Representative today. He was taught to be respectful and thoughtful, knowing that his grandma would set him straight if he ever wavered. “Doing the right thing shouldn’t be hard—you know what it is.”
The Redlands Bulldog ran a correction to the title of this article as it was not a campaign event, rather a town hall that was held in the official capacity as the Representative for the 31st District.
Photo Contributed by the Redlands Bulldog photographer Natalie Carlson