Dairy farmer-turned-Congressman David Valadao (R-Hanford) often treats visitors to samples from Central Valley dairies.
You could call him the milkman of Capitol Hill.
Visitors are always dropping by David Valadao's office to sample the various varieties of flavored milk bottled in his Central Valley district. The 36-year-old Valadao lives in Hanford, about 45 minutes south of Fresno. He's a second-generation dairy farmer who smiles when he recalls a recent Monday morning, "out with the guys, driving around on the four-wheeler, walking through the pens."
Comparing his colleagues on the Hill with herding a bunch of cows, Valadao says the four-leggeds are a little easier to corral: "They do follow and they do like to stay as a group."
Valadao broke with the GOP herd on immigration, appearing at a rally with activists on the National Mall, and co-sponsoring a Democratic bill that includes a path to citizenship for the estimated 11 million undocumented already living in this country.
If there's one thing he's learned in his first year on Capitol Hill, Valadao says it's that just having a Republican majority in the House isn't enough to put a bill on the President's desk. If you want to accomplish something, he says, you've got to reach across the aisle, "work with the other party, and get them on board with what you're trying to do."
Immigration is Valadao's number one issue. His district is heavily Latino and voter registration there favors Democrats. But he is also the son of Portuguese immigrants, and that experience has shaped his views.
Still, it all adds up to a big challenge for Valadao as he seeks re-election for the first time this year. Republican House Speaker John Boehner has vowed to tackle immigration on a piecemeal basis. Valadao says the Speaker understands all those small bites need to add up, "because there's no way to separate them."
Immigration isn't the only issue Valadao wants to work on in the new year. Water is a top concern for his agricultural district and Valadao says he'll continue to push for higher allocations from the Sacramento Delta for Central Valley farmers, even if that means relaxing environmental laws. He also wants to stop California's high speed rail project.
Valadao says, in some ways, it was easier when he served in the California state legislature, where the GOP was the minority party. He says it's easier "to get a group together to oppose something than it is to get people's consensus on a step in the right direction."
Before he ran for office, Valadao had years of lobbying experience on behalf of butter and milk cooperatives. He says it's the one-on-one, polite conversations with colleagues that change hearts and minds on legislation. The "biggest hurdle," he says, is the amount of time it takes to get to know each other.
The new year means a new opportunity for Valadao to make his rounds — not unlike the milkman of yore — delivering his pitch on immigration and other issues to the 434 Congressional "neighbors" on his Capitol Hill route.