Meet GOP freshman Congressman Jeff Denham

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Kitty Felde/KPCC

California's newest GOP member of Congress, Jeff Denham.

Dozens of new Republicans were elected to Congress in this month’s midterm elections. But only one of them is from California. The freshman from Fresno is Air Force veteran and almond farmer Jeff Denham.

Denham, however, is a political veteran. He served eight years in the state Senate, but says running a farm was better preparation for life as a Congressman than the state legislature.

In the state Senate, he says everything was an allotment.

"And here, it’s run more as a business. Figuring those budgets, and purchasing all your equipment on day one is a big deal. It’s like putting your marketing plan and your overall budget, your business plan all together within a two-day period and then trying to guess how many employees you’re going to hire to fill all of those different needs."

Denham says his business savvy will help him tackle the nation’s business. The biggest issue nationwide is our national debt, he says.

"And until we solve our debt, we’re going to see a very slow and sluggish economy and continue to see a high unemployment rate," says Denham. "So I want to cut spending. I want to get rid of this national debt. And along then with that, is creating jobs. Getting employers to have confidence in our economy, confidence in our nation and be willing to go out and hire new people."

Denham is against raising the debt ceiling — a popular position for many incoming conservative Republicans. He calls congressional earmarks “un-American.” He says everything should be on the table when it comes budget cuts, even eliminating entire departments. The department he has in mind is a frequent target of conservatives: the Department of Education.

He says education is a states issue. Federal government often times tries to create a "one-size-fits-all education system nationally, and I don’t believe that that works."

Denham is an Air Force veteran who served in the Gulf War and in Somalia, and wants to serve on the House Veterans Affairs Committee. That doesn’t mean, thought, that Denham thinks there should be more federal dollars for vets.

"I think that you’ve always got to put those that are serving in harms way first," he says, "but I think that you can do it with the current amount of money that’s in the veteran’s budget right now. We just need to make sure we’re running things more efficiently."

Denham and the other new members of Congress will get their committee assignments after Thanksgiving. Yosemite is in his district, so he’s interested in “tourism, timber, and mining," which means the energy and commerce, agriculture, or natural resources committees.

Congressman-elect Denham goes through the tedious task of designing the layout of his new office.

Denham's first days in D.C. were all about ordering business cards, designing a webpage and choosing an office. Denham got the third lowest number in the office lottery pool. That’s why his office has a view — of another building.

He says he'd have loved to have won the lottery, "but every office here is a special office. This is certainly a special position, the responsibility the people have bestowed upon me to work on behalf of Americans across the nation and specifically in my district. It’s a huge honor. So regardless of what the office looks like, or what number I got in the draw, I’m proud to be here."

Especially now. During his time in Sacramento, the Republican was in the minority party. In Washington, he’ll be in the majority.

Denham will be sworn in on Jan. 5.

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