The Volunteer who went on to be a leading Congressional Representative — John Garamendi (Ethiopia)
A Profile in Citizenship
by Jeremiah Norris (Colombia 1963-65)
In the early 1960s, John Garamendi earned a B. A. in Business from the University of California, and then an MBA from Harvard Business School. Afterwards, he served as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Ethiopia from 1966 to 1968.
In 1974, John was elected to the California State Assembly, serving a single term before moving on to being elected in 1976 to the California State Senate. Here, he served four terms until 1990, including a spell as Majority Leader. While in the Senate, John chaired the Joint Committee on Science and Technology, the Senate Health and Welfare Committee, and the Senate Revenue and Taxation Committee. He first ran for Governor of California in 1982, losing to the very popular Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley.
In 1990, John became the first elected California Insurance Commissioner, serving from 1991 to 1995. He ran for governor again in the 1994 election, losing in the Democratic primary.
He left public office and served as then-President Clinton’s Deputy Secretary of the Interior from 1995-98. He was elected California Insurance Commissioner again in 2002. In 2004, he announced his candidacy for Lieutenant Governor of California. He was supported by such well-known political figures as U. S. Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt and then-Democratic Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle. He was elected to that post in 2006, serving until 2009.
In 2009, John announced his intention to run for the special election of a Congressional seat that had been recently vacated. In November of that year, after winning a run-off election, John was sworn in as a member of the House of Representatives. In subsequent Congressional elections through 2020, John was successfully re-elected to the U. S. Congress.
In his Congressional position, John was an early proponent of bringing our troops home from Afghanistan, writing in a 2011 article —
“our national security is much more dependent on ending desperate poverty, funding good schools, and empowering women in the developing world while eradicating international terrorist networks like al Queda. With bin Laden dead and al Queda in Afghanistan largely extinguished, it’s time we revisited the wisdom of continuing the war in Afghanistan”.
In 2019, John announced via Facebook that he had become a co-sponsor of a new bill that became known as the Green New Deal. His post stated “I welcome the energy and commitment of its supporters and I join with them as I continue my decades-long effort to stop Climate Change and save our planet”.
Amidst all of his Congressional duties and responsibilities, John still managed to find time to put the full weight of his office behind the Peace Corps Re-Authorization Act. Although the Congress failed to increase Peace Corps’2022 budget, leaving it at previous levels, his active support nonetheless proved effective in retaining its budget at past authorization levels — despite the fact that the Agency had no Volunteers in the field; they were withdrawn in 2018 out of an abundance of Covid-19 caution.
Since returning home in 1968 from his Peace Corps Volunteer duties in Ethiopia, John has in that time of his life used subsequent senior positions with various levels of state and local government to serve a wider community, often in want and need, and sometimes taking unpopular positions as in 2013 when he joined only 8 other Representatives in a letter to the President recommending a troop reduction of 90% in Afghanistan, he always acted with a consistent sense of purpose and meaning — meriting him a well-deserved Profile in Citizenship.
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