When U.S Rep. Salud Carbajal (D-SantaBarbara) grabbed his orange tie, he was talking about guns.
"Orange is the color of those committed to gun control in this country," he said.
He was addressing his constituents of the 24th Congressional District at an Aug. 8 town hall in Santa Maria following a string of three mass shootings that left dozens dead and a nation in mourning.
In addition to gun control, he also talked about his endorsement for impeachment of President Donald Trump, which could highlight the growing support of that position within the Democratic Party's establishment, according to Cal Poly Political Science professor Michael Latner.
"He's never been one to come out with really bold or unpopular legislation," Latner told New Times.
Deep divides remain within the party over impeachment, but town hall attendees responded to Carbajal's statements with raucous shouts and applause. However, Latner said impeachment doesn't top the list of concerns for most Democrats.
"Democratic voters are much more concerned about beating President Trump at the polls," Latner said.
Town hall attendees greeted Carbajal's statements about gun reform with loud approval, clapping, cheering, and sometimes standing and whistling.
The congressman decried the lack of policy movement on gun safety, talking about his own offering—the Extreme Risk Protection Order Act of 2019, also known as House Resolution 1236. The bill, which Carbajal reintroduced in February, has more than 130 co-sponsors in the House and would set up a grant program to incentivize state, tribal, and local governments to adopt laws aimed at reducing gun deaths and injuries. Extreme Risk laws enable families or law enforcement to obtain court orders temporarily prohibiting individuals who pose a threat from owning firearms.
Carbajal spoke about the bipartisan gun safety legislation that the House of Representatives passed in February, the Bipartisan Background Checks Act of 2019. The bill would stymie the loopholes at gun shows or online and require background checks for gun purchases.
The legislation stalled in the Senate, and Democrats are pressuring Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to bring the bill for a vote in the wake of the recent shootings.
At the local meeting, Carbajal went after McConnell for not bringing the House legislation to a vote, with town hall attendees booing the senator's name.
Data collected by the Pew Research Center in 2018 shows that 89 percent of voters—ranging from Republicans to independents to Democrats—support preventing people with mental illnesses from purchasing guns.
Doug Pierce, a Cal Poly political scientist studying gun policy, doesn't see the legislation introduced this year as sweeping gun control legislation.
"Those are tiny steps, and it remains to be seen if they'd even pass," Pierce said.
He said he doubts that a candidate running on a platform of gun control or gun safety will get broad attention from voters.
"Unless another event happens closer to the [election], closer to campaign time, I don't see it happening," Pierce said.
He added that he doesn't expect the national outcry over the recent shootings to carry over into meaningful action on gun reform.
"There's lots of very wealthy people that are willing to put money into gun control," Pierce said. "But it's a puzzle why the gun control movement hasn't equaled that of the gun rights movement."
As Carbajal ran through Democratic touchstones—including his co-sponsorship of Medicare for all, raising the minimum wage, and pay equality for women—there were moments when the town hall sparked brief flashes of disagreement between attendees with opposing perspectives.
A small but stiff dissenting presence jeered when others' cheers were at their loudest. Carbajal's staff distributed earpieces connected to a Spanish translation of the entire meeting, and one attendee was ushered forward to ask her question in Spanish.
"English!" one man shouted from a dozen rows back, eliciting a sharp stare from the translator.
Angry shouts also pierced the cheers that followed Carbajal's talk of impeachment, which he said isn't about politics, but about gathering more information about the president.
"I'm doing this because it's my responsibility as a member of Congress," Carbajal said. "Because it's right."
Support for President Trump has fallen sharply in some parts of the country, including Orange County in Southern California, which as of Aug. 7 had more registered Democrats than Republicans for the first time in decades, according to information released by the county's Registrar of Voters. This month, Carbajal joined the growing contingency of House Democrats asking for impeachment and was the 118th U.S. representative to sign on to the movement to impeach the president.
Currently running for re-election, Carbajal faces a couple of challengers, including longtime local radio talk show host Andy Caldwell.
The founder of the advocacy group Coalition of Labor, Agriculture, and Business (COLAB) regularly makes comments on most of the issues that come before the county's elected bodies, including the Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors, which Carbajal once served on as the 1st District representative. Δ
Contact Staff Writer William D'Urso from New Times' sister paper at email@example.com.