Rep. Norma Torres on the 118th Congress, the Inland Empire and Jan. 6
Last Tuesday marked the start of a new Congress. Democratic Congresswoman Norma Torres of California’s 35th district represents part of the Inland Empire and LA County. She recently joined KVCR’s Madison Aument for a conversation about funding programs in the Inland Empire, the new Republican majority congress and her reflections on January 6th, 2021.
Madison Aument: You've been a member of the House Appropriations Committee, and we're integral and getting funding for more than a dozen projects in the Inland Empire with the recent federal funding bill. Can you just talk about some of those projects that you advocated for?
Rep. Norma Torres: I represent poor working class people. And some of the community projects that I was able to deliver for them are projects that would have never been able to get the attention of a bureaucratic system. And any agency that last year, we delivered on a project that I had delivered on before and that was trails, walking trails for seniors that walked through Ganesha Park in the community, you know, where I have lived for so long, and there are no sidewalks there. You know, there's just a lot of activity that, you know, could be managed a little better if we had more public accessibility, like walking trails for people that need to exercise and get outdoors.
Madison Aument: In December, the Southern California Association of Governments released an economic report that said the Inland Empire job market recovered from the pandemic faster than surrounding areas. And it also predicted that the Inland Empire would weather a recession, while but it did warn that the housing affordability crisis, and the Inland Empire is an ongoing threat to the region's economic successes. I'm wondering, did the federal funding bill help to address the housing crisis in the Inland Empire? Yes, it's an ongoing crisis, what do you think that the answer is to this crisis?
Rep. Norma Torres: It is, and you know, because of, you know, what we have, we are a logistics industry, you know, primarily with some small manufacturers that, you know, I have been working with trying to grow our manufacturing platform to create more of those middle class jobs, when there is a recession and the country sneezes, the Inland Empire is the first to feel, you know, that recession, because people are not buying things, and therefore the jobs diminish, or that the hours are cut. So we are, you know, very quickly we feel it. And we also see that when the country is beginning to recover, as we have been recovering from this pandemic, the first to feel that, you know, great recovery are the same people that suffered first, good or bad. That's the balance that I'm trying to address. And I think that in the infrastructure bill, we do a really good job in promoting not only highways and roads, road improvements, but we are also investing in the housing market. Now, the cities that I represent, like Fontana, Ontario, and a bit of Chino, have been doing a great job in building housing units, both affordable and you know, middle class housing, but the rest of LA County has not done their fair share. So we are seeing a lot of people moving in from Los Angeles that are working out there and are moving to the Inland Empire because that is the only place where they could afford to buy a home, I will continue to work with my local officials to ensure that they continue to be as aggressive as they can be. To build the housing units that we need. There's a lot of work to do in this area to improve the housing market.
Madison Aument: What are some things that you think this area can do better to improve the housing market?
Rep. Norma Torres: Well, I think we need to work more cohesively in planning communities so that one group doesn't feel that they are being mandated to build housing for whether is well they're addicted to drugs, parolees are the kind and that we look to, you know, to build all sorts of housing that are needed. Unfortunately, we do have a homeless population that continues to grow, you know, throughout this country. Unfortunately, we do have a growing number of young people that are becoming addicted to, you know, very, very dangerous drugs. So we need to think about what that means for our communities, because no matter how you look at it, or how you accept it…the acceptance from a community for those crises that we are seeing. At the end of the day, we’re all paying the price for inaction.
Madison Aument: So in 2022, the Inland Empire was ranked by the American Lung Association as having the worst air quality in the nation, which isn't a total shock. But the logistics industry is such a major part of our economy in the Inland Empire. And I'm wondering, is there a way to balance the economic benefits of the logistics industry, with the negative impact that it has on our environment?
Rep. Norma Torres: Absolutely, you know, something that I had been working on, and that's, you know, public transportation, we need a robust transportation system that is affordable, that is reliable. And, you know, if it was up to me, it would be highly subsidized for these commuters that are there, adding to this climate crisis and air quality that we have, with the logistics industry. We had a lot of conversations around continuing to improve emissions from the trucks. You know, we had one of the secretaries that came out to visit a manufacturer of electric trucks. They are super expensive. But I think that with the help of federal subsidies, we have been able to invest in and change Heavy Diesel engine trucks, you know, and turn them into cleaner air electric trucks. You know, that technology is still evolving. I would like to see more solar rooftops throughout my community on these warehouses. You know, there's a lot that we can do.
Madison Aument: Do you believe the policies addressing climate change are safe with a Republican majority Congress?
Rep. Norma Torres: Absolutely not. I think that they are committed to oil and gas, continuing with coal, even though the world is moving in a different direction. They are dead set on continuing to invest in those, you know, heavy polluters, and then they refuse to wake up to the climate crisis that we are seeing, you know, throughout the world, not just in our own backyards.
Madison Aument: At the time of this interview, we are approaching the anniversary of the January 6th attack on the capitol. Do you have any reflections on that day now that it's been two years?
Rep. Norma Torres: I do. And I don't think that there is a single week of the year that I don't think back about that, you know, the horrific day 45 minutes that I spent facedown, crawling from one side of the balcony to the other, not knowing if we were going to be able to come out alive from there and hearing, you know, the violent crowd outside. Breaking glass and pounding furniture on the walls. Yesterday, you know, my husband is here this week. For the swearing in ceremony. That didn't happen yesterday, but members of Congress were given one gallery ticket for new members, they received two. And, you know, the seating arrangement for our guests is really based on seniority. I didn't realize that my husband would be in the same place, you know, where I was two years ago. And that was hard. Yeah,
Madison Aument: I can imagine. Yeah. Well, I know that this new Congress has gotten off to a very different start than it has in the past 100 years. But I'm wondering, is there anything you feel hopeful about in this upcoming Congress, despite all of the chaos that's happening right now?
Rep. Norma Torres: I am hopeful. And I would say I'm very positive that, you know, our caucus 212 members will continue to stay strong and together and continue to defend the the, you know, the policies that we have asked over the last, especially over the last two years, since we have had, you know, President Biden and vice president Kamala Harris, and the administration, I'm very hopeful that, you know, we will continue to work to deliver, you know, that money to our communities. I don't know, about my colleagues on the other side of the aisle, continuing to promote violence, in this very fragile state of our democracy, is so alarming. And I hope that their constituents, the people who elected them, you know, are watching and, and I hope that they really rethink about not voting for someone just because they have a D or an R, but really voting for somebody who is committed to doing the work that is needed to do. And everybody thinks that this job is, is, you know, it's a great job. And it you know, my God, you have, you know, all of these things, you know, benefits. And when I think about, you know, my life getting on a, on an airplane, you know, every week or every other week, and, you know, five hours, or, you know, eight hours, 10 hours, sometimes when I fly out of Ontario Airport, in stranded, and I think about the 12 hours of, you know, rules, committee meetings, to ensure that everybody has an opportunity to voice their concerns about legislation. You know, it's a tough job. Maybe we make it look easy, but let me tell you it is not easy, it is not easy to eat humble pie a lot. Because you have to think about not just you, the needs of your own community, of your own state, you have to think about our country and our global needs and our global standing, to continue to have that leadership spot, you know, globally. When we don't behave here in Congress, the instability that we have here transcends, you know, to other countries. We are seeing that throughout Latin America. You know, the number of elected leaders that, you know, are monsters from, you know, positions of power that you know, are more about themselves and enriching themselves and the people that they represent. And that's what we need to try to avoid
Madison Aument: Well, do you have any final thoughts for KVCRs listeners today?
Rep. Norma Torres: No, just up. Thank you for the opportunity, you know, to talk to you. And I hope that you will continue to cover what is happening here in Congress. And you know how difficult things are. But, you know, there is a light at the end of this tunnel, and that is that, at the very least, we have 212 Members of Congress that have demonstrated unity, and are committed to continue to move this country forward.
Madison Aument: Well, thank you so much, Congresswoman. I really appreciate you taking the time today between these marathon votes.
Rep. Norma Torres: Absolutely. Madison, you have a great rest of your day.