If you walk into David Valadao’s office, you’ll see the usual spread of major newspapers like The Washington Post and The Wall Street Journal, but you’ll have to hunt a little for them compared to two more prominently displayed publications: Hoard’s Dairyman and Half & Half Magazine.
It makes sense for the California Republican, who seems more comfortable chatting about bulls than bills. While most lawmakers will talk politics till the cows come home, Valadao sounds indifferent discussing even his own electoral future following his vote to impeach Donald Trump. That disposition appears to play well in his blue-leaning but rural district, where he first won in 2012. Three terms later, Democrat TJ Cox knocked him out of Congress, but Valadao reclaimed the seat in 2020.
Valadao sat down with Heard on the Hill in October to discuss politics, farming and the future he wants for his children.
This interview has been edited and condensed.
Q: You won back your district in 2020, even as the district itself went for Biden by 11 points. How did you pull that off, and what sort of lessons can your fellow Republicans take away?
A: Sometimes, I take on my own side on issues, and sometimes, I’m obviously with my side, but I always carry that message home. I’m always doing my best to help people understand what we’re doing, why we’re doing it, and so I spend a lot of time on the ground. A lot of folks will start to focus on national politics, but I think it’s important to stay close to home. You won’t see me spend a lot of time with the D.C. type of folks.
Q: You have three kids. Do you want them to follow in your footsteps into dairy farming, politics or none of the above?
A: My oldest is 19, and he really likes science, but I think he’d be an amazing history teacher. My daughter would be a great attorney. She’s only 15, but she loves to argue and she’s good at it. My 11-year-old seems to enjoy agriculture, but I don’t know if that’s where he’ll end up. I want them to do what makes them happy, and not what makes me happy. [Politics] is a tough world to be in.
Q: You recently went through a bankruptcy with your family dairy business. How did that affect your work in Congress?
A: I mean, did it change any of my core beliefs? No. But it taught me that you can’t do everything. I was spread really thin, and I trusted a lot of folks to help me when I was gone, and we are gone a lot. When you’re home, you’re trying to focus on things that are important — your family, your constituents, your community — and you don’t have time to take care of your own personal things.
And it’s a tough, tough industry. When I first got involved in politics, there were probably around 1,500 to 1,800 dairies in California, and now we’re down to about 1,100. Every day I talk to folks at home, there’s always another guy selling his business or getting out, or being forced out. I know of a neighbor right now who just put his place up for sale, and a couple more talking about it, within literally a five-mile radius of my house.
Q: It seems to me that you’ve caught less flak for voting to impeach Trump than some of the other nine Republicans who also did. Why do you think that is?
A: I don’t know. Trump obviously plays a role in my district. Every single Democratic hit piece was a picture of me with him, trying to tie us together. When Trump came to the district in February 2020, I stood on stage with him, that famous picture of me shaking his hand. But I also talked to a lot of the press there, and they asked me, “Do you really want to be up there with him?” And I said, “I’d be standing here with Bernie Sanders if he were doing something good for our community.” My focus has always been on what’s best for the district and not so much personal attacks, and I think maybe that’s why I stayed a little bit out of the frame with that.
Q: Here in D.C., you’re probably best known for your financial issues and your impeachment vote. What’s something else you want people to know about you?
A: Impeachment comes up a lot, but the dairy one rarely ever comes up. I think it actually made me more relatable to the majority of the folks in the district — someone experiencing problems just like they are. It’s life, it sadly is, and I know I’m not the last one to go through this.
But as far as what I want people to know, it’s just that I’m one of the guys who comes to D.C., works really hard, works with my team to make sure we’re doing the best job in person that we possibly can on a daily basis. That’s what I’ve always wanted to be known for.
Last book you read? “The Source” by James A. Michener. And this year I’ve read probably three or four George Bush books. After reading the one by Jean Becker, I just got on a kick.
In politics, can the ends justify the means? No.
Least popular opinion? There’s a band I play once in a while just to annoy everyone, the Presidents of the United States of America. In one song, they literally just meow.
If you could do anything else for work, what would it be? I do enjoy agriculture, so dairy. Dairy life is something I absolutely love. And I really like welding. I’m a little rusty, but I’ve made a lot of things over the years.