Mike Garcia’s career as a fighter pilot in the United States Navy took him around the world. From the skies of Fallujah, to the deck of the USS Nimitz, to the fields of Lemoore Air Station in California’s Central Valley — Garcia’s two-decade long naval career imbued within him an international perspective that has indelibly informed his views on local politics.

When he left the service, he could have gone anywhere. Yet, Garcia chose to come back home, to the foothills of the Santa Clarita Valley and to the place where he had grown up, the standard to which none of the other myriad places he was stationed could compare.

“I did get to see a lot of the world, I got to see many different situations around the world as well, and I landed on the 25th District as the utopia of the world,” Garcia said. “No kidding — that sounds hyperbolic — but it’s true. I really do feel that way.”

Feeling his utopia was in need of new leadership, Garcia announced on April 10 that he will run for Congress in 2020, joining an increasingly crowded Republican field that seeks to unseat incumbent Rep. Katie Hill (D-Agua Dulce) next November, with a platform largely centered around defense and veterans’ issues.

Garcia moved to the Santa Clarita Valley at age six, born a first generation American. Garcia’s father and grandfather had immigrated to California from Sonora, Mexico in the late 1950s.

“They immigrated here legally — thank God — back in 1959 and I’m very grateful for the fact that my grandfather and my father went through the process that they did so that I can enjoy the benefits of being a legal american and be able to do things like serve my country and go into the schools that I was able to attend,” he said.

The benefits of their sacrifice were not lost on Garcia, who used the benefits that citizenship conferred onto him to his advantage. He graduated near the top of his class from Saugus High School in 1994 and earned an appointment from then-incumbent Congressman Howard P. Buck McKeon to attend the United States Naval Academy in Annapolis, Md. After graduating with a bachelor’s degree in political science, Garcia moved a few miles east along the Chesapeake Bay to Georgetown University, where he earned a master’s degree in national security policy studies.

From there, it was onto the Navy. While primarily stationed at Central Air Station Lemoore in the San Joaquin Valley, Garcia served tours aboard the aircraft carrier USS Nimitz and flew combat missions in the 2003 Iraq War over the contested city of Fallujah. It was this experience, he says, that will set him apart from both Hill and his fellow Republican challengers.

“For me was it was, 20 years of leadership development, seeing the good and the bad, and developing relationships with some of the best leaders in the United States,” he said. “And then obviously when you’re in combat operations or even an environment in peacetime where if you make a mistake there’s life or death consequences, it really imparts on you a sense of responsibility to always do the right thing and to always be mindful of the repercussions of mistakes.”

After receiving an honorable discharge from the Navy, Garcia took his military acumen to one of the largest defense contractors in the world, Raytheon, where he worked as Vice President of Business Development until 2018. Garcia cited this private sector experience as another factor that differentiates him from Hill.

“I’ve worked for a large corporation with significant profit, loss and revenue responsibilities, so translating everything I’ve learned in the military to results and performance in a real world environment where a company is responsible for making money is another thing that I think I’ve done that is not something she’s been a part of,” he said.

In these respects, Garcia bears to former Rep. Steve Knight, who lost his seat to Hill in the 2018 midterm elections. For example, both Knight and Garcia are veterans and have centered their campaigns around their status as such. They also both have close ties to aviation community and to the aerospace industry, Garcia as a fighter pilot and Raytheon executive, Knight as the son of William J. “Pete” Knight, a former California state senator and Air Force test pilot who gained notoriety for achieving the fastest speed ever recorded in an aircraft. Garcia, though, says he’s not worried that voters will link him to Knight. In fact, he says it’s a positive.

“Steve Knight is a great American, his father was a great American as well, I think he was an excellent legislator, I think the circumstances around elections change between election cycles, so I don’t worry about that,” he said. “What I’m focused on is making sure that our party and the folks of the 25th district are eyes wide open to the quality of the candidates this election cycle, and I think that’ll translate into a margin of victory this election round.”

Garcia’s stance on Hill, though, is far less laudatory, as he said that Hill has failed to represent the 25th district in a bipartisan fashion.

“I know she has not crossed the aisle at all, I think she has moved herself to the far left extremes of the party, and the endorsement of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is testimony to that,” he said. “Every vote that she has cast has been a copy-paste of Nancy Pelosi herself, so the evidence is there, that’s not opinion, that’s action, and demonstrating the fact that you are not bipartisan.”

Garcia noted the government shutdown, precipitated by disagreement over immigration policy, as an instance in which bipartisanism could have been better employed.

“So that’s one of those issues where I think common sense and compromise and working together would’ve precluded a government shutdown and a loss of income of so many Americans who had nothing to do with that problem,” he said. “I would have supported the funding for the wall. The amount of money that the president was asking for to support the completion of the wall was roughly .001 percent of the total budget of the United States.”

Hill’s support for further investigations into President Donald Trump as part of her membership to the House Oversight Committee is also a point of divergence between the congresswoman and Garcia. In fact, Garcia called Oversight Ranking Member Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), who has vehemently opposed continued inquiries into the president, the “model” for how he would act if he were in currently in Congress.

“What I was disappointed on in Katie Hill, was that even when the investigation wrapped up, and it was clear that there was no collusion, she continued to call for additional investigation and to spend money on an investigation that had yielded nothing to that point,” he said.

Garcia said that instead, he would rather focus on defense and fiscal issues.

“That’s the top priority, supporting the president’s budgets for DoD over the next five years is critical,” he said. “The second issue is supporting long term tax cuts, the temporary tax cuts were put in place a couple of years ago need to be made permanent, I think that does a lot for small business and for the average family.”

But Garcia’s position on healthcare — considered to be one of the most contentious issues of the 2020 cycle — was far more opaque. When asked in an interview with the Proclaimer to articulate his position on healthcare policy, Garcia said that, “We can go into detail on healthcare at a later date, that’s so complicated that it probably requires a longer conversation.” When asked to clarify, Garcia stated that, “I’m not saying I don’t have a stance, I’m saying it’s a complicated discussion that to do it correctly requires a lot of time.”

Garcia would go on to express his displeasure with the extant system, but did not offer a solution of his own.

“The current system is broken, we need to figure out how to get cost out of the system, how we can gain efficiency in the system, but it can’t be a 100 percent government-subsidized program that has spiraling costs and is effectively a socialist program to get everyone Medicare,” he said.

As the former fighter pilot prepares for his 2020 campaign, he feels confident that a Republican can take back the 25th district. He believes, too, that his candidacy will resonate with voters beyond just the policy itself.

“And there’s other non-legislative priorities — instilling a sense of patriotism and whatnot and respecting law enforcement that I think we, as leaders, can all do a better job of propagating,” he said.

But that’s not to discount the role of policy, and while running in a putative “purple district,” Garcia believes he can toe the line between voting with his party and with his district, even if these occasionally diverge.

“I’m going to work in the best interest of our district, and what’s in the best interest of America, and sometimes that’s a judgement call, but I am a Republican and I align myself with Republican principles.

“When it comes to being a Republican, I’m a Mike Garcia Republican.”

Click Here for the Full Interview from The Proclaimer Santa Clarita Valley