In honor of Hispanic Heritage Month, we reached out to several prominent Hispanic leaders in the housing and mortgage industry to celebrate their success, learn from their experience and gain insight into the challenges facing the mortgage industry. Today, we’re happy to share this interview with Congressman Mike Garcia, former U.S. Navy fighter pilot and businessman.
From flying fighter jets in the Navy to serving in Congress, Rep. Garcia discusses how his goal has remained the same throughout his career: Fight for the U.S. and preserve it for generations to come.
Tell us about your life growing up, and what led you to want to serve in the Navy.
My father legally immigrated to the United States from Mexico in 1959. In 1982, at the age of 6, I moved to Saugus, CA, with my mom and stepdad who was a Los Angeles police officer. I knew by the age of 6 that I wanted to fly fighter jets off aircraft carriers and fight for my county’s security and freedom. I quickly set my sights on that goal. As a graduate of Saugus High School, I was nominated in 1994 to attend the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis. Upon graduation, I was commissioned as an officer in the Navy, where I continued to attend flight school. I served over 30 combat missions above Baghdad, Fallujah and Tikrit during the Global War on Terror. Serving my county in the U.S. Navy was my American Dream and one of the highest honors of my life.
During the 2003 invasion of Iraq, you were an F/A-18 pilot with the USS Nimitz. What is it like flying a fighter jet during peacetime, and how does the experience change when you’re in an actual combat situation? Does landing on an aircraft carrier bobbing up in down in the water ever become easy?
Flying an $80 million supersonic fighter jet that weighs 66,000 lbs. and carries close to 20,000 lbs. of ordnance was truly an honor. While it is one of the most exhilarating experiences you can imagine, it was also very stressful at times. The complexity of the systems and the tactics required 100% focus and discipline at all times. The unforgiving nature of gravity and aero physics means that any mistake or lapse of judgment can lead to your death or the deaths of those around you. Landing on an aircraft carrier adds a massively more difficult level of complexity. It is never easy. And just when you feel comfortable or confident, the “boat” will remind you of your weaknesses and remind you that you are just a human. It’s the great equalizer.
Combat operations and landing a fighter jet on an aircraft carrier is an environment where you can’t fake it. You have to be ready and you can’t take anything for granted.
Following your tenure in the Navy, what inspired you to run for office?
Upon returning to my hometown to raise my family, I witnessed the high taxes and job-killing policies within the state of California spreading to the federal level and I knew I could not just sit on the sidelines. California’s policies are the perfect example of what not to do. I decided to run for office because I believe our nation is forgetting the importance of what I call the four big Cs: Constitution, capitalism, charity and competition. My desire to serve my country in running for office was the same motivation behind my wanting to serve in the U.S. Navy – I wanted to fight for the United States and preserve it for generations to come. I want my sons to experience the same America I know and love.
In May of 2020, you took office – in the middle of a term, in the middle of a pandemic. Did that complicate the process of building relationships with other members of Congress and getting into the flow of how the institution operates?
With my predecessor resigning in November of 2019, and then my being elected in the special election in May of 2020 mid-pandemic, there was about a 7-month period in which no one was representing our constituents and providing the assistance that a Congressional office typically does. These services can range from assisting senior citizens with social security and helping veterans with VA benefits to helping those who need COVID relief. There was a huge backlog in those needing assistance, and providing that assistance to these constituents was a priority for me from day one. I am thankful to my colleagues in Congress who came alongside me and helped get me up to speed quickly, and I was happy to return this favor as the new freshman class came in. I was able to share many of the things I wish I had known when I first took office.
You’re currently on the House Committee on Appropriations. People that follow DC know that this is one of the most important committees, but for those who don’t follow politics with the intensity of a sports fan, could you share the role that this committee plays, how you were selected for the committee, and what some of your priorities are?
The House Committee on Appropriations has one of the largest jurisdictions of any committee in Congress. As committee members, we are responsible for appropriating funding for almost every function of the federal government—from transportation and education to the nation’s defense budget. I was selected for this committee because of my experience working within the defense industry both as active-duty military and then in the private sector where I was responsible for generating billions of dollars in revenue and creating hundreds of jobs. I have strived to take my experience and apply it to my work on the Appropriations Committee.
My priorities are supporting our national security by holding our adversaries accountable, ensuring our defense budget is made a priority, continuing to fund space exploration to remain competitive on a global scale, and funding our law enforcement—not defunding them.
As a resident of California, you’re obviously aware of the problems with housing affordability in the state. Is there anything that can be done at the federal level to help address this issue, or is this ultimately a problem that has to be sorted out at the state level?
While this is primarily a state issue, there are many federal programs that are essential to fund because they provide aid to certain individuals— such as first-time home buyers, those on social security, and our nation’s veterans. One program that provides these services is the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development - Veterans Affairs Supportive Housing (HUD-VASH) program that aids with rental assistance, security deposits, utility deposits, and utility assistance for veterans. Funding for these federal aid programs is done through the House Committee on Appropriations, so in this sense, I can directly play a role in the decisions being made for these select programs.
The opinions and insights expressed in this Q&A are solely those of its interviewee and do not necessarily represent the views of either Mortgage Guaranty Insurance Corporation or any of its parent, affiliates, or subsidiaries (collectively, “MGIC”). Neither MGIC nor any of its officers, directors, employees or agents makes any representations or warranties of any kind regarding the soundness, reliability, accuracy or completeness of any opinion, insight, recommendation, data, or other information contained in this blog, or its suitability for any intended purpose.