BAKERSFIELD, Calif. — The U.S. Chamber of Commerce awarded freshman Rep. David Valadao (R-Calif.) its Spirit of Enterprise award Monday morning, honoring one of the few House Republicans who went to bat for the Chamber on immigration reform.


Valadao represents a majority-Hispanic swing district in California's Central Valley, and was one of the first House Republicans to publicly fight for comprehensive immigration reform. He's now locked in a tight reelection battle with former Senate staffer Amanda Renteria (D), but his work on immigration reform and water issues has given him a leg up.

"To put it simply, if all members of Congress were as good on the issues that matter to you as David Valadao is, we'd have a stronger economy than we do today, more jobs than we do today, and, well, I think we'd all be just a little bit happier this Monday morning," Chamber of Commerce Western Regional Director Dick Castner told an audience of businessmen before introducing Valadao.

The congressman, dressed in a casual button-down in front of a crowd mostly in suits there to hear about the area's ongoing water crisis, gave brief remarks.

"Water policy … it's difficult and probably the most confusing thing I've ever seen. Well, immigration is a pretty close second," he said to laughs from the group.

Valadao, a dairy farmer, touted his work on water issues to help California's agriculture-heavy Central Valley as it grapples with one of the worst droughts in history. He touted the bill he, now-House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) and others pushed through the House, and said they were working well across the aisle with Sen. Dianne FeinsteinDianne Emiel FeinsteinRepublicans caught in California's recall trap F-35 fighter jets may fall behind adversaries, House committee warns Warren, Daines introduce bill honoring 13 killed in Kabul attack MORE (D-Calif.) to reach agreement in Congress on how to act.

"It's not just about farmers, it's not just about big business, it's about people at home. I've talked to people all over the valley, whom their personal wells in their homes have gone dry. I know that I personally had to drill a few new wells on my farm," he said. "It's a scary point. We've really got to do something."

Castner didn't bring up Valadao's support for immigration reform in his speech, but told The Hill afterward that it was a key reason why the congressman was one of the Chamber's favorites, saying Valadao was "ahead of many, many members of his own party" on a top Chamber priority.

"He's been a real leader within his own party," Castner said. "He is very much on the cutting edge of what's a tough issue. ... It's a pretty courageous place to be, but it's the right place to be. We need a lot more David Valadaos and we'd get this damn thing done."

Castner also said Valadao's success in a district that's more than two thirds Hispanic shows that "Republicans don't have to concede" in similar districts in the future.

"He's definitely blazing a trail in the direction that needs to be done if we're going to have a viable two-party system going forward, because if you look at the demographics, they're pretty ugly for the party if they don't get a handle on how to appeal to more Hispanics than they do," Castner said.

As Valadao left the hotel where the event was held, a man approached him in the parking lot, saying he was fresh out of jail and needed money to get down to Southern California to a clean-living facility.

"You had to ask me when I'm with a reporter, didn't you?" Valadao said with a grin. Valadao walked off chatting with the man, and gave him $10.