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Felix Adamo / The Californian

Rep. Kevin McCarthy

Rep. Kevin McCarthy said Wednesday that California is "on a downward slope" and needs to reverse course.

"I'm trying to engage (Gov. Jerry) Brown in a place where we could find common ground to do something, because I do believe California's on a downward slope. I think it's the same direction the nation's going," he said. "If we were to turn California around, I think the nation would turn around."

McCarthy, a Republican and majority whip in the House of Representatives, visited The Californian as part of a series of meetings the paper's editorial board is holding with candidates on the June ballot. McCarthy is running for his fourth term in Congress.

He addressed a number of topics from the low approval ratings of the U.S. Congress to his predictions for the presidential election.

Among the issues affecting the district's economy, McCarthy touched on the need to protect the "jewel" of airspace and related jobs at the Edwards and China Lake military bases in the face of potential military cuts and the danger of oil companies emigrating to Texas or North Dakota.

"North Dakota is going to surpass California" in attracting oil companies, he said. "There's such an oil play across this country that once they leave, they're not coming back."

McCarthy and other Republican lawmakers addressed a permitting backlog for oil companies last year with Brown. That was coupled with the replacement of two top state regulators following criticism that the permitting backlog was stalling job growth.

McCarthy linked the permitting process to the high unemployment rate in the Central Valley, versus a low rate in Texas.

"If we're already here drilling and you think we're an energy place and you're not going to have the permits, there's other places (companies will go)," he said. "If we were able to open up even more, it'd be a different situation."

McCarthy predicted that the Democratic Party will lose control of the Senate and that Republicans will have a slim majority there. He believes the Republican Party has a "60/40" advantage against President Obama. As for likely Republican nominee Mitt Romney, "I don't think people have seen his strengths," McCarthy said.

McCarthy also fielded questions about the newcomers to Congress in the 2010 election. A recent book by reporter Robert Draper on the 2010 Republican takeover of the House of Representatives said Republicans worried the freshman lawmakers would be difficult to control.

Of the 87 new members of Congress, 40 had never been elected before to anything, he said. That was coupled with other challenges -- a president and Senate voting for the policies the newcomers were against, creating a "natural struggle" and a major vote coming up on raising the debt ceiling, for example.

"The role of the whip is to try and educate people but move the floor and work the floor," he said. "And having not been the majority whip before, it's 24/7."

Congress also has suffered historically low approval ratings as of late, and McCarthy addressed that as well.

"You're going to have lower ratings when something doesn't get through at the end," he said.

"The thing that the country craves most is leadership," he said. "Because the Senate is on the verge of wondering whether they're going to get a majority or not, they don't want anything passed," even a budget, he said. "The best thing that can happen is if we all came together there at the beginning and made a tough decision on the overall budget or the debt limit instead of passing it off."

As for criticism leveled at him by challenger Terry Phillips that he's out of touch with the district, McCarthy said he works on issues important to the district.

"Terry Phillips and I have very different opinions," such as on President Obama's health care reform and on California's high-speed rail plans, he said. "(Phillips) comes from a philosophical belief of greater government. I come here every single weekend. I work on the issues," such as the recent bill, passed by a bipartisan vote, on keeping commercial horse-and-mule pack operations open in the Sequoia and Kings Canyon national parks, he said.

"You look at the number of town halls and tele-town halls that I do -- some of the most of any member of Congress," McCarthy said. "I believe in having a very open process."

A third candidate in the race is Eric Parker, an auto parts store manager from Mojave who's running as a Republican.