By Miriam Raftery, East County Magazine
October 17, 2017 (San Diego’s East County) -- Recently we sat down with Andrew Zelt, a Republican challenger running against Rep. Duncan D. Hunter in the 50th Congressional District. He’s a sergeant in the Sheriff’s Department, where he’s spent his career, and a resident of Rancho San Diego.
Zelt says he’s running because he can no longer support Hunter, who is under investigation by the Justice Department for allegedly using campaign donations for personal use. (Hunter has denied wrongdoing but did repay his campaign around $60,000 for vacations, payments to his child's school, oral surgery, jewelry and other expenses.)
“My top priority is listening to the people, finding out what are some of the things that affect you, your day to day lives, and then expand on that to the nation," he says, adding, "What are some of your concerns about the way our nation is going?”
Hear our in-depth interview at the audio link, which originally aired late this summer on KNSJ radio, or scroll down for highlights.
He calls himself a “traditional Republicans” who like Hunter, believes in strong border security and a balanced budget. But he says when it comes to integrity, “we’ll be miles apart.”
He says he’ll fight for firefighting equipment and funding, and faults Hunter for not doing enough to meet the needs of people in this district.
He believes the military and military families “deserve our full support” especially meeting veterans’ healthcare and other needs.
On national security, he applauds Trump actions on missile strikes in Syria against “rogue regimes.” He believes Syrian leader Assad “has to eventually go” but added, “peace might take awhile.”
On the criminal justice system, “without a doubt mental illness is the number one priority for me – the federal government should help state and local governments with funding,” he says, adding that many with mental illnesses end up on streets and in jails instead of in facilities getting “care that they so desperately need.” He notes that many people can be productive members of society with proper help, and that this is more cost effective than spending money to incarcerate mentally ill people.
As for border security, he says, “A border wall sounds good. It sounds secure and safe. In reality, I’m not so sold. There might be other ways to secure the border.” He notes around 180 tunnels have been found along the border in California and Arizona built by drug cartels, adding that Border Patrol doesn’t have enough technology to detect them all. “We need to see what the bad guys are doing, how they’re doing it, so that we can combat that.” Geography, border staffing and technology might be better options in some sections of the border.
On immigration, he states, “We are a nation of immigrants and we welcome people from all sorts of nations and all sorts of faiths, and they add to the great American dream. That being said, we are also a nation of laws. I want people to come over legally and follow the laws.” He thinks we might be able to make it easier and faster to become a citizen while doing background steps. But he says, “Illegal immigration is a much more difficult process. We should look on a case by case basis. Do we condone thousands on thousands who have broken the law? Maybe not so much…”
He adds, “My viewpoint is the law is the law. If they broke the law coming over here that was probably not the best start for them….those who want to flee here for persecution issues can come here as refugees.”
Asked about “Dreamers” who came here as children, though undocumented, he says he would support a Dream Act to protect them. “If a child was brought over here from an early age, let’s say from Mexico because their parents wanted a better life…that child had nothing to do with it. Maybe they don’t speak the language or know the culture…” He would oppose deporting Dreamers.
On healthcare, he says any plan has to be “feasible” or will “collapse” as he claims Obamacare is doing with companies pulling out of exchanges. Asked about Trump pushing that failure by yanking reimbursement of insurers and slashing funds for advertising Affordable Care Act signup deadlines, “To let that fail, if that is what the Trump administration is doing…if it’s failing now and on life support…to say let it fail now so we can make progress, I don’t think that’s the worse thing…to force people into action.” He does want to protect those with preexisting conditions, and says healthcare must be affordable. “There is no such thing as a free lunch. Everybody has to pay something. Taxes go up, the money has to come from somewhere.”
Hunter has said he does not believe healthcare is a right . Zelt says, “Whether you call it a right or not, it’s something we have to do as a society,” citing a voucher system as an example for people to “shop around for healthcare that works for their needs.”
Asked about the special prosecutor investigation into Russian meddling in the election and potential involvement by the Trump campaign, Zelt states, “No matter what party you belong to, an independent investigation should have free will” to conduct its investigation “without interference by either side.”
On potential election hacking he says, “What were the Democrats doing for the last eight years under President Obama?” noting that Democrats mocked Mitt Romney for voicing concerns over the Russians. “You have Putin who has been able to manipulate and stay in power…a lot of people in the government know that Russia can’t be trusted…but we have to work with them on certain global affairs…all the while being very wary and cautious.”
He’s a strong 2nd Amendment supporter for people to own guns for self-defense, but believes we need checks to be sure the mentally ill don’t get firearms, or what he calls “common sense” rules. He says gun safe zones at school sound good, but “that sign isn’t going to stop anyone.” He thinks a civilian with a permit for a concealed weapon should be able to carry it on campuses and other locations, since they have been vetted by law enforcement. “The criminals are always going to get the weapons, no matter what kind of gun controls you put in place,” he adds.
Zelt voices concerns over funding cuts for federal firefighting. “I applaud Dianne Jacob and the work she has done to draw attention to these issues,” noting fires would spread and “we would have an even bigger humanitarian crisis on our hands” if the federal government doesn’t pay its fare share including reimbursing Cal Fire for fighting fires on federal lands. He also supports efforts to “prevent these fires before them come, destroying lives and property.”
Asked about climate change and the Trump administration’s denial of it, Zelt says, “If you’re going to state that what we do as humans and what we put into the air doesn’t have any effect, I think that’s short-sighted.” He wants more focus on clean energy such as solar, but notes there are environmental problems with some large wind projects. “It’s a balance issue, and I want to be sure we do our best to come up with clean energy technologies…but we should not be squashing businesses and economic growth” with policies that are “too extreme.” On Trump pulling out of the Paris climate accord, he voices concerns over rich countries paying for poor countries to meet clean energy standards. “That’s maybe not the best deal for the American people” but says the U.S. should be stewards of the environment and work to reduce emissions and looking at new technologies .
He would support lifting the ban on oil drilling off California’s coast but adds that “it has to be done with environmental protections in place” to lower prices of gas and other products and benefit the economy.
On waste at San Onofre, he says, “We have to get rid of it in a safe manner.” He opposes keeping it at San Onofre, adding, “I think it needs to go to a secure facility where it can be stored safely for the foreseeable future.”
He says religious freedom is important to him, meaning everyone should be protected from persecution regardless of their beliefs. “That’s what makes America a great place,” noting that in the Middle East you won’t find a synagogue next to a church and mosque. He opposes persecution based on beliefs, but adds we must be cautious against “Sharia law, which has no place” in America because it infringes the rights of others.
Zelt says he is strongly pro-life. His opponent, Hunter, has backed a bill to outlaw all abortion from conception on. Asked if he would support any exceptions, he says, “I believe that every life is important” but adds some situations can be “very difficult for people” and says “there probably should be exceptions” for victims of rape, incest, or a mother’s life that is in danger, because “they did not put themselves in that situation, it was forced upon them.” He believes life and health of a mother must also be weighed as well as protecting the unborn.
He also supports education and alternatives to abortion for young, struggling mothers to help increase adoptions and reduce abortions. He would support having maternity coverage in a healthcare bill to reduce economic reasons for abortions.
Zelt has accused Hunter of “stunts” such as vaping on the House Floor to protest a bill banning electronic cigarettes on planes, carrying trival bills such as naming post offices but not introducing bills that would help constituents.
He wants to address water issues, such as securing more federal funds for water solutions in California which produces most of the nation’s agriculture. “When our district feels the pinch, our nation feels the pinch.” He adds that future drought problems are bound to happen, so wants fund to secure other solutions such as desalinization plants, more water storage especially underground so it won’t evaporate.
Asked for ideas to bring better-paying jobs to San Diego’s East County, Zelt says, “We have to provide the right incentives to help these companies want to come out here…and provide jobs for people in our district right here.” He notes East County has more affordable land than other parts of the County, which should be an incentive for companies to move here.
He agrees with Senator John McCain’s statement that elected officials should put country over party. “We need civility in politics. We need to be able to sit down and figure out what is best not for a party, not for emocrats, not for Republicans, but for all Americans.” He adds that he believes most Americans want that, too.
“Duncan Hunter has a lot of words. I’m about action…Name-calling doesn’t do anything.”
He commits to hold town halls across the district where he was raised and is now raising his family, adding, “It’s sad that you even have to ask the question. Absolutely, I would commit to holding town halls and having it open.”
Asked why he believes he’s tough enough to win this race and stand up against special interests in Washington D.C. he says, “With 13 years in the Sheriff’s office, I’ve dealt with a lot of bad people….I’m not going to shy away from a fight. I’m going to fight for the people of this district.” He denounces special interest money outside the district taken by some Democrats (note: Hunter has also taken special interest money such as from the tobacco and defense industries).
“I’m going to fight for this district,” he concludes, “and I’m going to do it with honesty and integrity.”
For more on his campaign, you can visit www.ZeltforCongress.com