In exclusive interview with East County Magazine, Peters talks about key issues in our region
By Miriam Raftery
May 30, 2012 (San Diego) –“I’m the candidate with the best record of working across the aisle to get things done,” says Scott Peters, a Democrat. He is one of ten candidates vying for the new 52nd Congressional district seat currently held by Republican Brian Bilbray.
Peters is a past president of the San Diego City Council who has also served as chairman of the Port Commission and member of the California Coastal Commission. As an attorney in private practice, he handled both environmental law and corporate clients. He cites his record of accomplishments benefitting San Diegans and contends that the race is all about “effectiveness, electability, and campaigns.”
As examples of legislative positions he helped push through with bipartisan support, he cites water recycling and living wage measures in San Diego.
He notes that running in a Republican district, he drew a 5% higher percentage of votes than Democratic presidential contenders Al Gore and John Kerry. His principal Democrat opponent in this June’s primary, former Assemblymember Lori Saldaña, got 5% less than the same top-of-ticket candidates, he notes.
“I have the ability to get those moderate voters,” Peters contends.
The son of a minister and civil rights activist who was inspired by Martin Luther King’s father to help desegregate housing in Detroit, Peters reflects, “He taught me values…We believe in giving back to the community.” Peters also views his experience as a trial lawyer as an asset. “We know how to fight, and also when something is better for the client.”
In an interview with ECM, Peters said he decided to run for Congress after seeing the fight over the debt ceiling last summer. “It was a question about whether we were going to pay our country’s bills or not. I never saw that kind of gridlock before.”
He says he is running to “set our priorities straight.” He expresses alarm at the hard right-wing shift in the Republican party at the national level. “Republicans are extreme. They want no taxes on anybody, even the wealthy. They want to privatize Social Security and voucherize Medicare, making it unaffordable instead of looking at providing opportunities for all,” he said.
As evidence of why voters should cast out Bilbray, Peters makes the case using Bilbray’s own voting record. “Bilbray is for the Ryan budget. I’m against it. He’s for ridiculous tax policy to give money to big corporations. He’s for privatizing Social Security and Medicare. He voted several times to defund Planned Parenthood.”
Noting Bilbray’s former occupation as a registered lobbyist, Peters cited Bilbray’s special interest ties. “I’ve gotten most of my funding from San Diego…He’s got quite a bit more PAC money.”
Peters has taken heat during the campaign from opponents on both the left and right.
“Bilbray called me the `father of the pension crisis’,” the former Council president said, flashing a sardonic smile. “Our pension problem is not unique to san Diego. It started in the ‘80s when Pete Wilson (a Republican and former mayor) started using part of pension earnings to pay for healthcare and so forth. He started to defund it.”
Peters now calls his vote to increase benefits for some city employees “a mistake” but adds that today, those benefits account for only about 3% of San Diego’s pension deficit. “That’s not enough to call me father of the crisis,” he points out. To fix it, in 2004 we outlawed pension underfunding.” Employees also agreed to pay a portion of benefits.
“Employees get demonized, but they took cuts. We eliminated some benefits and created an independent budget analyst,” said Peters. “ In 2008, with a new mayor I negotiated a new retirement system for new employees that saved $22.5 million a year. We did it all at the bargaining table without layoffs or legal judgments…compare that to Sacramento when the state was upside down and Lori was there,” he said, adding, “I’m proud of my record.”
He has racked up some major labor endorsements including the AFL-CIO and the San Diego-Imperial Counties Labor Council.
Lorena-Gonzales, secretary-treasurer of the San Diego Labor Council, said her group has endorsed Peters “because of his outstanding record for workers, and his commitment to getting things done.”
Ads by the Saldaña campaign have sharply criticized Peters for stating in televised clips that he would support a “balanced approach” to reforms including cuts to Social Security and Medicare. Peters has since stated that he meant cuts to administrative costs of the program, not benefits to recipients.
Peters says that healthcare “should be affordable and accessible to all.” Obamacare has allowed parents to keep kids on their policies until age 25 and banned insurers from refusing to cover people with pre-existing conditions, he noted. “My friend had prostate cancer; he couldn’t get insurance,” he said, but adds that we have not yet achieved affordability.”
He wants to make prescription drugs more affordable, reduce costs through electronic record-keeping, and see motives added for doctors to provide preventative care to address the important of diet, nutrition and exercise to prevent obesity and diseases such as diabetes.
Saldaña has drawn endorsements from national women’s groups such as the National Organization for Women and Emily’s List. But Peters points out that he earned a 100 percent rating from the action fund at Planned Parenthood.
Asked his views on President Barack Obama announcing support for same-sex marriages, Peters replied, “What took so long? It’s 12 years after I came out for it. I was on the board of the LGTB Center,” adds Peters, who has a wife and two children. He adds, “I’m plenty progressive for anyone. I fought Walmart, and when Mike Aguirre tried to sue to take away benefits, I fought that.”
On the other hand, he positions himself as a reform candidate on cost-cutting issues as well. “I’ve done more[pension] reform than Carl DeMaio,” he says of the conservative mayoral candidate who has made pension cutting his signature issue.
Peters’ campaign focuses on three core issues.
First is jobs. “There are ways to put people back to work,” he says, citing infrastructure such as roads and the power grid, as well as the infrastructure “superhighway” as examples.
Second is education. “College cost is up 350 percent in the 30 years since I got out of school,,” says Peters. “We can’t be cutting student loans at the same time costs are going up, and we can’t compete without brainpower.”
As for K-12, he would repeal No Child Left Behind and fund mandates for special education, Title 1 and student loans. Concerned about budget cuts and increasing class sizes, he participated in a rally with local high school teachers shortly before our interview.
Third, he calls for investment in basic science research, citing Qualcomm and the Salk Institute as positive examples. “If we don’t commit to adequate funding, people go to China, Brazil or Europe,” he noted. “We don’t want the next inventor of Google or Yahoo to be a UCSD graduate who moved away.”
On foreign policy, he supports winding down troops in Afghanistan “as the President is doing. We’re not in a position to be the world’s policeman. The worst example is Iraq,” he said, noting that Iraq had no weapons of mass destruction when the U.S. invaded. “Now we’re rebuilding Iraq; we need to rebuild here.”
Peters also said he hopes the U.S. will not be dragged into a military conflict in Iran. “We need to rely heavily on diplomacy to prevent conflicts. Republicans generally oppose that.”
On immigration, he differs sharply from Bilbray’s policies. “Everyone agrees we need the most secure border against crime. We need to be sure San Diego gets its share of grants. But Brian has the idea that anything other than deporting 11 million people is amnesty. That’s impractical.” Peters calls for increased enforcement on agricultural employers as well as more infrastructure at the border. He also called for fingerprint and retina scans to speed up border crossing waits.
Peters shared his views on reducing home foreclosures. “Unfortunately we missed an opportunity to address that,” he says of Congress’ decision to give bailouts to big banks. “No one was ever fired. No one was ever jailed. .We need to avoid that position again by regulating the banks so they are not too big to fail,” he said. “We also need now to keep people who are current on their payments from going into foreclosure.” He wants to require second mortgage holders to consent to refinancing of the first. He also supports shared appreciation mortgages in which a portion of the loan is forgiven, but the bank gets a share of appreciation in the property.
On energy, Peters supports setting goals for renewable energy portfolio standards. He is intrigued by a recent conversation with Robert F. Kennedy Jr., who discussed a $3 billion solar plant capable of providing 1 gigawatt of power. “That is 1/1000 of our national demand at peak,” he said.
Asked specifically about wind energy and its potential negative impacts in some areas, Peters replied, “There are places for it. Farmers in North Dakota love these wind things.” But he is also a believer in distributed solar power on homes. “It’s not out of reach to do,” he said. “Instead, Republicans want a Keystone Pipeline, the dirtiest energy form around.” Having a national energy policy based on renewable makes sense for reasons beyond addressing climate change and reducing our carbon footprint, he said. Those include attaining energy independence while reducing gas prices, air pollution, and water pollution.
Saldaña has touted her 100 percent rating from environmental groups such as the Sierra Club, where she formerly served as president of the San Diego Chapter. She has noted that Peters earned mediocre ratings from some environmental groups while on the Coastal Commission. Peters’ website lists no endorsements from environmental organizations, an odd omission given his role as a former Coastal Commissioner.
But Peters is quick to note that he is a founding board member of the Walkable and Livable Communities. While serving on a council in University City, he helped lead efforts to develop a walkable neighborhood strategy for Bird Rock, including creation of five roundabouts in La Jolla Boulevard. “That included smart government grants that the Republicans want to cut,” he said.
Asked about fire protection, Peters cited the need for more disaster prevention. “We pay for it if something goes wrong,” he said, citing sinking levees in New Orleans as an example. “We should be shoring up the levees.”
Peters has refused a challenge issued by the Saldaña campaign to disclose his income tax returns—even though Saldaña and Bilbray have released theirs. “I’ve disclosed what I own,” he said of property records that have been made public. “But my wife has proprietary interests in her [manufacturing] business,” he said when asked why he is not willing to have voters view his tax records.
As for his views towards taxes overall, he believes the Bush tax cuts were a mistake. “They’re regressive,” he concludes. “The whole system could be more progressive, as Warren Buffet says. “We shouldn’t be hammering the middle class alone. It has to be fair.”
To learn more about Scott Peters, visit his website at www.scottpeters.com.
To learn more about two of his opponents who agreed to interviews with East County Magazine, see our profiles on Democrat Lori Saldaña at http://eastcountymagazine.org/node/9755 and Tea Party Republican John Stahl at http://eastcountymagazine.org/node/9523.
For nonpartisan information on all candidates in the race, visit www.votesmart.org and www.smartvoter.org.