Challenger Howard Katz believes questions over Issa's finances and votes against public's interests make Issa vulnerable
By Miriam Raftery
July 20, 2010 (San Diego)–-The 49th Congressional District seat has been held for the past decade by Republican Darrell Issa. The richest member in the House of Representatives with a net worth of $251 million, Issa has long been viewed by political strategists as unbeatable. But watchdog journalists at San Diego CityBeat have unearthed serious questions about Issa’s finances and potential political corruption.
Now Howard Katz, a seasoned businessman who has held a senior management position with IBM and served as a management consultant for Oracle, believes Issa is vulnerable. He's running for Congress--and hopes to add Issa's name to the unemployment rolls come November.
Besides the financial controversy, Issa’s votes against unemployment insurance and his support for slashing or eliminating Social Security and Medicare are out of step with the needs of people that Issa represents, Katz contends. He believes voters are ready for a change—and he’s launched a feisty ad campaign slamming Issa for “The Audacity of NOPE.” The ads list the Congressman's votes against measures that Katz says would help people locally and nationally.
“I’ve had 40 years of management experience in industry,” said Katz, who has worked internationally in Europe and Asia as well as in the U.S. Since retiring, he's spent time as a substitute teacher, youth sports coach, and community volunteer. “My time in the communities has given me a background that is closer to the people of this district than the incumbent," he reflected, adding that mulit-millionaire Issa "sits in an ivory tower and he doesn’t really care about the man on the street…He’s focused on being the junkyard dog of the Republican Party."
A member of the House Oversight Committee, Issa has launched investigations into Democrats as well as some corporations, notably Toyota, which recalled numerous vehicles for safety concerns. But CityBeat found that the self-proclaimed watchdog "should get a whiff of himself."
CityBeat’s newshounds found that an L.A. bank which got federal bailout funds is now being sued for giving Issa a $3 million discount on commercial property that the Congressman bought in Carlsbad.
"This certainly raises red flags," Craig Holman, government affairs lobbyist for Public Citizen's Congress Watch, told CityBeat. "The property could not have lost $3 million in value in two weeks, so there must be some deliberate or careless pricing of the property that benefited Issa." Investigation into a similar deal by former Congressman Randy “Duke” Cunningham led to revelations of bribery that landed the disgraced representative in jail for a ten-year term.
Issa also invested up to $15 million with Goldman Sachs—just before he publicly attacked the SEC for suing Goldman Sachs for fraud. In addition, his financial interests in a Gulf oil cleanup venture may be a conflict of interest, CityBeat reporter Dave Maess has stated.
Katz accuses Issa of misusing his power for partisan gain. "Mr. Issa has sworn that if Republicans take over Congress or the House in 2010 that he will find a way to impeach President Obama,” said Katz, noting that the Congressman has pledged to increase his staff to 50 people to “dig up dirt on Democrats and try to impeach the president. That’s an additional $2 to $3 million that taxpayers will be paying for; he is not a person who has the best interests of our president, our country, or our local constituency in mind.”
This is not the first time Issa's ethics have been questioned. He has been accused three times of car theft and charged twice in different cities, though charges were later dropped, the San Francisco Chronicle reported. In San Jose, he was accused of faking theft of his brother's car and reporting it stolen after he sold it for $14,000. He later blamed his brother. Issa went on to make millions as manufacturer of the Viper Car Alarm, which he said he developed because "my brother was a car thief."
Katz believes jobs and the economy are the most important issues facing the 49th Congressional District, which includes northeast and northwest portions of San Diego County including Warner Springs, Julian, valley Center, Rainbow, Fallbrook, Bonsall, Vista and Oceanside as well as portions of Riverside County.
Some communities in the district have unemployment rates as high as 23%. “That’s got to change,” Katz observed. He criticized Issa for voting “no” on extending unemployment benefits. He also faults Issa for opposing federal stimulus funds, then failing to fight for stimulus funding projects in his district even after the bill was passed by Congress. “Almost none of the stimulus projects went to the 49th district, because Issa did not fight for the stimulus money….With not fighting for earmarks and voting against the stimulus, then not fighting for a portion after it passed, what is he really doing for his constituency?”
Issa stopped requesting earmarks after Barack Obama won the presidency, claiming he made the decision based on fiscal responsibility.
Katz pledged to fight for earmarks to fund projects that will put people to work in the district and to meet with companies to encourage some to relocate in San Diego and Riverside Counties. He also plans to hold job fairs—starting before the election to demonstrate his commitment to helping people find work.
“We have a lot of companies that have shipped jobs overseas,” Katz noted. He wants to encourage them to return by getting rid of tax loopholes that allow companies to profit by outsourcing jobs to other countries and make sure that they are taxed on a worldwide basis. “Issa voted to give those tax breaks to companies that send jobs overseas. Anything good for big business is good as far as the Republican group is concerned,” said Katz, past president of the Temecula Democratic Club.
To help local businesses, he calls for proper regulation of the banks to make money available for lending to small businesses. “We need to get money flowing through the banks to allow local companies to increase their production and their hiring. The little guy out in East County needs to have access to capital to continue to work—not only to expand, but just on a day to day basis, people need capital to continue their operations…they need a line of capital…Small banks and small credit unions are in the same bind as the small business on the corner.”
“Social Security and Medicare are things that the Republican Party and Mr. Issa have set their sights on reducing or eliminating,” he warned. “If the seniors or soon-to-be-seniors really understood where Mr. Issa stood on this, they would be up in arms about their future.” He also faulted Issa for doing nothing to prevent people from losing homes to foreclosure in our region.
Issa voted against the healthcare reform bill passed by Congress. Katz calles the measure “really just an insurance reform bill so you can’t get cancelled by an insurance company and so you can have access to insurance, but it really doesn’t do much to improve healthcare. I would strive for Medicare for all,” he said, adding that he does not want to eliminate private insurance and feels that people should be free to purchase private policies if they choose. He does, however, believe that all Americans should be able to access healthcare through a Medicare-for-all type of program to assure adequate care for everyone.
Katz opposes the Liberty Quarry proposed for Temecula near the San Diego County border. “The amount of silica dust it will create will be spread across this whole area, including North San Diego County,” he warned. “There is not a doctor in this area who would not come out against this because of what silica can do to the lungs.” The quarry would also desecrate lands considered sacred by the Luiseña Indians, he noted. Katz faults Issa for making no effort to use his influence to persuade local government officials, the company or his constituents that the project is inappropriate for the area.
He also disagrees with Issa and the Republican Party’s support for privatizing public services. “This whole thing of privatization is just another way for corporations to make money,” he said. “They’re privatizing colleges and prisons. It’s not for the public good. I disagree with it entirely.”
On immigration, he would like to see a return to a Braceros type of program that would allow workers a legal way to fill jobs such as agricultural workers in fields where not enough Americans are willing to do the work. The plan would also allow the government to collect taxes from employers for the workers, while assuring that workers are protected from abuse.
Katz noted that the Border Patrol station on I-15 between Rainbow and Temecula is “basically closed” and called for it to be provided with manpower for full staffing. “They don’t stop cars anymore. They don’t do searches.”
An avid horseman who owns l horses and enjoys equestrian vacations with his family, Katz also drives a Prius. “I’m all for hybrids, clean energy and electric vehicles,” he said, noting that the Bush administration pushed through dirty coal-fired power plants. “We need all the solar, wind and biofuels that we can get, and if we could figure out a way to get rid of nuclear wastes, I think nuclear can be a clean way of producing energy.”
Katz opposes Sunrise Powerlink and has fought against a similar powerline proposed near his home. “SG&E is doing it because of costs and profits,” he said, noting that the line will likely carry “dirty” power from Mexico where safety and air quality standards are lax.
He is concerned about lack of oversight of industry on many fronts, including seismic safety testing on wind turbines. He is critical of federal regulators role in the lead-up to the catastrophic oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. “The regulators have been essentially bought off to look the other way. It’s been too much of a party between the regulated and the regulators for the past 10 or 12 years.” He believesthat industries which impact the public sector such as offshore drilling, mining, banks, energy, food and drugs should require “good, honest and efficient oversight and regulation.”
He faults Issa for opposing numerous consumer protection measures and other measures such as equal pay and freedom of choice for women. “Check his record on www.vote-smart.org which gives you every vote that Mr. Issa has ever made in Congress. Most of his votes are no.”
He believes that more should be done to protect our region, including East County, from wildfires—including two of the worst fires in California history that both occurred during Issa’s tenure in office. Katz believes honor camps need to be reopened to increase brush clearing and cutting of firebreaks, and that more needs to be done to encourage San Diego to move quickly toward having a countywide fire department.
A graduate of California State University, Northrdige, Katz is a strong supporter of public education. He voiced concerns over deep cuts in state education funding but also faults the federal government for harming public schools. “No Child Left Behind has been on our necks for ten years now, prompting schools to spend millions teaching to the test,” he said. While working as a substitute teacher, Katz observed firsthand that schools were forced to spend weeks prepping kids to take tests, then a couple of more weeks each year actually administering the testing.
The challenger faces an uphill battle. Of 310,516 registered voters in the district, 95,400 are Democrats and 136,100 are Republicans. Another 63,700 are decline to states, while 15,300 are registered in other parties. But Katz contends, “There are lots of Republicans who are fed up with Mr. Issa.”
Katz is campaigning vigorously, participating in parades, speaking at picnics, and buying up advertising space to inform voters of Issa’s voting record. He seeks volunteers and donations through his website, www.hkatzforcongress.com. He also hopes for opportunities to debate Issa or participate in candidate forums.
East County Magazine is requesting an interview with Congressman Issa with a goal to publish a story on Rep. Issa's views on the 49th Congressional race, his record following a decade in Congress, and his reaction to the financial questions raised by CityBeat.