By Mia Myklebust
March 8, 2012 (San Diego and East County) --“The reason I’ve run for office is because I’ve always cared about the areas I’ve lived in,” said Denise Moreno Ducheny, Congressional hopeful for California’s 51st district—an open seat, since Congressman Bob Filner is running for Mayor.
“This is my district now. It needs representation,” said Ducheny, a self-described Democrat “with a little Libertarian streak.”
The race is clearly one to keep an eye on as November’s election approaches. The new district includes southern border areas in East County and San Diego as well as the South Bay and Imperial County. Or as Ducheny said, ”Everywhere I’ve ever lived in San Diego.”
A seasoned legislator and attorney, Ducheny served 14 years in Sacramento, including eight in the State Senate and six in the Assembly. She is the only woman and only Latino to chair the powerful budget committees in both houses.
Ducheny said she was waiting for the new lines to be drawn in redistricting of California’s 51st District to decide if she would run again.
“It wasn’t until they drew the lines this summer that this possibility opened up,” she said.
Ducheny’s chief opponent, Juan Vargas, has previously lost three races to Filner. Vargas declared he was running immediately, before district lines were even drawn. Ironically, now that the lines are set, Vargas doesn’t live in the district he hopes to represent. However, Vargas’s quick response time paid off, enabling him to land the Democratic Party endorsement for the district.
“The Pre-endorsement caucus by local Democrats was held two weeks before state convention and before the filing deadline,” said Ducheny. Vargas got the endorsement by a single-vote margin.
In addition to Ducheny and Vargas, a third candidate recently declared his entrance in the race, Democrat John Brooks who has not previously held a political office. Republican Michael Crimmins and several additional candidates are also on the ballot.
Despite the initial blow her campaign faced by not receiving the party endorsement, Ducheny said she is confident that she will succeed, since she has a broad base of support and a track record of representing communities in the district—including southern portions of East County.
She is endorsed by many leaders in education, law enforcement, labor, business and community leaders, Latino and women’s groups, the South Bay Democratic Club, San Diego Democratic Women, Chicano Democratic Association and Democratic Women of the Desert endorsements.
“We feel like we have the democratic grassroots,” said Ducheny.
It’s all about the economy
According to Ducheny one of the largest issues in the district is the border.
“A case can be made that our district can lead an (economic) recovery if people understand the nature of a border economy,” she said. According to SANDAG’s economic impact report, $1.28 billion was in lost business income in San Diego in 2005 because of border wait times.
“We need people to understand impact of us getting better cross border transportation efficiency; secure but efficient,” said Ducheny, adding that she’s the woman for the job.
“I have a long history of working with Mexico, working with Mexican officials, working on the federal government,” said Ducheny. “The Border Legislative Conference—I got it started.”
This is just one item on Ducheny’s long list of accomplishments.
What she’s done
Ducheny served in the California State Assembly from 1994 to 2000 and later, in the State Senate.During this time she was the first San Diegan, woman and Latino to be appointed to oversee the state’s budget committees.She served on numerous committees during her time in the assembly and was the author of several pieces of important legislation.
“I wrote the CAL Works bill,” Ducheny said.
CAL Works was a welfare reform act written in 1997 that helped residents make the transition from welfare to work.
Ducheny also wrote the College of Affordability Act, which decreased student fees in California schools for the first time in 13 years.
Ducheny’s other notable legislation included the Reverse Mortgage Bill, the California Public School Library Act and the Indian Child Welfare Act.
Big plans for the future
Despite all she has already done for California, Ducheny has big plans if she is elected in November.
She sees the maritime portion of the port in her district as an opportunity for job creation. Ducheny said she also hopes to get back the train that “should be shipping agriculture from Imperial County to our port – not to LA!”
As a former immigration attorney, Ducheny also has a plan for immigration reform that she says needs to be comprehensive. In her opinion quotas should be evaluated, and family unification and workforce needs ought to be looked at.
“The Agricultural Jobs Bill has been ready – there is a huge need for regularizing seasonal labor to allow people to move back and forth seasonally,” she said.
Ducheny said that if people could move back and forth across the border more freely it would decrease the strain of poverty in San Diego County.
She also added, “I support the DREAM Act.”
If passed this bill would provide conditional permanent residency to certain illegal aliens who arrived in the United States as minors and lived here for five consecutive years prior to the bill’s enactment.
Protecting Medicare and Social Security
Apart from border issues, Ducheny takes a strong stand on other issues that are important to East County as well as to the nation.
She does not believe in privatizing Medicare or Social Security or “throwing people under the bus.”
She explains Medicare as an insurance plan that citizens pay into their whole lives.
“We need to get Congress to stop all this crazy rhetoric,” Ducheny said. “The goal is to have a self-sustaining, secure system.”
She also supports tax reforms, however not those made by former President George W. Bush. Rather she suggests that there are “simple solutions” such as the Amazon tax and a “streamlined sales tax.”
Her idea is restructuring rather than raising taxes.
“We don’t have to raise new taxes on sales tax. Lets just collect the sales taxes that’s owned to us,” said Ducheny, “that’s a couple billion dollars a year.”
She also added that she would support restoring pre-Bush tax levels on $250,000-and-up incomes.
In reference to stopping outsourcing of jobs, a major topic in President Obama’s State of the Union Address this January, Ducheny says she agrees with the President’s stance of rewarding companies that bring jobs home to America, while closing loopholes for corporations sending jobs overseas.
“You don’t want to advantage people for taking their jobs offshore,” she said. “I’m sure there are a lot of loop holes that ought to be closed.”
Ducheny’s overall view for the future is forward looking and realistic.
She said, “We really have to look at the whole structure. How do we make it simpler? How do we keep it fair? How do we keep it progressive?”
Healthcare has emerged as the most contentious issue between Ducheny and her opponent, Vargas.
Ducheny issued a press release slamming Vargas for twice abstaining from voting on SB 810, a healthcare reform measure which failed by just two votes. Ducheny criticized Vargas for “walking away from legislation that would provide universal access to health care and dental care coverage” after pocketing massive campaign contributions from the insurance industry.
“Now we can see what this money has bought,” concluded Ducheny.
The bill would have provided single-payer healthcare for all people in California. Analysts indicate the bill would have actually saved money. SB 810 would not have created government-run healthcare since hospitals and clinics would remain private with everyone free to choose their own doctors.
It would, however, have saved money on overhead by having the state handle claims administration—a move opposed by the insurance industry since it would cut insurance profits.
In terms of education Ducheny has a more broad perspective. In her opinion, there is too much testing in our system. She explains that when the government established No Child Left Behind testing it didn’t allow state accountability to merge with federal and that the result was two sets of standards. She also said we need to acknowledge English language learners on our tests.
“If we’re testing kids in a language they don’t understand and they fail, is that the school’s fault?” Ducheny asked.
Energy, wildfires, water and other issues here at home
Some of Ducheny’s more area-specific concerns include the fires in our region, the lack of an energy plan, refugee and detention issues, and increasing tribal sustainability.
An area Ducheny has experience dealing with is wildfire management. In 2003 when the Cedar Fire occurred she was newly elected. She said her staff found out where there was no power and water and ferried both resources to those locations. Her team coordinated getting generators and found trained volunteers to help with the crisis.
“We smelled smoke and drove east,” said Ducheny. “I bought water out of my campaign fund.”
That same water is another issue that Ducheny hopes to resolve with an analysis.
“Water is a big issue,” she said. “In East County, it’s groundwater. We have a cross border groundwater basin that’s never been measured or monitored.”
Another issue on Ducheny’s radar in East County San Diego is the progress of clean energy. She said she thinks we need a countywide plan for the future of energy development in San Diego.
“Nobody’s actually done an energy plan,” she said. “I’ve always been a big fan of distributed energy generation—solar roofs.”
Massive wind farms don’t produce power when the wind doesn’t blow, she noted, adding that other options should be evaluated for the San Diego-Imperial County region, such as geothermal. She is also a proponent of biofuels, such as the algae-based fuels being developed in San Diego and that will soon power a Naval fleet around the world.
She also wants to extend this overview outside the county.
“We’ve talked about cross border energy, we can’t ignore Mexico,” Ducheny said.
Another issue Ducheny supports that specifically affects East County is the tribes.
“I have a lot of experience in tribal issues,” she said. “I worked on Indian child welfare and protection of sacred sites. I hope to make BIA [Bureau of Indian Affairs] more responsive, to healthcare et cetera.”
She said she wants to help make tribal economies self-sufficient in ways other than gaming.
A final local issue Ducheny says needs attention is the detention system. Ducheny is an advocate for home detention for refugees and asylees. She voiced concern over refugee treatment and stressed the need to keep them in refugee communities and for them to gain language skills. Speaking about Immigrations and Customs Enforcement, Ducheny said, “If you can’t process people, don’t keep them in detention for two years.”
I am woman
There is one major issue that Ducheny says she can solve by simply being herself.
“I’m hearing from a lot of people that we need more women in congress,” she said.
Currently only 17.25 percent of Congress is women, a staggeringly unrepresentative statistic. “We required 25% in Afghanistan,” she noted, referring to U.S. efforts to help structure a legislative body for the war-torn country.
Ducheny saysthat issues like the current movement in Congress to deny birth control coverage to women might not have been brought up if more women were in Congress.
She said, “My experience in Sacramento is that having women there matters. If we have enough women on the floor, we wouldn’t even be having that debate—and tone of Congress could change. Women tend to be focused on their districts.”
She is pro-choice and is supported by National Women’s Political Caucus, Run Women Run, and is on Emily’s List
She says that focus by conservatives in Congress to take away rights of women’s issues do not focus on what is needed to move the county forward.
Ducheny noted that she would prefer the government to be kept “out of people’s lives” and advocated for the Constitution that our country was written under.
“I have a little Libertarian streak,” she said.
She stressed the importance of letting individuals make their own personal decisions and leaving the government to worry about more basic needs.
“We need to be worrying about roads, schools, border infrastructure, regulation banks, protect parks,” Ducheny said. “We should not be in people’s houses, worrying about your marriage, reproductive health, ability own guns or ride motorcycles.”
More about the candidate
The nonpartisan website www.votesmart.org has extensive information on Ducheny’s voting record, biographical details and interest group ratings.
During her service in the Legislature, Ducheny received high ratings from groups representing seniors, women, consumers, education, children, health and housing issues. She received a ratings ranging from 50 to 80% from the California Farm Bureau and 50% from the Chamber of Commerce.