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By Miriam Raftery

January 10, 2018 (San Diego) – Congressman Darrell Issa announced Wednesday that he will retire at the end of his term, creating an open seat in the 49th Congressional District for the first time in 18 years.  The action sets the stage for a battleground in the November election, since the 49th is considered a swing district that Democrats hope to capture in their effort to retake control of Congress.

Issa won his reelection in 2016 by only 1,651 votes—the narrowest margin of any Congressional district in the nation.  Thus far, four Democrats have announced plans to run for the seat including Retired Marine Col. Douglas Applegate, Sara Jacob, who has worked for U.S. State Department, UNICEF and the United Nations. businessman Paul Kerr and environmental attorney Mike Levin.

Patent attorney Joshua Schoonover, a conservative Republican, has announced he will run for the seat.  Other names floated by political insiders as possible candidates included Assembly members Rocky Chavez and Bill Brough, Supervisors Kristin Gaspar and Bill Horn, Scott Baugh, a former GOP chairman in Orange County, and Diane Harkey, member of the state Board of Equalization.

Issa, 64, said he made the decision to retire with the support of his family.  He voiced gratitude to constituents and said he has been most honored to represent Marines and sailors of Camp Pendleton and their families. Issa said after retirement he will continue to advocate for causes he believes are important including “advancing public policy where I believe I can make a true and lasting difference.”

Founder of a car alarm business, Issa first won election in 2000 and has long been the wealthiest man in Congress.  He rose to chair the powerful House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, where he led investigations into the Obama administration including the “Fast and Furious” matter that resulted in a House vote of contempt against Attorney General Eric Holder as well as probes of Benghazi and other issues. 

Issa, in his retirement announcement, cited among his accomplishments strengthening government accountability, improving intellectual property protections to stop piracy, ending congressional earmarks, and strengthening the Violence Against Women Act.

His tenure was not without controversy.  In 2012, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, or CREW, named Issa among its list of most corrupt members of Congress. According to CREW, Issa illegally disclosed information from a sealed wiretap in the Fast and Furious investigation, then hid behind his constitutional protections as a member of Congress to avoid the consequences.

Issa weathered that controversy and won reelection.  But with reapportionment that has made his district nearly equally split between Republicans and Democrats, and with President Trump drawing unprecedented low approval ratings in numerous national polls, Issa could well have faced ouster by voters had he sought reelection.

Issa is among many prominent Republicans who have recently announced plans to retire rather than risk being swept out of office on anti-Trump coattails. Others who have announced retirement plans include Utah’s Senator Orrin Hatch, Arizona Senator Jeff Flake, and Orange County, California Congressman Ed Royce.

The race to replace Issa is expected to be well-funded as Republicans aim to hold onto the seat and Democrats pour money in at a national level, with help from billionaire Tom Steyer, who has pledged hefty sums to help California Democrats take back seats in Congress.

The stakes are high.  Democrats are expected to take back control of the U.S. Senate, where they are currently down by only two seats.  Should they succeed in also regaining a majority in the House, Democrats would have the power to block President Trump’s legislative agenda and potentially, impeach the President.