By Nadin Abbott
February 23, 2012 (San Diego)--Four candidates running for the redrawn 52nd Congressional District seat currently held by Rep. Brian Bilbray met Tuesday for a lively debate during a luncheon sponsored by the Conservative Order of Good Government Club in Rancho Bernardo. Participants included incumbent Brian Bilbray, Republican challenger John K. Stahl (a veteran and businessman), and two Democrats: former Assemblywoman Lori Saldaña and former City Council president Scott Peters.
Issues discussed ranged from job creation to immigration to working across the aisle with the other party, as well as energy policy. While candidates clashed on views, an ECM fact-check on claims by all candidates reveals mostly—but not entirely—truthful statements.
The new district lines
View a map of the new 52nd district map: http://www.co.san-diego.ca.us/voters/Eng/maps/CongressionalSDCountyMap.jpg The district extends inland to include Tierrasanta, Lake Murray, Poway, Scripps Ranch and San Pasqual as well as some central and coastal communities.
Challengers attacked Bilbray’s record while emphasizing their own strengths. Saldaña, former Assembly Speaker Pro Tempore, cited her leadership experience. “Mr. Bilbray has never chaired a committee and never served in a leadership position, “ she noted. Stahl criticized fellow Republican Bilbray as “not a conservative” adding that Bilbray “doesn’t have good ratings from conservative groups.” Peters stressed his problem solving abilities, while Bilbray said he is the best choice and that people are “tired of the firebrands.”
On immigration, Bilbray and Stahl agreed that E-Verifiy is needed. As Bilbray put it, “If Congress can use something, it can work real easy.”
Stahl also added voter ID, and drivers licenses. Both agreed that no services should be given to illegal immigrants. Bilbray did note the border is a symptom of the problem, and not the problem itself.
Saldaña emphasized that we need to fix the immigration system, and invest in border security. In her view, we still need highly trained engineering students from abroad, and that will only be fixed when we invest in education. Investing in the middle class was a theme throughout the debate for Saldaña
Peters said “we need a program that is tough, fair and practical,” but also agreed that those who hire illegal aliens should be fined. He also pointed out that part of the problem is that while NAFTA has allowed us to invest in Mexico, it has not created an economy that encourages Mexicans to stay in their country. Moreover, the wealth disparity at the border is the highest in the world.
As far as energy policy is concerned, Bilbray emphasized the Keystone pipeline as part of the solution, as well as removing regulatory measures that prevent development of the algae industry here in San Diego, He also said that the ethanol subsidies are not good, and that ethanol is not as efficient as gas.
Stahl said that we should work for energy independence, and referred to the Apollo program. This could be done by 2020, he believes.
Saldaña emphasized that “we must concentrate on alternative energy plans;” Peters agreed on this point.
Candidates were asked their views on the financial industry bail-out. While Bilbray did not vote for it and was against it, he did say that the regulations should have been passed before any checks were written. Both Saldana and Peters agreed that the process was wrong, but that time will tell.
Saldaña emphasized that the loans have mostly been paid back by now.
Peters asked why nobody has gone to jail over this. This was received with wide applause from the audience.
Stahl would have let the banks fail. “They made a bet, they lost,” he said.
When asked about regulations, Bilbray complained about the real effects of regulations in business practices. He proudly pointed to the effect of MTBE and his fight to remove it from gasoline. Stahl would leave all regulations to citizen boards, while Mrs Saldaña emphasized her work in Sacramento for common sense regulations. This included helping with a technical regulation that was hurting business. Peters said that at times regulations are needed, but they “can be clumsy.”
On jobs, all candidates emphasized their long history of bringing jobs to San Diego. Stahl said that he came from the private sector and was the only one of the candidates that had to produce and deliver products to customers. That was an experience that the rest lacked. Bilbray touted his work to bring cruise ships to San Diego. Peters emphasized his work with the Center Development District, involving PETCO park and currently his work to explained the Convention Center. Saldaña went into her energy efficiency bill that has saved jobs for small businesses.
It was a very collegial debate, except at the end when Stahl said that it is time to end “the double dipping” and that we need citizen legislators; he also called for a reduction in the size of staff in Congress.
Saldaña, who served in the Legislature for six years, challenged him on the double dipping and told him that state lawmakers do not draw a pension. Rather they put their money in a 401K. She is correct; as of 1990, and due to State Proposition 140, the only pension that State lawmakers contribute to is the Social Security System. There is no longer a California State Pension for members of the Legislature.
The only other set of fireworks came when one of the audience questions dealt with the pension mess downtown. Peters owned up to it being a mistake, but also pointed out that it was his Council that started to fix it. (It has not been fixed but that is another matter.) He also pointed out that the crisis has its origins in the administration of Pete Wilson in the 1980s when then-Mayor Wilson started spending the pension fund.
FACT CHECK ON CANDIDATE STATEMENTS
Congressman Bilbray said he was one of the many politicians behind the efforts to preserve the Mt. Soledad Cross
True. He coauthored a bill with Rep. Duncan Hunter:
Bilbray stated that the U.S. borrows 43 cents per dollar spent.
Not true: according to the nonpartisan FactCheck.org website:
Bilbray is behind a bill to bring the America’s cup to town… but he did not fully explain why. So in an effort to clarify this was needed since many of these boats would be transported in non-American Flagged ships, requiring an exception to the Jones Act.
Note: a waiver for 60 specially built America's Cup boats under the Jones Act has stalled in Congress, leaving the future of two events in doubt. This was stalled by Republican efforts in the House and two different bills emerging from both Houses needing reconciliation.
He worked to get a two year Veterans Affairs (VA) budget for the medical part of the service.
Claim: Callaway Golf left because it was cheaper to leave and tax loopholes encourage companies to leave and import goods than to produce them here.
Partially true: While Callaway did leave Carlsbad partly due to these loopholes, it also left because production is cheaper abroad. Yet the Congressman voted no when a bill came before the House to close these loopholes.
Reasons for Callaway to leave. http://www.masslive.com/news/index.ssf/2010/08/callaway_golf_operations_...
He said that he was one of those involved in eliminating MTBE from gas in California.
Claim: Ethanol in gas is less efficient than just gas.
Claim: He has tried to encourage algae industry in the US for bio fuels.
Claim: The Congressman did not vote for TARP, (bailout bill)
Claim: Congressional staff has grown over the decades… from two in WW II to current numbers.
True, though there are functional reasons for this, such as specialized staffers to deal with increasingly complex legislation.
As noted in the Congressional report as of 2008: “The growth of congressional staff was likely due to a number of factors. These include a steady increase in the volume and complexity of issues addressed by Congress, which required the acquisition of specialized congressional staff, and legislative changes, including the implementation of the LRA and CBA.”
Claim: Arsenic is overly regulated to less than the level found in nature.
Mostly true. According to the EPA, even levels found in nature in some locations can cause serious health effects; regulations are intended to assure that drinking water is safe.
Claim: Oil comes from OPEC Countries.
Half Truth. According to FactCheck, there is no way to know for sure whether your local station is selling gasoline from imported or domestic oil. Besides, U.S. oil demand is twice its domestic supply.
Claim: We can achieve energy independent by 2020…
Maybe: This comes with a few caveats in the maybe category. Mr. Stahl suggested an Apollo like project with major investment required. If that is done it might be possible. The link bellow is to one of the groups working for this goal.
Claim: Conservative group ratings for Representative Bilbray that they are mostly negative.
Bilbray had the lowest rating among California Congressional members from the American Conservative Union, 19th out of 19 in 2010: http://www.conservative.org/ratings/ratingsarchive/2010/House-Senate-combo.htm#CA However he had an 80% lifetime score from the American CCU and some high marks from other conservative groups. There are, also low scores from some conservatives such as a 30% from the John Birch Society; Heritage Foundation gave him a 52%. Link: http://www.votesmart.org/candidate/evaluations/21916/brian-bilbray/17
Claim: There are incredible challenges to higher education right now because of the funding crisis.
Claim: There were grants in the past to put technology into the classroom, but many of these grants are now expiring.
Claim: She was behind the Military Compact for Education. This allows military kids to keep their transcripts current while changing bases.
Claim. AB 1103 energy bill, she was not only behind this, but it has helped small businesses.
Claim: She was involved in environmental legislation.
True: AB 1674
Link: http://www.leginfo.ca.gov/pub/09-10/bill/asm/ab_1651-1700/ab_1674_bill_2... and environmental rating see here, http://www.ecovote.org/legislator/assemblymember-lori-saldana
Claim: Saldana worked with Lobster fishermen to help them with regulations that were hurting their business.
She authored and steered AB-571 through to passage, as the link bellow shows.
Claim: The Bailout (TARP loans) were paid back…
Claim: Every penny at the pump costs a billion dollars in the US Economy
Claim: Brazil uses Flex Fuel cars, which have led to a more versatile energy policy and they lead to competition in a free market place between different energy sources.
Claim: The Popularity of Congress is at an all time low.
Claim: Highway 56, he was one of the people responsible for the project.
Claim: The sewer system had many leaks in the past, and he was one of the people responsible in Council to solve this.
Claim: Formed the city’s Ethics commission
Claim: Peters was part of the team to develop PETCO park at the government level.
Claim: He was part of the team that got the Federal Funds to Reconfigure the Bird Rock neighborhood in La Jolla, allowing for businesses to thrive and reduce accidents.
Claim: While NAFTA has allowed Americans to invest in Mexico, it has not created an economy that keeps Mexicans in Mexico, due to pay and other issues.
Claim: The Pension mess started with Mayor Pete Wilson.
Claim: Pension reform, that he was part of the City Council that tried to address it.
Half Truth. This is a very contentious issue that has yet to see a solution.
Claim: Chinese and India have increased their demand on use of fossil fuels
For more information on each candidate, visit:
Bilbray for Congress
Stahl for Congress.
Saldana for Congress
Scott Peters for Congress.
Also, for those candidates who have held elected office, Smart Voter is a good resource that includes biographies, voting records, interest group ratings, and more.
You can also look up all federal candidates’ campaign donations at www.opensecrets.org.