By Mike Allen
Stephen Houlahan, the former Santee Councilman who lost to Mayor John Minto in November, announced he’s running for the 50th Congressional District in a race two years down the road.
The seat was won in November by Republican Darrell Issa , who beat out Democrat Ammar Campa-Najjar by about 28,000 votes or an 8 percent margin.
Through a spokesman, Houlahan, a registered nurse and political independent, said he intends to register as a Democrat, and expects to come in the top two in a primary in March 2022.
Among the main reasons for his decision was the terrible way the federal government has handled dealing with the coronavirus pandemic, said spokesman Bobby Borisov.
Borisov said Houlahan was not available for an interview because he’s very busy amid the pandemic at the Sharp Memorial, where he works.
According to Houlahan’s mayoral website, he has a Masters of Nursing degree and a Masters of Business Administration degree from the University of San Diego. He has served as Supervisor of Sharp Memorial Hospital’s Surgical Intensive Care Unit (ICU), an associate professor of nursing at USD, and is currently Senior Nurse Specialist and Educator for the Sharp Healthcare System. Prior to serving on the Santee City Council, he led a successful effort to stop the proposed gas-fired Quail Brush power plant near Mission Trails Regional Park based on concerns over its impacts on public health and safety.
Borisov told ECM that not only was there a terrible failure of providing factual information about the coronavirus, the federal government also completely bungled efforts to get the necessary protective equipment out to health care workers, and to provide the necessary funding for hospitals to deal with a surge in patients.
“Clearly, the government failed in regards to how it responded to Covid-19,” Borisov said.
Issa, in early March, claimed that COVID-19 was a crisis promoted by Democrats in a fundraising letter sent just days before the World Health Organiazation declared a worldwide pandemic.
Asked for Houlahan's comments on recent criticisms by Issa of Democratic efforts to impeach President Donald Trump for inciting a riot and ransacking of the nation’s Capitol on Jan. 6, which Issa said amounted to kicking Trump when he was down, Borisov declined to provide a response. Issa today also spoke against impeachment on the House floor, stating his belief that Trump does not pose a danger to the nation in his waning days in office.
“He doesn’t have a comment on Issa,” Borisov said of Houlahan. “He doesn’t want to play political games, who’s right or who’s wrong. It’s all about unity. It’s all about getting the country fixed and stopping the fighting, and serving the people in a better way.”
Houlahan made his candidacy announcement on the GoFundMe page he set up to raise money for legal fees associated with defending himself in a lawsuit filed last month by a Santee resident.
“This campaign (on GoFundMe) will allow me to fund my legal expenses and continue my mission of bringing transparency and accountability (to) government. I will be running for Congress in 2022 where I am planning to continue my mission of putting the people first,” Houlahan stated.
According to the website, Houlahan hopes to raise $250,000 towards his legal defense. As of Jan. 11, the site had raised a total of $2,190 from 18 donors, ranging from $15 to $500.
In the suit filed Dec. 8 in San Diego County Superior Court, plaintiff Daniel Bickford, an outspoken supporter of the Fanita Ranch development, alleges defendants Van Collinsworth, Preserve Wild Santee, Houlahan, and Stephen Houlahan for Mayor 2020 violated various provisions of the state’s Political Reform Act leading up to the most recently completed elections.
The suit, which can be read on the GoFundMe site, alleges the defendants “deprived the plaintiff and others of important information to which they were entitled pertaining to the financial and other aspects of political campaigns in the city of Santee.”
Specifically, Bickford alleges, the defendants didn’t disclose the identities of those who were behind efforts to influence the outcome of the elections for the campaigns for Measure N, Measure Q, the Houlahan mayoral campaign, and an ongoing referendum opposed to the Fanita Ranch development.
Fanita Ranch, a planned 3,000 unit development approved by the Santee City Council in September, was challenged after opponents to the project, led by Collinsworth and Preserve Wild Santee, a pro-environmental political organization, collected more than 6,200 signatures, or about twice the minimum number of valid signatures necessary to qualify for a public vote.
Coupled with the passage of Measure N, which would require a vote for any new project that doesn’t conform to the city’s existing General Plan, Santee voters will get a chance to weigh in on Fanita Ranch, although it may not be until 2022. The Council has not taken up the certified challenge yet.
Houlahan cast the lone vote against the Fanita Ranch plan, and has been on the losing end of other votes involving new residential projects that involve higher density or amend zoning from commercial to residential.
In his opposition to Fanita Ranch, Houlahan cited inadequate fire and traffic mitigation plans by developer HomeFed that could lead to deaths in an emergency such as the large wildfires that have occurred in and around East County in recent years.
If Houlahan hopes to unseat Issa, he has an uphill battle since he’s barely known outside the Santee boundaries. Issa is one of the wealthiest members of Congress and has largely self-funded his campaigns first in his former district where he served for many years and in the 50th district. Borisov said he expects to solicit donations from Houlahan’s health care colleagues and expects to raise between $1 million and $2 million to mount a successful campaign.
Ammar Campa-Najjar, who also lost the 50th District seat in a closer contest to Duncan Hunter in 2018, said he was aware Houlahan was running. He said he won’t make his decision on whether to try again until redistricting of the 50th occurs.
“I will be interested to see what the redistricting will show…It’s premature to make my decision, but I’m not ruling it out,” he said.
Told that Houlahan intends to register as a Democrat, Campa-Najjar said, “Fascinating, well we’ll see what happens.”