Clean tech/green tech research and manufacturing jobs for East County? A local hearing on energy impacts? It could happen–now that Davis’ district has expanded east
By Miriam Raftery and Janis Mork
October 29, 2012 (San Diego’s East County) – Many East County residents may be surprised to open their ballots and see that they’re now in Congresswoman Susan Davis’ district instead of Congressman Duncan Hunter’s. With redistricting, Davis’ 53rd district now includes La Mesa and most of El Cajon, along with San Carlos, Allied Gardens, Del Cerro, Rolando, Lemon Grove, Spring Valley, Bonita, large portions of San Diego and Chula Vista. View map.
Just who is Susan Davis and what might her representation mean for people in East County? ECM sat down for an exclusive interview with her last week.
Davis is eager to meet with constituents and learn more about their issues. “What will nurture and support the middle class and our community?” she asks.
We interviewed Davis at her campaign headquarters in La Mesa, shared with the new East County offices of the Democratic Party. That’s right—Davis is a Democrat, in some ways a dramatic change from decades of East County representative by Duncan D. Hunter and his father before him, both conservative Republicans.
Congresswoman Davis is running for reelection in November. ECM has asked her opponent, Republican Nick Popaditch, a teacher and former tank commander in the Marines, for an interview but he has not responded.
Background and experience
Davis has served in the California Assembly and on the San Diego Unified Board of Education before her election to Congress. Before that, she worked as a medical social worker; she holds a degree in Sociology and has also worked with the League of Women Voters. In the Legislature and Congress, she has fought for the rights of consumers and women, access to maternal health care, benefits for military families and veterans, access for diabetes care, and more.
Championing military families
One area where Davis shares some common ground with Hunter is in her support of the military –though Davis is focused less on military hardware and more on helping military families. A military wife and daughter of a World War II medic, she knows firsthand the struggles facing our military men and women, their spouses and children.
“Even though we’ve had Duncan Hunter [whose father chaired the House Armed Services Committee], no one had really taken on military families in the post-911 era,” said Davis, who Davis chaired the House Subcommittee on Military Personnel and is currently its ranking member (since Republicans regained power in the House). In 2010, the National Military Family Association honored Davis for her work with military families and military spouses.
She’s authored, coauthored and/or fought for measures to increase pay, benefits and healthcare quality for military members, as well as to expand education opportunities for returning veterans. She traveled to Afghanistan to meet with service members and assess their needs. She wrote the law that increased home loan limit guarantees for veterans, including those from the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. Davis also coauthored the Equal Justice for our Military Act to give servicemen and women the right to appeal cases to the U.S. Supreme Court.
She convened hearings on sexual harassment and assault of women in the military, learning that one in three military women have been sexually assaulted. Now she is leading a push for tougher measures to protect military women from rape and sexual assault. Currently the vast majority of rapists in the military go unpunished. Davis wants to change that.
Women’s health and healthcare access
She also wants to change a law that prohibits rape victims in the military from terminating the pregnancies. “We allow women in federal prisons to have abortions if they are raped, but not women in the military who are risking their lives, wounded and dying to protect us,” she said.
Davis is pro-choice. Hunter, by contrast, introduced a bill that would declare life begins at conception—with no exceptions, not even for rape victims or women whose lives are in danger.
A law authored by Davis in California gave women direct access to ob/gyn doctors without having to go through a “gatekeeper” in an HMO. She’s also pushed for research dollars for the National Institute of Health to seek cures for cancer, AIDS and other diseases.
She supported the Affordable Healthcare Act, which assures access to healthcare for over 40 million uninsured Americans, prevents insurers from denying coverage based on preexisting conditions, and allow parents to keep children on their policies up to age 25, among other changes.
Standing up for equality
Davis has been known to stand up to her own party leaders. She forced a Democratic committee chairman to hold hearings that helped lead to the repeal of don’t ask, don’t tell, she recalls.
A firm believer in equal rights for all, she also cosponsored the Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay Act for Women, which was signed into law by President Obama (Hunter, by contrast, voted against the measure.)
Medicare and Social Security for Seniors
Another clear difference is the representatives’ views on safety nets for seniors. “I’m a firm and strong believer in preserving Social Security and Medicare,” she told ECM. “As a Democrat, I’m proud of that. You cannot expect people to have confidence in the future unless you know that your parents are taken care of. I see my Republican colleagues [including Hunter] promoting the Ryan plan,” she notes that the proposal by Vice Presidential nominee Paul Ryan would provide seniors vouchers and buy their own healthcare instead of Medicare.
“A voucher system would cost seniors $6200 a year,” said Davis, “and it would shift sicker people into the Medicare system.” Ultimately that would destroy Medicare, she indicated. “The beauty of Medicare and Social Security is that everyone has paid into it.” While some minor tweaks to the system may be needed, ultimately she believes, “We need to keep our promises and guarantees for seniors.”
While Hunter has long run as a fiscal conservative, Davis suggests that the Tea Party brand of Republicanism practiced by Hunter Jr. and others is extreme—and fiscally reckless. Republicans in Congress risked allowing the U.S. to default on its debts and recently have threatened to allow sequestration, or trigger cuts for deep budget slashing across the board in all programs from Medicare to the military, rather than close tax loopholes for corporations outsourcing jobs or repeal Bush-era tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans.
“I do think that as we face a fiscal cliff, everyone needs to sit down, put pledges aside, and say `What kind of country do we want?’” Davis says.
Jobs for East County
For Davis, a top priority is restoring middle class prosperity – including here in East County. “We will nurture and support the middle class in our communities,” she said. “I’ve worked in our community and been engaged in public service for years…My interest is in what will serve the community best.”
We asked Davis her ideas for bringing good-paying jobs to East County, including to her new constituents in El Cajon, which has the county’s highest poverty rate at nearly 30 percent.
She would like to attract clean tech and green tech jobs to East County. “It’s a perfect place to do it,” she said. Davis notes that Republicans have focused too much on Solyndra, while ignoring the fact that there have been many successful ventures in sustainable technologies. “Of course there will be some failures,” she said, noting that the same can be said for investment in science and research in any field.
She praised Cuyamaca and Grossmont College for providing “great job training” in sustainable careers such as solar installers. She wants to help fuel job growth for such trainees. She also noted, “I’m impressed with the Connectory in El Cajon; small businesses can go online and get resources. That kind of effort is tremendous,” she said, adding that the Connectory has become an important model.
Congresswoman Davis envisions creating an incubator business model in East County similar to what has already been done in San Diego, where compatible businesses with similar interests are brought together to grow their businesses through synergy, with help from support staff initially.
“I think El Cajon is a good place to do this, and working with all the schools would be ideal,” she said. “We have the climate and environment to do that. We need to to everything we can to provide jobs in the middle class; people are hurting,” she added.
Immigrants and refugees
ECM also asked Davis her thoughts on providing more assistance for the large population of refugees in East County, including tens of thousands of Iraqi refugees and immigrants. Even Republican officials in El Cajon have asked for more federal help for local refugees, but thus far it has not been forthcoming.
“We worked very hard to get resources for refugees in City Heights, mostly Somalis there,” Davis said. “What I would really like doing is sitting down with people to understand, to find out what their needs are.” One possibility is to work with banks to help get loans for small businesses, including start-ups owned by refugees and immigrants, she noted. “If you can get a loan and hire workers, isn’t that a good thing?”
Like Hunter, she supports strong border security but notes, “The President has done an incredible job on border security.” Unlike Hunter, she supports the Dream Act, which would create a path to citizenship for children brought here by undocumented immigrant parents. “I don’t think you should turn your back on the young people,” she said, adding that “we have already invested in them” as students in public schools.
Wildfires and disaster preparedness
ECM spoke with Davis regarding wildfire protection in the wake of the Shockey Fire, in which 11 homes were burned and a life lost. No military planes were called in to help battle the Shockey Fire, though military planes were deployed successfully to combat the Vallecitos fires and others recently in East County.
“We started developing protocols for military pilots to help with firefighting,” she said, noting that the pilots now receive special training. “If that didn’t work for the Shockey Fire, we may need to relook,” she said, adding that overall military planes have made a “big improvement” in our region’s firefighting capabilities.
After previous California wildfires, Davis wrote the law that provided help and flexibility to college students receiving work study funds during natural disasters.
Davis made work-study funds available to college students who work to help their communities through civic education and disaster preparedness. A supporter of public education, she has also passed legislation promoting youth mentoring and has been an advocate for improvements in K-12 and higher education. She is also focused on teacher quality, her website states, because “nothing is more important to a child’s schooling than an inspiring teacher.”
Energy and the environment
Davis is a member of an environmental caucus in the House. She is a supporter of solar energy and would like to see a federal Property Assessed Clean Energy PACE program to enable homes and businesses to afford the up-front cost of solar by financing it out through their mortgages.
ECM also spoke with Davis at length about the negative environmental and health consequences of industrial wind turbines and industrial-scale solar projects, as well as high voltage power lines built or slated for scenic and rural areas in East County, including some projects proposed on federal lands including Cleveland National Forest.
“All of these issues have far-reaching impacts on communities,” said Davis, who wants to see more opportunities for people to voice concerns. “What’s required is for communities to be heard, so that there is not even a perception that companies are trampling communities,” she told ECM.
Although big energy projects have thus far been largely outside her district’s official boundaries, Davis recognizes that people throughout San Diego enjoy recreation in local parks and wilderness areas, or have concerns for the health and safety of neighbors in the backcountry. She encouraged concerned constituents to schedule a meeting with her in her local offices to discuss concerns.
Noting that it’s difficult for local residents to travel to Washington D.C. to make their concerns known to Congress, Davis noted, “I could see bringing a hearing out here, and having workshops to people can present their ideas for their communities. It’s really important to bring people at the federal level out here.”
Consumers and homeowners
A champion of consumer causes, she’s worked to protect consumers from identity theft and is now working on a bill to prevent companies from charging different amounts “based on what you buy and where you go online.”
Her staff ‘s constituent services include identify community needs—then meeting them. For example, when foreclosures skyrocketed, Davis notes, “We have a staff member who has become an expert in housing foreclosures. He’s saved a lot of homes.”
Open access to voters
A key area where voters may expect to see a difference between Congresswoman Davis and Congressman Hunter is in the level of access provided for voters to meet with their representative.
Hunter has never held a single live town hall meeting in his district. His telephone town halls have reportedly screened out questions from callers who disagreed with his political ideology. In this election, Hunter has refused to debate his opponent and ducked interviews, appearing primarily at conservative-friendly venues such as Tea Party rallies and Chamber of Commerce meetings.
Davis, by contrast, has held many town hall meetings and neighborhood days, some boisterous with vocal voices on all sides of the political aisle. More recently she’s done telephone town halls. “We don’t screen out calls,” she told ECM.
She has also hosted community meetings on topics of broad interest to her constituents, such as Medicare, transportation, water issues, and healthcare.
She encourages her constituents to get together and “brainstorm” ideas for improving the community. “I’ve been in the community and in public service since 1973, when I first came to San Diego,” she said.
Going forward, her goal for her new constituents in East County is to determine “what’s going to serve the community best—and what role can I play as a Congresswoman.”
For more information visit Susan Davis' campaign website and her Congressional website. Also see the nonpartisan Project Vote Smart, which includes issue positions, interest group ratings, financial contributions, and statements by Congresswoman Davis.