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El Cajon Mayor Bill Wells Challenging Rep. Duncan Hunter For 50th District Seat

El Cajon Mayor Bill Wells announces his run for the 50th Congressional District seat, Feb. 20, 2018.
Jade Hindmon
El Cajon Mayor Bill Wells announces his run for the 50th Congressional District seat, Feb. 20, 2018.
El Cajon Mayor Bill Wells Challenging Rep. Duncan Hunter For 50th District
El Cajon Mayor Bill Wells, A Republican, Challenging Duncan Hunter For 50th District GUEST:Jade Hindmon, reporter, KPBS News

Our top story on midday addition, the ongoing investigation into Duncan Hunter has opened up the fifth is congressional election. Today a federal Republican announced he is entering the race. El Cajon Mayor Bill Wells is stepping forward as a candidate. Wells has been in the center of some high profile issues. Along with the awful Longo shooting in 2016 and the ongoing adversity against services for the homeless. KPBS reporter James Hyman was at today's announcement and she joins us now. Jade, welcome to the program. >>> What did Mayor Wells have to say about why he's entering the race? >> He says that he is running for the 50th Congressional District because he believes he can bring conservative Republican values to Washington DC. He says that his reputation as a leader and problem solver has led to incredible business growth and prosperity for the community. He says that these are some of the things he stands for. He says limited government, the sanctity of life, property rights, a strong national defense, secure borders. That is what he plans to do if elected. >>> Bill Wells has served on the El Cajon city Council since 2008 and has been mayor for over four years. Does he have a good reputation in the East County? >> His ability to lead was really tested during the officer involved shooting of Alfred a Longo. He said that was the biggest test of his leadership. Prior to that shooting, there were things requested to be put in place like a citizens advisory board, it is something the city did not see a lead no need for until Alonzo's death and the community outrage that followed. During that time many people saw Wells as someone who worked to be transparent and bridge the rift between the community and law enforcement. The city has been working to get more officers trained to deal with people with mental issues. I asked him about police reform in terms of more mental health evaluations for officers. While he said he is an advocate of that, especially given his background in psychology, he did not speak to any changes or reforms made within the El Cajon Police Department since that shooting. He said the city did not burn down. He feels he did a good job of addressing any issues between law enforcement and the community. >>> Mayor Wells got international attention in regards to the citys temporary ban on feeding the homeless. Did he say whether or not he thought that would help or hurt his campaign? You and following his response to all of that criticism, he says he never understood why he was being criticized and called the criticism disingenuous. He said the ban was an effort to stop the hepatitis outbreak. When I asked him about his bat, he is now trying to distance himself from calling it a band. Critics said the band had no scientific backing and was a discriminatory effort to push the homeless into other cities. Since then, since that man has been lifted, he says the city no longer has a hepatitis outbreak. They have worked the power wash sidewalks and put more resources behind other sanitation efforts. >>> Mayor Wells spoke about his track record of mental health. We have a grip on that . >> I spent my life working with the mentally ill. I feel Washington has ignored this issue for too long now. This encompasses the massive problems of drug addiction and homelessness. I believe I can help the 50th congressional district by being recognized at the national level for a positive important changes we will enact. >>> Does Mayor Wells have the support of the local Republican Party? >> I asked him that. Not today. When I asked him, he said that they have thrown their support behind another candidate. But quote we will see. I know he is endorsed by a few Republican elected officials. But by the party, he said note, not today. >>> Most likely the Republican Party is throwing their support behind Duncan Hunter who is the incumbent in the 50th. Who else has said they will run for the seat? >> On the Democratic side, you have Mike -- Mark Ibanez yar, just Butner, Jimmy Sayed, and Andrews else. Rumors of course that representatives ISA who has said he will not run for reelection in the 49th district may run for the 50th district. So there could be another contender. >>> To be clear, Congressman Duncan Hunter is still very much in the race for reelection in the 50th district. Can you remind us about the status of the federal criminal investigation into him and the allegations against him of campaign spending violations? >> Right now, the grand jury is hearing testimony. No indictments have been handed down. According to the Union Tribune, a federal grand jury was slated to hear evidence back in December regarding transactions in representative Duncan Hunter's campaign treasury. It has been under scrutiny since the spring of 2016 as a result of frequent personal expenditures. At last check a subpoena dated December 21 was issued by the U.S. District Court in San Diego to a business in Hunter's congressional district. The subpoena requires the witness to appear before a grand jury in downtown San Diego. Federal elections commission records show Hunter's campaign spent thousands of dollars at the business in 2012 and 2014. I asked Bill Wells what his thoughts were on the investigation, and he said it all concerns him. Some Republicans have wanted Hunter to drop out of the race and even questioned whether or not the veteran is suffering from PTSD. Since his opponent Bill Wells has a background in psychology, I asked him if Hunter could possibly be suffering from PTSD and his response was it is possible. >>> I have been speaking with KPBS reporter Jane Heideman thank you so much. >>> Thank you.

El Cajon Mayor Bill Wells announced Tuesday that he will challenge incumbent and fellow Republican Duncan Hunter in the 50th Congressional District race.

Wells was first elected to the El Cajon City Council in 2007 and has been mayor since 2013. He has a doctorate in psychology and runs a behavioral health practice.

"My dream is to serve the people of the 50th with honor, dignity and hard work. I know that I face a strong incumbent and I'm up for the change," Wells said. "I might be the least likely person to run for Congress. I was not born into a wealthy or politically powerful family. I did not go to Ivy League schools — I have in no way the right pedigree to run for Congress."

Wells' announcement comes amid a federal investigation into whether Hunter, a five-term incumbent, misused campaign funds.

Wells painted himself as a self-made man who started working at 11 to support himself, his aspirations and his family.

He said he stands for limited government, property rights, Second Amendment protections and a strong national defense and would fight against increases to the national debt if elected. He is opposed to abortion and said he supports President Donald Trump's plan to build a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border.

Wells said that if he is elected, he would "help the 50th be recognized at a national level."

But his controversial views on homelessness have already brought international attention to El Cajon. Speaking on Fox News in January, Wells blamed Democratic state lawmakers for promoting a policy of "normalizing homelessness."

He criticized recent laws that resulted in the release of some prisoners and reclassified crimes, which he said is a problem because some of those who would otherwise be in prison are now living on the streets.

"Most of the homeless people that I run across are involved in drugs and alcohol, and a lot of the new laws have a lot to do with that," he said.

A law approved in October by the El Cajon council, which prohibited the feeding of homeless people on city-owned property, also drew headlines, with critics saying it criminalized helping the homeless. A dozen people were arrested in January during a food-sharing event in protest of the law, which expired in January when the San Diego County Board of Supervisors lifted a declaration of emergency over a hepatits A outbreak, which affected the homeless in outsized numbers.

Wells said the law was passed in an effort to protect people from contracting the disease, and indicated he might bring some of the same philosophies to Congress if he's elected.

"I've also spent my life working with the mentally ill. I feel that Washington has ignored this issue for far too long now. This also encompasses the massive associated problems of drug addition and homelessness," he said.

Wells joins a field that includes Democrats Patrick Malloy, Pierre Beauregard, Josh Butner and Ammar Campa-Najjar and Republicans Hunter and Shamus Sayed.

El Cajon Mayor Bill Wells Challenging Rep. Duncan Hunter For 50th District Seat
El Cajon Mayor Bill Wells Challenging Rep. Duncan Hunter For 50th District Seat
El Cajon Mayor Bill Wells announced Tuesday that he will challenge incumbent and fellow Republican Duncan Hunter in the 50th Congressional District.