50th Congressional Race: Republican Darrell Issa Vs. Democrat Ammar Campa-Najjar
They seek to replace former Rep. Duncan Hunter, who resigned after pleading guilty to misusing campaign funds.
After serving in Congress for 18 years, most recently in the 49th Congressional District, Issa is eyeing a return to Capitol Hill. He stepped down in 2018 after regular protests outside his office in Vista. He was then tapped by President Trump to head the U.S. Trade and Development Agency but was never confirmed by the Senate.
"I make no bones about it as a conservative; the other district that I represented became very difficult — but I stood my ground," Issa said during a virtual forum hosted by the North San Diego Business Chamber.
During a similar forum hosted by Voice of San Diego, Issa said he was ready to head back to Washington.
"My two-year sabbatical has certainly given me an opportunity to rest and I've never been more excited about the job," he said.
The 50th covers much of San Diego's East County and goes into Temecula. Latest registration numbers show 40% of voters are registered Republicans, while 30% are Democrats. Still, former Obama White House aide Campa-Najjar was able to grab nearly half of the vote in 2018 and is now running for a second time.
"I am a consensus builder. I’ve managed to piss off both parties, so I must be doing something right," Campa-Najjar said. "On the things, we agree on I want to go far: creating jobs, apprenticeship programs."
Campa-Najjar sat down with KPBS to talk about the issues, while Issa’s campaign did not make the former Congressman available for an interview. However, Issa did address many issues in public forums and debates. One of them was how to help businesses affected by the pandemic. Both candidates agree the state should not be deciding who gets to stay open or who has to shut down, but Issa does not want to see any more forgivable loan programs (PPP loans) while Campa-Najjar does.
"The idea that we’re going to throw another trillion, two trillion, three trillion dollars of borrowed money in order to keep people at home — I think that is foolhardy. It is inconsistent with what I'm hearing," Issa said. "Small businesses tell me they just want to be reopened."
Campa-Najjar wants future loans to be targeted for small businesses.
"What I’d like to do when I'm in Congress is make sure these loans for small businesses are going to those who are employing people and those who need it the most," he said.
California Governor Gavin Newsom recently issued a bold executive order to tackle climate change — all new cars sold in the state will have to be zero emissions by 2035 — but Campa-Najjar said the state has energy issues and points to recent rolling blackouts.
"We need to make sure that our energy policies meet the demand. Right now we don't have the supplies, especially in those peak hours when the sun is setting and people are going home," Campa Najjar said. "We’ve done a good job with solar and wind and biofuels to have energy development but we’re not good with the storage yet."
Issa agrees storage is a problem and wants to see investments in energy alternatives like nuclear and pump storage.
"We need to be more innovative. We need to have large storage capability or we need to keep other systems onboard," Issa said. "We’re prematurely shutting down nuclear, which is zero emissions."
On the topic of homelessness, Campa-Najjar said San Diego county needs more federal funding to help house one of the largest homeless populations in the country.
"There’s a mismatch there. We need to take care of our homeless veterans get them wrap-around services that I worked on at the Department of Labor — helping people retrain, retool," he said.
Issa wants to take care of homeless veterans too, he said the federal government plays an important role in funding rehabilitation programs but wants to see faith organizations empowered to help those who are homeless.
"We have to transition people from not being employable from being drug-addicted or some other way unemployable," he said.
The candidates have also sparred over healthcare and how to lower costs for Americans.
"In order to reduce the cost of healthcare — we have to reduce the costs of healthcare — not try to subsidize insurance," Issa said. "The basic goal is competition, tort reform and FDA reform. That will work... I don’t believe in single-payer. Just the opposite."
Campa-Najjar did support Medicare For All while running in 2018, but now he said it is not affordable and he does not support single-payer healthcare.
"Have your private insurance if you want it," Campa-Najjar said, describing his healthcare plan. "Half of Americans have it — but then create competition to lower costs and increase the quality of care. Introduce a national Kaiser nonprofit plan, give people the opportunity to buy into Medicare a little bit earlier."
Through the end of June Issa, formerly one of the wealthiest members of Congress, has raised $8.2 million — of which nearly $6 million was donated or loaned by Issa himself. During the same timeframe, Campa-Najjar has raised just over $3 million dollars and has not contributed any of his own money toward the campaign.