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52nd Congressional District Candidates Open Up On Key Issues

Democrat Scott Peters and Republican Brian Bilbray, the two candidates for the 52nd Congressional District.
Democrat Scott Peters and Republican Brian Bilbray, the two candidates for the 52nd Congressional District.

Videos of interviews with the two candidates appear at the bottom of the story.

52nd Congressional District Candidates Open Up On Key Issues
PART ONE Republican Congressman Brian Bilbray represents the 50th congressional district. He is running to represent the new 52nd U.S. Congressional District. PART TWO Democratic candidate Scott Peters is chair of the Port District and former San Diego City Council president. He is running to represent the new 52nd U.S. Congressional District

The two candidates for the 52nd Congressional District, Republican Brian Bilbray and Democrat Scott Peters, traded barbs in separate interviews for KPBS Midday and KPBS Evening Edition on Monday.


Each candidate attacked the other on issues including pension reform, social security and Medicare, the Affordable Care Act and private finances.

Bilbray, who currently represents the 50th district, is now running for the newly-redrawn 52nd, which has no incumbent. Peters is currently San Diego’s Port commissioner.

Interviewed first, Bilbray began by attacking Peters’ time on the San Diego City Council and what he said was Peters’ role in the pension crisis.

“There’s no way Scott can avoid the pension crisis issue,” Bilbray said. “He was president of the council. So that part of the whole thing is quite clear.

“Not only did Scott Peters lead the council into the pension debacle that created the ‘Enron by the Sea,’ but then he says that he fixed it, and the voters had to do Prop. B by 60 percent, there was a vote basically by the voters. There was a referendum on Mr. Peters’ answer and they voted no to Mr. Peters and yes to Mr. Sanders’ proposal to move ahead and have a stable platform.”


Peters’ support of Prop. B and work at the Port “shows a pattern down the line,” Bilbray said.

“And that’s the kind of pattern you don’t want to go to Washington and talk about social security and Medicare, where you’ve got to have the most fiscally responsible approach for our seniors. There’s where you’ve really gotta watch out where you don’t have somebody who’s shown you he makes mistakes locally.”

In response, Peters told KPBS, “that’s an unfair read of my whole record.”

“I think the city of San Diego had three decades of bad pension practices and underfunding, and unfortunately in my first couple years as a councilmember, I followed the same practice,” he said. “But then we got smart about it, we realized we had a problem, we hired a pension reform commission, hired two outside experts, asked them what went wrong and how to fix it and followed their recommendations.”

He said at the end of their “long decade,” the Securities and Exchange Commission said San Diego was a model to follow.

One of the many attack ads in this congressional race goes after Bilbray for taking two taxpayer-funded pensions. Peters said that ad was put out by the Democratic Party, so he is not responsible for what it says.

“That’s not my ad,” he said. “We try to present a positive view of my own record, we try to talk about my own record on the pension reforms in San Diego, we try to talk about Medicare and social security, and those are the issues we’re focusing on in our campaign.”

Bilbray said his positions were rated ‘54,’ which he said “is about as moderate as you can be.”

“But that’s not because I think, ‘where’s the middle?’” he said. “It’s because I think, ‘where’s the answer?’”

In 1995, Bilbray sponsored a bill that would deny citizenship at birth to children born in the United States of parents who are not citizens or permanent resident aliens—a right guaranteed under the 14th Amendment of the Constitution. He told KPBS he never said the Constitution should be changed, but said “the definition should be subject to the jurisdiction.”

“Somebody that comes here as a tourist is not subject to the draft and is not subject to treason, that diplomats’ children do not get automatic citizenship right now,” he said.

He said he was not using the legislation to target people who come from Mexico.

Peters said the U.S. needs an immigration policy that is “tough, fair to taxpayers and practical.”

He said the “only answer” Bilbray has provided to undocumented immigrants in the U.S. is to deport them.

“We all agree that the border should be secure against crime, against drugs, human trafficking or getting guns across,” Peters said. “Now we have to figure out a way to rationalize it.”

Peters said we should view the border as an opportunity to promote more trade and improve delays at border crossings.

Bilbray voted to repeal the Affordable Health Care Act, or “Obamacare,” because he said the public did not get to see what was in the bill.

“The concept is that Americans are told you will know what we’re voting on after we pass it,” he said.

He also said the act did not do anything to make itself affordable.

Peters said he supports the basics of the plan because the situation before it was passed was untenable.

“We knew that health care costs were rising, it was going to break the bank from the federal budget perspective, so I appreciate the fact that something had to be done,” he said. “I think there’s a lot of work left to do.”

But he said it is not useful to “vote 33 times to repeal it without offering an alternative, which is what Mr. Bilbray has done.”

While KPBS had asked Bilbray and Peters to appear in a debate, Bilbray said he did not have time and only agreed to be interviewed individually. He said family issues are taking up too much of his time.

“Frankly, there are some things more important than politics, and if that means costing me the election, then so be it,” he said.

Brian Bilbray
Scott Peters

Corrected: February 23, 2024 at 5:40 AM PST
Claire Trageser contributed to this report.