While Encinitas businessman Dave Peiser admits he faces a “David and Goliath” struggle to unseat incumbent Darrell Issa in the 49th Congressional District race on Nov. 4, there are some benefits to running for office — such as meeting music legends Stephen Stills and Graham Nash.
Peiser is shown posing with the two rockers in a photo posted earlier this month on the Crosby, Stills and Nash Facebook page. Stills is holding a sign that reads, “Fire Issa,” while Nash holds one that says, “Hire Peiser.” The meeting took place backstage at the San Diego Civic Theatre before an Oct. 1 concert.
Despite the support from the ’60s rock icons, Peiser, 52, an Encinitas resident and owner of an information technology consulting firm, faces long odds.
Issa has raised just over $3 million in 2013 and 2014, according to the latest filings with the Federal Election Commission, while Peiser has raised about $70,000 in contributions in his first political race.
Issa, 60, of Vista, was first elected to Congress in 2000. He chairs the powerful Committee on Government Oversight and Reform, and is reportedly one of the richest members of Congress, having earned his fortune from a company he founded that makes car alarms and other electronic automobile components.
Issa, a Republican, also enjoys a registration advantage over his Democratic challenger. According to county election records, the 49th District, which straddles San Diego and Orange counties, has 40 percent GOP registration, 29 percent Democrat and 25 percent listing no party preference.
The district includes Carlsbad, Encinitas, Ocean-side, Del Mar, Camp Pendleton, Solana Beach and Rancho Santa Fe in San Diego County, along with San Clemente, Dana Point, San Juan Capistrano and Ladera Ranch in Orange County.
The two candidates were asked a series of questions by this newspaper. Peiser participated in a telephone interview, while Issa opted to respond in writing. Following are the candidates’ responses, edited for brevity.
What can you, as a representative, do to relieve the traffic congestion that plagues coastal North San Diego County and southern Orange County?
Peiser: With most of the biggest infrastructure projects like roads and transportation, there are federal funds, which requires advocacy. San Diego and Orange counties need to decide what works. I would definitely plan on spending time with county leaders to talk about the best way to solve this problem. I would just make sure the funding is available to make that happen.
Issa: First, make sure California is getting our fair share of federal gas tax dollars for transportation and that those dollars are used to build needed freeway lanes and aren’t siphoned off to less effective and more costly transit solutions. I’ve fought for completion of the SR 76 improvements in North County and worked closely with Marine Corps officials and community leaders to find a path to completion of the Foothill South Transportation Corridor in South Orange County. I also support closing or curtailing the operation of the San Onofre Customs and Border Patrol freeway checkpoint, which is costly and ineffective, and creates significant traffic backups when it’s in use.
What will you do personally to help Congress take action on such issues as immigration, gun violence and government debt?
Issa: Our immigration system is broken and no longer serves the best interests of the United States. Reform should not be about accommodating 11 million people who are living in our country illegally, but about enacting policies that serve the best interests of our nation and our people. On spending, I supported the Path to Prosperity budget, which created a long-term framework to bring government spending in line with our tax revenues. As Chairman of the House Oversight Committee, I have uncovered countless acts of waste, fraud and abuse in government. I have also authored legislation to protect the Postal Service, which is losing $15 billion per year, from bankruptcy while ensuring that essential mail services are preserved.
Peiser: One of my passions is bringing people together. When it comes to immigration, we need comprehensive reform right now. There’s a huge gulf between me and Issa. (Recently) Issa wrote a letter to President Obama, requesting him to immediately deport kids and young adults, the Dreamers. On the other hand, I would push to immediately give that group legal status; they are Americans without papers, they have lived their lives in the U.S. It’s ridiculous to deport this group, and it splits up families.
What ideas do you have for getting past partisan gridlock?
Peiser: One of the big impediments in moving forward is there seems to be an overriding motivation on the Republican side to be against anything Obama is for. The only way to get past that is to have discussions with representatives in that camp about how moving forward with legislation would be good for them and their constituents. One thing on my agenda would be to try to get money out of politics.
Issa: I’m always willing to work with my Democrat colleagues to find solutions to make our government work better and have had a number of successes on legislation to increase protections for whistleblowers who expose wrongdoing, and on the DATA Act to make more information on how tax dollars are spent available to the public. To be successful, however, you have to have a willing partner. Ronald Reagan and Speaker Tip O’Neill worked together successfully to achieve historic tax reform. Newt Gingrich and Bill Clinton found common ground on welfare reform and many other issues. That hasn’t happened with this President. He typically just hands us his plan and tells us to take it or leave it.
Should the United States get into another ground war in Iraq or Syria to fight ISIS? If not, what should we do?
Issa: I don’t think anyone wants us in a ground war in Iraq and Syria. I recently returned from a trip to the region and was able to meet personally with President Netanyahu in Israel, King Abdullah in Jordan and President el-Sisi in Egypt, and they universally expressed a desire for U.S. leadership to confront ISIS, but the discussion was about political leadership and military technical support, both of which we are now providing. I think it is incumbent upon President Obama to present to the Congress and the American people a strategy for how he intends to confront this threat. That plan would have to include not only military options, but a diplomatic strategy to work with the Iraqi government to improve minority representation in the government.
Peiser: No, we shouldn’t. My opinion is, we should only get involved if there’s a humanitarian crisis, where we can go in and quickly solve the problem. We should not be fighting a war in the Middle East. We’ve got a lot of things to take care of here in the continental U.S. At the same time, I do support Israel, and absolutely believe in its right to exist; if they became threatened directly, I would want to assist them.
How big of a threat do you believe the Ebola virus poses to U.S. residents, and what can and should the federal government be doing in response?
Peiser: I think we should be doing what we are doing, sending support to Africa, where there really is a crisis, and screening passengers coming to the United States. I think the threat is low to Americans.
Issa: This is an issue we have to take seriously. Thousands have already died in Africa, and we now have seen the first cases in the States. We need to take the steps necessary to contain the virus, including screening where effective, and make sure federal, state and local agencies are working seamlessly with healthcare professionals so that any instances of Ebola in the United States are quickly identified and isolated.
What is the most important thing you can do for your constituents in the 49th District?
Issa: Continue to have an honest dialogue with them, stand up for what’s right and speak out about what isn’t. I want to make government really great at what we need it to do, and keep it out of where it doesn’t belong. The Internet is a great example of something that has greatly benefited humanity and changed the way we live, and it has thrived largely without government interference. Inherently, bureaucracies want to fill that void and tax and regulate it. Protecting that creative space will be one of our great challenges.
Peiser: I believe that jobs are still an issue, even though the unemployment rate is down. So there are two areas I would focus on from the federal perspective. One is infrastructure, like roads and transportation; there are a whole lot of jobs we could create locally by making funds available for repairing roads and expanding mass transit where appropriate. The second area would be renewable energy. San Diego County has become a center for solar power; one of my key issues is doing something about climate change, and this will create jobs with a strong focus on renewable energy. So the nice thing about doing something about climate change, it helps in two ways: We avoid the worst consequences of climate change, and it also brings jobs to our district.
Do you think Congress deserves the low approval rating by voters? Why or why not?
Peiser: I do think it’s deserved, because things just don’t seem to get done that seem very obvious to most Americans. If you look at polling, and things like gun safety issues, 90 or 95 percent of people in the U.S. think we should do background checks on every gun sale, and reduce size of magazines and guns, and Congress can’t pass legislation for something as simple as that.
Issa: I think both Congress and the President have earned the thumbs-down they’ve received from the voters. It’s not OK for government to fail us as often as it does without some consequence for those involved in the process. They spent $2 billion on the healthcare.gov website and the most basic function, signing up, didn’t work. That’s a high-profile example, but one that is symptomatic of decision-making across the government. It’s grown so big that it fails to perform even its most basic functions. We have to do better.
Why should voters elect (or re-elect) you to Congress?
Issa: Because I’ve kept faith with my constituents; we share a common belief in limited, but effective, government. I promised them I would stand up and confront wrongdoing and waste in government, and they’ve seen the effort and know that I haven’t held anything back. Americans have a right to an effective, efficient government that is accountable to them. Government fails us too often, and no one seems to be held accountable. It’s only going to change if we insist on accountability, and I’ll fight for that on their behalf as long as I have the privilege and the honor to represent them in Congress.
Peiser: For a couple of big reasons. Our district currently has a representative who shows up to Congress every day, from what I can see, and thinks about what he can do for himself, rather than what he can do for people and businesses of the 49th District. I will focus on bringing the voice of constituents to Washington, D.C. My motivation is to serve constituents; what people would get from me in Congress is more of a statesman, someone working to solve the problems of the country, as opposed to my opponent, who is more of a politician looking to score political points.