Election 2012: Who is Brian Bilbray?

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This newspaper group recently met with 50th District Congressman Brian Bilbray to discuss his bid for another term, this time as representative of San Diego’s newly redrawn 52nd District.

By Pat Sherman

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Brian Bilbray

San Diego Congressman Brian Bilbray, a native of Coronado and former tax preparer, served as mayor of Imperial Beach before moving on to spend a decade on the San Diego County Board of Supervisors. From 1995 to 2001 the Republican represented San Diego’s 49th Congressional District (today the 53rd) before his defeat by Democrat Susan Davis, then a state assemblywoman.

After leaving office that year, Bilbray registered as a Washington lobbyist. His clients included the San Diego Regional Airport Authority, Viejas Band of Kumeyaay Indians, SDG&E, and the Federation for American Immigration Reform, a conservative, anti-immigration group.

In 2006 Bilbray joined Congress again, this time in the 50th District, winning in a special election to replace disgraced fellow Republican Duke Cunningham, who is currently serving time in prison for felony conspiracy and tax evasion.

An avid surfer, Bilbray has five children, one of which, Brian Patrick Bilbray, currently serves on the Imperial Beach City Council. Bilbray’s daughter, Briana, who battled Stage 3 melanoma, recently declared herself an advocate for medical marijuana dispensaries — something her father remains opposed to.

Viewed as the only truly competitive congressional race in the San Diego region, political pundits will be eyeing 52nd District results closely. In the first of California’s open primary elections on June 5 — during which independents or “Decline to State” voters may cast their ballot for a candidate from any party — the race should be close, as the district is divided nearly evenly between Democrats, Republicans and Decline to State voters.

We recently spoke with Bilbray via phone.

What could you do with two more years in Congress that you haven’t accomplished or already had the chance to do?

Bilbray:

I have been placed back on the (House) Energy and Commerce Committee. ... I come back with congressional seniority, and, more importantly, the hands-on experience of working with the struggle and the interrelationship between government and business in the process of trying to create economic opportunity while maintaining quality of life. … It’s a cooperative effort. (Democrat) Bob Filner and (Republican) Darrell Issa don’t necessarily work together, but (they’re) somebody that I’ve been able to work together with for years, basically, because we try to build on each other’s strong suits. …

You’ve got Republicans, who know they don’t like regulation, but they don’t understand it. And you’ve got Democrats, who are in denial of the impact of inappropriate regulation on the ability of small business to create jobs. It was, like, 1995, when I introduced the bill to eliminate the mandate that you have to use ethanol, because the Democrats in Washington thought ethanol was good for the environment. Because of my background in the Air Resources Board I knew ethanol was bad in the ’90s. It didn’t take me a decade to learn that. That kind of practical experience of understanding the huge gap between the theory of what is good for the business community and the environment, and the practical application, that huge gap is something that you cannot just learn overnight. The only way you really learn it is by working with it hands on, which is the way I’ve done it over the years.

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