Rep. Bob Filner (D)
California 51st District
Anchoring a corner of the continental United States, San Diego not so long ago was a small Navy town known for its good harbor and splendid weather. It of course now is a major metropolis of 1.3 million people and the center of a county of 3 million. To its occasional discomfort, it is also one of the largest cities directly on an international border, situated between countries with strikingly different economic conditions, political systems, and cultural traditions. San Diego sits on the busiest border crossing in the world, and on a daily basis, agents for the Border Patrol play a sometimes-violent cat-and-mouse game with people trying to cross illegally. In 2005, about 127,000 were apprehended in the San Diego area, but many more crossed the border without being captured. In 2006, authorities found a sophisticated tunnel dug under the border for drug running. Recently, tougher enforcement in California shifted some of the illegal crossings to Arizona.
2008 Presidential Vote
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Thousands of legal workers cross the border daily to reach the industrial zone on San Diego’s southern edge, on brown hills in Otay Mesa and San Ysidro, and the industrial suburbs of Chula Vista and National City. Many children from Mexico cross daily to attend public and private schools. Latinos pour billions into the San Diego economy and are scattered in various parts of the city, in the southern corridor, and in Encanto and Chollas Park in the eastern section. Oddly, there is not much evidence of Mexican style in San Diego—less than in Los Angeles.
The 51st Congressional District of California covers California’s entire border with Mexico, including the southeast corner of San Diego, and also National City and Chula Vista. The district extends east to the Arizona border and includes all of Imperial County, with its string of farms and towns running south from the Salton Sea to Mexicali, Mexico. Water comes from the Colorado River through the All-American Canal. (A project begun in 2007 to line a 23-mile segment of the canal with concrete to decrease the flow of water to farmers in Mexico stirred controversy.) With farmland being turned into moderately priced subdivisions, rapidly growing Imperial County in 2007 had 162,000 people, 76% of them Hispanic. Imperial is also being considered as a site for a new airport. El Centro, the county seat of Imperial, had 22% unemployment in 2009—the highest in the nation—resulting from drought, the decline of the Mexican peso, and the national recession. Hispanics are a majority in the district, which was created to be solidly Democratic. In 2004, Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry won 53% of the district’s vote, and in 2008 Democrat Barack Obama won 63%.
Rep. Bob Filner (D)
Elected: 1992, 9th term.
Born: Sept. 4, 1942, Pittsburgh, PA .
Home: San Diego.
Education: Cornell U., B.A. 1963, Ph.D. 1973, U. of DE, M.A. 1969.
Family: Married (Jane Merrill); 2 children.
Elected office: San Diego Schl. Bd., 1979–83, Pres., 1982–83; San Diego City Cncl., 1987–92, Dpty. mayor, 1991.
Professional Career: Prof., San Diego St. U., 1970–92; Legis. asst., U.S. Sen. Hubert Humphrey, 1974; Legis. asst., U.S. Rep. Don Fraser, 1975; Spec. asst., U.S. Rep. Jim Bates, 1984.
The congressman from the 51st District is Bob Filner, a Democrat first elected in 1992. Filner grew up in New York City, and became politically active early in his adult life by joining the civil-rights movement. He was a fundraiser for the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and in 1961 joined the Freedom Riders, which were groups of whites and blacks that traveled to the South to ride public transportation and use public facilities to challenge the lack of compliance with Supreme Court rulings outlawing segregation. The protests often sparked violent reactions from local citizens. Filner was arrested in Mississippi while trying to integrate a lunch counter, and was imprisoned for two months. He earned a Ph.D. at Cornell, taught history at San Diego State University, and directed the Lipinsky Institute for Judaic Studies. He worked on Democratic Sen. Hubert Humphrey’s staff in the 1970s, and was elected to the San Diego school board in 1979 and to the City Council in 1987. Redistricting in 1992 created a new Democratic seat in San Diego County, and Filner decided to run. He was strongly backed by local activists even though he had better-known rivals in the Democratic primary. Filner won with 26% of the vote, to 23% for Waddie Deddeh, a state senator and assemblyman; 20% for Jim Bates, a four-term congressman defeated in 1990 after being disciplined for sexual harassment; and 19% for Juan Carlos Vargas. Filner went on to win the general election easily in the Democratic district.
|Bob Filner (D)||148,281||(73%)||($927,615)|
|David Joy (R)||49,345||(24%)|
|Dan Litwin (Lib)||6,199||(3%)|
|Bob Filner (D)||31,690||(76%)|
|Daniel Ramirez (D)||10,182||(24%)|
Prior Winning Percentages: 2006 (67%), 2004 (62%), 2002 (58%), 2000 (68%), 1998 (99%), 1996 (62%), 1994 (57%), 1992 (57%)
Filner is politically savvy, with some original ideas about policy, and he is aggressive in articulating his views. He is also one of the most liberal members of the House, and among the most confrontational. He once got into a heated argument with Republican Rep. Joe Wilson of South Carolina on C-SPAN, and once was reported by immigration officials at a detention facility after demanding a visit to a detainee. In August 2007, he made headlines when he was charged with assault and battery after an altercation with an airline employee at Dulles International Airport. He later paid a $100 fine, but did not plead guilty. He denied physically assaulting the employee, but conceded: “I overreacted, I behaved discourteously, and I shouldn’t have.” The Committee on Standards of Official Conduct looked into the matter and determined that Filner had shown “poor judgment.”
In 2007, Filner became chairman of the Veterans’ Affairs Committee following a contest with Rep. Mike Michaud, D-Maine, who criticized Filner for poor working relationships with Republicans and some of the veterans’ groups. Filner cited praise from major veterans’ organizations, and bolstered by support from House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, with whom he sometimes had a testy relationship, he won the Democratic Caucus vote over Michaud, 112-69.
Filner has long been a vocal advocate of veterans’ rights and benefits, a popular cause in a district with many members of the military and military retirees. In 2008, he won enactment of a major overhaul of the GI Bill, which dates to 1944 and has boosted countless veterans to the middle class by paying for college and first homes. Filner’s legislation gives veterans the full cost of any public college, up from half the cost in current law, plus an average $1,100-a-month living stipend depending on the local housing market. It is expected to cost $62 billion over a decade. Outraged by the treatment of Filipino veterans, who in the past did not get full benefits, Filner in 2009 got included in the economic stimulus bill lump-sum bonus payments for Filipino veterans. In 2006, he won bipartisan support in the House to improve data security at the Veterans Affairs Department, following reports of a major computer security lapse.
Filner has survived several political challenges at home. In the 1996 primary, he was again opposed by Vargas, by then on the San Diego Council. Filner won, but by just 55%-45%. After redistricting placed heavily Latino parts of San Diego in his district in 2002, he faced Danny Ramirez, an Imperial County businessman. Filner won 70%-30%, despite losing 60%-40% in Imperial County. In 2006, Vargas challenged Filner a third time. The bitter primary contest featured negative campaigning on each side. Vargas, by then a California assemblyman, said that Filner had paid his wife more than $500,000 in campaign funds for her consulting services, which she operated from their condominium in Washington. Filner spotlighted questionable campaign payments by Vargas to his brother-in-law, who was a lobbyist for realtors. Filner benefited from his constituent work in Imperial County, where Vargas was not well known despite his Hispanic ties, and won 51%-43%. “People vote for the person who’s going to be the most effective for them, not by their last name,” Filner said. He had his usual easy re-election victories since then.