Rep. Brian Bilbray (R)
California 50th District
The affluent San Diego neighborhood of La Jolla is spectacularly situated between Soledad Mountain and the Pacific Ocean. A 15-minute drive from the city’s downtown, La Jolla (la-HOY-uh) is known for its beaches, upscale shopping, and restaurants, but mostly for its physical beauty and temperate climate. La Jolla is also home to the University of California at San Diego and the Scripps Institution of Oceanography. West of La Jolla are several inland communities, such as Escondido and San Marcos, that are also pleasant and affluent, attractively planned, and many with red tile roofs that contrast with the tan hillsides. Also to the west, beyond the mountain, is the Miramar Marine Corps Air Station.
2008 Presidential Vote
|Cook Partisan Voting Index|
The 50th Congressional District of California covers much of this part of San Diego County. About 40% of its population is in the city of San Diego, including most of scenic La Jolla, hillside Clairemont, Carmel Valley, University City, Mira Mesa, Rancho Penasquitos, and part of Rancho Bernardo. About 25% lives on or near the coast, from Del Mar to Encinitas and Carlsbad, home of the La Costa resort and a big tourist destination. Just inland is Rancho Santa Fe, one of the wealthiest communities in the nation, with multimillion-dollar mansions set amid rolling hills and lush greenery. About 30% of the district’s people are in Escondido and fast-growing San Marcos. Politically, this has been Republican territory but not overwhelmingly so; it is more liberal on the coast and more conservative inland. Democrat Barack Obama prevailed in 2008 with 51% to 47% for Republican John McCain.
Rep. Brian Bilbray (R)
Elected: June 2006, 5th full term.
Born: Jan. 28, 1951, Coronado .
Education: Attended SW Commun. Col., 1970-72, 1974.
Family: Married (Karen); 2 children.
Elected office: Imperial Beach City Cncl., 1976–78; Imperial Beach Mayor, 1978–84; San Diego Cnty. Bd. of Supervisors, 1984–94; U.S. House of Reps., 1994-2000.
Professional Career: Tax consultant, 1972–present; Lobbyist, 2001-05.
The congressman from the 50th District is Brian Bilbray, a Republican who served in Congress from 1995 to 2001 and then returned to win a June 2006 special election. Bilbray grew up in Imperial Beach, south of San Diego. A former lifeguard and an avid surfer, Bilbray owned his own tax preparation business and then at age 25 was elected to the Imperial Beach Council in 1976. Two years later, he became mayor. He made a local splash in 1980 when he mounted a loader and built a berm to keep the sewage-polluted Tijuana River from seeping into the San Diego County beaches. In 1984, he was elected to the San Diego County Board of Supervisors, where he worked on environmental protection and economic development issues. In 1994, Bilbray ousted first-term U.S. Rep. Lynn Schenck, a Democrat who had a moderate voting record but voted for the 1993 Clinton budget and tax increases. Once in office, Bilbray went to the other extreme in his approach to the Clinton administration, voting to impeach the president in 1998. He said at the time that in his politically marginal district (he was then in the 49th Congressional District), the vote might be the issue that “drives a nail through my political coffin.” That comment proved prescient as Bilbray lost 50%-46% in 2000 to Democrat Susan Davis, who said that Bilbray “talks moderate in San Diego but votes conservative in Washington.”
|Brian Bilbray (R)||157,502||(50%)||($1,456,454)|
|Nick Leibham (D)||141,635||(45%)||($1,284,549)|
|Wayne Dunlap (Lib)||14,365||(5%)|
|Brian Bilbray (R)||Unopposed|
Prior Winning Percentages: 2006 (53%), 2006 (50%), 1998 (49%), 1996 (53%), 1994 (49%)
Bilbary stayed on in Washington as a lobbyist, and stayed involved in issues as the co-chairman of the Federation for American Immigration Reform, which lobbies for limiting immigration levels and toughening border controls. The 50th District House seat opened when Republican Rep. Randy (Duke) Cunningham, a former decorated Navy pilot, pleaded guilty in November 2005 to evading taxes and taking more than $2 million in bribes to help a defense contractor. Bilbray got into the race and was an early front-runner, but he faced competitive contests in both the primary and the special general election. His chief Republican opponents were more conservative. State Sen. Bill Morrow, former Assemblyman Howard Kaloogian and wealthy businessman Eric Roach all criticized Bilbray for becoming a lobbyist and claimed his voting record had been too liberal. Bilbray highlighted his work with FAIR, and won the nomination with 15% of the total vote cast to 14% for Roach, 7% for Kaloogian, and 5% for Morrow.
Spotting an opportunity to take a longtime Republican seat in the wake of the Cunningham scandal, national Democrats invested heavily in Francine Busby, a professor of women’s studies and local school board member who had lost two years earlier to Cunningham. The fundraising powerhouse EMILY’s List, which had ignored Busby in 2004, became an active supporter. By mid-May, Busby had collected more than $2 million, roughly 10 times the amount she raised two years earlier. And she embraced the theme that the GOP-controlled Congress was mired in a “culture of corruption.” Bilbray said that Busby had no ideas of her own to offer on immigration and pollution at the border with Mexico. Then, five days before the June 6 election, Busby made a critical mistake when she told a crowd that “you don’t need papers for voting, you don’t need to be a registered voter to help.” Bilbray and the Republicans seized on the remark as an invitation for illegal aliens to vote, and blitzed the airwaves with a final round of ads. Bilbray won 50%-45%, with anti-immigration sentiment driving his victory.
Once back in the House, Bilbray’s voting record became more conservative on social issues. In 2007, he replaced Republican Rep. Tom Tancredo of Colorado as chairman of the Immigration Reform Caucus. Although less of a rhetorical firebrand than Tancredo, he has advocated tough enforcement on the U.S. border and stronger curbs on illegal immigration. With Democratic Rep. Heath Shuler of North Carolina in 2007, he sponsored the Secure America with Verification and Enforcement (SAVE) Act, which requires employers to use the E-Verify program to verify the immigration status of new hires, mandates information-sharing between the Department of Homeland Security, the Social Security Administration and the IRS, and provides an 8,000-agent increase for the U.S. Border Patrol. Democratic leaders blocked House action on the bill.
Bilbray was re-elected 53%-44% in a rematch with Busby in 2006. Two years later, he had a close race against attorney Nick Leibham, who raised $1.3 million and criticized Bilbray’s opposition to the bailout of the financial markets in 2008. Bilbray won 50%-45%. He could face problems in the future if redistricting in 2010 adds Democratic voters from the neighboring 51st and 53rd districts.