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Election 2022: Congressional Races Preview

REGION — The national issues facing congressional candidates this election cycle have centered on abortion, inflation, cost of living, climate change and healthcare.

The Coast News looks at three congressional races impacting North County San Diego voters — 48th, 49th and 50th districts — discussing with candidates their proposed solutions to matters of regional and national importance.

Additionally, The Coast News also sent out questionnaires to each candidate. Please scroll down past the race previews to review the candidates’ responses to the questionnaire and ranked priorities.

District 48

In the 48th Congressional District, Congressman Darrell Issa (R-Bonsall), who has held elected office since 2000, will face a new challenger in Democrat Stephen Houlahan, a longtime nurse and former member of the Santee City Council.

“I’ve been an effective member of Congress for the region and the nation, and I have a desire to serve,” Issa told The Coast News back in 2020. “I don’t pretend to be a supervisor, mayor, or city councilman. I do the job that you expect someone to do as a representative in Washington — work on national and global issues and make sure that, to the extent that there are federal programs available in your home district, we get our fair share of it, and that’s what I’ve done for all of my time in Congress.”

Issa could not be reached for comment on this story, despite multiple attempts to contact his office.

Houlahan, who ran unsuccessfully for mayor of Santee in 2020, said that he fully embraces his underdog role in the race but said that he thinks that this year’s midterm election will see an unprecedented groundswell of support for Democratic challengers such as himself in the aftermath of the Supreme Court’s reversal of Roe vs. Wade.

“I can’t imagine the campaign going much better than it has up to this point,” Houlahan said. “Between what’s happened locally and nationally, it’s put our campaign into a very strong position, especially with what’s happened with the Supreme Court’s Dobbs decision. I’m a pro-choice candidate, and I think this will lead to a much larger turnout this election than you’d typically get. My opponent is not a pro-choice candidate, which will dramatically alter this election’s environment.”

Stephen Houlahan, a Democrat, nurse and former member of the Santee City Council, is running for the 48th Congressional District seat. Courtesy photo
Stephen Houlahan, a Democrat, nurse and former member of the Santee City Council, is running for the 48th Congressional District seat. Courtesy photo

“Typically, the incumbent has a huge advantage, but I live in this district, while the incumbent doesn’t. I’ve lived here my entire life of 49 years within this district, so I have long-term friendships, work experience, and a huge amount of name recognition here. It gives me an advantage over the typical underdog candidate. In some aspects, I’m the home team here while he’s not even from here.”

In December, the California Citizens Redistricting Commission finalized new voting maps statewide at the federal, state, and local levels, with new boundaries that reshaped the state demographically, socioeconomically and politically.

The new 48th District is significantly more conservative than the 50th District that Issa formerly represented, seemingly giving the Republicans the upper hand heading into November. Forty-two percent of the district’s residents are registered Republicans, compared with just 28.44% Democrats. While acknowledging that redistricting didn’t favor his electoral prospects, Houlahan maintained the race would still be competitive.

“I see this as a challenge, and I’m willing to take it on,” Houlahan said. “I see it as an opportunity for me. I love this area. I’ve lived here my whole life. I was a youth sports coach and have always been active in this community which now stretches from the border up to Imperial Valley to Temecula and Murietta.”

Shortly after the Supreme Court’s reversal of the landmark and controversial Roe v. Wade decision, Issa praised the court’s decision to overturn longstanding precedent.

“Today is a great day for the cause and the principle of life,” Issa said.

Issa voted alongside fellow Republicans against the Women’s Health Protection Act (codifying a federal right to abortion) and the Ensuring Access to Abortion Act, which would protect women who cross state lines to obtain an abortion.

From Houlahan’s perspective, the abortion issue is paramount in the race, and he repeatedly emphasized that he’s the only pro-choice candidate.

“(Abortion) is the issue, and it’s the difference in this race,” Houlahan said. “We’ve already seen in some of the elections and primaries once the Dobbs decision came through that there was a huge bolster of support for pro-choice candidates, and I will ride that wave of pro-choice sentiment. This really does transcend typical Democrat-Republican rhetoric in terms of importance and impact.”

Houlahan also criticized Issa for past comments in which the congressman suggested cutting Social Security and Medicare benefits for senior citizens.

“I support Social Security, and I don’t want to go back to a time where people are not secure in their elder and advanced years, and it seems like the incumbent is not a supporter of Social Security,” Houlahan said. “I’m also a supporter of Medicare. I’m a registered nurse, so I know it’s so important as we get older to receive health care, and those are two huge issues where I’m completely on the opposite side of the spectrum from the incumbent.”

Rep. Darrell Issa endorses lawsuit against military's vaccine mandate
Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Bonsall) will seek re-election in the newly-drawn 48th Congressional District. The Coast News graphic

If elected, Houlahan pledged to work towards capping the cost of prescription drugs at the rate of inflation to ensure affordability while also bringing in federal dollars to protect the district’s urban-wildlife interface from the persistent threat of wildfire. He’d also push for an overhauled water purification system in San Diego County and a clean water initiative in the face of the statewide drought.

“The people of California’s 48th, they love the land, they love this place, and that’s the thing I have in common with all of them — we love being here. It’s a very special place, and regardless of political ideologies, we can always find common ground through dialogue, and that’s the key.”

District 49

Rep. Mike Levin (D-San Juan Capistrano), who has held the seat since 2018, is squaring off for the third time with Republican challenger Brian Maryott, a business owner and former mayor of San Juan Capistrano. Maryott ran unsuccessfully against Levin in the 2018 and 2020 elections but insists the results will be different this time.

In the June primary, Maryott held off numerous Republican challengers such as Councilman Chris Rodriguez (Oceanside) and Supervisor Lisa Bartlett (Orange County), winning 19% of the primary vote. Levin, largely unchallenged on the Democratic side, won 49% of the vote.

“I don’t think any of us imagined the myriad of crises that have impacted the nation in the last two years,” Maryott told The Coast News. “From skyrocketing inflation, watching the war in Ukraine, the baby formula shortage, record high crime, and the botched withdrawal from Afghanistan, our district has seen that Mike Levin and Joe Biden are not the right leaders for the time.

“We consistently hear from voters that they are ready for a change and are very concerned about our country’s direction. I’m ready to hit the ground running and start getting much-needed results for our community.”

With statewide redistricting somewhat shifting the lines of the 49th District, Maryott expressed optimism about his chances, noting that many of the district’s voters were new to both political candidates.

The new district runs from its northernmost point in Laguna Beach south to Del Mar (including Oceanside, Carlsbad, and Encinitas) and extends east toward Fallbrook and Vista. Voter registration for each party is close to a dead heat: Republicans at 34.53% and 34.83% as registered Democrats.

Bryan Maryott is a Republican candidate
Republican candidate Brian Maryott is facing off against Rep. Mike Levin for the third consecutive election cycle. Photo courtesy of Bryan Maryott campaign

Maryott said he’s confident voters in the relatively moderate district are looking for an alternative to what he characterized as Levin’s “egregious” policies on critical issues of inflation, taxation, and “wasteful” federal spending.

“Middle-class families are making hard decisions daily regarding their finances and are watching their savings dwindle due to inflation, gas prices, and taxes,” Maryott said. “Mike Levin is at the forefront of the egregious government spending and continues to champion spending that is costing middle-class families their financial peace of mind.

“(Levin) even called suspending the gas tax a ‘gimmick’ despite the relief it would provide so many Americans. As a businessman and financial planner, I know the toll unexpected and prolonged inflation takes on families. I will work to end the reckless spending and offer relief to working families.” 

In terms of policy solutions, Maryott said as a legislator, he’d push for a balanced budget amendment to the Constitution, term limits for congressional representatives and senators, and the formation of an independent body to identify “all outdated, duplicative, wasteful, or failed programs or budget line items then push for removing the identified wasteful spending from future budgets.” 

“Middle-class families in the 49th Congressional District want bipartisan, commonsense solutions and tangible results,” Maryott said. “All we have seen from four years of Rep. Levin is determinedly hyper-partisan rhetoric and a legislator who puts his party over the people he represents. Rep. Levin is great at making promises and hosting beachside press conferences, but his lack of tangible results on reducing the cost of living hurts working families and business owners throughout every community in the 49th.

“I will not go to Washington in hopes of achieving political celebrity. I will go to Washington and pursue common-sense solutions, rein in government spending, suspend the federal gas tax, and enact term limits.” 

For his part, Levin said he’d focused this year’s campaign on ideological issues, such as abortion, LGBTQ+ rights, and climate change in a political environment where the Democrat says he’s concerned that progress in such matters is at risk of reversal from GOP lawmakers. 

“Stakes are incredibly high, there’s an unprecedented amount of threats to democracy itself to the rule of law to institutions to checks and balances and even to rights that I thought were settled, such as reproductive rights, LGBTQ rights, right to contraception — the Supreme Court is really looking at those things,” said Levin. “The stakes are huge, and we must decide the collective future we want together. We’ve made incredible progress with our local priorities and how we’ve stood up for our district’s values and done things in a bipartisan way wherever it’s been possible.” 

Levin described Maryott as a “decent guy” with whom he “fundamentally disagrees on the issues facing the future of this country,”, particularly on the abortion question. 

Rep. Mike Levin speaks about his proposed legislation prohibiting offshore drilling along the Southern California coast during Tuesday's press conference in Encinitas. Photo by Bill Slane
During Tuesday’s press conference in Encinitas, Rep. Mike Levin spoke about his proposed legislation prohibiting offshore drilling along the Southern California coast. Photo by Bill Slane

“On reproductive rights, when Maryott ran in 2018, he ran as the most pro-Trump candidate of that primary. Maryott then said that he clearly believed that human life begins at conception, and the natural result of that position is banning all abortion and outlawing things like in vitro fertilization and other forms of birth control, no exceptions for rape or incest,” Levin said. “It’s pretty clear where he stands and what his candidacy would mean. If Republicans regain the House, they will move forward a national abortion ban, undermining the progress we’ve made as a society.” 

Levin also said he’s concerned about Maryott’s positions on issues of climate change and energy conservation, two issues he thinks ought to be at the forefront of the election heading into November. 

“On energy and environmental policy, my advocacy and background are as an environmental attorney who has advocated for more sustainable energy for the country, while on the other side is somebody will do little to move things in a positive direction but is instead likely to take us back towards the dirty energy policies of the past,” Levin said. 

On the environment, Levin touted provisions within the Inflation Reduction Act that he co-sponsored earlier this year in Congress, making the single largest investment in climate action in U.S. history, with $370 billion in investments to reduce carbon emissions by reducing carbon emissions by 40% by 2030.

“I would be remiss if I didn’t say that my opponent doesn’t offer substantive solutions to the environmental challenges facing this country,” he said. “You have to offer substantive suggestions, and I’ve heard him repeatedly, and I’m not hearing much other than that he’s for lowering taxes for those helped by Trump.” 

District 50

California’s newly drawn 50th Congressional District, represented by Rep. Scott Peters (D-San Diego), is a heavily coastal region extending from San Marcos south to Imperial Beach and covering major coastal cities such as La Jolla, Coronado, and San Diego. 

Peters, who has held the congressional seat since 2012, acknowledged that the new boundaries look significantly different from the old 52nd District he formerly represented.

“The unique challenge for this race is that about 43% of our district are new voters — you have areas up in San Marcos and Escondido where we have to get the word out about our approach and our record, so that’s been work, but it’s been fun,” Peters told The Coast News.

Peters is campaigning heavily on his record, particularly regarding the issue of lowering healthcare costs for Americans.

Peters said he’s most proud of his work in passing a $35/month cap on the price of insulin, which passed earlier this year as an element of the Inflation Reduction Act (which also lowered out-of-pocket drug costs and gave Medicare the ability to negotiate drug prices). 

Rep. Scott Peters
Rep. Scott Peters (D-San Diego). Screenshot

“The race is generally about three broad issues for me, and I’m comfortable that we’ve addressed all of them,” Peters said. “First and foremost is bringing down healthcare costs for Americans and San Diegans, and we tackled that with this $35/month cap on insulin this term. This is going to help a lot of people.

“The second issue is the extremism of Republicans, particularly on choice. If they get a majority, they want an abortion ban. Then there’s the fact that they characterize January 6th as a bad vacation gone wild and also the way that they apologize for Trump stealing national secrets. Well, we believe in the rule of law and don’t believe this sort of thing is acceptable in America.

“The third issue is delivering for San Diego,” Peters continued. “I’m proud of 10 years in service where we’ve brought in billions of dollars for our defense industries, we’ve made major investments in our border and infrastructure, as well as in investments towards combatting climate change.

Republican business owner and political science lecturer Corey Gustafson acknowledged he stood as the underdog against Peters and pointed out that redistricting had probably swung the district more to the left than previously. 

“Yes, redistricting was certainly unfavorable — the boundaries before were more favorable to Republicans than they are today,” Gustafson said.

A San Diego native, Gustafson co-founded a brewery in Vista and has been the director of the Oxford Study Abroad International Relations program since 2014.

Gustafson has also worked as a lecturer at California State University San Bernadino. The Republican candidate acknowledges his lack of experience but insists that voters in the 50th are eagerly looking for new faces. 

“Yes, we’re the underdog, there’s no doubt about that, but you have a politician like Scott Peters who hasn’t held positions in the private industry,” Gustafson said. “(Peters’) held office for the last eight years, and he’s going for a fifth term when the country is saying we’re going in the wrong direction because of leadership like Scott Peters.

“We can’t keep reelecting the same folks again and expecting different results, so this gives us a messaging and issue upper hand. We’ve seen California completely controlled by Democrats running into issues with energy, homelessness is out of control, and crime surges. And these are all issues my campaign is concerned about to where we’re finding solutions and standing up to the status quo.” 

Gustafson was heavily critical of Peters, whom he characterized as representative of an overreaching federal government engaging in wasteful spending.

Republican challenger Corey Gustafson. Courtesy photo
Republican challenger Corey Gustafson. Courtesy photo

“The main issue facing this district is the cost of living crisis, it encompasses so much, and the reason we vote out Scott Peters is that his policies have directly contributed to this crisis,” Gustafson said, blaming Peters’ policies for exacerbating nationwide inflation. “Scott Peters believes that there are no problems that can’t be fixed by spending more money. (Peters has) voted for every new spending package since Biden came into office. So what’s happening is that he’s helping drive up the cost of living with more deficit spending.

Like Maryott, Gustafson pledged to fight for term limits and a balanced budget amendment to the U.S. Constitution if elected to Congress. 

The Republican challenger pledged to fight for a different direction for the country while reaching across the aisle to achieve such goals. 

“These things would take a bipartisan majority, and I believe in bipartisanship,” Gustafson said. “When we try to force things down the throat of opposition, that tends to be overturned in the next administration. If you don’t like the way the country is going, if you believe that gas and energy prices are too high and that inflation is out of control, you’ll have to vote for new leadership, and that’s what I’m offering to the new 50th District and what I’ll fight for in D.C.”

Candidates questionnaire

Over the past two months, The Coast News sent electronic questionnaires in four batches to North County candidates at different levels of government, including federal, state, municipal/county and school boards.

The information contained herein is directly from five congressional candidates in the 48th, 49th and 50th Congressional District races (Rep. Darrell Issa did not participate). We wanted to share this information with voters so they can decide for themselves who is best suited to represent their interests in public office.

We limited the candidates’ responses to 350 characters in the short answer section. We instructed candidates to please assign relative priorities to several issues for the relative priorities matrixes. While these issues have merit and aren’t always mutually exclusive, in a world of constraints, every problem can’t have high priority relative to the rest.

Candidates combined overall priority rankings.

the coast news asked each of the candidates to rank several key issues from lowest to highest priority with the understanding that in a world of constraints, not every important matter can be a high priority. The above graphic depicts the candidates top issues (Rep. Darrell Issa did not participate). Each of the five candidates’ individual priority responses are shown on Page 28. Graphic by Carly Kupka
The Coast News asked each candidate to rank several critical issues from lowest to highest priority, understanding that in a world of constraints, not every important matter can be a high priority. The above graphic depicts the candidates’ top issues (Rep. Darrell Issa did not participate). Each of the five candidates’ priority responses is shown in the illustrations below. Graphic by Carly Kupka

Briefly tell us about yourself and why you’re running

Stephen Houlahan (D): Honor and service aren’t just words to me: they’re how I define myself. I have served 25 years as a nurse and City Council member. I will always uphold the Constitution. I will support a women’s right to make choices about abortion.

What’s your basic philosophy of deficit spending and national debt?

Houlahan: The solution to deficit spending and the national debt is increasing Gross Domestic Product (GDP). For the economics to be favorable, GDP must increase faster than deficit spending and the national debt. Once deficit spending and the national debt outpace GDP, the effects are undesirable.

What’s your solution to controlling inflation/rising living costs in North County San Diego?

Houlahan: Closing loopholes in our tax code will ensure that ultra-wealthy corporations pay their fair share. Monitoring regulations to ensure intended effects will free businesses from unnecessary costs while protecting consumers.

Where do you see opportunity for fruitful compromise or collaboration across the partisan aisle?

Houlahan: Congress can invest in our future by addressing climate change now. Intelligent investments will reduce the current and future costs of damage from ever larger wildfires, floods and storms while freeing us from an oil market manipulated by unfriendly countries.

What’s your highest priority?

Houlahan: Women’s reproductive choices and the moral beliefs that inform them are theirs to make and theirs alone. Allowing individual state governments to legislate women’s reproductive choices and religious beliefs is an assault on women’s freedom to make personal decisions about their own bodies.

For your lowest priority issue above, why is it your lowest, and how would you address it?

Houlahan: There is a constant issue with crossing the border for commerce and tourist access. A reservation system involving the use of a smartphone should be implemented, so tourists can plan to cross the border when traffic is least problematic and allow their entry quickly.

*Rep. Darrell Issa did not participate in this year’s questionnaire. 

48th Priority

Briefly tell us about yourself and why you’re running

Rep. Mike Levin (D): I am running for reelection because we have made incredible bipartisan progress on our local priorities, and I know we can do so much more. I’ve introduced 19 bipartisan bills that have been signed into law, and I am running to build on that progress.

Brian Maryott (R): I am a businessman, Certified Financial Planner professional, and I started a non-profit that teaches financial literacy to underserved communities. I am running because I am concerned about the broad lack of results from our federal government.

What’s your basic philosophy of deficit spending and national debt?

Levin: I’m proud the Inflation Reduction Act will reduce the deficit by $1.9 trillion, the same amount the Trump tax bill increased the deficit by cutting taxes for billionaires and corporations. We should invest in the middle class to grow our economy and reduce our deficit, not create more debt with tax breaks for large corporations or billionaires.

Maryott: There are times when our country is compelled to spend beyond annual tax revenues, which will never change. However, the recent spending of trillions of dollars has been particularly careless, and fault for that lies directly at the feet of Pres. Biden and Rep. Levin. This has fueled inflation and added to our debt burden.

What’s your solution to controlling inflation/rising living costs in North County San Diego?

Levin: I helped pass the Inflation Reduction Act to lower costs for energy, prescription drugs and health care premiums. And we passed the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law and CHIPS and Science Act to fix supply chains and lower costs for consumer goods. We also need to invest more in affordable housing so working families can afford to live in North County.

Maryott: We should suspend the federal gas tax until we can reverse this administration’s energy policies. We should pass additional tax relief for working families and business owners. We should also get the government out of the way of our business owners and entrepreneurs.

Where do you see opportunity for fruitful compromise or collaboration across the partisan aisle?

Levin: I have already passed 19 bipartisan bills into law, many of which improve benefits and services for veterans. As the representative for thousands of veterans and military families around Camp Pendleton, passing bipartisan bills to improve their lives is some of the most rewarding work I do. I look forward to building on that progress.

Maryott: If we are smart and we put people before politics, we can collaborate on every major issue. There is urgent work to be done on inflation, immigration reform, border security, environmental challenges, and keeping our communities safe. Americans are losing peace of mind, and hyper-partisan politicians are not helping. Enough is enough.

What’s your highest priority?

Levin: One of many important priorities is protecting a woman’s right to make her own decisions about her body. The decision by the Supreme Court to eliminate an established Constitutional right to abortion is appalling. My opponent celebrated the decision to overturn Roe and would support a national abortion ban. We can’t let that happen.

Maryott: We need to restore financial peace of mind for people. Our elderly fixed-income families are being shaken by rising prices, and working families are having to make tough decisions every day because of inflation. Gimmicks won’t work. I’ll fight to stop reckless government spending and to re-establish energy independence to ease prices.

For your lowest priority issue, why is it your lowest, and how would you address it?

Levin: I don’t have a lowest priority. We need to tackle all of these issues with a sense of urgency, and I have worked on each and every one of them in Congress.

Maryott: Trade is ranked the lowest. The Executive Branch takes the lead on trade.

49th Priority

Briefly tell us about yourself and why you’re running

Rep. Scott Peters (D): I’m a member of the Energy and Commerce Committee, where I focus on innovative climate and renewable energy solutions, access to affordable health care, and more. I’m running for re-election to continue fighting for these and many other priorities.

Corey Gustafson (R): I am a small business owner, university lecturer and native San Diegan. I am running for Congress to restore common-sense representation to the 50th Congressional district. I will oppose tax increases, strengthen the economy and stop inflation.

What’s your basic philosophy of deficit spending and national debt?

Peters: National debt is at its highest level in decades. I co-led a 60-member bipartisan effort that advocates for a plan to put our debt on a sustainable path, where debt grows slower than the economy. I voted for the Inflation Reduction Act, the largest deficit reduction bill in years. I was named a “Fiscal Hero” by the Campaign to Fix the Debt.

Gustafson: In Congress, I will fight for fiscal responsibility and a balanced budget constitutional amendment. Congress is printing money to pay for its deficit spending. As a result, the money supply in the United States has gone up 40%. This led directly to massive inflation. My opponent has voted in favor of every major spending bill of the last two years.

What’s your solution to controlling inflation/rising living costs in North County San Diego?

Peters: I led the New Democrat Coalition to propose an Inflation Action Plan to strengthen supply chains, get Americans back to work, increase affordable housing, lower food prices, and reduce health care costs. I also introduced the Build More Housing Near Transit Act to encourage local governments to build more homes near federal transit investments.

Gustafson: The federal government needs to spend less money. We need to balance our budget because excess spending has made inflation dramatically worse in every area government spends money promising to lower prices. This includes housing, education, and healthcare prices in San Diego.

Where do you see opportunity for fruitful compromise or collaboration across the partisan aisle?

Peters: I’ve authored multiple bills that became law and had bipartisan support. My USE IT Act had 23 Republican cosponsors, and my Employer Participation in Repayment Act had 105 Republican cosponsors. They both became law in 2020. In 2022, I introduced the Save Our Sequoias Act with Rep. McCarthy to protect remaining Sequoias and restore our groves.

Gustafson: I believe many of the problems we face in our country can only be solved through bipartisanship. This includes election integrity and voting reform measures. Lately, each election’s legitimacy has been questioned by the losing side. We need to fix our election systems in a bipartisan manner to ensure each side is a stakeholder in the solutions.

What’s your highest priority?

Peters: All of these areas are critical; it would be impossible to rank them. I prioritize my time and my staff’s time according to how I can best lend my expertise and what matters most to San Diego’s economy. This includes national security, scientific research, immigration reform, climate action, and access to affordable housing and healthcare.

Gustafson: We must address the spending crisis on the federal level. Deficit spending led directly to the current massive increases in inflation and the cost of living. As interest rates rise, our debt payment will become catastrophic. By 2032, we will pay 1.2 trillion dollars annually in interest payments alone, more than we spend annually on defense.

For your lowest priority issue, why is it your lowest, and how would you address it?

Peters: There are many areas I care deeply about that I don’t dedicate as much of mine or my staff’s time to because that legislation may be better crafted by my colleagues with greater expertise in that area. We learn from them and then do our own research. Congress is supposed to work together to get things done; that’s my approach.

Gustafson: While infrastructure is important, we must get our fiscal house in order on the federal level. We cannot afford more costly infrastructure projects. It is wiser to allow state and local governments to take the lead in this area because they are constrained by having to balance their budgets, unlike the federal government.

50th Priority

*All data graphics and charts by Carly Kupka.