Three political newcomers take on Issa in 49th Congressional District

By Joe Tash

On June 5, residents of the 49th Congressional District will choose between four candidates to represent them in the U.S. House of Representatives: Republican Darrell Issa, who seeks his seventh term, and three political newcomers who have never run for office before.

A lot has changed since the last congressional election in 2010: for one thing, the boundaries of the district have been redrawn following the 2010 census, as they are every decade. The new district includes Rancho Santa Fe, Del Mar and Solana Beach, and, according to Issa, contains only about 31 percent of territory from the previous district boundaries.

Secondly, California’s new open primary law means all voters, regardless of political registration, will be able to vote for all candidates on the ballot. The top two vote-getters in June will face off in a November run-off election.

The field of candidates for the 49th District includes Issa, Democrat Jerry Tetalman and independents Al Novinec and Dick Eiden.

The newly redrawn district covers the coast of North San Diego County and Orange County, from just south of Del Mar to San Juan Capistrano, and also takes in Camp Pendleton and Vista. The district’s voter registration is 40 percent Republican, 30 percent Democrat and 24 percent no party preference, according the San Diego County Registrar of Voters.

The three challengers will take part in a debate sponsored by the League of Women Voters, scheduled for 5 p.m. on Thursday, May 3, at MiraCosta College in Oceanside. Challengers said they invited Issa to take part, but were told his schedule would not allow him to participate in any debates before the June primary election. An email inquiry to Issa’s campaign regarding the debate was not returned by presstime.

Recently, this newspaper ran a Q&A interview with Issa. Today, we profile the three challengers, in alphabetical order.

Dick Eiden

Eiden, 66, a Vista resident, is a long-time political activist and retired attorney who is running for Congress as an independent. Although he has registered in the past as both a Democrat and a Green Party member, Eiden said he did not want to be identified on the ballot as representing any specific political party.

Rather, he said, he wanted to challenge the nature of the current two-party system that dominates congressional and presidential politics.

“We need somebody who’s not owned by the military-industrial-financial complex,” he said. “If we continue to follow and rely on the two parties we’ll have more of the same, war after war and crisis after crisis.”

“We need to talk about how we can get out of that vicious cycle and out of being the policemen of the world… it’s killing us,” Eiden said.

Eiden’s campaign slogan is “End War, Rebuild America.” Along with cutting back on military spending, he said he would support “rebuilding” the U.S. educational system and spending more money on infrastructure.

Eiden is married to Kathleen Cannon, who recently retired from the San Diego County Public Defender’s office. He left his own legal practice in the mid-’90s to stay at home with the couple’s two young children. During his legal career, he represented clients in a range of civil rights, criminal and deportation issues.

While he identifies more closely with the demands of the Occupy movement, he said consensus exists across the political spectrum on the need for change.

“The Tea Party on the right and Occupy on the left all agree there’s something seriously wrong,” he said.

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Al Novinec

Oceanside resident Novinec, 54, spent 28 years in the U.S. Marine Corps, including three tours of duty in Iraq. He retired as a first sergeant in 2007, and now works in real estate.

While Novinec considers himself to be politically conservative — noting that Republicans have traditionally supported the military more staunchly than Democrats — he said he decided to run as an independent because he believes the major parties have too much control over members of Congress.

Rather than voting along party lines, he said, members of Congress should support the positions of their constituents.

“The majority rules,” he said. “A representative should never go against the majority. That tells your constituents the lobbyists are involved, because you’re selling your vote.”

Novinec said if elected, he would poll his constituents by email, telephone and through man-on-the-street surveys, and then vote in line with their desires.

As a congressman, Novinec said, he would keep his district office open 12 hours a day, seven days a week, so that constituents could come in and speak their mind, or let him know about a problem. He said his staff would include credit and mortgage specialists to help constituents.

Among his ideas for boosting the economy is a 10-point plan for fixing the housing market which he has posted on his website. One key element of the plan is to bring back the $8,000 tax credit for first-time home buyers.

He also advocates term limits for members of both houses of Congress.

“I think career politicians have been playing the game so long they don’t understand what’s right and wrong, what the constituents want,” he said.

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Jerry Tetalman

Tetalman, 57, is a Carlsbad resident who worked as a nurse and nursing administrator at a hospital mental health unit, and later began a new career in real estate sales and property management.

While he has been politically active, he has not run for office before. In 2005, he co-authored a book, “One World Democracy: A Progressive Vision for Enforceable Global Law.”

Tetalman said when he started running last fall, people told him his chances for beating Issa were slim. But he said the tide may have turned in February, when Issa chaired congressional hearings on the issue of whether the government should force religious institutions to provide contraceptive coverage for their employees. Issa was criticized because the first panel of witnesses included no women.

Later, conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh stoked the fire by denigrating a female law school student who testified on the issue.

After those incidents, said Tetalman, Republicans approached him and said they would not support Issa and would instead vote for Tetalman.

“I think (Issa) lost a lot of votes in that case,” Tetalman said.

Tetalman said he plans to run a grass-roots campaign, with phone-banking and knocking on doors, but realizes he won’t have the cash for many TV ads.

Another issue he believes will resonate with voters is the so-called Buffett Rule, which President Obama has invoked as part of a plan to increase taxes on the wealthy. (The rule refers to billionaire Warren Buffett, who has called it unfair that top income-earners pay a lower tax rate than the middle class.) Tetalman said Issa has signed a pledge not to increase taxes created by anti-tax activist Grover Norquist, but that stance led to the U.S. credit downgrade last year.

“I’m confident I will be one of the top two (vote-getters) and go on to November,” Tetalman said.

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