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San Diego representatives prepare for primary challenges in new districts

As San Diego representatives look toward the upcoming elections, they’re also getting the lay of the land on new voting areas drawn by the California Citizens Redistricting Commission. The commission finalized new voting maps for state and federal offices last month, setting boundaries for the next decade.

U.S. Rep. Mike Levin, D-San Juan Capistrano, faces a potential rematch with his previous opponent Brian Maryott, along with challenges from other Republicans, including Oceanside City Councilmember Chris Rodriguez and Orange County Supervisor Lisa Bartlett in the June primary.

In other San Diego congressional districts, two political newcomers from his own party are confronting incumbent Rep. Scott Peters, D-San Diego, while two other Democrats hope to unseat Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Bonsall, in East County.

Despite changes to district configurations and numbers by redistricting, the partisan compositions of these districts remain relatively stable, leaving incumbents on familiar ground, experts say.

“It’s really only the 49th” that will likely see a significant challenge, said Thad Kousser, a political science professor at UC San Diego. “That’s one place where there’s the strongest possibility of a competitive two-party race in November.”

Levin has represented the 49th District for two terms, starting in 2018. It encompasses Del Mar, Encinitas, Solana Beach, Carlsbad, Oceanside and Vista along with San Clemente, Dana Point and San Juan Capistrano in Orange County. It previously included some communities in the city of San Diego including parts of La Jolla, but the redistricting commission swapped those out for the Orange County city of Laguna Nigel.

Levin won against Maryott in 2020 and defeated Republican Diane Harkey in 2018. He said he’ll emphasize pandemic recovery, infrastructure improvements, climate action and veterans issues in his campaign.

“It’s very clear that COVID and the economy are on people’s minds,” he said. “A year ago many of our restaurants and small businesses were shut down, schools were closed … I think we’ve made a lot of progress on the American Rescue Plan.”

Levin said he’ll highlight his work on funding to clean up the Tijuana River Valley, replenish sand at local beaches and remove spent nuclear fuel from the San Onofre Nuclear plant as well as passage of his bill to guarantee National Guard and reserve members the same benefits as active duty military.

Maryott, a San Juan Capistrano financial planner, noted that the addition of Laguna Nigel establishes “a classic swing district” with a nearly even partisan split. He said the region’s voters expect economic growth, a clean environment and safe communities.

“People want an economy that is predictable and provides good opportunities for their children, grandchildren and themselves,” he said. “They would love to see interest rates remain low and costs manageable for their families.”

Maryott said he thinks his conservative platform will resonate with voters wary of sweeping social agendas and government spending.

“They don’t fall for big government and massive change, which is where Mike Levin and the progressive Democrats have gone,” he said.

Maryott joins two other Republicans trying to unseat Levin, Rodriguez, who is serving his first term as Oceanside City Councilmember and Bartlett, the Orange County Supervisor who previously served as mayor of Dana Point.

Kousser said Barlett, a Japanese American with more than a decade in public service, could prove a strong contender in that race.

“She fits the mold of Republican women of color who were the party’s strongest success stories in the 2020 election,” Kousser said.

Veteran congressmember Issa won a battle for the 50th Congressional District in East County two years ago, prevailing over a field of several Republicans and Democrat Ammar Campa-Najjar for the seat vacated after former Rep. Duncan Hunter pleaded guilty to misusing campaign funds. That area is now the new 48th Congressional District, which covers all of the East County from Riverside County to the border.

So far two Democrats plan to run against Issa. Former Santee City Councilmember and registered nurse Stephen Houlahan cites his position as a lifelong resident of the region and his work opposing a natural gas pipeline and increasing paramedic services in the city.

“I have a passion for healthcare and the environment, and am an expert in Medicare,” he said. “As a registered nurse I feel that it’s within my heart and mind to serve my country at the highest level and try to get us through this terrible, COVID pandemic.”

Escondido resident Mari Barosay, a member of the Escondido Democratic Club and Nasty Women of North County, said she’s gathering signatures to qualify for the June primary. She said she was prompted to run because of Issa’s vote against the John Lewis Voting Acts bill and his opposition to a bipartisan committee on the Jan. 6 insurrection.

Rep. Scott Peters faces challenges from the left in his own party. Peters, who has represented the 52nd Congressional District for nearly a decade, now falls in the new 50th District, which comprises much of central San Diego along with San Marcos and south Escondido in North County.

Democrats Adam Schindler, a medical researcher and technical writer, and Kylie Taitano, a software engineer, have announced campaigns against Peters. Schindler said he decided to run because of Peters’ vote against The Lower Drug Costs Now Act, H.R. 3. Peters said the bill would have stifled innovation and he proposed alternate legislation. Critics argued that his “no” vote favored campaign donors in the pharmaceutical sector.

“It became very apparent that Scott Peters, the Democratic Representative, had sided with the pharmaceutical industry against his own party and the people (whom) the bill would benefit,” Schindler said.

Peters’ Chief of Staff, MaryAnne Pintar, said Peters views his campaign as a chance to discuss his legislative actions with voters. She said he’ll point to that bill as beneficial to the San Diego economy and an example of his independent judgement.

“He does what he thinks is wright for San Diego and the region,” she said. “Because he doesn’t agree with everything that the Democratic leadership may propose, that may bring challenges from the left. That’s nothing new to us, and we know how to talk to voters about why he made a different decision.”

Candidates for the June primary election can file nomination papers with the Registrar of Voters starting Feb. 14 and must complete election paperwork by March 11.