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Politifest Live Blog: Campa-Najjar, Issa Brand Each Other as Out of Touch

Last updated 12:45 p.m. on Oct. 2.

In a debate for the 50th Congressional District Thursday night, both candidates spent significant time trying to redefine their opponent.

Ammar Campa-Najjar, who ran against former Rep. Duncan Hunter for the seat in 2018 and lost, painted Darrell Issa, another former congressman, as an interloper to the 50th District whose time in Washington has come and gone. Campa-Najjar is from East County.

Issa, who served for 18 years in Congress while representing a different district that covered parts of northern San Diego and Orange County, meanwhile said he stood by his congressional record. Getting things done in Washington, he said, requires toughness – a quality he said he has already proven he has.

Issa attempted to brand Campa-Najjar, who has been running on a moderate Democratic platform, as a progressive who is hiding his true values from East County voters.

In other news from the debate, Campa-Najjar indicated he does not support Proposition 15, which would effectively increase property taxes on commercial businesses. Prop. 15 would change the way property tax assessments are done. The measure would provoke new property assessments for commercial properties like shopping centers, but not residential properties.

“I do not support raising taxes during a recession in California,” he said.

Passing the measure is a huge priority for most Democrats in California, but Campa-Najjar is not backing the measure. Issa also does not support Prop 15.

A recent poll from the San Diego Union-Tribune showed Issa and Campa-Najjar nearly tied in the race [1]. It’s hard to imagine in such a Republican stronghold. Hunter won the seat two years ago even while under federal indictment.

The district has gone heavily for Republican presidential candidates over the last 12 years. But the new poll showed that support for Trump in the district has taken a dive.

Friendly reminder: Polls don’t always tell the truth. Polls from 2016 showed white women from the suburbs did not strongly support Donald Trump. In the end, though, they voted for him in strong enough numbers to help him win the election.

Will Huntsberry

Von Wilpert Not on Board With Prop. 15

Marni Von Wilpert, the Democrat with a chance to represent the most conservative City Council district in San Diego, is wavering on one of the Democrats’ highest priority for state politics right now: Proposition 15.

The measure would split the rolls of property tax assessments in California – protecting assessment levels for residential properties but provoking new assessments for commercial properties. It would be a major tax increase for those properties – things like shopping centers and office parks. It would be phased in beginning in 2023.

Very few initiatives have been higher priorities for teachers unions and public employee unions across the state. State Sen. Ben Hueso, who’s running for county supervisor, recently spoke out against it and quickly backtracked [2].

Von Wilpert is undecided and wrestled with the question at our Politifest 2020 debate with her rival, Republican Joe Leventhal.

“I’m still looking at the fine print to see exactly how it’s going to work and as an attorney I need to do that. But my thoughts so far are we need funding for schools and that’s where this funding is going to go,” she said.

On the other hand, she was worried about the impact.

“But then we have small businesses that have been shuttered because we asked them to, to keep us safe. And that’s not something any of us expected, and we have to make sure they can meet an increased tax,” she said.

She ultimately clarified she has no position on it yet.

Scott Lewis

Leventhal Does Not Want to Talk About Trump

During the Politifest City Council District 5 debate, I asked the candidates about President Donald Trump’s repeated warnings that the suburbs were in danger of an “invasion” if Democrat Joe Biden wins. We had a conversation about single-family home zoning and whether it needs to be rethought. And then I just asked about Trump’s specific warnings.

Image courtesy of the city of San Diego

Scott Lewis: Do you agree with Trump that the suburbs are in danger right now and would be in worse danger were his opponent to win?

Joe Leventhal: I don’t pay a whole lot of attention to what’s going on at the national level right now, Scott, because we’re focused on the campaign here in the city of San Diego so I am not agreeing or disagreeing with anything the president has to say because I am not listening to it right now.

Lewis: Do you consider yourself a supporter of him?

Leventhal: I’m not talking about national politics. I know my opponent would like to bring national politics into this race. That’s what her campaign mail has been all about. It’s been all about the president. Presidents are polarizing figures. This president is; the past president was. I want to focus on the city of San Diego.

Von Wilpert jumped on the vulnerability.

“I think it’s really unfortunate that any person or any candidate isn’t paying attention to national politics that is going to be deciding our fate for the next four years. I’ve been campaigning against bringing Trump into San Diego. My party is not the party that supports President Trump. The local GOP is,” she said.

Scott Lewis

The Other Debate Night

It may be too late to get tickets to your favorite sessions in this week’s extraordinary political online gathering.

Just kidding. It’s the internet and there’s a lot of room. This week, the biggest, most diverse Politifest [3] since we launched the event in 2011 begins. Normally it’s just one day but now there are dozens of sessions held over several days.

Here is a video we put together to get you situated on some of the biggest questions voters will have to grapple with:

But there are going to be many more conversations.

Wednesday, for example, will feature several City Council debates.

We’ll have debates about everything from Chula Vista City Council to the Oceanside mayoral race. (There are so many candidates in that race we had to break it into two sessions. Someone could win with a very small percentage of the vote, it’s wild.) Our staff is mobilized. Maya Srikrishnan, Will Huntsberry, Lisa Halverstadt, Kayla Jimenez and I will also run panels. This is MacKenzie Elmer’s first Politifest and she gets to manage a debate about the 53rd congressional race featuring Georgette Gómez and Sara Jacobs. No problem!

We have an array of local media partners: Journalists like Andrew Bowen and Claire Trageser, Max Rivlin-Nadler and John Carroll from KPBS will moderate debates. Gustavo Solis from the Union-Tribune will handle the Chula Vista candidates.

Danny Freeman from NBC 7 San Diego will moderate the county supervisor District 2 debate between Joel Anderson and Steve Vaus, two Republicans. One of the toughest places for small town politics right now is Encinitas, where the arguments are deep and tensions are high. Caitlin Steinberg from The Coast News will handle that one.

And then there’s the brawl in East County for the congressional seat vacated by Duncan Hunter. Ammar Campa-Najjar and Darrell Issa’s debate is on. Jack Cronin from AM 600 KOGO will moderate, and the station is carrying it live.

Alain Stephens, from The Trace [4], will interview Attorney General Xavier Becerra about policing in California.

I know I have a way of exaggerating or at least saying often that something is a really big deal. But I’ve never seen or been a part of a local event like this. This is a really big deal, and we have worked hard to build a special program.

Here’s the schedule and registration information [3]. Many of the panels are free with registration and several are being translated in real time into Spanish. I recommend you download the app to pick all the discussions you want to watch and see who else is attending.

There are so many great debates to be had about the future of San Diego. Let’s have them.

— Scott Lewis