Think of Congressman Darrel Issa, the former car alarm magnate who made a fortune off the Viper system, and you picture the ultimate Republican loyalist, the former chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee who bedeviled ex-President Barack Obama over everything from his birth certificate to conduct of the Food and Drug Administration.
But these days, it is Issa who is bedeviled, with a target on his back in his San Diego County district, which stretches north into a bit of Orange County.
The target comes courtesy of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, which has named Issa one of seven California Republicans in Congress it considers vulnerable next year. Not only did Issa barely win re-election last year, by about a 1,600-vote margin, but the outcome of that race wasn’t known until weeks after the election. And his 2016 opponent, retired Marine Col. Doug Applegate, is coming after him again next year, while Democrat Hillary Clinton actually carried his district narrowly in 2016 presidential voting.
All this has Issa focusing much more on his district rather than spending most of his time on investigations that went nowhere and were mostly designed to harass Obama and his aides. Not a single person was indicted or removed from office because of any Issa-led probe and Bakersfield’s Kevin McCarthy, the second-ranking House Republican, admitted their prime purpose was to harass Obama and his aides.
Calvin Moore, his energetic deputy, insists Issa – one of the wealthiest members of Congress and perhaps best known around California for funding the petition drive that led to the 2003 recall of former Gov. Gray Davis – has always maintained a strong focus on his district.
“He’s working on the same stuff he always has,” Moore said. “He wants the nuclear waste issue at San Onofre settled, he wants veterans to be able to get jobs more easily and he wants immigration reform.”
Those are staple issues in a district that includes the huge Camp Pendleton Marine base and hosts the shut-down nuclear power plant whose spent fuel will be stored just yards from the beach under current plans.
But although Issa insists he’s visited the spent fuel site frequently since San Onofre shut down in 2012, few in his district recall such visits prior to one staged with much publicity last winter, when he brought fellow Republican Rep. John Shimkus of Illinois there to plump for a bill setting up new nuclear waste disposal sites.
Issa clearly hopes the retirement of former Democratic Senate leader Harry Reid of Nevada will open the way for a storage site at Yucca Mountain not far from the gambling Mecca of Laughlin, a project Reid resisted for years because of reported danger to aquifers that form much of southern Nevada’s underground water supply.
Meanwhile, Issa has still not taken a position on the San Onofre cost settlement that is now under reconsideration by the state Public Utilities Commission because of evidence it was a sweetheart deal between former PUC president Michael Peevey and executives of Southern California Edison Co. That settlement saddled consumers with about 70 percent of the cost of decommissioning the plant, which failed largely because of an Edison blunder. It’s a major issue for consumers in his district. Issa has had five years to consider a stance, but taken none.
Issa also submitted his own plan to replace Obamacare, the Affordable Care Act, seeking to open all government employee health insurance plans to the general public and contending this could bring rates down so far that current federal premium subsidies would not be needed. Such subsides were not in his plan, which differs greatly from others put forward by fellow GOP House members. His plan has gone nowhere.
Issa also staked out a position far from other Republicans on possible investigation of Russian intelligence links to President Trump’s 2016 campaign. He’s called for an independent prosecutor, contending Trump’s Attorney General Jeff Sessions cannot do the job objectively enough for most Americans to trust conclusions he might reach.
The upshot is that constituents in the 49th Congressional District shared by Issa and Applegate are seeing more of their representative than most can ever remember. He’s also seeing more of his constituents, one positive aspect of a close vote in a district that formerly was one-sided.