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Constituents Know Little About Issa

With few legislative achievements, the man central to the Davis recall vote isn't prominent in his base.

August 04, 2003|Jean O. Pasco | Times Staff Writer

OCEANSIDE — Even in his own congressional district, it's not easy to find voters who know much about the man who wants to replace Gov. Gray Davis.

Questions posed over the weekend about Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Vista) drew mostly blank stares from the folks who should know him best after he won his 2000 election with 61% of the vote.

"I don't know anything about him," said Michaelene Couch, 41, of Oceanside, who was fishing with her 8-year-old son, Garrett, at the Oceanside Pier on Saturday.

The registered Democrat did know one key thing: that Issa spent a load of money -- $1.6 million -- to put a recall vote of Davis on an Oct. 7 special election ballot. But that wasn't enough to snag her support, despite her declared distaste for Davis.

If she favors anyone in the recall, she said, it's former Los Angeles Mayor Richard Riordan.

Mario Oropeza, 19, of Oceanside works in a supermarket and attends community college. He had no idea who Issa is. But he, too, knew about the recall and had formed this opinion: Arnold Schwarzenegger will be his choice if the actor decides to run.

"He's been through a lot in his life," Oropeza, a registered Democrat, said of Schwarzenegger. He signed the petition to recall Davis because "if they could get that many [signatures], there must be something wrong."

A quick canvass of residents in the 49th Congressional District confirmed what Issa himself has acknowledged: that he's championed no significant legislation nor any other headline-grabbing cause in his three years in office.

"I don't think he's done much to upset me," offered Carri Gambill, 36, of Oceanside, who works for a Christian marketing company. "I haven't heard much about him, and I read the paper and listen to the news. You just hear that he's running against Gray Davis, not what his issues are."

Issa entered the political arena five years ago, spending $10 million to run a losing U.S. Senate race against Democrat Barbara Boxer. Two years later, the car-alarm magnate spent $1.5 million to win his congressional seat, overwhelming his Democratic opponent, who got 29% of the vote.

A self-described conservative Republican who supports gun ownership, the death penalty and California's three-strikes law for repeat felons, Issa on paper is a snug fit for the 49th District. About six in 10 of its 639,000 residents are white, living in an area stretching from Perris and Temecula in Riverside County south to Oceanside and Vista, and continuing east, taking in much of northeastern San Diego County. A plurality of voters -- 49% -- are registered Republicans. George W. Bush got 58% of the votes here in the 2000 election.

The vast district is marked by large swaths of barren hills between pockets of new housing, a phenomenon that spurred lawmakers to carve out the new district in 2000 to accommodate its growing population.

"In San Diego County, it's almost a foregone conclusion that Davis is going to be out of there," said Rick Garcia, 45, of Oceanside, who'd stopped in Vista for a lunch of fish tacos. "The only bad part is the person who replaces him is going to have it worse because people will expect him to be a savior."

Knowledgeable about the coming recall election, Garcia said he knew little of Issa because he hadn't seen much of him around the district.

In fact, what he'd heard about Issa was mostly derogatory, he said -- something to do with alleged insurance fraud. Scrutiny because of the recall has unearthed several decades-old issues for Issa, including a misdemeanor weapons conviction and questions about an apparent arson fire at his manufacturing plant in 1982, weeks after the insurance coverage was increased. No charges were filed.

"I do feel sorry for him," Garcia said, referring to the scrutiny of Issa. He said Issa was the only one who "stuck his neck and his wallet out" to financially float the recall.

C.C. Charity, on the other hand, had met Issa and didn't like him.

The retired actress and Los Angeles newscaster, who now lives in Oceanside, said she met Issa a few years ago at a community meeting. She'd gone to get his support for closing Oceanside's general aviation airport to end round-the-clock noise.

He responded that he was a member of the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Assn. and generally sided with pilots.

"I certainly don't approve of Davis, but I don't want Issa in either, said Charity, 64, a registered independent. "The attitude I got from him was that he's very slick and he's very handsome and he uses his personality. I don't know how you get politicians to really serve their constituents.

"Do we replace one bad guy with another? That's the only real question."

Robert and Molly Fox moved to Murietta in June from St. Louis and dropped into the recall vortex. It has dominated talk radio and perplexed Robert Fox, 40, who works in advertising. He and his wife, a real estate agent, have two boys, ages 10 and 13.

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