As the filing deadline to run in California’s June primary approaches on Friday, inewsource examined the voting records of San Diego County’s five members of Congress.
Among them, Rep. Scott Peters, D-San Diego, is by far the most likely to vote against his party.
Peters has voted against his fellow Democrats 13.6 percent of the time since the start of 2017, according to ProPublica’s analysis of congressional data. That ranks him 16th out of all House members in his propensity to vote against his party.
During that same period, the county’s other members of Congress — Democrats Susan Davis and Juan Vargas and Republicans Darrell Issa and Duncan Hunter — have all voted more than 90 percent of the time with their respective parties.
Why this matters
With the growing partisanship in Congress, voting records can reveal the key issues where politicians disagree with their party.
Issa, who barely beat Democratic challenger Doug Applegate to keep his seat in 2016, has continued his party loyalty since then, voting against the Republicans only 3.9 percent of the time. Recognizing a tough battle for re-election, Issa announced in January he won’t seek a 10th term to his Vista seat.
Hunter, who faces a federal investigation into his campaign spending as he goes for a sixth term, remains loyal to the GOP. The Alpine Republican has voted against his party 4.5 percent of the time this term.
Carl Luna, a San Diego Mesa College political science professor, said the county’s House members don’t have a playbook for when or how often to vote against their party. All politicians in the county are trying to keep up with changing demographics in their districts and voters who are reluctant to support moderate candidates, he said.
“There’s a lot more variation going on in San Diego precisely because things are in transition,” Luna said. “A lot of the politicians in town are trying to figure out how to accommodate that because the old rules just don’t seem to apply as much as they used to.”
Peters: ‘Constituents want me to be independent’
Peters told inewsource he sometimes feels the pressure from his party to get in line with the Democrats’ views on policy issues, but he tries to focus on what the people in his district want.
“I think that my constituents want me to be independent, and that means that I’m not going to Washington to be part of one of the two partisan armies,” he said. “I’m trying to create solutions, and solutions are almost always in the middle of the room, not on the edges.”
Peters represents the 52nd District, which runs north from Coronado to La Jolla and then east to include Carmel Valley, Scripps Ranch, Poway and Rancho Bernardo.
No party dominates the district, where 34 percent of voters are Democrats, 30 percent Republicans and 30 percent decline to state. And that has been the case since Peters was elected to the House in 2012, when he narrowly defeated Republican incumbent Brian Bilbray.
During his first term, Peters was even less loyal to his party than he is now, voting against Democrats 16.5 percent of the time.
In 2014, he won re-election in a close race over Republican Carl DeMaio. For the next two years, he voted against the Democrats 11.9 percent of the time.
Peters had his easiest re-election bid in 2016, when he defeated Republican Denise Gitsham by 13 points.
So far, eight people have pulled papers to run against him this year. Peters has raised more than $1,543,000 in contributions for his re-election. His closest competitor in fundraising, Republican James Veltmeyer, has raised about $66,000.
Brian Adams, a San Diego State University political science professor, said Peters has been able to vote more often with House Republicans and not suffer consequences with his party because Democrats have been in the minority for all three of his terms.
“Everybody knows the Democrats are gonna lose on these votes,” Adams said. “Peters can vote with the majority, and it’s not gonna matter one way or another. There’s a lot more pressure for members of the majority to vote with the party.”
Peters has notably gone against Democrats on net neutrality and trade votes. In 2016, he voted with Republicans to pass a bill that prevents the Federal Communications Commission from regulating the rates that internet providers charge customers.
“We get a lot of input about net neutrality,” Peters said. “I think my position is nuanced, which doesn’t lend itself to partisanship either.”
He said he supports net neutrality, but he doesn’t believe the FCC should control rules around use of the internet through the executive branch.
In February, Peters also was one of only 12 Democrats who voted with Republicans to amend the Americans with Disabilities Act to require that disabled people trying to overcome accessibility issues at public businesses provide written notice. The business would have 60 days to respond and an additional 60 days to complete improvements.
Issa and Hunter stick with Republicans
Issa’s and Hunter’s seats are among the 69 competitive races in Congress this year, according to the nonpartisan group Inside Elections.
Issa’s 49th District, which stretches from Dana Point to Del Mar, is considered a “toss up” by Inside Elections and others.
But any chance the Democrats could win these races doesn’t seem to have changed Hunter’s or Issa’s voting patterns. Both buck their party less than the average House Republican does. Issa’s propensity to vote with the Republicans has actually increased since he almost lost his seat to a Democrat in 2016.
That doesn’t surprise Luna, the Mesa College professor.
“It’s not necessarily which voters you reach. It’s which voters you reach who turn out to vote,” Luna said. “So you can try to go water down your message and reach to the center, but if you lose your base, if they don’t turn out enough because they now don’t care enough, you can still lose the election.”
Issa’s one attempt to moderate his stance on a major partisan issue in the past year was his vote in December against the Republican tax bill, the most sweeping piece of legislation passed in this congressional term. Issa argued the bill hurt Californians by limiting deductions for state and local income tax. He was one of two House Republicans from California who opposed the measure.
“Californians have entrusted me to fight for them,” Issa said in a statement at the time. “I will not vote to make the incredible tax burden they already endure even worse.”
The next month, he dropped out of the race anyway. At least 14 candidates have filed papers to run for the seat, though one, Democrat Christina Prejean, has announced she is dropping out.
Hunter’s district is the most Republican in the county. It covers eastern San Diego County and a part of southwestern Riverside County. Republicans outnumber Democrats in voter registration 42 percent to 27 percent.
“In that district, he gets no gain by switching to the more Democratic side of things,” Luna said. “The only way he loses in that district is if Republican voters decide they don’t like him because of the corruption allegations and they don’t show up to vote. He loses if Republicans stay home.”
Hunter rarely bucks his party on a major vote. But he did in December when he was one of 16 House Republicans to vote against a short-term spending bill that kept the government funded through Jan. 19. Since then, Hunter helped pass other short-term spending bills, including one in February that funds the government through March 23.
Vargas and Davis stick with Democrats
The average House Democrat votes against the party 7 percent of the time. Vargas and Davis vote against the Democrats less often than that, but more often than Hunter and Issa vote against Republicans.
Vargas, who represents southern San Diego County and all of Imperial County, bucks the Democrats on 5.5 percent of votes. Susan Davis, who represents central San Diego, parts of East County and Chula Vista, does so on 5.7 percent of votes.
Vargas and Davis come from the bluest districts in the county, and their seats are expected to be safe this election season. He won his last re-election with 73 percent of the vote, and she won hers with 67 percent.
Davis, who is seeking re-election to a 10th term, has never voted against the Democrats more than 7.2 percent of the time in any of her terms. Of Vargas’ three terms in Congress, his propensity to vote against the Democrats has never been higher than 6.6 percent.
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story incorrectly said an amendment to the Americans with Disabilities Act put a 180-day waiting period in place for disabled people to gain access to business services. In fact, it is 120 days. The story was updated on March 9, 2018.
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