James Elia of El Cajon is a Democrat running for California’s 71st Assembly seat. Republican incumbent Randy Voepel of Santee is just finishing his first term.
Elia was in Idyllwild last Thursday night to introduce himself to Riverside County voters at an Idyllwild Indivisible meeting at Town Hall. About 90 percent of the district is in San Diego County, stretching south to the border with Mexico.
Elia described himself as a progressive Democrat who is seeking to “repeal or replace Randy Voepel.”
Elia’s father emigrated from Iraq to the U.S. and settled in the San Diego area. There are many more former Iraqis in El Cajon, Elia said, “and they all came to America to live the American Dream.”
As a child, listening to President Ronald Reagan, Elia asked his father whether they were Republicans or Democrats.
The answer, which became the roots of his political ventures, was, “We are Democrats. Democrats do a better job looking out for people like us.”
His father, who became a U.S. citizen, was not simply referring to his immigrant status. Rather, he was acknowledging their economic status. Elia is one of eight siblings whose mother died from cancer when he was very young. Her hospital bills were in the millions, he added
Immediately, Elia offered a contrast between himself and Voepel. “I have a lot of ideas of what to do and can get things done with the Democratic supermajority.”
Elia was referring to Voepel’s argument that the “Democratic supermajority” prevented his ideas from becoming laws, thus marginalizing him as an Assembly member.
On his website Elia wrote, “I have a great relationship with many assembly members. And I can design legislation to actually get things done in the 71st. I can pass more legislation in my first term than [Voepel and former Republican legislators] have in their whole careers which is none.”
His ability to work with the Assembly leadership should help him with Republican voters, he argued. This would enable him to help them get legislation approved for local projects and ideas. “I can get a bulk of what they want and what everyone else wants done,” he said.
The first issue that Elia raised was bank accountability. For 10 years, he worked for Wells Fargo and has been a financial consultant. His experience created a deep sense of distrust for the banking industry.
“Let’s have more protections for the people of California against corrupt financial institutions and consider public banking options,” he wrote on his website.
Elia, along with gubernatorial candidate Delaine Eastin, support establishing a state banking institution. He argued it would save California billions of dollars for fees to private banks.
His second issue was healthcare. Specifically, Elia said he would work with other legislators to establish a single-payer healthcare system in California. If passed, Senate Bill 562 would accomplish that, but it’s support is waning.
“As the richest country, why can’t we afford it? We give out campaign subsidies. We have the money,” he argued to a room full of agreement. “Nobody should be denied the right of healthcare in California.”
From single-payer healthcare, Elia next espoused support for eliminating tuition costs for the California state college system. “College debt is crippling the youth of the country,” he stated. “Every California resident should go to a public university if they want and tuition should be free.”