Randy Voepel, AD-71, Republican incumbent.
Photo courtesy Randy Voepel

Assembly District 71 stretches from Idyllwild in Riverside County to the California border. Consisting mostly of rural mountain country or desert, much of the population is clustered in the southwestern suburban part of the district near San Diego.

The voting population of the district is skewed heavily Republican with nearly a 9-point registration edge (37 to 28 percent). In any election, a registration edge of that amount is hard to overcome. The factor that could swing this election from current incumbent and former Santee mayor Randy Voepel to challenger James Elia of El Cajon is the “no preference” registration category with 28 percent

James Elia, AD-71, Democratic challenger.
Photo courtesy James Elia

of eligible voters choosing that designation.

In the June 2018 primary that pitted Elia against two Republicans, Elia came in second, securing the November ballot slot as one of the top two. In that election Voepel received 45 percent of the vote, Elia 31 percent and Larry Wilske 24 percent giving Voepel’s two challengers a total of 55 percent of votes cast.

• Voepel casts himself as unabashedly conservative. His voting record in the Assembly is available online. He has cast many no votes because of the heavy dominance of Democrats in the state Assembly (53 Democrats and 25 Republicans).

In his interview with the Town Crier, Voepel emphasized his support for issues that could resonate with Idyllwild voters, regardless of party. He is vice chair for the Assembly’s committee on aging and long-term care. He advocates more oversight and inspections for nursing homes in the state to eliminate errors and potential mistreatment of patients. He would be open to having cameras in patient rooms if the facility had already been cited for a violation.

He also is an advocate for veterans and wants to funnel more state money into California’s network of eight homes for veterans. His priorities for dealing with homelessness, a major issue throughout metropolitan areas in the state, would be to provide more housing for homeless veterans first.

He would take all state funding to provide care and education for undocumented aliens and direct that to addressing homelessness and other critical state infrastructure and education problems, including poverty rates among legal residents.

Addressing wildfires and the continued likelihood of more, Voepel would push utility companies to upgrade their equipment, and install cameras and sensors on all their grid so that management is quickly aware of grid problems and can respond quickly and effectively coordinate with first responders.

He would favor some level of state subsidization of citizen generator purchases in fire-susceptible areas.

Ranking the issues currently most important to him for all residents of AD 71, he lists public safety and fire suppression first, and housing second (noting that it is too expensive throughout the state based on average incomes). He opposes rent control and believes the solution to the housing crisis would be to have more housing built. He proposes limiting local permit fees builders are charged to encourage more building. “Local jurisdictions should only collect the fees they need to cover building issues,” said Voepel.

While he agrees that health care is an important issue, he is not in favor of Medicare for all.

• James Elia casts himself as a progressive on most issues. As a nonprofit head, Elia hangs much of his platform on the need for a public bank in California, much like the Bank of North Dakota. With no need to mount huge profits, with fees reasonable to users, the money saved could be used to fund key areas Elia believes California needs to address: Medicare for all (single-payer healthcare), and investing in education and apprenticeship programs to produce skilled workers to help rebuild California’s infrastructure. Elia believes public banking (also supported by Democrat Gavin Newsome, running for governor) could fund free tuition for college and trade schools in California. “Newsome is a huge proponent of public banking and is committed to getting it established in California,” said Elia.

Like Voepel, Elia supports requiring equipment upgrades by power companies to help fire suppression. He also supports a coordinated program of tree thinning throughout AD 71’s forested areas to reduce fire spread.

He believes the housing shortage within the district is critical. He would address it by requiring issued building permits to mandate beginning construction within a specified period, thereby shortening the time more housing is built and available for occupancy.  “Developers will sit on land, waiting for the most profitable times to build,” said Elia. “Developers should not be allowed to sit for four or five years on land that can be developed.”

Since the housing crisis in the state also is caused by home prices that outpace median income, Elia advocates that rather than let supply and demand be how home prices are determined, he would tie pricing to median incomes areas as currently required to obtain financing by federal regulations stated in the Community Reinvestment Act. Elia would extend the provisions to building as well.

And lest any think that progressives are soft on crime, it was reported by the San Diego Union Tribune in August that late-night gymgoer and former high school wrestler Elia chased down a burglar trying to break into and steal a car, and single-handedly apprehended him. The reported story earned Elia new fans who appreciated his impulse to do the right thing and stop a criminal undertaking.