Scott Peters’ case for election to Congress comes across as weak kneed

Former City Council member and current Port Commissioner Scott Peters tries to sell his candidacy, but his argument leaves behind more doubts than assurances.

When our intrepid Editordude asked if I would cover the Ocean Beach Planning Board meeting last Wednesday night and I found out that Scott Peters was coming to speak, I have to admit that I was pretty excited.  (Yeah, I know…..I’m pathetic, but whatever.)  I really didn’t know much of anything about Peters, and this was my first chance to form some sort of impression of him heading into the June primary.

He was there for two purposes:  As Port Commissioner to talk to the planning board and those in attendance about the good things happening along the San Diego waterfront.  And there are some good things (chronicled here).  Perhaps more importantly, though, he was there to talk about his bid for the redrawn 52nd District Congressional seat, which includes Ocean Beach.

Scott Peters isn’t your stereotypical Democrat.  In fact, at first glance it’s rather tough not to be convinced that he’s a Republican, despite his background as an environmental lawyer.  He does live in La Jolla, after all…….with his neighbor Mitt Romney.

Peters comes across as a very reasonable guy.  His policy positions are very much middle of the road but leaning Democratic:  He laments the lack of focus on transportation issues in Congress, pointing to the emphasis last summer on the debt ceiling and not on issues that will “move the country forward.”  Congress’ actions, he says, led to the US credit rating being downgraded for the first time in history.

“There is no discussion on the future of America in Congress right now,” he said.  “We need to be making investments in America that are going to keep us competitive and give people a chance.”  Innovators, he said, are starting their businesses in China and India instead of the United States due to the lack of investment in our own economy.

He criticized his incumbent opponent Brian Bilbray for his stance on immigration, among other issues.  According to Bilbray, he says, “Unless you deport all 11 million undocumented people, then that’s amnesty.”  He skewered Bilbray for his vote to defund Planned Parenthood as part of a budget bill in Congress, and for “reinterpreting the Constitution” with regards to “anchor babies.”  Bilbray wants to deport all US born children of undocumented immigrants despite the fact that they’re citizens under the Constitution.

The new district, he says, is 1/3 Democrat, 1/3 Republican, and 1/3 Independent.  “The way to beat Brian is not just to have Democrats, but it’s to have independents.”

His positions are very reasonable, very logical, and for the most part supported by Democrats.  But it’s when he begins to speak about his moderate appeal, about how well he has been able to work in the past with “the other side” that his argument begins to fall flat:  “I would try to be as bipartisan as possible, try to establish relationships across the aisle” he says.  “My approach is a problem solving approach.”

Sure he’s been able to work cooperatively with San Diego Republicans such as Dick Murphy, Jerry Sanders, and City Councilman Kevin Faulconer.  But San Diego Republicans are not Congressional Republicans, and to hear him speak about how he’ll be able to work with Speaker John Boehner and Eric Cantor’s crew reveals a complete lack of awareness of what’s actually happening with Republicans in Washington.  As if he, Scott Peters, is the Democratic White Knight that’s going to ride into the Capitol and miraculously bridge the ever growing divide between the two parties.  He assumes that Congressional Republicans are reasonable people, when the truth is that there’s very little that’s reasonable about them.

House of Representatives party dispersion;

In a collaborative study conducted by political science professors from UCLA, the University of Georgia, and NYU, over the last 30 years Republicans in Congress and the Senate have moved more and more to the right, while Democrats have remained for the most part on a level plane.  Democrats still hold to the same ideals they did 30 years ago, while Republicans have become more and more radically conservative.  With the arrival of TEA Party freshmen in 2010, the divide has only gotten worse.

Moderate Republicans in the House and Senate are virtually an extinct breed.  Because of it the environment in Congress has become so toxic that it’s approaching impossible for the two sides to work together.

Senate Party Dispersion;

When challenged directly on this point and asked (by yours truly) how he, Scott Peters, expected to go into Congress and suddenly right what ills Congress, his response was effectively Well, I have a history of working together with Republicans to get things done.  When asked again (by yours truly) why he of all people would succeed where everyone else in the last three years has failed to be able to work with Congressional Republicans, including President Obama who went out of his way to negotiate numerous deals with Boehner and Co., only to ultimately be completely rejected each and every time, and is now taking heat from the left for being too conciliatory toward Republicans, his answer was basically the same:  That he has a record of solving problems.  He even went so far as to criticize Nancy Pelosi for suggesting that the only way to solve the partisan gridlock is to “elect more Democrats.”

“We need people in Congress that can make things happen and get things done.”  And Scott Peters wants us to know that he’s that guy.

What his responses show are either an incredible arrogance or a stunning naiveté.  Arrogance in that he seems to expect that due to his charm and willingness to “reach across the aisle” that suddenly all Republicans in Congress will be thrilled to work with him where they’ve refused to work with anyone else with a ‘D’ attached to their name.  Naiveté in that he does not seem to comprehend what is really going on in Congress these days and how deliberately partisan the dealings have been on the part of Boehner and Co.

Now, Scott Peters seems like a really good guy.  He seems like he really means well and that in his own way he will work hard to best represent the interests of the people who would elect him.  But his approach is a weak one.  These Republicans are not going to suddenly have a change of heart and become more moderate.  Look at the graphs.  What do they tell you?  (Click on the graphs to enlarge them)

Policies that Republicans touted less than 10 years ago are now considered a “socialist conspiracy.”  Policies like a health care mandate which was first proposed by the ultra-conservative Heritage Foundation in 1993 and put into practice by Mitt Romney.  Cap and trade was a Republican idea that is now considered a “job crushing burden” on American employers.  The START treaty with Russia, first negotiated in the 80’s by that notorious liberal Ronald Reagan and aimed at reducing the number of nuclear warheads, used to be a non-controversial goal that was near unanimously supported by both parties, but is now seen as a weakening of our defenses and kow-towing to the Russians.

There is no negotiating with these people.  They would rather hold America hostage until they achieve absolute power.  You simply cannot negotiate with terrorists.  To these people compromise is tantamount to high treason punishable by career execution.

The only thing that Peters would accomplish with his conciliatory ways is to become more radically conservative himself.

Nancy Pelosi is right.  The only way to change things in Washington is to soundly rout Republicans at the polls in November (and probably in the next two or three elections too).  Beat them so badly that they are either forced to become more moderate in order to achieve a broader appeal, or that the more reasonable among their ranks split to form a viable third party, leaving the GOP to wither.

Democrats must stand for their principles and fight back for a change.  We’ve tried it Scott Peters’ way since 2006.  It hasn’t worked.  And it won’t work.  The definition of insanity is to repeat the same behavior over and over again and expecting different results.  What Scott Peters is proposing is for insanity to continue to reign.  And if that’s the case, we might as well just re-elect Brian Bilbray.

Now I just have to hear what the other major Democratic challenger, Lori Saldaña, has to say.  She’ll talk to the planning board next month.


Andy Cohen

Andy spent 15 years working in the highest levels of the San Diego professional sports world, including both the Padres and the Chargers. He began his foray into writing while a volunteer for Francine Busby's 2010 Congressional campaign, eventually becoming a contributor to the now defunct SDNN. He has reported on local and national politics for both the OB Rag and the San Diego Free Press. When not reporting news and events, he offers political and policy commentary from a liberal perspective, occasionally turning back to his sports roots. While he does not hide his more liberal political bent, Andy always strives for fairness in the telling of a story.


  1. avatar says

    Good job, Andy. I’m looking forward to the Saldana article. I’ve met her a couple of times and was real impressed with her. She’s a credible candidate, except that she doesn’t have Peter’s “resources”, i.e., connections to the local elite.

    • avatar says

      I got a chance to talk to her for a good while during last year’s OB Street Fair when she was still only pondering a run for Congress. I liked her. I think she’s got the goods, but I’ll hold final judgment on that for now. Under ordinary circumstances I’d say that Peters would probably be a good choice too, but these are not ordinary circumstances.

  2. avatarjudi Curry says

    Thanks for clarifying where Peter’s stands. I have been watching signs going up for him in the neighborhood – in fact I spotted one at a former City Council members’ house, only to find that it is no longer there. In the articles I have read about him I have thought that he is an “opportunist” – and I am disappointed that he will now split the vote with Saldana, thus giving Bilbray the edge in the election.

    I look forward to your next article about Saldana. And yes, for those of you driving past my house – I do have a “Saldana” in front of it.

    • avatar says

      Not necessarily. In the June primary, if no one gets over 50% of the vote, the top two finishers move on to November. Theoretically we could see a November matchup between Saldana and Peters. Unlikely, but it could happen.