While watching the sunset at IB's Portwood Pier Plaza, Denise Moreno Ducheny spoke with IB Patch about her recent decision to run for Congress.
With a long history in San Diego County serving six years in the California State Assembly and eight years in the California State Senate, she now has set her eyes set on the 51st Congressional District.
Congressman Bob Filner currently holds the seat but he is running for mayor of San Diego. The California Citizens Redistricting Committee ruled last year to add IB to the district which will now span the entire California-Mexico border.
Vargas received 72 percent of votes cast to secure the California Democratic Party's endorsement at its Jan. 21 regional conference.
Life in Imperial Beach
Ducheny came to San Diego County from Los Angeles with her husband after graduating from law school in 1979 and opened a law office in Logan Heights. Friends in the area and bringing her cats to the Imperial Beach Pet Hospital began her ties with IB.
"Imperial Beach was always the place to go to when it was too hot and my husband likes to fish," she said. "At that time we just knew a few folks down here and had a small connection."
The Duchenys would purchase and remodel a second home close to the beach as a place to get away and have friends visit. Two years ago, they rented their other house and began to call Imperial Beach home.
"I love living down here," she said. "I love being able to walk out my door and smell the beach. I do not like the days when I am unable to get out and see my beach when I think I should be enjoying it every day. I live right here."
Ducheny left public office in December 2010 and said she was looking forward to "a less stressful life" after politics but people urged her to run to represent the district which now spans the entire California-Mexico border.
"It has all the issues you care about: the border, communities like Imperial Beach, National City, the Imperial Valley and constituents need what you offered at the state level at the federal level as well."
Practicing immigration, family and criminal law in for 15 years Logan Heights is part of her motivation to run for Congress.
"As dysfunctional as I think Congress is now and as daunting as it is to think about the flights back east, our community needs to be represented," she said. "We all have to take some responsibility. I have a lot of experience now as a legislator that I can take with me and help our district have a voice there."
The border economy, cross-border environmental issues and immigration are some of the key issues Ducheny said she wants to address if she is elected to Congress.
Border Wait Times A Priority
A SANDAG study released in 2005 found that for every 45 minutes waiting at the border the state loses approximately $1.3 billion in annual revenue. At the held in September, estimates now indicate that for every hour waiting to cross the border, $7 billion in annual California revenue is lost.
"This applies to them all, but especially San Ysidro," Ducheny said. "I have been working with that project since I first started the assembly. I just found out at a recent meeting that the first phase is funded, but not the second. I think that is part of the economic mess we are in."
"What government ought to be doing is that type of infrastructure," she said. "That investment would help us create jobs, move goods, up sales tax and all of those things. Calexico is the same. Just do it. It can't be that difficult compared to what they spend on Iraq, and whatever else."
Immigration Reform, The Dream Act and Cross-border Workforce
Ducheny said she tends to have a more expansionist view of comprehensive immigration reform and wishes the rhetoric could change and people could see the issue for what it is.
"We have always acknowledged that before and that is what this country was built on," Ducheny said. "The only people that are native to this country are Native Americans and we pretty well almost wiped them out. Everyone else is an immigrant in one form or another. We have to go back to those values and acknowledge that we are a country of immigrants and that is why we have prospered."
"I think it's a good thing for the economy having immigrants come through," she said. "They are entrepreneurial. They are those young people in schools studying engineering, so you don't have to import engineers out of China or Australia. We should be training all the kids at Mar Vista to be those engineers that they need at Qualcomm, not importing them from other countries."
She said looking at immigration that involves families, waiting 10 years to reunite does not work.
"Personally I have a different kind of view," she said. "The quota system needs revisiting and needs to be more realistic. Quotas were marked by hemisphere and not so strictly by country. Mexico gets the same number as some country in Europe. That is never going to work here. If this is who we are, where we live and where our families are, you have to have some way of acknowledging that."
"Being in the middle of the world economics of Canada and Mexico I do not see anything wrong with having a special relationship with them when it comes to immigration," Ducheny said. "It is not discriminatory, it is reality based."
The idea that you are going to deport people working in the United States who aren't committing crimes so someone else can take that job does not make sense, she said.
"They are here and they are working," she said. "That means that they are contributing to the economy by definition now. You don't want to upset that part of the economy. My agricultural folks in Imperial County will tell you to 'let us have our workforce. Let us make sure our workforce can cross.'"
"One of the anomalies with the current strict policy is you wind up with more undocumented immigrants working here all the time because they are not allowed to go back and forth for seasonal jobs," Ducheny said. "I know some of the growers in North County that use the current temporary worker system that is very convoluted and difficult. That needs streamlining. We have to find a way to give these people the ability to cross. What happens when you tell them you can't go back when they come in is that they just don't leave."
The fears of another 9/11 are real, she said, but a secure border does not have to mean an inefficient or clogged border. Steps have to be taken to catch biohazards and drugs, but people still need to go back and forth to spend money, work or visit family.
"And those families, The Dream Act need to be addressed. These children grew up here," she said. "They have no other country. When we are investing in education, why would we give away what we are doing? They are effectively citizens that were technically born somewhere else and brought to this country when they were three."
Working with these cases in her law career, she said laws are stricter now and public officials do not have the "flex" to intervene in these cases as in the past. But, she said there are things that can be done with current laws to make it much simpler.
"The truth is there are a lot of families and there is work," she said. "Work visas now are cumbersome and hard to get. We are always bringing in nurses, engineers and investors. If you have about $500,000, you can get a visa if you say you are going to invest in a company here. It needs to be looked at as a whole and there is no perfect answer, but we need to be serious about it and acknowledge it is about the flow of labor and workforces and families."
"People that get in a boat, or walk 100 miles to try to get a better life, those are the people you want in this country," she said. "You want to get rid of exploited labor and offer fair wages and labor standards. If you put those in place and you actually enforce them against the underground economy, it takes away the percentage of the undocumented workers. To restart these conversations is one of the reasons I chose to continue in political office."
The Prison System
Ducheny said if prisons aren't overcrowded, savings could be invested in schools. She said she fights for parole courts for the minor offenders and does not mean just to let prisoners out.
"Once you are paroled out of the state prison you become a community-based person and then the issue is getting jobs and having supervision," she said. "In the drug court models where you have the attorneys, the parole officers and the judge is like a case management system.
They need a job, they might need anger management, mental health or drug rehabilitation. But, that takes a lot of investment on this end to save money over here. It helps them from going back and forth in the prison system and helps them from reoffending. Every study shows that if you get an education, you take a community college course while in prison, or get vocational training of some sort that you can get a job with when you get out, you are less likely to reoffend."
"Unfortunately, with recent cuts we have cut back on many of these programs," she said. "We need to have that financial support for these programs to make it work. It only works if you have those support systems in place. This county is better than most on how they approach this. We may be one of the model counties that make this work.
The federal system is having the same problems. They put away people for possession of marijuana. Federal prisons are for the drug cartels and hard criminals, not the neighborhood drug user."
The Occupy Movement
Ducheny said the Occupy movement has gotten people thinking about economic equality
She called the trends of a shrinking middle class and the rich getting richer over the past decades disturbing.
"These few people are doing very well and they are not doing it the traditional way," she said. "It used to be a successful business was because they made a great product or service. It was something tangible. Now the wealthiest are the people who just make money off money. I think that is what they highlighted. People making the money now are not producing anything."
"I hope Occupy can sustain, and find a new forum to continue the dialogue that they started," she said. "What needed to happen was to coalesce the idea and bring it to a level that elected officials can react to. That creates public policy. The issues they raised were right, but have been unable so far to offer tangible solutions.
The challenge for elected officials now is how to evaluate this, see how we can change that dynamic and the Occupy folks need to be a part of that discussion and not just complaining. If you are not part of the solution, you are part of the problem."
"It involved many young people. They are graduating from college and getting no jobs. That is not a pretty picture. California is the wealthiest state in the wealthiest country in the world. What is it that makes us so poor when we are so rich?" she asked. "What are the things we are all willing to work together on and when will we pony up? We have to get away from the idea that we are in this all alone. When you have lost your job and you are losing your house, what do you do?"
The issue of how to help veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan return to jobs and civilian life will be important over the next couple of years, she said.
"Many are coming back wounded from the wars," she said. "They are downsizing the military, they are coming back and we have high unemployment. We need to find jobs for returning veterans in an economy that is slowly moving in mud. It's going forward, but you still have to pull your shoe out of the mud to get a step ahead."
"These veterans can help stimulate the economy, just like after World War II. But they need the support to create new businesses, get an education and fully integrate," Ducheny said.
"The state budget is still not back to where it was in 2006/07. Forget inflation, just real dollars. You can't just keep living at that lower, lower level," she said.
"The other big ones we are going to have to grapple with are social security, Medicare, Medical and trying to keep the health care systems going. We can't cut Medicare rates to where doctors are refusing patients."
The recent dissolution of redevelopment agencies really hurts small towns like National City and Imperial Beach, Ducheny said.
"The problem is that people did not want to amend it in a way that would have tightened the rules," she said. "I saw this coming a few years ago. The heart of this problem is Proposition 13 and how property taxes are distributed. Because we froze things under Prop 13, if you were a low property tax city that didn't have a lot then those cities get stiffed from the formula."
"The original intent is still good and I am hopeful they can come up with a new version. The idea is to do things that make property in the area worth more. That benefits everybody," she said.
"The new Seacoast Inn is a good example. What the old Seacoast Inn generated in property taxes and what the new one will bring in the increment, when you get that boost that pays off for a few years you can use that revenue to pay off what you are investing in, in the same neighborhood. Then you pay that bond off with this increment. Then everybody is getting benefit from this higher property tax. But in the meantime, what you are really doing is sequestering property tax that would otherwise go to schools or community colleges."
Ducheny said she would support the idea of a community development act to funnel property tax dollars to projects that boost local economies. As a member of Congress she said she would explore ways the federal government could get involved.
"It allows a small city like Imperial Beach to complete infrastructure for a project that will help everybody move forward. The property tax split problem remains, partly because we still have these antiquated formulas that Prop 13 put in place. Not reassessing property and the problem of devalued property have constrained everybody."