With the elections just two weeks away, the race between incumbent Congressman Brian Bilbray and challenger Susan Davis for the 49th Congressional District is so close that every vote counts. The student vote has become a highly contested commodity. For once, students have the chance to influence the outcome of an election that will determine which party controls Congress.
Since I am a political junkie, I wanted to interview Bilbray to discover whether he is worthy of being re-elected and to find out if he is in touch with the issues that concern college students. Being a natural-born cynic, I prepared a full slate of student issues with which to hit Bilbray.
I had planned to interview Bilbray in person last Tuesday, but the Congressman is one busy person, juggling simultaneously his responsibilities for the people of San Diego in Washington, D.C., his re-election campaign and his obligations to his family.
My long-awaited face-to-face interview turned into a phone interview.
The first thing that surprised me about Bilbray is his unbending stance on the issue of abortion. Unlike many of his Republican counterparts, Bilbray supports abortion rights.
""I am absolutely pro-choice,"" Bilbray said. ""I think anyone who believes in the Constitution has to look at the fact that a woman's right to choose her reproductive choices is not only a right, but a responsibility that she bears alone, and no one, especially big government, can supercede that.""
With many left-wing politicians claiming the only way to ensure a woman's right to abortion is to vote for Democrats in the coming election, Bilbray's protective stance on abortion is not only refreshing but provides voters with a viable alternative.
Another issue of concern to many college students is the environment, which Bilbray has a proven track record of protecting.
Bilbray has established a reputation as a leader not afraid to take needed action on behalf of the environment.
""I'm probably the only member of Congress who has had their Miranda rights read to them over the pollution problem,"" Bilbray said. ""I've been fighting sewage problems along the border since I was 24 years old.""
In 1980, when federal authorities denied requests by local officials to build an emergency wall in the Tijuana River Valley to block raw sewage from flowing into the United States, Bilbray, then mayor of Imperial Beach, took direct action before the health of area residents was endangered. Bilbray mounted a skiploader and personally constructed the wall in defiance of federal bureaucrats.
Bilbray's leadership and commitment to the environment has been displayed time and time again during his three terms in Congress. Bilbray authored the Otay Mountain Wilderness Act of 1999, which designates 18,500 acres of Otay Mountain as federally protected wilderness. Bilbray's Beach Bill was recently passed into law and creates universal standards of water quality testing in recreational beaches across the nation.
What struck me during the interview was Bilbray's obvious sincerity and the deep commitment he has for the people of San Diego.
""My first priority is to represent his district, not special interests,"" Bilbray said. ""When I went to Washington I promised to reform welfare, balance the budget, fix Social Security, take care of the environment, improve education and pay down the debt. I want to finish that.""
The biggest reason Bilbray sees for why students should vote for him and not his opponent,is because he has already accomplished what his opponent is promising.
""I have delivered what Susan Davis is promising,"" Bilbray said.
Bilbray also said the people of San Diego need a leader who can bring both Republicans and Democrats together for the good of society.
""I've been working with Democrats and Republicans to make things happen, like the Beach Bill, Clean Air Bill, the Wilderness Bill,"" Bilbray said. ""You need someone to work with both sides, and I've proven I can do that.""
When I asked Bilbray what the one thing was that he wanted students to know about him, he did not even pause before answering.
He chuckled as he said, ""That I'm a better surfer than Susan Davis.""
Bilbray urged students to exercise their right to vote, saying the student vote is critically important for the outcome of the race. Bilbray hopes students will realize that what is being voted on today will affect what happens in 20 years, when students are adults.
""Students may not think it will affect them, but it will affect them more than anyone in society,"" Bilbray said. ""So actually, young people have more to gain or lose in this process.""
It is clear that the political fate of our state and nation rests in our hands. With just the student populations of UCSD and San Diego State University, we can turn the tide of an election.
It may be true that one individual cannot make a difference with just one vote, but our collective student vote can wield enormous political power. The power to influence the political process is just a vote away, come Nov. 7.
After interviewing Bilbray, I was moved by his genuine concern for the welfare of his constituents and his impressive leadership abilities on the issues. I believe that Bilbray is a candidate worthy of being reelected.