May 7 2014 11:15 AM

The Democrat is a long shot to oust Duncan Hunter in the 50th Congressional District

James Kimber
James Kimber hopes to unseat Duncan Hunter but knows it won’t be easy.

Meet James Kimber, a 20-year Navy veteran, physician assistant, small-business owner and now a Democratic candidate for Congress in California's 50th District. The district is a huge area that stretches from Temecula, Escondido and El Cajon at its western edge to nearly the Salton Sea in its northeastern corner and the Anza-Borrego Desert in the east, picking up Palomar Mountain and towns like Valley Center, Alpine, Ramona and Descanso along the way. Kimber has seen the numbers, and he knows the odds are stacked against him. The district's registered Republicans outnumber Democrats by 61,000, and Democrats outnumber independents by a mere 9,000. It's a district that reelected the Republican incumbent, Duncan Hunter, with 63 percent and 67 percent of the vote in the last two elections, respectively.

But that doesn't deter Kimber. To his way of thinking, the Democrats just haven't run the right candidate.

In a year when Republicans on the national stage seem determined to once again make healthcare a signature issue—with their continued efforts to undermine the Affordable Care Act—the Democrats, it would seem, have the perfect candidate this time around. As a career healthcare professional, it's an issue that Kimber is qualified to address.

"I can't say that the Affordable Care Act is the perfect plan or the right plan," he says, but he invites anyone who believes that the ACA is a net negative to come to his clinic to meet patients who didn't have healthcare until now. "We've had more patients in the last month than probably six months of last year," he says. 

The healthcare act is working, he says, but due to the massive misinformation campaign against it, the public thinks it's a boondoggle. For example, his campaign held an event at a coffee shop in Ramona. A man approached Kimber, "got right in my face and said, ‘I'm a Republican.' I said, ‘Great, well, I really need your vote. What's your issue?' He said healthcare. I thought, This is like a setup! This is great!" 

The man, it turned out, was a married small-business owner with a family but didn't have insurance because he couldn't afford the premium. Kimber punched the man's information into the Covered California website on an iPad he carries with him to campaign events.

"He took a look at the results, and said, ‘You're kidding me!'" Kimber recalls. "Then he got upset because he couldn't sign up right then and there," because it was prior to Oct. 1, 2013.

Kimber laments what he calls an undue focus on the controversial medical-device tax, the repeal of which has garnered support from Senate Democrats and House Democrats including Scott Peters, who represents the 52th District in San Diego County. The 2.3-percent tax on medical devices won't break the bank, Kimber says. "Every [sales] rep I've talked to, I've asked if it will hurt their business. They just roll their eyes and say no."

With increased access to healthcare, sales will go up, mitigating any additional costs from the tax, he argues.

Kimber began his Navy career in 1982 as a hospital corpsman, going on to independent duty school to become an independent duty corpsman, which, loosely translated, is the Navy's version of a physician assistant. After graduation, he was put in charge of his own frigate.

While stationed at National City's 32nd Street Naval Base and commuting to Camp Pendleton to teach, Kimber was approaching the end of his 20 years. He'd submitted his retirement papers and was preparing to go to physician-assistant school at Stanford University. But then the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, came, and a subsequent deployment, putting those retirement and education plans in jeopardy. After one post 9/11 tour, though, he was allowed to retire on schedule in November 2002.

"I retired on Friday and was in school [at Stanford] that next Monday," he says.

Since completing school and rotations at Balboa Naval Hospital and Scripps Memorial Hospital, he's been a part of the Southern California Institute of Neurological Surgery. He's also currently working to start a new physicianassistant school at California State University, San Marcos.

Kimber is running as a pro-business, pro-choice, prohealth-care-reform, pro-immigration-reform (it's good for businesses, he says) and pro-marriage-equality candidate. Since making the decision to run for Congress, he's immersed himself in the economic issues of the 50th District and has taken up the cause of the 50 San Diego County wineries—with 40 more in Temecula—some of which could face up to $250,000 in permit fees if they're considering expanding their business to include food service.

Kimber recently arranged a meeting with county Supervisor Dianne Jacob, leading a delegation of winery owners to discuss ways to mitigate the county fee.

"I'm nobody. I'm not an elected official, but I managed to pull this meeting together," he says. "I found the winery owners. I learned what their issue is. And the people who came, I think the vast majority of them are Republicans. I got a meeting with Dianne, and we just agreed. It wasn't about, well, I'm a Democrat who was proposing this. Agriculture is a large part of that district."

Kimber's also a big proponent of the unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) industry, particularly as it pertains to San Diego. A significant portion of UAVs are sold to agricultural interests, he says, particularly wine interests. They're used to survey crops, to detect damaged or diseased plants. Drones can also be used for a variety of other things besides military applications, such as search-and-rescue efforts and surveying wind turbines and rail lines. Greenpeace, he says, owns three of them, and National Geographic owns several.

According to a report commissioned by North County Chamber of Commerce, UAV contracts supported 7,135 jobs in San Diego County, mostly concentrated in the Poway and Rancho Bernardo areas.

UAV production reached $1.3 billion in San Diego County alone in 2011 and is projected to double by the end of the decade. Companies like San Diego's 3D Robotics would be a prime beneficiary, and Kimber says the company is looking to expand its facilities.

"I look at 3D Robotics and think that they could be San Diego's next Qualcomm," he says. "The projection for jobs in the UAV industry is huge, and I'd rather see those jobs stay here in San Diego County than go elsewhere.

"I would rather see those jobs stay here," he adds, "and let San Diego be one of the major hubs for that manufacturing base."

Kimber has been a man on a mission, relying heavily on old-style retail politics to spread the word about his candidacy, getting in front of as many people as he can and introducing himself to potential voters. He knows that the 50th District isn't exactly friendly territory for him, but he's convinced that once people meet him and hear what he has to say, they'll be receptive to his message.

And that, he says, has been the experience so far. For example, he cites a man who scoffed at the mere thought of voting for a Democrat but later came back to listen to the candidate after finding out he was a veteran. And the leader of a band at another campaign event in Temecula who identified as a Tea Party libertarian but was so impressed with Kimber that he offered to record a song for the campaign.

"Half the people we meet are Republicans, and they're donating to us," he says.

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