Environmental attorney Mike Levin was as surprised as everyone else when his ticket number was called to ask a question during Rep. Darrell Issa’s town hall meeting in Oceanside over the weekend. Just a few days before, Levin had announced his candidacy for Issa’s 49th District seat and now here he was, getting to ask the congressman a question while also giving constituents a possible sneak preview of what a 2018 debate might look like.
Levin, an Orange County native who founded a clean energy industry trade organization and is on the board of the California Hydrogen Business Council, prefaced his question by referencing a book he had personally sent to Issa in 2016 called Climate Change for Beginners, but before Levin got to ask his question, Issa snapped.
“Ask your question, young man!” the Vista congressman barked. The exchange was indicative of Issa’s approach to both of the town halls. Defensive, snappy and often talking down to the constituents in attendance (see Torrey Bailey’s roundup of both town halls), Issa was literally cracking up about it on a Monday appearance on Fox & Friends. Levin, however, did not find it at all funny.
“I was blown away when he confronted me and wouldn’t let me ask my question,” Levin told CityBeat. “He was rather patronizing and his answer wasn’t at all persuasive.”
Levin, a lifelong Democrat, is currently enjoying some attention since announcing his candidacy, getting some love from the OC Weekly, Mother Jones and even the Union-Tribune. But he knows he has a long way to go and a tough primary battle coming up against fellow Democrat Doug Applegate. He admits to being young, but wouldn’t classify himself as inexperienced. He’s been involved in progressive politics since he was in college at Stanford, where he befriended fellow dormmate Chelsea Clinton. He worked on Bill Bradley’s 2000 presidential bid before eventually going on to run the Democratic Committee of Orange County. Most recently, he helped raise money for Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign, as well as doing some consulting work for the campaign on its clean energy policy.
This may be Levin’s strongest suit when it comes to challenging Issa. While Levin agrees with Issa on the fact that something must be done about the nuclear waste at the now decommissioned San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station, he disagrees with Issa’s overall energy policy.
“Issa’s policy, and I’m paraphrasing, is that we need more nuclear power,” says Levin, who regularly calls out Issa as a “full-blown Trump apologist.”
“His solution is to build more natural gas plants and to keep the nuclear energy plants online for longer. That’s what I heard him say, and I think that’s an unfathomable proposal for a progressive and environmentally-friendly place like San Diego.”
Levin is also quick to point out his immense respect for Doug Applegate and how close the retired Marine colonel came to defeating Issa in 2016. He says that despite the fact that they will run against each other in the primary, the two of them must work together to stay on message.
“This election is about Darrell Issa,” says Levin, who adds that he hopes to sit down with Applegate soon to make sure they focus on Issa rather than attacking each other. “In order to win, we must stay on offense and focus on the issues, because if we do, San Diegans will know that Darrell Issa is out of touch with them.”
Without solicitation, Levin also points out how deeply he cares about San Diego’s homeless crisis and is “concerned” when it comes to federal cuts to the Housing and Urban Development budget.
“The sad thing is that San Diego needs local leadership on that issue now more than ever,” says Levin. “I saw that San Diego now has the fourth largest homeless population.”
“I also think there’s a big correlation between the homelessness issue and our vets. How many of those 9,000 homeless people in San Diego are veterans? The answer should be none of them and particularly not in San Diego.”
While voter turnout is bound to be lower for the 2018 midterms, Levin is confident that it can be done, citing that even though Issa won reelection in 2016, Hillary Clinton still won the 49th district by seven points and won by 13 points in the San Diego region of the district.
“I know we can do better and that’s why I’m running,” says Levin, who hopes to meet with progressive groups such as Indivisible and Together We Will over the coming months. “I’m a political organizer by background and I’ve been at this a long time… We’ll be lucky if voter turnout in 2018 is 55 percent. What that means is that, until then, we have to run a perfect campaign.”