ENCINITAS — Depending on who you ask, Stephen Houlahan is “that guy” in the 48th California Congressional District.
Walking door-to-door with Houlahan, homeowners may recognize him as their former councilman or the guy who helped stop a power plant from breaking ground in Santee. Or, he was just a man knocking on their door.
“Most people are interested if you start talking about issues that apply to them,” Houlahan said, who grew up in Santee.
Houlahan, who tries to canvas several times a week to reach possible constituents, is one of three candidates challenging incumbent Rep. Darrell Issa (CA-50) on the June 7 primary ballot to represent California’s redrawn 48th Congressional District.
Following the November election, the district’s new boundary lines extend from the U.S.-Mexico border to Temecula, encompassing communities such as Poway, Santee, Lakeside, Alpine, Ramona and parts of Escondido.
Issa, who currently represents the 50th District, will face Houlahan, a Democrat and registered nurse; Democrat and community volunteer Matthew Rascon, and independent candidate Lucinda Jahn, an entertainment technician.
Houlahan, a long-time nurse, is primarily focused on developing a national COVID-19 recovery response, expanding Medicare, creating “Medikid,” and investing in clean energy while divesting in fossil fuels.
He is coming into the race with some experience, having served on the Santee City Council and as former vice mayor in 2016 (losing a mayoral bid in 2020). He’s also led community resistance against the Quail Brush Power Plant and was the president of Save Mission Trails.
As a former elected member of the Santee City Council, Houlahan said he prioritized safe housing, and he was alone in voting against a 3,000-unit development by HomeFed Fanita Rancho, a controversial topic in Santee.
“I am not against sprawled development,” Houlahan said of the project, which a state court recently blocked due to its lack of wildfire evacuation measures. “I am against building sprawled development in a fire zone.”
In November, the Santee voters will have an opportunity to vote on whether or not the project should be allowed to continue: This is one of Houlahan’s talking points canvasing Santee. He’ll also go door to door in other cities in the 48th District.
However, he said housing would be an issue he can talk about anywhere.
To Houlahan, there needs to be a focus on affordable housing for average residents making the average median income in San Diego County, which is slightly less than $107,000.
“The problem is that when you build multi-million dollar homes, it doesn’t help the housing crises in any way,” Houlahan said, adding that pumping out expensive development projects doesn’t entice already-established residents.
“People here,” he said, pointing to his own neighborhood, “when we buy these homes, we stay in these homes.”
Houlahan believes in expanding housing programs and services for veterans and senior residents suffering from homelessness and expanding affordable housing in general, a term he’d like to clarify for residents.
“Affordable doesn’t mean low income, by the way, it means affordable to people like myself,” Houlahan said. “We still make good money. It’s not necessarily low income, it’s affordable. People get confused.”
Federally, Houlahan already has one plan he’d like to see to fruition. He calls it “Medikids.” It’s an expansion of the federal a health insurance program to include children up to age 18.
“Every single kid should be covered,” he said. “Yeah, every single kid. We should be giving children the best health care we can.”
Houlahan said that providing access to healthcare at an early age relieves some burden on the federal health care system overall. He also said that the government shouldn’t punish children for their parents inability to pay for proper care.
“They’ve already had a tough time, why should their parents and their families be bankrupt?” Houlahan said,
Houlahan would also expand medicare to those older than 55.
After receiving a master’s in nursing from the University of San Diego, Houlahan took an internship in public health, his first clue the sector was underfunded.
When asked how public health could have impacted the economic fallout of COVID-19, Houlahan told The Coast News it came down to preparedness.
“Public health is so important and it’s so underfunded and when we don’t have it seems like a pandemic can erupt, and completely destroy your economy,” Houlahan said.
According to Houlahan, major health crises aren’t rare, noting a 2013 spread of a coronavirus in Southeast Asia. But what keeps outbreaks under control is robust public health infrastructure.
To build a COVID response, Houlahan would have vaccinations readily available, ensure affordable healthcare to all, and close the gap between economic classes,a divide further exacerbated by the pandemic.
“It’s important that you have robust public health, and at least have you know, some of the public health infrastructure you need, so that you can react when the next pandemic hits,” Houlahan said. “It’s important and actually protects your economy so that you don’t end up everyone having to stay at home. Public health does not hurt your economy.”
On the topic of mending financial statuses, Houlahan said that the government needs to help provide incentives for people to work their way up.
“First of all,” though, Houlahan said, “we need workers.”
Houlahan said the federal government should welcome refugees to “help them to pull themselves up by their bootstraps, here,” he said, specifically referring to those fleeing Ukraine.
Houlhan’s immigration reform isn’t purely focused on labor, though.
“We need complete immigration reform,” he said, adding that the current system is “definitely not fair.”
“What about people who are at risk in their own country?” he said. “We need our immigration courts to be more robust so that we can figure out who they are, and then if there’s a risk … We need to give them a fair shake.”
When asked about the role of government, Houlahan said that it’s a system established “to make sure that everyone has a chance in this world.”
“The role of government isn’t necessarily to choose winners and losers is to facilitate the opportunity for everyone to be a winner,” he said, “And so if you’re rich, government should not be so totalitarian that it destroys you.
“And then if you’re very, very impoverished, the government should provide the pathway for you to better your situation.”