Vargas says he won't compete against Filner for seat

November 20, 2001|By AARON CLAVERIE, Staff Writer

Assemblyman Juan Vargas said he will not run against Rep. Bob Filner next year for the Democratic Party nomination in California's 50th Congressional District.

The first-term assemblyman representing south San Diego/South Bay made the statement over tacos and nachos at La Fonda Restaurant in El Centro.

He was in town at the invitation of El Centro Mayor Pro Tem Larry Grogan.

Vargas, a former San Diego city councilman, was joined by Grogan, Calexico Mayor Victor Carrillo, Calexico City Councilman Frank Montoya, county Supervisor Joe Maruca and his wife, Holtville Unified School District Superintendent Pat Maruca, and the dean of San Diego State University-Imperial Valley campus, Khosrow Fatemi.

After ice-breaking small talk, Carrillo asked Vargas if his visit was "exploratory."

Vargas said, "I could see myself running in the future."

Carrillo asked Vargas what sort of representation the Valley could expect if he was elected.

Vargas said he would be an aggressive advocate for the Imperial Valley and make sure residents here got their fair share of federal dollars.


"You have been paying the taxes but you haven't been getting it back. I'll make sure that you do because I understand the special needs you face on the border," he said.

"You need representation."

He continued: "The problem in the past has been that people didn't want to come down here.

"That needs to change."

He said incumbents on Capitol Hill have shunned the Imperial Valley.

"That's why there is a lack of a university. That's why there are transportation (concerns.) That's why you guys are getting screwed," Vargas said.

He mentioned the recent controversy regarding the redistricting of California's 50th Congressional District.

At one point during the process of redrawing the lines, Imperial County was tacked onto the generally ritzy 49th district of Democrat Susan Davis that includes La Jolla.

After Vargas and others in Sacramento intervened, Imperial County was added to Filner's 50th.

News reports in San Diego said Filner was upset when Imperial County was added to his district. Filner has denied that.

On Monday, Vargas repeated those charges.

He said Filner's aide endorsed the redistricting proposal that would have added the county to Davis' district.

Earlier Monday, before a tour of the Salton Sea, Filner was told Vargas was in town.

"What is he doing here?" Filner asked. "Ask him if he has filed his papers and paid for his Assembly run."

Vargas said he was here at the invitation of Grogan and has indeed filed his papers and paid his money to defend his Assembly seat.

Earlier in the year, Grogan toured the Valley with Filner.

Yesterday, Filner and Vargas were minutes away from running into each other at the Sonny Bono Wildlife Refuge.

That might have been interesting as the two sparred verbally in various media outlets before and after a contentious House race of 1998 that Filner won.

At the refuge, Filner said he would have been happy to meet Vargas. At the reception, Vargas referred to Filner as "Amigo Bob."

Meanwhile, Grogan said he would offer similar invitations to political leaders from all over California for the purpose of introducing them to the Valley.

At the reception, the guests found out that Vargas is a University of San Diego graduate and Jesuit who studied to be a priest.

After he decided he "wanted to get married," he enrolled in Harvard Law School.

After graduation there and a short career as a business litigation lawyer in San Diego, Vargas was elected to the San Diego City Council in 1993 after Filner vacated his seat to run for Congress.

He was elected to the California Assembly last year.

>> Staff Writer Aaron Claverie can be reached at 337-3419 or

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