Filner started his speech by thanking the coalition members for their work in support of farm workers.
After introducing himself, he talked about the battle brewing in Congress concerning the president's budget.
Filner said the war against terrorism has made the past few months a "strange time in terms of our ability to get the kind of help for working people that is needed."
He explained: "Two years ago there was a surplus; now there is a deficit. All the things we wanted to do have become harder."
There are three reasons it's harder to pump money into federally funded domestic programs, according to Filner — the war, the recession and the president's tax plan.
He said a tax plan that puts money into the pockets of the wealthy doesn't leave enough money for "programs that are necessary."
Regarding funding cuts for some domestic programs included in the president's budget, Filner said, "It's a calculated policy under the guise or cloud of the war."
He added: "Just because we support the war doesn't mean we can't scrutinize the president's budget."
After his comments, he asked for members of the audience to ask questions or tell him what they wanted him to do in Congress.
Judy Siqueiros, director of the Center for Employment Training, asked how she could let her elected representatives know she doesn't want to see "human programs" reduced.
Filner told her to write letters to the editor of a newspaper, get on radio or television talk shows, organize a protest or do something else that could draw public attention to her opinion.
"Make your voice public. A lot of people say politicians are all influenced by special interests — special interests only win when the public is not involved," Filner said.
Adria Melendez, coordinator of the family resource center at Calexico's Neighborhood House, asked Filner, "What kind of rights have you fought for in the past?" and "What's your opinion on the water transfer?"
The first question was asked in reference to one of Filner's early comments when he mentioned he had been active in civil rights protests. Filner said in his 10 years in Congress he has fought racism.
His current district is 55 percent Latino, 15 percent Asian, 15 percent African-American and 15 percent non-Latino white.
He noted, "People of color have a different set of issues they deal with. I get engaged in those every day."
As for the transfer, Filner said, "Water is the basis for the agriculture here but it is also worth a lot of money to other people."
He said the transfer needs to be conducted so all environmental impacts are acceptable, the economy of the Imperial Valley gets a boost and the Salton Sea isn't harmed. He conceded that meeting all three goals would be tough to do.
After the Q&A, Calexico Mayor Pro Tem John Renison asked for Filner to help send federal funds to Calexico for a new hospital and Mayor Victor Carrillo asked Filner to rally support for scholarship programs for children of migrant farm workers.
Filner wrapped up by answering a question posed by Calexico City Councilman-elect Alex Perrone.
Perrone asked Filner if he supports the idea of building a cargo airport here. Filner said he favors plans for a passenger airport connected to San Diego by a high-speed railroad.
While most of the audience was receptive to his message, one man in particular was less than receptive — and he was taking copious notes.
That man was Scott Otto, campaign manager for Filner's opponent in November's election: Republican congressional candidate Maria Guadalupe Garcia of Chula Vista.
In the November election, Garcia will challenge Filner for the right to represent California's 51st Congressional District, which includes most of the 50th that Filner represents right now, and the Imperial Valley. Duncan Hunter, R-Alpine, will represent the Imperial Valley until the end of the year.
After Filner's speech, Otto said, "First and foremost, Garcia stands firm with the president and she finds it disgusting how Filner belittles (him)."
Otto said some of Filner's proposals, such as the high-speed train connecting San Diego to the Imperial Valley, are "preposterous."
Filner's contention that the Imperial Valley should concentrate on building a passenger airport here instead of a cargo airport?
"Preposterous," Otto said.
>> Staff Writer Aaron Claverie can be reached at 337-3419 or firstname.lastname@example.org