State Sen. Brian Jones, beaming on 2018 election night, shares a campaign committee treasurer with Congress rival Bill Wells, the mayor of El Cajon. Photo by Chris Stone

Eleven years after being soundly defeated by Duncan D. Hunter, Santee’s Brian Jones on Wednesday formally entered the race to challenge the Republican incumbent in the 50th Congressional District.

Jones, a Republican state senator with long ties to the East County district, lost to Hunter in the 2008* GOP primary for what was then the 52nd District. The son of longtime congressman Duncan Lee Hunter defeated Jones, a Santee City Council member, 72% to 16.3%.

Meanwhile, former Rep. Darrell Issa announced a press conference at 8:30 a.m. Thursday in El Cajon, apparently to kick off his own race for Hunter’s House seat.

“Confirmed participants” at the Issa press event include county Supervisor Dianne Jacob, El Cajon Mayor Wells, former Escondido Mayor Sam Abed, Temecula City Councilman Matt Rahn and Larry Wilske, retired Navy SEAL. Rahn recently announced he was quitting the race.

CQ Roll Call reported that Issa would run, citing unnamed sources “familiar with the ex-congressman’s thinking.”

Jones delivered on a promise to join the field made Sunday in a KUSI interview.

“I am entering the race for Congress to provide a trusted, conservative voice for the people of this district,” Jones said in a statement noting his being the only Republican challenger with roots in the district.

Record of state Sen. Brian Jones campaign committee for Congress.

“In Santee, we proved that conservative government policies work,” he said. “We created vibrant residential, commercial and retail development by reducing regulations and keeping taxes low, and funded the recreational and public safety services the public deserves by contracting out services.”

He boasted of earning a “100% voting score” in Sacramento from “respected taxpayer and faith based advocacy groups.”

Jones said he’s sponsored 23 bills that were passed by the Democratic Legislature and signed into law.

He concluded: “I would consider it a great honor to be a reliable vote for the President’s agenda—standing up for Americans interests abroad, restoring respect for law enforcement at home, and appointing judges who will respect the traditional values upon which our country was built.”

A “Brian Jones for Congress 2020” committee has been organized with longtime GOP financial aide Bill Baber (also La Mesa’s vice mayor) as treasurer. The committee office address is Baber’s at 7918 El Cajon Blvd., No. 162, in La Mesa and Union Bank is where contributions will go.

Attorney Baber, who was Jones’ treasurer in 2008 as well, also served until last month as 2020 treasurer for El Cajon Mayor Bill Wells, who entered the same Congress race in February but appears likely to drop out.

In 2008, San Diego State graduate Jones raised $221,000 for his primary race.

So far in 2019, former conservative radio host and San Diego Councilman Carl DeMaio says he has raised more than $1 million for his run in the 50th District. Democrat Ammar Campa-Najjar also is challenging Hunter, who faces a January trial on corruption charges.

Dave McCulloch, a spokesman for the DeMaio campaign, responded to the Issa news by noting a June poll showing DeMaio edging Issa.

“Darrell Issa epitomized what is wrong with establishment California Republican politicians when he fled his own district rather than fighting for it and his constituents, and enriched himself by taking more than $645,000 of campaign cash from unsuspecting donors and putting it into his personal account,” McCulloch said in a statement.

Veteran San Diego political observer Carl Luna says Jones’ chances of advancing from the March primary to a November 2020 runoff are between slim and none.

“He’s caught between a DeMaio and an Issa place — two names bigger than his with larger bases of support,” said Luna, a political science professor at San Diego Mesa College. “And let’s not forget Hunter is still in this. With such a divided Republican field, Campa-Najjar is almost a certainty for the runoff — maybe in first place.”

Does Jones’ entry hurt Hunter’s chances of re-election?

“Doesn’t help,” Luna said via email. “The divided GOP field against an established incumbent is unheard of — but for the indictments and all that. Hunter might come in second in the GOP field, putting him third behind Issa or DeMaio and Campa-Najjar.”

Jones, 51, was elected to the state Assembly in 2010 and the Senate in 2018.

In a 2011 interview, Jones raised eyebrows by telling Patch reporters his idea to better secure borders by sending undocumented inmates to their home countries.

He spoke of his “wild idea” as “Let’s coordinate with their home countries; let’s build their prisons in their home countries and send them to those prisons. They’ll operate at a lot lower expense than being here in California, and let that home country take care of them.”

Jones said it might be cheaper to pay for the prisons in other countries — “if the other country will run it and keep them actually in prison.”

Later, Jones told a local Fox TV channel that “this idea was more hyperbole, but to my surprise it’s caught on and gotten national attention. I presented it as a wild idea and then found out maybe it’s not so wild.”

He was quoted as saying: “The next step is to answer those questions: Is it more cost-effective, is it legal, and is it possible?”

The idea never came to fruition.

*An earlier version of this report misstated the year of the election.

Updated at 11:59 a.m. Sept. 28, 2019

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