This is part of a series of articles about candidates for local office. Candidates who would like to be interviewed are invited to contact the editor at firstname.lastname@example.org
Bill Wells, mayor of El Cajon, is running for the Republican nomination for the 50th Congressional District. The incumbent is Congressman Duncan Hunter Jr.
Born and raised in San Diego, Wells spent most of his younger life in Rancho Bernardo, where he attended Mount Carmel High School. His family history, he says, “made me among the least likely person to be a mayor of a city.” His father committed suicide when he was 8. Young Bill was forced to start working at age 11 to help his mother and sister feed and clothe the family. Some of his jobs were in Escondido, such as The Gap at the old Escondido mall and Jack in the Box in Rancho Bernardo.
Today, at age 55, he has a doctorate in psychology. He is the CEO of his own medical company, Broadwell Behavioral Health. Broadwell, which he started four years ago, provides psychiatry and psychology services to low income federally qualified health clinics. “We see patients from the border up to Barstow, from Riverside to San Bernardino and Palm Springs,” he says.
Wells first dipped into politics when he was hospital administrator at Bayview Hospital in Chula Vista. This was during the Gray Davis administration in Sacramento when the federal government was paying Medicaid disproportionate share hospital payments to the state. Instead of passing the money to the hospitals that incurred the costs, Sacramento was keeping it.
“I was tasked to go to Sacramento to try to get our money back,” he recalls. He met with lawmakers and their staffs. “It took a while but we got it back. It was the Hospital Association that helped me get it done. I learned a lot about the process,” he recalls. “It sparked my interest in politics. About the same time I went to the GOP and offered to help, doing anything, including stuffing envelopes or walking precincts. They told me, ‘You should run for office.’ ”
His first electoral adventure was running for the local school board in 2004, which he lost. Then he was appointed to the El Cajon planning commission. He successfully ran for the El Cajon City Council in 2008. In 2013 the mayor, citing personal and health problems, resigned and Wells was appointed to fill out his term. He ran for reelection in 2014 and won with 83% of the vote, something he considers “kind of a record.” He was reelected mayor last year.
“One of the big jobs is to make sure the city is fiscally sound,” he said. “We have a balanced budget. We are required to have a $15 million reserve, but we have a $45 million reserve.
One of the things I’ve had to think about as mayor is to bring in new revenue streams without raising taxes. We were the only city in California to lower taxes. We lowered sales taxes by ½ cent.”
The city also dealt with pension reform. “We brought all the employees up to the maximum they had to contribute from their own paycheck. We are careful on keeping a handle on CalPERS, so whenever we can, we have outsourced and privatized parts of the government,” said Wells.
To bring in new sales tax income, the city focused on something it is good at: selling automobiles. “We brought in a new Mercedes Benz dealership, a new BMW dealership and we are slated to have a Land Rover and Jaguar dealership next year,” he said.
Wells is also proud of reopening the El Cajon performing arts center, which was closed for several years. It will reopen in September. “Live Nation will be the manager. They will bring in seventy live shows a year. That will help our downtown and our restaurants,” he said. “We’re pretty excited about that.”
He talked about what prompted him to challenge the incumbent, who is under federal indictment for allegedly using campaign money for personal expenses. Hunter hasn’t yet stepped down as congressman, and still has a lot of political power.
“I first started the process about a year ago when the Politico article came out and said it was immanent that Hunter was to be indicted. The fear among Republicans was he would be in the general election against [Democratic presumptive nominee] Ammar Campa-Najjar and be forced to resign and clear the way for a Democrat to take what is easily a Republican seat.”
Several influential Republicans attending a SANDAG retreat sat down together “to talk about who would draw the short straw,” he recalls. “Everyone thought I would have the best chance of winning. I started off to run as a backstop in February 2018.” He ran until the June primary and came in third in the primary. “Which is disappointing but I’m surprised I did as well as I did since I had little money and little time,” he said.
Mental Health Crisis
Wells calls himself a conservative Republican who believes “in lowering taxes, protecting the constitution, and protecting the border.” He adds, “I believe in lowering the national debt and standing with Israel. I think that’s the common platform most Republicans will tell you.”
His career working in mental health makes him different from others running, he says. “I believe we are in a national mental health crisis right now. They are characterized by two things. 1) One is homelessness and the other is 2) drug addiction.”
Wells doesn’t believe homelessness owes that much to the lack of housing. “I’ve dealt with homeless thousands of times,” he said. “The problem is not programs and housing. The biggest problem is drug and alcohol abuse. But that goes with mental health problems. It’s hard to tell where one ends and the other begins.”
The first step to dealing with homelessness, he says, “is we need to agree what’s causing the problem. Homeless advocates are reluctant to discuss drug and alcohol problems because that doesn’t fit into their narrative. You talk to people on the streets. They want to spend every penny they have on drugs and alcohol. We have to agree what the problem is and then agree to a strategy to defeat that problem.”
Wells points to a local success story. “The East County Transitional Living Center has had fantastic success because most of it is geared toward drug and alcohol addiction and getting them treated,” he says. “It doesn’t happen quickly. Most people are in the program for a year or two. There isn’t going to be one solution. It’s going to be a multifaceted solution. Which will include the rebuilding of state psychiatric hospitals and most likely permanent supportive housing for every county in California and most of the counties in the U.S. Interestingly enough, border security is part of this as well. Because most of the meth, fentanyl and opiates are being manufactured in Mexico and brought across our Southern Border.”
Wells is a strong advocate of controlling the Southern border. “For a long time, we have had very lax enforcement of immigration policies and laws. It’s clear now we can’t do that any longer. We have to control the border. I’m not opposed to the concept of patrolling it with a wall,” he says. “But that won’t be the only way to control it. We should use all the electronic technology that we can to stop people from crossing and find out who is crossing and where. I think business needs to be held to a high standard of verifying someone’s right to work. E-verify is not a solo strategy, but part of the whole strategy. The feds need to put significant pressure on Mexico to control the massive and violent drug trade that is happening right under their noses. That’s why I think it’s a federal problem—that and the fact that it’s far too big for any county or city to tackle on their own.”
Wells’s interest in the mental health crisis as an issue highlighted by the fact that his wife is also a psychologist and his son in the Marine special forces in Afghanistan. “The way the government has failed in its duty to take care of the veterans is criminal,” he says. “Since my son’s units came back, of the ninety that returned, ten have committed suicide. That’s a horrific amount.”
This leads back to the impact of mental health patients on local hospitals. “If you could see emergency wards. I used to see one or two coming through a day. Now they see thirty and forty,” he said. “Most are overrun by psych patients, so it’s hard for others to get in. They have been conditioned that if they want to get off the streets to come in the ER and the ER will get them off the streets. It’s a thousand dollars solution to a hundred dollar problem.”
He adds, “Emergency rooms are at their wits’ end. They are pressed to their capacity. It’s the reason why we have to address how we are treating psychiatric patients in America. It’s not going to be cheap. It’s going to cost a lot of money. People don’t want to discuss it, but it’s got to be done.”
As I have done with other candidates in this series, I pointed out that when out of power, Republicans always talk about controlling the budget deficit, and when they are back in power, the deficit shrinks in importance. I asked how would he address that issue.
“Balancing the budget has been of interest to me—and we’ve had one for five years now,” said Wells. “Without deficit spending. It’s a bigger problem in Congress. I don’t want to be unrealistic. Controlling the beast that is the national debt doesn’t happen by one person, or one term. It’s got to be getting the entirety of the Congress to understand we have an obligation not just to today, but to future generations.”
He added, “And to be willing to be more interested in the fate of the country than their own reelection. I’ve always had a reputation of doing the right thing and being courageous. I hope I can continue to do that in Washington.”
Asked what he thinks of President Trump, Wells replied, “I think if you judge President Trump by his accomplishments, he is a great president. I know that he can be bombastic—and I don’t begin to understand his political instincts—but he’s been very effective. In fact, I wrote an article about this about two months ago and as a result was invited to go visit the White House. I was invited to the National Day of Prayer. It was one of the highlights of my life to go the White House and be in the Rose Garden.
The article, published in Charismamagazine, can be found here:
Charismais a Christian publication, and Wells is an evangelical Christian. “It’s a big part of who I am,” he says. “I am a big advocate for the constitution. And specifically, I’m a strong proponent for religious freedom and freedom of speech and second amendment rights.”
Such sentiments were often expressed by the Tea Party several years ago. Asked if he considered himself a member of the Tea Party, Wells said, “I feel very connected to a lot of the ideas of the Tea Party. We live in an era where people want to erase the history of the U.S. because some people who wrote the constitution owned slaves. I don’t think that way. It’s important to look at the history in terms of what was happening around the world. It’s our constitution that set us apart from other nations, which find new governments every ten or twenty years.”
Wells argues that he is qualified to represent the 50th District. “I can do that job,” he says. “I have proven that I’m a stable and steady leader in El Cajon. I don’t have to tell you what I can do, I can show you. On top of that we have balanced the budget and we have a strong reserve. I have more education than anyone in this race. I’ve run big hospitals and a city. All of those require the kinds of skills needed to be a success in Washington. Just as importantly I think who I am as a person fits the 50th Congressional District very well. If I was running in one of the other districts in California I would never be elected. As a conservative, Christian Republican I fit the 50th district.”
You can find out more about Bill Wells by visiting his website: Wellsforcongress.com